The Irish in Manchester and the Civil Rights Movement in the North of Ireland, 1963-1974

The emergence of the Civil Rights movement in the North of Ireland led to solidarity organisations being established in Britain, seeking through meetings, marches and strikes to highlight what was happening. The government used the prevention of Terrorism Act, passed in November 1974, to clamp down hard on campaigners.

The Emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the North of Ireland

In May 1963 local Catholics in Dungannon established the Homeless Citizens’ League to campaign for better housing conditions. One of its leading members was Patricia McCluskey, wife of local doctor Conn McCluskey. In August 1963 thirty families squatted in condemned buildings and eventually embarrassed the Stormont government, after Doctor McCluskey had personally lobbied it, into announcing that some 64 new houses would be built in the town.

News of this victory quickly spread beyond Dungannon and the McCluskeys received letters from families across Northern Ireland, asking for advice on how to win similar concessions for their own towns from Stormont. This convinced them of the need for a more permanent pressure group and led them to establish the Campaign for Social Justice on 17th January 1964 “for the purpose of bringing the light of publicity to bear on the discrimination which exists in our community”. The CSJ sent out regular newsletters and produced five pamphlets which detailed the injustices happening in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formally established at a meeting of 100 delegates in the International Hotel, Belfast on 29th January 1967. On 5th October 1968 a Civil Rights march in Derry was brutally attacked by the RUC and sparked a wave of anger, leading to the formation by students of a radical group, People’s Democracy.

Bernadette Devlin rapidly emerged as one of its leading figures and in April 1969 was elected to the House of Commons on a Civil Rights ticket. She made her first appearance in the Commons two days later, rushing over to take part in a debate on Northern Ireland and looking like “anybody’s classless undergraduate daughter” as the Daily Mirror put it. She attacked Unionism and the Wilson government for forgetting what Socialism was and rejected attempts to label the Civil Rights movement as a narrow Catholic uprising, saying “We are not sectarian. We fight for the rights of both Catholics and Protestants”. She spoke at countless meetings in Britain and the Irish Civil Rights Solidarity Campaign was set up, including for a while a group in Manchester based in Gee Cross, Hyde. This organised a meeting under the title The Real Struggle in Northern Ireland at Chorlton Town Hall on 9th November 1969 at which Michael Farrell from People’s Democracy was the principal speaker

Solidarity in Britain with the Civil Rights Movement

Events in Northern Ireland were now being keenly followed by many in the Irish community in Britain. The day after the attack on the Civil Rights march in Derry The Observer carried a full and graphic report of the RUC’s violence, written by Mary Holland under the headline “Ulster Police Club Marchers”. She also wrote a long feature, carefully researched, entitled “John Bull’s White Ghettos”, which exposed the political gerrymandering in Derry. Her articles were very influential.

According to the Irish Democrat the Manchester branch of the Connolly Association was now meeting every 3rd Wednesday at The Crown & Anchor public house in Hilton Street and becoming active again under the direction of Joe McCrudden, a Belfast man. There was a Civil Rights meeting in Manchester at Chorlton Town Hall on 9th March 1969, at which the speakers were Desmond Greaves and Betty Sinclair, a trade unionist and Communist from Belfast.

College students in Manchester also set up a Civil Rights Committee. The most active members of this seem to have been those attending the Catholic De La Salle teacher training college, who held a mass meeting on 16th January 1969 and leafleted city centre pubs and clubs on events in Ireland, as a prelude to an all night vigil in support of the demand for Civil Rights in Albert Square. The weather was not on their side – there was fog and rain and only 30 students stayed the course. They were pictured next day in the Manchester Evening News, walking around the Albert Memorial and carrying banners which demanded (unironically) “One Man One Vote”. The chair of the Committee was 20 year-old Conal Harvey from Belfast who told the press, “We want to draw the unfair situation in Northern Ireland to the attention of the people in Manchester. We are planning more protests.”

The British Army goes in

In August 1969 there was a three day battle in Derry between the people of the Bogside and the RUC. Rioting then broke out in Belfast in which whole streets were burn out and people were killed. Finally James Callaghan, the Home Secretary, sent in the army.

Frank Gogarty, a leading member of NICRA in London, was reported in the press as saying that the Association proposed to call all Irish people in Britain out on a one-day strike as an expression of horror and indignation at the police brutality in Derry. The Guardian reported that on 14th August there had been sympathy strikes in Birmingham, Coventry and London with more than 500 people staying away from work and further strike action planned in the Midlands to bring out all Irish labour. This was followed on 20th August by a further strike by Irish workers in Birmingham whose co-ordinator Tom McDowell claimed that some 7,000 people in the area had answered the call with support from corporation bus workers, factories and building sites.

St Brendan’s Centre in Manchester was named in the press as a recruitment centre for volunteers wishing to go over to the north. Local organiser John Madden said that he hoped to get the first volunteers across to Ireland almost immediately and was planning to organise a demonstration in Albert Square and a walkout by Irish workers. The following day St Brendan’s publicly denied that it was being used as centre for volunteers as this would be against its constitution.

On 25th August 1969 there was a march in Manchester. Supporters of the Civil Rights movement gathered in Platt Fields and marched to Ardwick Green . A photograph of this march in The Guardian showed one marcher holding a placard which stated “Get The Troops Out.”

In October Manchester City Council (then Tory controlled) refused to allow the local branch of the Campaign for Social Justice to hire council-owned halls to hold public meetings on the situation in the North of Ireland and a planned meeting had to be called off. On 6th November the CSJ organised a torchlit procession in the city centre in protest. John Madden, who was originally from Dungannon and had lived in Manchester for 15 years, claimed that 99% of the Irish population were sympathetic to their cause. He told the Irish Democrat it was “the sort of thing I used to experience when I was a councillor in the worst place in Northern Ireland for discrimination. I did not expect to find it in Manchester.” There was a protest march to the Town Hall against the ban after the annual Manchester Martyrs procession.

The Manchester CSJ stepped up its activities by taking part in the national petition for a Bill of Rights and holding a meeting in Houldsworth Hall on 22nd March 1970 at which the speakers were Ivan Cooper MP, Betty Sinclair, Mark Carlisle MP and Stan Orme MP. On 4th April they held a folk concert in the Lesser Free Trade Hall featuring the Grehan Sisters.

In July 1970 the British army imposed a curfew and ransacked the Falls Road in Belfast, looking for weapons. Four people were killed. In February 1971 the IRA shot dead a British soldier. Daily gun battles were soon taking place as well as a bombing campaign. At 4.30am on 9th August 1971 the Stormont government re-introduced internment, leading to more gun battles and extensive rioting. Nationalist areas virtually seceded from the Northern Ireland state.

Bloody Sunday, January 1972

A NICRA march was held in Derry on Sunday 30th January 1972. British troops from the paratroop regiment prevented it getting out of the Bogside and the usual small riot developed involving local youth. Most of the marchers were listening to the speakers, who included Bernadette Devlin and veteran Labour MP Fenner Brockway, when the paratroopers charged into the Bogside shooting thirteen men dead. Another man died later of his wounds.

A hurricane of anger swept Ireland, North and South. There were strikes and marches as tens of thousands of Irish workers protested in Dundalk, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dublin. Airport workers at Dublin and Shannon refused to handle British aircraft, grounding planes in Manchester and other British airports. Jack Lynch declared 2nd February, the day of the funerals, as a national day of mourning. The British Embassy in Dublin was burned down when a crowd estimated at 30,000 gathered outside it and threw petrol bombs. In the North rioting went for days in almost every Nationalist area. Bernadette Devlin told the Daily Mirror, “It was mass murder by the army . This was our Sharpeville and we shall never forget it. The troops shot up a peaceful meeting”. By contrast Brian Faulkner blamed the organisers of the march and the IRA for the killings.

In Britain Bloody Sunday provoked the most intense response by the Irish during whole the thirty years of the Troubles. In Manchester over 100 students from De La Salle College, Middleton held an emergency protest meeting at midnight followed by a mass meeting in the afternoon which voted to boycott lectures and hold three days of mourning. A number of the students then went to the statue of Queen Victoria in Piccadilly and, amidst a snowstorm, began a vigil and fast, setting up a makeshift black flag and a wooden cross bearing the words “Will they rest in peace – how many more?” Some bus-drivers and office and shop workers jeered and shouted abuse as they passed (postal workers at the South Manchester sorting office threatened to boycott all mail to Ireland except Forces Mail on the grounds that the soldiers were not getting a fair deal). Members of the James Steele branch of Provisional Sinn Fein in Manchester mounted a protest at the army recruiting office on Fountain Street with placards that read “Derry Bloody Sunday, 13 massacred by British army”. Their spokesperson Seamas O’Morain gave his name in Irish and told reporters that they were protesting peacefully against the British army’s campaign of murder in Ireland.

On Thursday the De La Salle students led a march of 2,000 from the Cathedral through Manchester city centre, passing the Army Recruitment Office which was heavily guarded by police, and finishing with a rally at the Mancunian Way. There was a further march in Manchester on Saturday organised by the Manchester Connolly Association attended by 1,500, which was addressed by Lennie Draper, Desmond Greaves and Ann Doherty from the Manchester Civil Rights Association. A meeting attended by 1,500 students at Manchester University banned all military recruiting on campus and denied union facilities to the British army Officer Training Corps. An attempt to close the University Student Union failed when Tory students obtained a court injunction preventing this.

The Irish Democrat produced a special four page supplement on Bloody Sunday to go with their usual February issue. Desmond Greaves called for the resignation of Maudling, suspension of the Commander in Chief of British forces in Northern Ireland, immediate withdrawal of all paratroops from Northern Ireland, withdrawal of all troops from streets where they had become a provocation, an immediate end of internment and negotiations to lead to a united Irish Republic. The Manchester Connolly Association sent a telegram to Edward Heath (signed by John Tocher, divisional organiser of the engineering union and others), condemning the massacre of civil rights demonstrators and calling for troops to be confined to barracks and for a Bill of Rights to be brought forward.

Irish Civil Rights Association

In the general election held in October 1974 six candidates stood in the British general election under the banner of the Irish Civil Rights Association, the first time that candidates had stood on a specifically Irish platform since the Anti-Partition League in 1951. Margaret O’Brien, secretary of ICRA in Britain, said that they called for higher pensions and lower mortgages. “We should achieve this by a commitment to a United Ireland instead of propping up a rotten little statelet that costs £700 million in year and makes her name the derision of the world”.

The ICRA candidates stood in constituencies with sizeable Irish populations. Neil Boyle stood in Moss Side, Manchester, gaining just 238 votes. According to his election leaflet he was aged 37, born in Donegal, married with four children, worked for British Rail and had been active in the Civil Rights movement since 1969. ICRA candidates called for the release of all internees and a general amnesty for all political prisoners; a commitment from Britain to the idea of a united Ireland and a phased withdrawal of all British troops from Ireland. ICRA attacked the Labour government for increasing the number of internees in Long Kesh and Armagh, for renewing the Emergency Provisions Act and for the death of Michael Gaughan on hunger strike. It was clear from the results that, whatever strong feelings that Irish people might have had about events in Ireland, most Irish people at this period continued to give their vote to the Labour Party.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act

On 21st November bombs exploded in two pubs in the centre of Birmingham, killing 21 people and wounding 162. There was widespread public outrage and fury, some of which was directed at Irish people in Britain (although a number of the victims had been Irish).

Within two days the government rushed through the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which became law on 29th November. Such was the public mood that not a single MP dared vote against. Desmond Greaves commented in later years that “the disastrous bomb outrage did the Irish movement in Britain more harm than a regiment of cavalry. The witch hunt that followed, which included anti-Irish marches, threw the Irish movement back decades.”

There were frequent police raids, arrests and exclusions from Britain. Many Irish solidarity organisations stopped meeting and it was not until the hunger strike campaign of 1981 and the emergence of new organisations such as the Irish in Britain representation Group that Irish people began to speak out again about what was happening in the North of Ireland.

Article by Michael Herbert

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The General Strike in Manchester, May 1926

The General Strike was the most significant British labour dispute of the twentieth century. It was a massive solidarity action called by the Trades Union Congress in support of the miners, who were striking against cuts in pay and longer hours. It began on 3 May 1926 and was called off on 12 May by the TUC with no guarantees from the Tory government of fair treatment for the miners and no guarantees against victimisation of returning strikers. The miners’ strike lasted until the end of 1926 and ended in bitter defeat.

Background

The mining companies had been placed under government control during the First World War. The Miners’ Federation of Great Britain pressed for complete nationalisation and called a national strike in February 1919. It was delayed after the Coalition government led by Lloyd George promised a Royal Commission to look at the future of the industry.
In June 1919 the majority of Sankey Commission members recommended that the mines should be nationalised but, having bought a breathing space, the government now reneged on its agreement and handed the mines back to the owners on 31 March 1921. The miners were locked out the following day by the coal owners after refusing to accept worse employment conditions. The railway and transport union promised to take action in their support on 15 April but called it off at the last minute. This betrayal became known “Black Friday”. After three months on strike the miners were forced back on the employers’ terms.

In 1924 A J Cook was elected secretary of the MFGB. A charismatic speaker, he toured the coalfields, addressing large meetings of miners and their families and revitalised the union after the defeat of 1921.

Faced with a declining economic outlook in June 1925 the employers’ organisation – the Mining Association – gave notice of its intention to reduce wages and increase hours on 31 July.

On 10 July the General Council of the TUC met the Executive of the MFGB and offered its support. On 25 July the Council proposed an embargo on the movement of coal should the miners be locked out. Meetings between the government, the miners, the owners and the TUC failed to reach an agreement. On 30 July a Special Conference of Trade Union Executives agreed to support the transport ban and also empowered the General Council to offer financial support.

At 4pm on 31 July the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin announced to the House of Commons that the government would subsidise the miners until 1 May 1926 and also set up another Royal Commission under Lord Samuel to report on the future of the industry. Once again the government was buying time

It is clear that the government expected a strike to take place eventually and used the breathing space to devise and implement ways of maintaining supplies and transport in the event of industrial action, setting up 150 haulage committees to co-ordinate privately owned fleets of lorries and placing local authorities on alert to maintain essential services. In addition to the government’s own extensive preparations other bodies, such as the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, led by Lord Harding and Admiral Jellicoe, enrolled volunteers. They claimed to be “non-political” and acting for “the good of the community”. By May 1926 they had registered 100,000 volunteers.

By contrast the TUC made no plans for a general strike, seemingly believing that a settlement would be reached, only establishing a Ways & Means Committee on 27 April 1926, just days before the strike happened.

The Samuel Commission published its report in March 1926. It recognised that the industry needed to be reorganised, but rejected the suggestion of nationalisation. The report also recommended that the Government subsidy should be withdrawn and miners’ wages should be reduced.

On 30 April the coal owners locked out the miners.

On Saturday 1 May the TUC held a special conference of union executives which pledged support to the miners . That same day May Day marches were held throughout Britain amidst growing excitement and a conviction that a strike was now inevitable.

“Surely the most momentous May-Day in our history…I heard tonight that the Hyde Park demonstration was the largest and best even our oldest folk could remember…..Reports show that everywhere yesterday’s demonstrations were the biggest ever known. The workers seem ready”. Fenner Brockway, “Diary of the General Strike”, Socialist Review, June 1926.

The Strike in Manchester

Saturday 1 May

It rained, of course. Undeterred thousands paraded on the annual May Day march from Ardwick Green to Belle Vue under “dripping banners “ and “rain sodden umbrellas” as the Manchester Guardian reported.

“Men and women in gleaming mackintoshes and wearing the red and yellow favours of the Labour party; delegates from trade unions following in dignity behind their banners; Communists with broad ribbons across their shoulders – a splash of colour in the drab train”….The banners of the trade unions were varied by those of other groups, ranging from a sober ‘Stand by the Miners’ to the appeal of the Communists – ‘Don’t Shoot the Workers’.”

After the procession a meeting chaired by the MP JE Sutton (a former miner and MP for Clayton) took place in the Great Hall at Belle Vue. In the midst of the speeches another MP, Joe Compton, announced that “the trade unions of the country have decided to call a general strike”. After a moments hush the audience broke into cheers.

“The Communists waved their red streamers and hats were thrown into the air. Thereafter every reference from the platform to ‘the coming fight’ and every appeal to ‘stand by the miners’ was received with cheers and applause. The solidarity of the meeting was incontestable”
(Manchester Guardian)

The meeting finished by unanimously agreeing a resolution in support of the miners which ended “He who is not for the miners is against the working class.”

Monday 3 May

As the midnight deadline approached the railway workers, tramwaymen, carters, dockers, power enginemen and foremen, printers, iron and steel workers, vehicle builders and builders all announced their intention to strike work. The Electrical Trades Union, which had its headquarters in Manchester, issued an instruction to its branches to take joint action “along with any other section of men who have ceased work on transport, printing, engineering and steel production”.

Mr Mattinson, general manager of the Manchester trams, announced that strenuous efforts would be made to maintain “ as good a service as possible” and that plans were being made to use taxi-cabs and charabancs on routes from Albert Square.

Councillor Mellor, Secretary of the Manchester & Salford Trades & Labour Council, gave assurances that every effort would be made to co-operate with local authorities in ensuring the safety of food supplies and other essential services. The trade unions set up a central committee to run the strike covering the whole of the North West. The Secretary was JA Webb from the Transport & General Workers Union, whose members would be crucial to the success of the strike.

The police were making their preparations too, of course. According to testimony given to WH Crook, author of The General Strike, published in 1931, preparations for the strike had included the need to keep transport moving from the very first day of the strike. The police had drawn up route maps of the roads that would be used and these had been circulated to police constables in March. Mobile squads of police were to be held ready for instant deployment in threatened areas. It was announced publicly that the Chief Constable Sir Robert Peacock would review the force of special constables set up in Manchester during the war with the purpose of discovering the present strength of this force. Volunteers for this force were also being enrolled at the training school at London Road fire station. Manchester City Council announced that it was setting up a Manchester Area Emergency Committee and enrolling volunteers at public buildings.

The Manchester Evening News told its readers to “Keep Cool and Carry On.”

“The security of the Constitution having been threatened the duty of every right-minded citizen lies plain before him. The Englishmen who never will be slaves to kings or conquerors will never be slaves to a class. The people who have invented the right to rule themselves will not submit to the rule of any minority of workers who may seek to usurp the powers of government. The government must govern.”

Three trains left Manchester for London at midnight from London Road, Central and Victoria railways stations, though with few passengers on board since there was no certainty that they would reach the capital as they had to change drivers en route. Shortly after midnight pickets took up their positions outside the stations. Railway company officials were uncertain what level of service would be provided. All would depend on whether railway workers would be loyal to their union and obey the strike call.

More than 5,000 Manchester tramwaymen held a mass meeting at midnight in the Co-operative Hall, Downing Street at which there was solid vote in favour of striking. The power for the trams was cut off at 2am.

Tuesday 4 May

Not a single tram ran. There were no local trains and only one train to London from London Road at 9.30am via Sheffield and Nottingham and one each way between Central Station and Derby.

With no public transport there was enormous traffic on the road into Manchester city centre from the suburbs, as the middle classes turned to their cars. Taxis charged 6d a ride. The docks were at a standstill, though food and other essentials were being moved.

By the early afternoon it was claimed some 12,000 volunteers had been enrolled at the Free Trade Hall for various services, including one aviator.

Stella Davies, then a member of Gorton Labour party, vividly recalled the first day of the strike in her book North Country Bred, published in 1963.

“The mill chimneys ceased to smoke and the wheels ceased to turn, Over Gorton, Openshaw, Clayton, Newton Heath and Collyhurst the air grew clearer: the hills which ring the east of Manchester could be seen with an unusual sharpness across the intervening river valleys. The pavement and even the roads were crowded with pedestrians and the drivers of private cars offered lifts with surprising generosity.”

A Manchester news-sheet reported that “city girls” were wearing red ribbons at tram and bus stops, indicating that they would like a lift.

At the Socialist Hall on Margaret Street, Openshaw, the District Committee of the Communist Party was meeting in permanent session, whilst speakers addressed the crowds outside. Dick Stoker, a party member with a car, had just arrived back from London with copies of the CP emergency bulletin The Workers Daily when the police arrived and arrested him. He was later sentenced to two months in prison for “having committed an act likely to cause disaffection”. Quick-thinking members of the Young Communist League hid some of the bulletins under a pile of coke and later distributed them locally.

Wednesday 5 May

Public transport was largely at a standstill. A half-hourly service was achieved on the line to Radcliffe, one of the volunteers being a vicar.

Stella Davies visited her local station with other members of the Labour Party Women’s Section, taking tea and sandwiches.

“The pickets were steady men responsible who, as the occasional train drew into the station, regarded with interest and much amusement the efforts of the amateurs to bring the engine to stop at the right place and not over-shoot the platform. ‘Now you know’, they said to one discomforted youth, who had taken the train right through the station, ‘any fool can start a train. When you’ve learned to stop it where you want, you can join the union.’”

The strike reached the nation’s breakfast table after the decision of the TUC to call out the printers and shut down national and local newspapers.

The Manchester Guardian commented

“The decision of the Trades Union Congress to call out the printers and to silence the press seems to us a singularly misguided policy, and we cannot believe that it will be maintained. To put the press out of action gives a most dangerous power to the Government, which by its control of broadcasting will enjoy a complete monopoly in its distribution of news and views. Is this desired by the Trades Union Congress and the miners?”

The work force of the Manchester Guardian actually appealed to the TUC for an exemption from the strike but this was turned down.

The Government now produced its own newspaper the British Gazette, whilst the TUC used the presses of the Daily Herald to produce the British Worker which first appeared on 3 May.

Most newspapers attempted to producer some form of publication. The Manchester Guardian appeared a two sides of typescript on 3 May and on following days as a single printed news-sheet. The Manchester Evening Chronicle managed a daily typewritten sheet and also displayed news in the huge windows of its Withy Grove offices.

The public was also able to get news from the intriguingly named “Mutagraph” which the Manchester Evening Chronicle described as the latest and most fascinating of publicity devices… used at once to give vital news to large Manchester crowds thirsty for first-hand news of the nation’s new ordeal”. Fenner Brockway watched the device in action during his time in Manchester, “In Piccadilly a large crowd – mostly strikers – watched a Daily Dispatch news bulletin thrown up on a huge sky sign. Again a capitalist monopoly of news”.

It was reported that there were many empty seats for a show at the Manchester Hippodrome.

Thursday 6 May

A four page news-sheet entitled the Manchester Emergency Echo was published by EH Lumby at Central Press in Chorlton on Medlock, much of the content being lifted from the anti-strike Daily Mail which was now being published abroad and flown into Britain. The content included the following advice

“Don’t pay attention to wild stories of disorders, rioting, outrages and the like. Evil tongues are deliberately inventing these to scare you. …. Don’t criticise the Government . They are doing their best to deal with a different situation and will do better with your support and help…Don’t go denouncing the strikers in violent terms. Many of them are patriotic Britons led into a desperately foolish course by reckless leaders…Above all, don’t get scared.”

Friday 7 May

Ellen Wilkinson and JJ Horrabin, who were reporting back to the TUC on the position in parts of the country, declared that in Manchester “the position is absolutely solid”. They urged, however, that a strike newspaper be produced in Manchester.

Saturday 8 May

Fenner Brockway arrived in Manchester to edit a Manchester edition of the British Worker.

JA Webb reported in optimistic terms to the TUC. “The response to the TUC has been splendid…The feeling among members of the various sections is splendid and no instance of friction with police authorities has been reported.”

Sunday 9 May

The Lord Mayor of Manchester announced that food supplies were being maintained satisfactorily. A man was arrested by the police for allegedly attempting to interfere with a lorry-load of flour from Sutcliffe’s Mill, Hulme. He was later jailed.

There was a large rally in support of the strike in Platt Fields. Stella Davies described it as a “large orderly crowd and the presence of many women and children with sandwiches and bottles of milk made it seem almost like a picnic….the speakers exhorted the strikes to keep quiet, stay at home and offer no provocation”.

A report on the meeting sent to the TUC estimated that there were at least 20,00 people present. Two brass bands made up of striking tramway workers led the procession into the park. The speakers, who included Mary Quaile and Rhys Davies, addressed the crowd from three platforms. There were also meetings in Gorton and Blackley.

Interestingly the Manchester Guardian reported that the size of the meeting as “several hundred” strikers.

Monday 10 May

The North West Strike Committee informed the TUC that they had received authoritative information that 2000 beds, blankets and pillows had been sent into the Salford Docks in readiness for strike-breaking volunteers.

The Electricians Union threatened to stop electric power if attempts were made to run trams in Manchester.

The first edition of the Manchester edition of the British Worker appeared in a run of 50,000. It was printed by the Co-operative Publishing Company after the Co-operative Printing Society has refused to print it.

The front page declared

“The General Council does not challenge the Constitution. It is not seeking to substitute unconstitutional government. Nor is it desirous of undermining our Parliamentary institutions. The sole aim of the Council is to secure for the miners a decent standard of life. The Council is engaged in an industrial dispute. There is no constitutional crisis.”

The paper reported that there was wonderful solidarity everywhere and that the workers’ response had exceed all expectations.

“They have manifested their determination and unity to the whole world. They have resolved that the attempt of the mineowners to starve three million men, women and children into submission shall not succeed. All essential industries and all the transport services have been brought to standstill. The Trades Union Congress General Council is not making war on the people. It is anxious that ordinary member of the public shall not be penalised for the unpatriotic conduct of the mineowners and the Government.”

Tuesday 11 May

The print-run of the Manchester British Worker rose to 100,000.

Workers at the only flour-mill still working in Manchester now joined the strike. Three men were prosecuted in the Manchester Police Court for allegedly inciting a crowd to set fire to a railway company motor-lorry in Piccadilly, which had been taking foodstuff from London Road station to Victoria. The lorry had been partly destroyed. Peter Tilley, John Marshall and John Marsland were sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour.

The Manchester Guardian in an editorial entitled “Is it an Industrial Strike?” called upon Manchester’s striking tramwaymen to return to work.

This call appears to have been part of a co-ordinated attempt to get the trams running for the Tramways Committee now threatened to sack strikers if they did not return to work by noon the following day. Getting the trams back on the streets would be a psychological blow against the morale and unity of the strike.

The TUC called out all members of the shipbuilding and engineering unions. The police escorted 500 volunteers to Salford Docks to unload foodstuffs.

Wednesday 12 May

Only 29 tramwaymen obeyed the call to return to work. The other 5,000 mustered at their depots at noon and marched into the city centre. The procession from Hyde Road depot was a half-mile long, led by the tramway band and miners carrying lamps.

Even as the procession set off the General Strike was coming to an end. The government had refused to negotiate with the TUC. Instead there had been meetings between the TUC and Sir Herbert Samuel. On the basis of a meaningless memorandum the TUC went to Downing Street and called off the strike, even though the memorandum had been rejected by the miners leaders. It was no less than a complete surrender. They had failed even to ask for guarantees of no victimisation of strikers when they returned to work.

Stella Davies later wrote about how the news was heard in Manchester.

“In the course of the afternoon while I was on my round of the picket stations, the news came through. The end of the strike had been announced as an ‘unconditional surrender’. The pickets could not at first believe it. They would wait until they heard from their headquarters before they left their post and I left them, still picketing, to rush home and sit before the wireless. No comfortable words came from the BBC The official governmental line was that the Samuel Memorandum was not binding upon them, being merely a recommendation, its terms were not, in the event, put into operation.”

Fenner Brockway wrote in his diary of the strike

“Everyone was confident that the Government had climbed down….Then the fuller reports became to come by wire….When they showed that the terms were only an arrangement with Sir Herbert Samuel and that the miners lock-out was to continue one simply could not believe one’s eyes”

Thursday 13 May

The Manchester Guardian accurately summed up the situation.

“The effects on British labour will be profound. The history of 1921 has repeated itself. The support of other unions has been withdrawn, The Government has committed itself to little or nothing. The mineowners are committed to nothing.”

The strike continued in many areas as employer attempted to victimise returning strikers. In Manchester 25,000 railway workers stayed out and marched in protest and the dock workers stayed out in their support

Friday 14 May

It was a “day of humiliation”, according to Fenner Brockway, “The TUC has ordered them back, their own Executives have ordered them back. There is no hope of concerted resistance, so they are going back, disappointed, disillusioned, yet still heeling the exaltation of the remarkable solidarity of these days.”

JA Webb reported to the TUC that many employers were trying to impose worsened terms and conditions on returning workers. “ Many men have been informed that their engagements will only be temporary and that the regularity of employment that they have enjoyed in the past has now been withdrawn”.

John Forshaw, a Communist, was arrested by the police for having copies of “The Great Betrayal”, a leaflet put out by the Communist party attacking the TUC’s decision. He was sentenced to one month imprisonment. He was kept in a cold cell and, though diabetic, refused a doctor. He contracted pneumonia whilst in prison and died a few days after being released.

Aftermath

The miners carried on fighting but were forced back by poverty and starvation by the end of November. Some miners were out of work for many years. The miners’ union did not stage another national strike until 1972, nearly 50 years later.

Sources and Further Reading

The General Strike archive at the Working Class Movement Library includes books, pamphlets, newspapers, the British Worker, strike papers, photographs and other items.

Fenner Brockway, “A Diary of the Great Strike”, Socialist Review, June 1926

Wilfrid Morris Crook, The General Strike (1931)

Stella Davies, North Country Bred (1963)

Edmund and Ruth Frow, Nine Days in May, New Manchester Review,, 12, 23/4/1976

Edmund and Ruth Frow, The Communist Party in Manchester (nd)

R H Haigh et al, The Guardian Book of the General strike (1988)

Merseyside and the General Strike

TUC archive on the General Strike

Article by Michael Herbert

The Connolly Association in Manchester 1938-1962

The Connolly Association – originally the Connolly Club – was founded in 1938 from the ashes of two earlier Irish republican organisations. For nearly thirty years it campaigned from a left-wing perspective for Irish civil rights.

The Connolly Association was originally called the Connolly Club. The organisation emerged from a merger of the London branch of Republican Congress (a political organisation established in April 1934 by left-wing Republicans such as Frank Ryan and Peadar O’Donnell, which called for the creation of a Workers’ Republic) and the Irish section of the League Against Imperialism, an international socialist organisation which had been established in 1927 and disbanded in 1937.

By 1936 the Republican Congress was defunct but activity continued in London leading to the formation of the Connolly Club on 4th September 1938 at a meeting in the AEU Hall, Doughty Street. The first organiser, until his return to Ireland, was Michael McInerney. Other active members in the early years were Jim Prendergast and Patrick Musgrove.

In January 1939 the Club published the first issue of its monthly newspaper Irish Freedom (later renamed the Irish Democrat) which cost twopence. The editorial noted that it was the latest in a long line of papers with the same name and asserted that the demand for Irish freedom “will never be crushed, will never be eliminated except by satisfaction.”

An article in the paper countered the myth that the Irish were “job stealers”, arguing that the question of Irish people living in England could be used by:

“Fascist minded people in the same way as the Jewish people have been used by Hitler. In order to take the minds of the British people away from the real cause of the misery existing in England, campaigns are being organised in such places as the Midlands, Coventry, Birmingham etc where unemployment is high, against the Irish.”

The writer finished by urging the Irish to join trade unions or the National Unemployed Workers Movement. The Connolly Club used Irish Freedom to establish its organisation, gradually building up its sales in major Irish centres around Britain

At the onset of the war in September Irish Freedom proclaimed that the Connolly Club stood for “Freedom Unity and Democracy” but that they had no faith in Chamberlain. “We therefore state that the best manner in which we, as Irish workers, can play our part in this grave struggle is to unite our forces, irrespective of party or political differences, to smash the one barrier that prevents our country being able to play a more effective part in the war against fascist aggression, the partition of Ireland.” The paper also published the statement of the Communist Party of Ireland on the war.

At the annual conference of the Connolly Association in the autumn of 1945 the Manchester delegate was Jimmy McGill, a tunnelling worker from Donegal, who was warmly congratulated by delegates on his lively account of branch activities in the city. Jimmy eventually left the building trade to run a second-hand bookshop in Waterloo Place, Oxford Road. The shop was barely heated but the fortunate visitor might find a whiskey bottle in circulation amongst regulars to fend off the cold. Sadly, after his death, Jimmy’s own very extensive collection of books on Irish history did not find its way to a library. The secretary in Manchester in the late 1940s seems to have been Arthur Gracey, who lived on Talbot Road in Old Trafford.

In the immediate post-war period the organisation continued its campaigns on passports, welfare and conditions in hostels where they held a number of meetings. But as the restrictions on travel were lifted and employment conditions improved it switched its focus back to making propaganda for socialism and to raising the question of partition in the British labour movement as well as lobbying for the release of Irish Republican prisoners in Britain. Whilst there were close links with the Friends of Ireland group in parliament, there was little love lost between the Connolly Association and the Anti-Partition League, because the latter echoed the conservative Catholic nationalism of De Valera and was opposed to socialism.

Desmond Greaves became editor of the Irish Democrat in early 1948 . Greaves had been born in 1913 in Birkenhead into a Protestant family which hailed originally from Newcastle, County Down and studied at Liverpool University where he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934, remaining a member for the rest of his life. He also became interested in Irish politics and sold the paper Republican Congress in Irish districts of Liverpool.

In 1937 he went to London where he became acquainted with leading Communists such as T A Jackson, who had a strong interest in Ireland, having known James Connolly personally. He eventually went on to write the classic Irish history Ireland Her Own. During the war Greaves worked at Woolwich Arsenal and afterwards became chief scientist at Powell Duffryn.

He joined the Connolly Club in 1941 and in 1951 he gave up full-time work to devote himself to the Connolly Association and the Irish Democrat, much of which he wrote himself as well as supervising the printing, distribution and sales. In the course of fifty years of political activity Desmond must have spoken at thousands of meetings, indoors and outdoors, from a packed public hall to a handful of people in a room above a pub.

A voluminous correspondent, he had a huge network of contacts across Ireland and Britain and beyond, which enabled the Connolly Association to wield much more influence than its modest membership might have indicated. In addition to his writing in the Irish Democrat Desmond also wrote pamphlets and somehow found the time to write a number of important history books, most notably The Life and Times of James Connolly, published in 1961, and Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, published in 1971. He died suddenly in 1988 whilst travelling back on a train from a meeting, a political activist to the end.

In 1955 the Connolly Association adopted a new constitution which expressed two aims; to win support in Britain for a united independent Ireland and to stand for equal treatment for the Irish in Britain. The organisation also pledged itself to continue to publish and make known “the teachings of the great representatives of Irish democratic republicanism, especially of the socialist James Connolly.” A pamphlet published by the Birmingham branch argued that emigration was not just the result of unemployment and low wages at home in Ireland but also caused by partition hindered industrial development. It stated that:

“…a united Ireland would make it easier to get a united working class and this would make for a higher standard of living, which is the great cause of employment.”

The report at the 1958 conference summed up the organisation’s achievements.

“Month by month members have sold the Irish Democrat. Through this means the policy of the Association have been brought before many thousands of Irish people in Britain and important sections of the trade union and labour movement. In addition to this there is readership in Ireland and other parts of the world, principally Canada and Australia. The various campaigns of the association have been publicised and anti-Irish discrimination has been exposed. Many hundreds of public meetings have been held throughout Britain; thousands of leaflets on special topics have been distributed; MPs have been effectively lobbied and regular branch meetings with talks and discussions have been held in the main centres, principally London and Manchester. London and Manchester remain the two strongholds, and organisational difficulties previously hampering the work because of the lack of premises were overcome by the acquisition of a new central office in London and new premises in Manchester.”

In 1958 the Connolly Association sent the English lawyer John Hostettler over to Belfast to cover the trial of Kevin Mallon and Francis Talbot, two Republicans accused of murdering a member of the RUC in Tyrone. Both men claimed that they had been beaten to obtain confessions. There were three trials associated with the case and Hostettler observed them all. Eventually the two men were acquitted. On his return Hostettler spoke at meetings all over Britain, including in Manchester, about what was going on in the North of Ireland and wrote a pamphlet which laid bare the workings of the Special Powers Act.

The branch in Manchester was active throughout most of the 1950s and into the 60s. Membership was boosted by the collapse of the Anti-Partition League, some of whose leading members, such as Daniel Kilcommins, now joined the Connolly Association. Joe Deighan, originally from the Falls Road, became Secretary of the Manchester Connolly Association and also served as national president of the Association. Tommy Watters was also an active member. Many of the leading members of the branch were also active in the trade union movement. Tommy Watters was a printer and Father of the Chapel, Danny Kilcommins was chairman of his ASW branch while Joe Deighan was a delegate to the Manchester Trades Union Council.

The branch had an office at 94/96 Grosvenor Street, All Saints where there was also a hall which they used for socials. There were regular meetings at these premises for members with guest speakers. In March 1961, for instance, Desmond Greaves spoke on “In Search of Connolly” while John Hostettler spoke on “Human Rights in Northern Ireland and Britain’s Responsibility.”

The branch also held meetings every Sunday at Platt Fields. These ran into trouble in April 1954 when an official from the Manchester Corporation told them to take down the Irish tricolour. They refused, so he tore it down. After protests the council eventually backed down over the issue.

In November 1959 the branch issued a manifesto which called for a good turnout for the annual Manchester Martyrs procession on 29th November and also called for the organisation to be allowed to join the memorial committee. It seems likely that they had been kept off because in the climate of the cold-war politics of the1950s they were seen as too left-wing. The manifesto called for a united front of Irish organisations in Britain, arguing that the Connolly Association had a special contribution to make to the Irish cause because of its working class membership. They also said that the involvement of the branch on the Martyrs Committee would add young people to the commemoration, noting that “the Annual Commemoration in Moston has not deeply impressed itself on the Irish who have recently come from Ireland.”

“So isn’t it obvious that the Connolly Association should be represented on the Martyrs committee – along with all other Irish organisations who are prepared to help to keep this historic national commemoration going year by year. Our participation would completely rejuvenate the event, increase the attendance by hundreds, and would not alter its fundamental character to the slightest degree – indeed we should get back to what Seamus Barratt and the original committee stood for, not the affair of some of the Irish but the affair of all the Irish.”

In March 1960 four members – Joe Deighan, Daniel Kilcommins, Michael Rabbitt and Michael Crowe – were arrested whilst selling the Irish Democrat on Oxford Road, a place they had been selling in for seven years with no trouble. The police alleged that they were causing an obstruction and next morning visited their houses, though no charges were brought in the end.

In May 1960 the Association joined with other Irish organisations in Manchester in protesting when a Mr McMillans, Park Superintendent, banned Gaelic games from Manchester parks on the grounds that they were “not a recognised game,” even though hurling had been played in Platt Fields for nearly forty years. Manchester Corporation backed down and agreed that Gaelic games could be played once more after a form had been filled in.

The Manchester branch attempted to stir public interest in what was happening in Northern Ireland by organising a protest march against the continued imposition of internment by the Stormont government. This took place on Sunday 18th September 1960 when about a thousand people walked from Platt Fields to All Saints led by the Kerry pipe band and Kathleen O’Reilly’s girl dancers clad in Irish national costume. Some unions sent banners and messages of support were received from a number of local MPs, including Frank Allaun and Konni Zilliacus.

In November 1963 the branch made a significant contribution to the history of the Irish in Manchester when they published a pamphlet entitled The Story of the Manchester Martyrs, researched and written by two members of the association Jimmy McGill and Tom Redmond. In 1966 Desmond Greaves spoke on The Epic of 1916 and What It Means For Us today at a meeting on Easter Sunday in Chorlton Town Hall.

In the summer of 1961 the Connolly Association organised a national march from London to Birmingham as a way of bringing to public attention their campaign on the Six Counties. They called for the repeal of the Special Powers Act, an enquiry into the Government of Ireland Act, an amnesty for Republican prisoners and recognition by the Stormont government of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. There were fourteen marchers (including a number from Manchester) who set off from London on 25th June carrying a banner which read “Ireland One Country”. They included Tom Redmond, Aine Redmond, Sean Redmond, Desmond Greaves and Chris Sullivan. Walking in temperatures in the mid 80s they spoke at meetings along the way and arrived in Birmingham on 2nd July when, to their great relief, it finally rained.

Planning for a second march began immediately, this time organised by the Manchester branch of the Association, which departed from Liverpool on 25th August after an address by Eric Heffer, vice-president of the Trades Council. The marchers this time were Joe Deighan, Desmond Greaves, Danny Kilcommins, Sean and Aine Redmond.

On the way into Manchester the marchers were given a police motor-cycle escort until they reached Platt Fields. After an outdoor meeting in Hulme the marchers headed north to Oldham, making a slight diversion to Moston cemetery where they intended to place a wreath on the grave of Seamus Barrett. On arrival at the gates of the cemetery they found them guarded by a large posse of police who directed them to the far side of the road. A cemetery official informed them that the grave was the property of the Gaelic League, who had not given permission for a wreath to be placed. The marchers made it clear that they would not leave without laying the wreath. The stand-off was resolved when a Brother John was summoned who said that it had already been agreed that they could lay the wreath. And so they did and departed on their way, arriving at their final destination of Nottingham on 3rd September.

The third and most ambitious of the Connolly Association marches took place in the spring of 1962. This time the route was Liverpool to London, a distance of some 250 miles. The march left Liverpool on 30th March arriving in Manchester the following day where there was a public meeting at Chorlton Town Hall at which Tony Coughlan, Desmond Greaves, Sean Redmond and Joe Deighan spoke. Attempts to hold a factory-gate meeting the next day were defeated by the weather so two marchers went the offices of the Guardian on Cross Street to hand in some information about Northern Ireland, none of which was published. When they arrived in Macclesfield they found the town in uproar over rents and the town hall being barricaded for the second night running. The march arrived in London in mid April.

Looking back nearly 30 years later Tony Coughlan reflected that the marches

“were modest enough affairs, a couple of dozen Irish men and women giving up part of their annual holidays to try to show what the British government were permitting Brookeborough and co to get up to in the Six Counties. Even though they were met with indifference and ridicule rather than brickbats, these can truthfully be said to have been the first Irish civil rights marches.”

Article by Michael Herbert