Anarcho-Syndicalism in Ireland 1984 – 2016

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Anarcho-syndicalism might be said to have arrived in Ireland in the mid-1980s when it was adopted by the Ballymena Anarchist Group.  There had been individual anarcho-syndicalists active in their trade unions previously, including some Dublin supporters of the (British) Syndicalist Workers Federation in the 1960s, but this was it’s first public appearance.

The past three decades can give an impression of there having been numerous shortlived groupings.  The reality is that, despite many changes of it’s name and that of it’s publications, there is a continuity of politics and members.  Essentially, we are seeing different phases in the development of the one organisation.


Membership was initially based on Antrim town and Ballymena.  By the late 1980s Belfast had more members and it has remained like that since.  Membership has been almost totally north of the border, with just the occasional member in Cork, Kildare and Dublin.



saw the creation of Ballymena and Antrim Anarchist Groups. The Ballymena group, some of whom had previously been in the Young Socialists, was in existence for several months before the Antrim group and published two issues of Black Star.  Both groups then went on to jointly publish six issues the Antrim Alternative, with a circulation of 300-500.


1985 – 1989

The Antrim Alternative was succeeded by an explicitly syndicalist magazine, Organise! the Voice of Anarcho-Syndicalism.  By late 1986 the Ballymena and Antrim Anarchist Groups had changed their name to Organise!  

Organise 5 coverClick here to download


Belfast Class Struggle Anarchist Group – Initially influenced by the British Class War, this small group from the (loyalist) New Mossley and Rathcoole estates, found their definition of working class too narrow.  A couple of those involved went on to contact Organise! and were involved in that group’s re-emergence.  While still sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalism, it initially described itself as “class struggle anarchist”.

Organise - where we stand 1991Click here to download

1991- 1999

Organise! – IWA  (publication: Rebel Worker). In this period Organise! again became specifically anarcho-syndicalist and the name of the bulletin, for a time a magazine, reverted to Organise – the voice of anarcho-syndicalism.  In 1996 Organise! affiliated to the International Workers Association as it’s Irish section.  By 1999, with a much reduced membership, it found sustaining local activity and their involvement in the IWA increasingly difficult to maintain, and decided to disband.

Rebel Worker 4 coverClick here to download


Organise 2:8 coverClick here to download

1999 – 2001

After the dissolution of Organise!-IWA a series of discussions were held by anarcho-syndicalists under the banner of the Syndicalist Solidarity Network.  Those involved created the Anarcho-Synicalist Federation shortly afterwards.  The SSN produced a single issue of Solidarity Magazine.  They also produced the Belfast Solidarity Bulletin.

 Solidarity mag cover Click here to download


2001 – 2003

The name changed to Organise! – Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation and they continued to produce the Belfast Solidarity Bulletin.  They also put out 2 issues of Wildcat, a joint bulletin of Organise! and the tiny Anarchist Federation (Ireland).  The AF(I) was very closely connected to the (British) Anarchist Federation.

Resistance 10Click here to download

In it’s brief life, the AF(I) -with a scattering of members in Kildare, Dublin, Warrenpoint and Belfast – produced 10 issues of Resistance, before merging into Organise!


2003 – 2012

In 2003 it was announced that “after successful discussions, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, Anarchist Federation (Ireland), Anarchist Prisoner Support and a number of individuals merged to relaunch Organise!”   Published Working Class Resistance,

WSR10 coverClick here to download

then The Leveller.

Leveller 6 coverClick here to download

This version of Organise! initially attempted to build a broader class struggle anarchist federation becoming specifically syndicalist again, probably by 2005.


2012 -2015

The organisation decided to join the British section of the IWA, the Solidarity Federation, as it’s Belfast branch.  Members of Organise! in other parts of Ireland were attached to the Belfast branch.

At the 2013 conference of the Solidarity Federation Belfast was formally admitted and its constitution changed so that it was now the IWA section for Britain and Ireland.  Irish members reserved the option of forming an independent IWA section in Ireland in the future.  Organise! remains the name of the SolidarityFederation (Ireland region). Currently this consists of the Belfast branch, along with members in Lisburn and Portadown.


In April 2016 they opened an office/meeting room/library at 22 Berry Street in Belfast city centre.

Outta Control – Belfast – January 1983

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Outta Control 35 pngClick here to download

The cover story tells of how the British Army were able to veto the building of new houses on Belfast’s Crumlin Road, despite the Housing Executive, the Planning Office, and the local community association all being in favour of the development. It goes on to report that Housing Executive managers were holding regular meetings with the Army, and that Belfast Development Officer John Steel had been photographed in military uniform during a visit by the Queen to Hillsborough Castle.

Their Dublin correspondent details the fatal shooting – in the back of the neck and while unarmed – of Eamon Byrne. Byrne was a known robber whose life had previously been threatened by Gardai.

Other stories look at Northern Ireland Electricity’s heartless treatment of families in debt; plastic bullets; the Shoot-To-Kill policy of the RUC and British Army which saw seven unarmed men killed in an eight week period; and how the punk band Crass and 50 friends occupied a disused music venue in London, repelled the police and gave a free concert to 1,500 fans.

Outta Control – Belfast – November 1982

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The cover story is about the Health Board boss, Ernest Kirkpatrick, who also ran a company which used blood pressure gauges stolen from Craigavon hospital and then sold the finished products back to the NHS. Kirkpatrick also conned the health service into buying him a luxury house. Sharing the front page is an article by the Moyard Housing Action Committee about the sewage problem on their estate which led to an outbreak of polio.

Inside there is an interview with two shop stewards about the strike for union recognition at Eastwoods scrapyard (a major employer in West Belfast and owned by the same ‘Mr Eastwood’ who was boxer Barry McGuigan’s manager).

Their Dublin correspondent reports from the campaign against the amendment which put the ban on abortion into the Constitution. How the anti-choice brigade got the Black Sheep pub in Coolock to cancel a room booking for an anti-amendment public meeting, and then tried to break up an outdoor meeting organised as an alternative.

Other pieces cover segregation of loyalist and republican prisoners, a Channel 4 tv programme about animal experimentation, John DeLorean (he of the gull-winged car, as seen in Back to the Future) and his move from motor manufacturer to cocaine dealer, and one on religion taken from the Dublin Anarchist Collective’s Nobody Rules OK pamphlet

Self Control – Belfast – March 1980

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Outta Control was a monthly bulletin from the Belfast Anarchist Collective who published 42 issues from 1980 to 1984. The first issue was titled Self-Control, after much joking that the title seemed more appropriate to an anti-masturbation tract, it was changed to Outta Control from no.2 onwards.

The BAC also ran a bookshop, Just Books, at 7 Winetavern Street (where the Castlecourt Shopping Centre now stands). The shop opened in June 1978 and finally closed 16 years later in June 1994.

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Contents of this issue include the republican prison struggle in the H-Blocks, the court case for conjugal rights taken by anarchist prisoners Marie and Noel Murray, and a piece accusing local punk-pop band Stiff Little Fingers of “selling out” because they signed to a major record label.

Workers Solidarity no.29 (Autumn 1988)

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ws29 coverClick here to download

Among the articles are

Kevin Doyle‘s A Fight for Useful Work, which looks at the response of Lucas Aerospace shop stewards in Britain to threatened job losses.  Their proposal was to stop producing for the military and for people’s needs to be put before the owners’ profits.  After assessing the skills and machinery in the firm’s plants, they came up with an alternative plan for socially useful production.  Among their findings were that they could manufacture artificial limb control systems, a ‘hobcart’ to give mobility to children with Spina Bifida, heat pumps to save waste heat, solar energy cells, wind turbines, a combined petrol/battery car which could cut fuel requirements by up to half, and much more. “…it showed what enormous potential a society based on socialism could have”.

– An obituary for Daniel Guerin; a veteran of the French resistance, anti-imperialist, gay rights campaigner and anarchist.  Accompanying it is his article For a Libertarian Communism.

– The story of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, retold by Alan MacSimóin, for its 75th anniversary.

– A review of Cliff Harper’s Anarchy – a graphic guide.

– The second ‘Thinking about Anarchism’ column, which ran for twenty years, was from Myles Kennedy.  This one looks at ‘freedom’, and concludes that new and democratic forms of organisation are necessary because oppressive structures, like the State, “can only be used to impose the will of a minority on the majority”.

– Ryanair’s anti-union behaviour (some things haven’t changed)

– The leader of the Italian Communist Party sending a message of condolence upon the death of Giorgio Almirante, the leader of the fascist MSI party.  This was the man who, 1944, ordered all Italians to rally to Mussolini’s Salo Republic within 24 hours and decreed that “those who do not present themselves will be considered outlaws and executed by shooting in the back”.  Almirante died an unrepentant fascist.

– How a union won Ireland’s first workplace agreement prohibiting discrimination against workers with HIV or AIDS, and did this at a time when there was irrational hysteria about this condition.

– The privatisation of the Harland & Wolfe shipyard and Shorts aircraft factory, or how those mainly loyalist workforces got a slap in the face inreturn for their loyalty.

– The arrival of ‘two-tier’ wages in the Bank of Ireland.

Workers Solidarity no.28 (Summer 1988)

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WS28 coverclick here to download

This 24 page issue marked the reappearance of Workers Solidarity after an absence of almost a year.  It had changed from a monthly 8-page paper to a quarterly 24-page magazine.  The new format saw a move away from labour exchange and Friday night pub sales to a greater concentration on events attended by people who already had some sympathy for radical ideas.  The print run was reduced to 500 and the new format saw a move away from labour exchange and Friday night pub sales to a greater concentration on events attended by people who already had some sympathy for radical ideas.

More interestingly, the editorial explains that this change was due to a loss of members who had “found it difficult to come to terms with the temporary lull in the momentum of the class struggle that we have seen in the last few years.  Instead they started to look for short cuts to socialism and eventually rejected anarchism”.  It goes on to say that “after much discussion we identified much of what went wrong and now are in a position to step up our level of activity”.   The WSM also published a statement about this, which is still online here

Among the articles are
– The fight for abortion rights five years after the 1983 “pro-life” amendment was put into the 26 county Constitution;
– An interview with the then Old Vic barman on BBC TV’s Eastenders, actor Tom Watt;
– The adoption by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions of a “radical policy document” on Lesbian & Gay Rights in the workplace.  This was at a time when gay sex was still illegal and technically punishable with life in prison;
– An explanation of “The anarchist idea: socialism and freedom”;
– Looking at Sinn Féin’s “socialism”, and concluding that it was “based on the Cuban/Russian model, which has shown itself time after time to be just as repressive as Western style capitalism.  They draw inspiration from third world National Liberation Movements, which once they have won power have shown no mercy in oppressing their on workers”.  [Since the collapse of the Soviet Union they have moved into the political mainstream and would now be happy to go into a coalition government with Fianna Fail];
– The first ‘Thinking about Anarchism’ column, which ran for twenty years.  This one tackles the question of what is the State, and why anarchists want to abolish it;
– A history of May Day, and it’s origins in the 1886 execution of anarchist trade unionists in Chicago for their part in the struggle for the 8-hour day.

Ainriail, Belfast no.1 (1985)

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Ainriail 1 cover

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This A5 magazine was published by a group of anarchists in Belfast, who had earlier that year also published a similar magazine called R@view.  Seven issues of Ainriail* were produced, with the final one appearing in March 1987.  As they note in their ‘Who We Are’, “This paper is an attempt to carry on where it [R@view] left off.  Our Aims and Principles are a more refined version of R@view’s”.  Their politics now placed capitalism at the centre, with various oppressions (national, gender, etc.) flowing from it – rather than seeing capitalism as just one more bad thing.  Their goal was explicitly stated as “a classless and free libertarian communist country”.

Perhaps reflecting the nationalist ideas surrounding most radical dissent in Northern Ireland during this period, the 26 counties are described as a “neo-colonial” state.  For nationalists this meant that sections of the southern ruling class could be won to involvement in the ‘national liberation struggle’ as they were still partially under the thumb of Britain.  However, there is no evidence that Ainriail shared this view.

Most other Irish anarchists rejected the ‘neo-colonial’ tag and pointed to Ireland’s membership of the EU, the declining role of British investment in the economy, and the rapid growth of a confident native capitalist class since the era of Sean Lemass and the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement in the 1960s.

Other articles included:

How the use of plastic bullets against marchers supporting the republican hunger strikers in the Lower Ormeau had the effect of making local people afraid to take to the streets, even on issues like the lack of community amenities.

The failed court case taken by life prisoners Noel and Marie Murray for conjugal rights in prison. There were two anarchists from a small Dublin group, composed mainly of ex-republicans, jailed in 1975 after the fatal shooting of a garda during a bank robbery. Interestingly, among their legal representatives was Sean McBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and later a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The long running (and ultimately successful) strike against selling South African apartheid produce in Dunnes Stores.

The censoring, by the BBC, of the ‘Real Lives’ TV programme because it included an interview with Martin McGuinness – the same man who is now Deputy First Minister at Stormont. The National Union of Journalists held a one-day strike against this censorship, which resulted in the programme being shown later with only minor changes.

Asbestos being removed from the Divis Flats in West Belfast by the Housing Executive, and just dumped in open skips on the street.

*Not to be confused with the Ainriail published in the 1990s by the Frontline Collective in Galway.

R@view (1985)

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This A5 little magazine appeared in March 1985, published by some ex-members of the Belfast Anarchist Collective.  The BAC had disbanded a couple of years previously, seemingly as a result of major political differences but no explanation of these was ever published.  However the Just Books anarchist bookshop on Winetavern Street continued and the R@view group were involved with it.

R@view coverclick here to download

The first article is a ‘who we are and what we want’ introduction.  Most striking is their apparent view that the class division in society is just one of several oppressions, rather than the root cause of them all.  The magazine “will concern ourselves with three inter-related areas: patriarchy, state repression, capitalism”.  They also say that “we see ourselves as fighting alongside the working class”, which might imply that they don’t see themselves as part of the class.  Of course it could also be simply a case of clumsy writing.

There was only one issue, but Ainriail* began publication later that year.  It was in the same format and came from the same people, but with a more developed explanation of their politics.

*Not to be confused with the Ainriail published in the 1990s by the Frontline Collective in Galway.

Other articles dealt with

The court case for conjugal rights by Marie and Noel Murray, two anarchists from a small Dublin group composed mainly of ex-republicans, jailed in 1975 after the fatal shooting of a garda during a bank robbery.

Union busting at Hyndman’s Bakery in Maghera, and the failure of their union to stand up for its members after they were sacked for going on strike in defence of that same union.

An interview with two anarchists who were part of the group which made a video about the “supergrass” trials.

Strip searching of women prisoners in Armagh jail.

A look at the Irish Feminist Review ’84.

The Kerry Babies case.

Resistance (1983)

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Resistance was produced in 1983 by the Dublin Anarchist Collective, which had come into existence the previous year. Despite the name, there was no formal connection with the Resistance! magazine published in Dublin in 1980. Circulation was about 500 copies.

A couple of those involved, Sue Richardson and Steve Woods, had been part of the Dublin Anarchist Group (1978-1981). Other members were Eddie Conlon – who was one of the founding members of the Workers Solidarity Movement in 1984, Honorary Secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, and more recently a spokesperson for the United Left Alliance; Caroline Butler, Mary Flanagan and Marianne Heron.

click here to download

No.1 opens with a piece about the 1983 budget, much of which could be written today “..those with an unfair share of wealth and privilege are in effect immune to the cut-backs and the real hardship of the recession (created in the first place by the greed and ineptitude of capitalists and politicians)”, “..they are apt to use every trick in the book to con people into thinking they have no alternative but to take these measures”, “..the health cuts and the increasing shortage of hospital beds mark a regression to the last century”. It also calls for a No vote in the anti-abortion referendum, looks at the then novel idea of community policing, the creation of unemployed action groups, and pays tribute to Doloures Lynch who was murdered in Dublin for standing up to pimps.

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No.2 opens with opposition to the proposed Constitutional amendment to stop abortion ever being legalised, and urges readers to join the broad-based Anti Amendment Campaign. The occupation of the Ranks flour mill in Phibsboro is recounted, with the jailing and subsequent release of 14 workers.  The unofficial strikes in support of them by the dockers, car workers at Nissan and Mazda on the Naas Road, Unidare in Finglas, Oldlums mills and others are contrasted with the inaction of the ITGWU head office. There is also an article by an ex-prisoner (Sue Richardson) criticising the jailed Ranks strikers for differentiating themselves from ordinary prisoners by saying they were not ‘criminals’.

An article for International Women’s Day sees the oppression of women as a product of class society, “We have been deemed the servants of men, much as our men have been treated as the servants of the bosses”. A look at attempts to divide and conquer by implying that public sector workers are a burden on their private sector counterparts is given a page, and there are pieces about Emma Goldman, Polish feminism, an unemployed action group in Finglas, the trial of those who tried to fight their way to the British embassy after gardai stopped a hunger strike march, discrimination against women in dole payments, and the possible locating of cruise missiles in Northern Ireland.

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No.3 looks at the tax reform protest and the refusal of Waterford Glass workers to allow PAYE & PRSI to be taken from their wages. Also covered is the murder of gay man Declan Flynn in Fairview and Justice Gannon’s decision to impose no jail time on the convicted killers.  Confidence in the willingness of the justice system to defend gays was further questioned, given that garda inquiry into another murder of a gay man, Charles Self, was used to compile dossiers on 1,500 gay people.

The Peoples March for Decent Jobs is announced, this was a Cork to Dublin march financed by dozens of union branches, trades councils and unemployed groups.  Rather than call for the ‘Right to Work’ their call was for ‘decent jobs’.  This resulted from anarchists making the case that the jobless should not be thankful for scheme work or low paid jobs but should fight for socially useful work paid at trade union rates.

Other articles look at the proposal to build a major liquid gas storage facility in Clontarf, the continuing occupation of Ranks flour mill, the government ministers who drew pensions while working, a strike at Pizzaland, the creation of a co-operative creche by single parents in Ballymun, Nicky Kelly’s hunger strike, and a brief mention of the anarchist origin of May Day.  There is also a snippet about a prison officer from Portlaoise who was shot and wounded as he left the National Boxing Stadium.  Resistance says he had a long history of brutality towards prisoners.

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No.4 leads with support for abortion rights, this was in the run up to the constitutional referendum.  The Waterford Glass workers’ tax protest spread to Dublin, with an unofficial shop stewards committee – which included a couple of anarchists – able to call a half-day strike in their own jobs.  Among those out were Datsun, Tayto, Packard Electric, Tesco, Unidare, Rowntrees, and sections of Aer Lingus, Dublin Corporation and CIE.

‘Erin Go Expedience’ is a guest article by “a friend in the North who is now totally disillusioned with the Republican Movement, of which he used to be part”.  The editors say the views expressed in it do “not entirely coincide with those of the Dublin Anarchist Collective” but don’t tell us what the differences are.

Other articles include a rooftop protest in Mountjoy prison, a report on the Peoples March for Decent Jobs, a strike at KC bakery, and the export of toxic waste to countries with no effective controls is looked at in the context of the resulting illness and premature deaths.

Libertarian Communist (1980)

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Following on from Tony Zebrugg’s piece on British anarchists and Ireland in the 1970s, here is an article about the Irish labour movement and partition from Libertarian Communist (the magazine of the British Libertarian Communist Group) in 1980. As well as a brief history of the Irish working class, it deals with the ICTU’s Better Life For All campaign.

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At the time most of the left in both Ireland and Britain either enthusiastically supported that campaign (e.g. The Workers Party and Militant Tendency) or dismissed it out of hand as ‘pro-imperialist’ (most trotskyist and republican groups). The LCG’s view was that it was well-intentioned but totally impractical because of the large amounts of capital it would require from the British state to address the economic inequalities that underpinned sectarianism. They also pointed out that there was no point in lobbying the unionist ruling class to get rid of sectarianism as they “would thereby lose their source of strength”.

The promised follow-up articles never appeared as the LCG decided to disband and join Big Flame. BF described themselves as “a revolutionary socialist feminist organisation with a working-class orientation”.

The name ‘Big Flame’ came from a 1969 BBC television play, The Big Flame, written by Jim Allen and directed by Ken Loach, about a fictional strike in the Liverpool Docks.

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