Monday 17 September 2007

ITGWU Agricultural Workers

Union organisation amongst agricultural workers in Ireland seems to have been very late in development, this could possibly have something to do with wage demands taking second place to the struggle for national liberation.

The Irish Land League was the main focus for agitation amongst rural population. The Land League was established at a meeting of the Tenants Defence Association was in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 26, 1878.

The primary objective of the League was in helping small farmers resist rent increase and redistribution of the land from the mainly, British absentee Land Lords on the big estates. The League leaders included Charles Stewart Parnell, John Dillon and Michael Davitt.

In 1913 The agricultural workers of Lancashire had decided to launch a major campaign to improve pay and conditions. They demanded £1 a week and a half day off on Saturday (The present wage was just 18s). This campaign included flooding villages and towns with propaganda, in this endeavour the campaign was helped by the Socialist Clarion Cycling Club.

The Lancashire campaign also encouraged other workers in England and importantly in Ireland to take up the fight for better pay and conditions.

Agricultural workers in County Dublin were the first to respond and make similar demands

Peter Larkin, the brother of Jim Larkin urged Dublin workers to spend long summer evenings in the countryside spreading the word

Three weeks before the planned strikes in Lancashire, meetings of agricultural workers were held in Swords, Clundalkin, Lucani, Blanchardstown and soon members were joining the Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU) enmasse

The resulting campaign secured a 17s a week and 66 hour week

In March 1917 Blanchardstown Lang League came over to the ITGWU, one of the first to do

At Archill a Migratory Labourers Union was established to organise the seasonal workers who sailed aannually on dirty, crowed ships to work the Scottish potatoe crop. The organiser was Michael Masterson of Belmullet to organise the "Tattie Hokers". Michael Conway of the Workers Union who later transferred to the ITGWU travelled with the "Tattie Hokers from Donegal to Scotland to see the conditions they worked in.

Meanwhile Sligo ITGWU organiser, Mr W.J. Reilly wrote to the the Scottish Potato Merchant association stating that the "tattie hokers would not leave Ireland until they had been promised better pay and conditions"

Masterson had offices based at 28, East Clyde Street

It has been estimated that of the ITGWU membership in 1918 24% was in agriculture by 1920 the ITGWU had 102,823 members of which an estimated 40,000 were in agriculture

One reason given for increased membership in 1918, was the union's role in the General Strike against Conscription held on 23rd April 1918.

Unrest in North Kerry was extensive in late 1917 early 1918 and Lord Listowels land at Gurtenard, Kerry, disgruntled agricultural labourers backed by local Volunteers took the radical step of seizing land

In April 1919 a massive wages movement swept Ireland, agricultural workers struck at Carrigans and Manorcunningham in East Donegal and sporadic strikes occurred in Carlow, Kerry, Offaly and Dublin. At Bultevont in North Cork and Churchtown shots were fired

The 1919 strike set to start on 25th August 1919, was settled because the Farmers wanted to attend the Royal Dublin Show

ITGWU best organised areas being in Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny