I proposed the following motion which was adopted unanimously at Conference in Kilkenny on 30 November 2008.
That Conference agrees to establish a Centenary Commission consisting of members of the Labour party and the Trade Union Movement to draw up plans to commemorate the role of organised labour in the founding of the Labour party in 1912, in the Great Lock Out of 1913 and in the Easter Rising of 1916.
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Next year, 2009, SIPTU will celebrate its centenary the foundation of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1909, the Labour Party will celebrate its centenary n 2012, while in 2013 we will commemorate the centenary of the suffering of the thousands of Dublin workers in the 1913 Lockout. 2016 will see the centenary of the 1916 Rising and other centenary years will follow including the first Dail, the the War of Independence and the disastrous Civil War.
The foundation of the ITGWU in 1909 laid the foundations for organised labour in Ireland based on the values of solidarity, liberty and equality
It soon became clear to Connolly and Larkin after the establishment of the ITGWU that a political wing of the Trade Union Movement was not just desirable, but was absolutely essential if the aims and objectives of the Labour Movement were ever to be achieved. And so the Labour Party was born in Clonmel in 1912 with Larkin proposing the motion and Connolly seconding.
In joining the struggle for Irish Independence, the founding fathers of the Labour Party believed not just in an independent Ireland, but in an Ireland that was firmly rooted in the principles of an equal and fair society It was the vision of Connolly and Larkin that shaped the beliefs and values of set out in the 1916 Proclamation which in affirming the Irish Republic “guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.
For Larkin the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement were one and the same – “the cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland”
Similarly, for Connolly republicanism and socialism were completely complementary, and the Irish socialist was in reality the true Irish patriot.
Ireland without her people is nothing to me, and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’, and can yet… witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland…… , without burning to end it, is, in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart”
Connolly gave up his life for the cause of Labour and the cause of Ireland. Each year The Labour Party and SIPTU combine each May to commemorate the execution of James Connolly at Arbour Hill and pay tribute to the man whose vision still defines our very existence.
In 1918 Labour acting in the national interest stood aside and so was prevented from leading the political agenda to fulfil the goals of the Proclamation. Unfortunately, the vision enunciated in the Proclamation did not survive the War of Independence or the Civil War. Instea dthe republican ideals of Tone, Pearse and Connolly were lost in the clamour of bitterness and recrimination of civil war politics..
The Labour Party today still strives to achieve the ideals of Connolly and Larkin and the Proclamation. The Ireland of today at the turn of the 21st Century faces many of the same political challenges Irish people faced at the turn of the 20th Century. Financial markets in turmoil, unscrupulous employers using the current economic vulnerabilities to exploit workers, antipathy and opposition towards organised labour and the trade union movement, and shady wealthy figures exploiting fears by finding convenient targets and scapegoats. Yet the main difference between today and the early 20th Centuryis that it is not the British Government that has brought us to this point but an Irish Government whose main Party has the audacity to claim to be a Republican Party.
It is time to reclaim the essence of Republicanism for Labour
The Labour Party is indeed the child of the Trade Union movement, and while it has been argued that perhaps the Party has come “of age” and should break the umbilical cord there is no way that we can ever or should ever lose sight of our trade union origins and roots.
In 2006 under the excellent stewardship of Liz McManus the Labour Party and SIPTU joined forces to celebrate the role of the Labour Movement around the events leading up to the 1916 rising in the very successful Liberty Project.
This motion seeks to build on the success of the Liberty Project and calls on the Party to establish a centenary commission to celebrate the inextricable links between the Trade Union Movement and the Labour Party.
I commend the motion.