The Lockout by Elizabeth Boland

The lockout was when the employers such as Tramways and Jacob’s locked there workers out of the factories because they wanted to join the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU).

The seed of the lockout started with James Larkin arriving in Dublin after his union suspended him in Belfast he was left with few options and choose to establish an Irish-based general workers union in Dublin. The poor people of Dublin needed a leader and James Larkin was just that person. The Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) was formed in January 1909. After gaining recognition from the Craft Union, the ITGWU found itself involved in a lot of disputes around the country.

Poor working conditions and living conditions in Dublin at that time as well as a large number of unskilled workers getting casual work with low pay led to Dublin having the worst slums and mortality rate in Europe. At the time of the lockout families lived in Tenement houses. Some of these had 100 people living in them, where sanitary conditions were very bad. On 2nd September 1913 in Church Street seven people including three children were killed when the tenement building they lived in collapsed. What was even worse for people living in these slums was many of the landlords who owned the tenements were their employers too. 

The Employers Federation was formed in response to unskilled workers during 1911. William Martin Murphy, the Tramway boss was the president and chairman of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Murphy was a self-made businessman, he owned the Irish Independent, Evening Herald and the Irish Catholic newspapers. He also owned Clery’s department store and the Imperial Hotel. William Martin Murphy made his fortune with the Dublin United Tramway Company (DUCT). However, workers had to deal with long hours and harsh working conditions. Their pay fell way below what their counterparts on the Belfast trams were getting. Tramway drivers and conductors worked 12 hours and longer with no overtime pay, they had 1 day off in 12. When you started working for the company you worked six weeks before being payed and with the fear of losing your job at any time. In the summer of 1913 James Larkin made a point that the success of the DUCT was due to the sweat and hard labour of its workers. The unrest in William Murphy’s company led to a great active support for the ITGWU in the Tramway and Distribution department of the Irish Independent.

Seeing a dangerous situation, developing William Martin Murphy called a meeting on 29th July for all his 700 workers, warning them if they joined the union (ITGWU) they would be sacked. He made it clear he was not going to negotiate with James Larkin or anyone from the ITGWU. William Murphy was not against a union as long as he could control it. Things came to a head on 26th August when employees of Dublin United Tramways Company DUCT dumped their trams on Sackville Street now O’ Connell Street in protest at William Murphy’s restrictions on ITGWU

The lockout began on the 1st of September 1913 when workers in Jacob’s biscuit factory were fired for wearing the unions Red Hand badge to work. By the end of the week there were 3,000 workers, mostly woman that were locked out of the factory. The coal merchants locked out their workers, then firm after firm followed suit. At the end of the month, 400 employers had locked workers out of factories. When the workers tried to picket, they were met by violent police attacks, when the workers would complain about how they were treated they were arrested, as they wanted better working conditions and a better wage for those who were unskilled. The situation only got worse for the workers and their families, as they had no money because they couldn’t get into the factories. They were faced with great hardships, but they stuck it out for six months. With all the violence assaults and death on striking workers no one was held accountable but workers who appeared in court where sentenced from one to three months for public order offences.

During the strike, it was suggested that the children might be sent to England for a holiday. Dora Montefiore a London social worker and suffragette who was in Dublin to address a meeting of the Irish Women’s Franchise League made the proposal and was known as the Dublin Kiddies scheme. The plan was endorsed by the ITGWU but was opposed by the Catholic Church. They didn’t want Irish children going over to Protestant England – how could any mother call herself a catholic doing this! The influence of the Catholic Church was strong at the time. What choice did parents have? No work or money children were starving. At the train station in Westland Row and Dun Laoghaire port there were protesters led by some clergy trying to stop the children being sent over to England. Children being frightened and separated from their mothers. Priests intervened to protect the children. With all this going on only a few children were sent over to England and after this the Kiddies scheme as it was called was stopped before it really got started. The Catholic Church and William Martin Murphy won again.

By 27th September food parcels where sent over to Ireland for striking workers and their families from Britain, financed by the British Trade Union Congress (TUC). In December, workers and employers met again to try to reach an agreement about the men going back to work. The employers refused to give any man who was involved in the strike their jobs back. Things were at a standstill. By January 1914 the TUC told James Larkin that they would not be able to send over anymore food aid to Dublin. This made starvation a big possibility for the strikers. With this hanging over the strikers’ heads, the Lockout was in doubt. In January, James Larkin called workers to a meeting at Croydon Park telling them to go back to work and try to get the best conditions they could for themselves and not to sign anything against the ITGWU. The lockout ended in February 1914 with employers thinking they had beaten the union.

With World War 1 starting on August 4th 1914 thousands of Irish men joined up to fight. This left a great shortage of men badly needed for work at home. It put the union in a strong position, membership increased from 24,135 in January 1913 to 120,000 by 1920 two years after the war. The lockout may have failed in one way but in another, it did not. Those brave men and women fought for better working conditions for themselves and for future generations. The lockout was a low point in employers and employees relations and no employer should be able to try to destroy a union like that ever again. 

The key lesson with all that happened with the lockout is the importance of solidarity and standing together in the workplace. Things have improved a lot since the lockout, with better working conditions. For example working five days a week, four weeks holidays a year, bank holiday pay, sick pay as well as looking after under 18’s and the hours they work. The Labour Courts are there as well. Things are not perfect by no means. Unions are still not welcome in the workplace by management. Recently when a union representative went into a supermarket, he was escorted out by security. Unfortunately, with businesses and factories closing down people are finding it hard to make ends meet. A lot are losing their homes and becoming homeless, either living in bed and breakfasts, hostels or worse still, on the streets. In 2008, the government bailed out the banks with taxpayer money. Now move on to 2019 the ordinary working people are being sacrificed again to protect the profits of the banks. Land developers are charging rent that people can’t afford. Even the charity organizations cannot cope with the numbers of people living on the streets. 1913 families lived in the tenements living in disgraceful conditions. We have to ask ourselves are we heading back to this?

Both men are buried near to each other in Glasnevin Cemetery. It is ironic that they were so far apart in life but in death, they will be close forever. 

William Martin Murphy – Born January 6 1845 – Died June 26 1919

James Larkin – Born January 21 1876 – Died January 30 1947

“It means that the men who hold the means of life control our lives, and because we workingmen have tried to get some measure of justice, some measure of betterment, they deny the right of the human being to associate with his fellow.” James Larkin

Worksheet Questions – The Lockout

Worksheet: Questions – The Lockout

What year did The Lockout happen?


Who was head of the union involved in The Lockout?


Who owned the Imperial Hotel in Dublin during The Lockout?


What happened in Church Street in September 1913?


How old were William Murphy and James Larkin when they died?