Irish labour radicals & the Industrial Workers of the World in the early 20th century (2016)

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The ‘One Big Union’ is a motto of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), founded in Chicago in 1905 and continuing today with several thousand members in the USA & Canada, about one thousand in the Britain, and smaller numbers in a handful of other countries.

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Reflecting disappointment with the achievements of political Labour, the IWW is ‘syndicalist’ in advocating that working people rely on militant trade unionism (and not politics) to create a socialist society. Prominently associated with the IWW’s revolutionary ‘Wobbly’ wing were Cork-born Mother Jones, Tom Glynn of Gurteen, Co. Galway, and James Connolly, an IWW organiser in New York. ‘Big Jim’ Larkin gave a graveside oration for Joe Hill, best-known of the Wobbly martyrs.

This conference will examine the contribution of Irish people to the IWW in America, Australia and South Africa, and consider the influence of the IWW’s syndicalism on bodies like the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union and the Irish Citizen Army.

This conference, open to all, takes place in NUI Galway & Galway city centre on Friday and Saturday 11-12 November 2016.

A modest €5 registration charge covers the cost of tea, coffee and biscuits over the two days.

prDownload the programme as a PDF here.

Full programme:

FRIDAY, 11 NOVEMBER, Hardiman Building, GO10

Panel 1, 2.00 pm: Chair: Sarah-Anne Buckley, ICHLC
Jim Larkin, Jack Carney and the American Irish Worker (1917), James Curry
Patrick J. Read’s ‘Irishness’ & the Creation of the Wobbly Mythos, Matthew White
Joe Hill and Ireland, Francis Devine


Panel 2: 3.45: Chair: Prof. Terrence McDonough, ICHLC
The Rebel Irish & the IWW: The Roots of American Syndicalism, Kristin Lawler
Sacco and Vanzetti and the Radical Irish World, Niall Whelehan
From Socialist to Syndicalist, to Communist: The political development of William Z. Foster, 1904-1922, Liam Ó Discín


8 pm Function Room, John Keogh’s, Upper Dominick Street
‘Rebel Voices: Galway Wobbly Connections’. Chair: Catherine Connolly TD
Peter Yorke: A Galway priest & the San Francisco labor movement, Tadhg Foley
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: A Galway Rebel Girl, Meredith Meagher
The Syndicalist Trajectories of Tom Glynn & Mary Fitzgerald, John Cunningham

SATURDAY, 12 NOVEMBER, Hardiman Building, GO10

Panel 3, 10.15 am. Chair: Jamie Canavan, NUI Galway
Connolly the Marxist Socialist, but what sort? Bolshevik, Menshevik or Industrial Democrat? The ideological impact of the IWW, Manus O’Riordan
Industrial Unionism and Social Democracy: Connolly as vector of organising principles, Gavin Mendel-Gleason
‘We Irish are a working race’: Connolly & Flynn in the United States, Stephen Thorntonbad

Panel 4, 12.00, Chair: Mary Gibbons, Galway Council of Trade Unions
Captain Jack White: Syndicalist? Leo Keohane
Syndicalism as a dirty word: Press coverage of radical trade unionism in early twentieth century Ireland, Donal Fallon
Patrick Quinlan: nationalist or militant IWW member? Gerry Watts

Keynote address, 2.15 pm: Chair: Tish Gibbons, Siptu
‘Romances and Erasures’, David Howell

Panel 5, 3.30 pm Chair: Jackie Uí Chionna, NUI Galway
American Reactions to the 1916 Rising, Luke Gibbons
Rebel Women and the IWW, Teresa Moriarty
The Irish & the Mooney case: a miscarriage of Justice in California, John Borgonovo  

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This conference is organised by the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour & Class at the National University of Ireland-Galway.

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Pat Read – another Irish anarchist who fought fascism in Spain

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Sean Cronin’s* article from the Irish Times in 1969 about Irish-Americans and the Industrial Workers of the World mentions Pat Read, “an Irish born rebel who fought with the Anarchists in Spain”.  Thanks to Sam McGrath for passing this on.

Read extract

Click here to download the full article

More recently Ciaran Crossey has written about Read for the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War site.  He has also authored a pamphlet, Pat Read – An Irish anarchist in the SCW.

Below is his obituary from the Industrial Worker, Nov. 22nd 1947.

Patrick J Read, former editor of the Industrial Worker, dies

Patrick J Read, former editor of the Industrial Worker, life-long battler for bona fide unionism, died Sunday morning, Nov. 16, of cerebral haemorrhage, in a Chicago hospital. His fellow workers arranged for an IWW funeral the following Tuesday.

Pat Read joined the fight against exploitation in his boyhood. He has carried on that battle in many lands. In Ireland, off whose coast he was born half a century ago; in England, in France, in Spain, in Canada, as well as in these United States. A staunch supporter of the militant struggles of James Connolly in Ireland, he carried that philosophy with him wherever he went, and did his utmost to put it into action. He was associated with the most militant syndicalists of France, proud of his membership on the CNT while fighting Franco during the Spanish Civil war, as he was proud these many years of his little red card in the IWW.

During the First World War he married while in France, but his wife died and his son was killed during WW2. He is survived by his friends and fellow workers, and by a working class whose eyes he laboured diligently to open.

Pat Reid in Spain

Pat Reid in Spain

Read was a fighter intellectually and physically. He stopped more than one of Franco’s mercenaries from further murder, and left his mark on the scabs of more than one big strike. Gifted with a warm heart, a keen mind and a caustic tongue, he lashed at the humbug and hokum of labor fakirs and politicians; at the futile reformer and the labor-shacking ‘do-gooder’.

For various reasons writing under various names he contributed much too the analysis of the labor movement. His approach was predominantly the psychology of what makes it tick – and what stops it from ticking. For many years he was endeavouring from his approach to make a complete analysis of unionism. Some of this material was run up as “The ABC if unionism”, a study of the fervour and fife that goes into the building of a union, and of the processes whereby in too many instances it has degenerated into the drabness of a labor brokerage. His more serious analyses received the limited attention such hard work usually receives; the lash of his irony is best known through an incidental piece of writing that has been reprinted many times and translated into many languages, a letter ‘Chicago Replies to Moscow’ in which he told off the Commies as they have never been told off before….or since.

The thinking of the labor movement is richer, and the fires of revolt burn the brighter, because Pat Read lived and wrote and fought.

*Cronin was a member of the IRA, and its Chief of Staff in the late 1950s.  After the failure of the IRA’s border campaign (1956-1962) he was among those republicans who moved sharply to the left.