John MacLean Internet Archive                                                    Transcribed by the John MacLean Internet Archive

Reflections on Belfast

by John Maclean

Source: Justice 24th August 1907, p.4
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive ( 2007. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

I was in Belfast from August 3 to August 6, invited over to speak on behalf of the Socialist Society. The work of organising and prosecuting the fight between the Dockers and Carters on the one hand, and the capitalists of Belfast, the Shipping Federation, three powerful English railway companies, the press, the police forces of the capitalist Town Council, and the army of the Liberal capitalists of Britain on the other, was partially in the hands of the active Socialists. I happened to be living in the same house as James Larkin, the organiser of the Dockers, and a staunch Socialist. Larkin went the length of allowing me to hear all the committee’s discussion of the conditions under which the Carters should return to work pending arbitration.

The strikers and thousands of workers knew that they must cease quarrelling about Catholicism and Protestantism, because thus they would be playing the game of the capitalists. I believe religious riots are a thing of the past, consequent upon the eyes of the people having been opened to the scurrility of the party press and to the treachery of the party politicians, both Nationalists and Unionists alike.

The workers have gone mad on Trade Unionism, and are rushing up to all the prominent men in the strike, wanting to join a Union—any Union. They are flocking into the Co-operative Society. They are rolling up in tens of thousands to the Custom House Steps on the Sundays to listen to the revolutionary gospel of Socialism. To read capitalist newspapers, one would imagine that these excitable Irishmen were the most turbulent rowdies within our isles; but the Socialist speaker gets the impression that they are the most mannerly and best-tempered section of the British workers, so long as they are being fairly treated or honourably and intelligently led. Never have I seen strikers and workers so good-humoured and kindly whilst prosecuting the class struggle. The men were justly entitled to strike because of the miserably low wages paid and the general treatment meted out to them by their slave-drivers; the men were justly entitled to upset carts and scatter the goods when the employers introduced blacklegs to beat their attempts at paralysing trade. If soldiers were needed in Belfast, then their services should have been given gratis to the workers who were being starved into surrender or incited on to revolt by the employment of blacklegs and constables.

The masters refused arbitration unless the Carters would return to work with non-union men. Their game was to defeat the men by cunning, even before arbitration should take place. If non-unionists were to be allowed, the union men’s chances of employment would have approached zero-point. Larkin saw this in the stipulations sent out by the masters’ solicitor. He objected, and the masters at once broke off negotiations. Must not the men have been embittered?

Prior to this the policemen on strike had been transferred to country districts, and raw blood was taken from the country to act as “blackleg policemen.” The people considered them as such, and justly so.

When Larkin, Grayson and myself were walking along Royal Avenue on the Tuesday preceding the murder, Larkin pointed out to us two lorries with three or four policemen on each. This meant that peaceful picketing was useless, that the Trade Disputes Act is not worth the paper it is printed on. Of course, private detectives were watching us, and they informed the authorities of this lesson given to Grayson, who might refer to it in the House of Commons. Next day or the day after the R.I.C. were withdrawn from the lorries, but the soldiers were sent up the principal streets to picket (with their guns) on behalf of the capitalists.

This further dodge ought to show trade unionists that they will never get equal treatment with the capitalists in any struggle. The Taff Vale decision drove them into politics. It is now the duty of Social Democrats within their unions to show their “brethren” that Labour Politics à la Radicalism is foolish, and that the Belfast affair must compel them to take one step forward and logically adopt Socialism as the aim of their political activities.

Was it not natural for the young hooligans of Belfast, unconscious of the grave consequences of their mischievous activities, to interfere in the arrest of two pugilistcally-inclined workers by what they termed blackleg R.J.C.? The constables should have released the two peace-breakers when they saw the temper and the rapid growth of the mob. But, of course what could be expected of the rank-and-file policeman when his “superiors” had themselves lost all judgment? Reinforcements should got not have been sent to the assistance of the two exciters of the people. The authorities should have called off their two slaves. Had such been their course, no stones, no bottles would have been thrown no soldiers would have been necessary, no workers would have been killed or wounded. To charge Grayson, who made reference at Huddersfield to what he saw, in one of the Sunday papers (and one of these I have read since, containing the items referred to by him), is exactly one of these dexterous moves used by the capitalists in the class struggle to screen their guilt and keep the people blindly supporting their own robbery and enslavement. However, it is our duty to proclaim the Belfast Council immediately responsible for the murder of innocent members of our class, and the Liberal Government ultimately responsible for the infamous deed. Let our propagandists point out to the people, that no military would have been there, and no deaths would have been registered if the workers had not returned capitalists and their flunkeys to the Belfast Corporation and to the House of Commons. Never had we a better chance to expose the Liberals, who have done in Belfast what the Tories did in South Africa. I trust the S.D.F. will issue a leaflet and a pamphlet on the subject, so many are the important political and economic consequences.