The Irish Transport and General Workers' Union and the labour press in Ireland, 1909-1920
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Officially launched by iconic labour leader James Larkin in January 1909, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) quickly became the largest trade union in Ireland and a key institution in the country’s modern history. By 1920 membership stood at over 100,000, a peak figure until the union’s recovery in the late 1940s after several decades of decline. A notable feature of the ITGWU’s spectacular level of growth during the union’s formative years was its issuing of a series of weekly newspapers, each of which were forcefully suppressed during the First World War (1914-18) and Irish War of Independence (1919-21). What was the reason behind this succession of suppression? How did Larkin, James Connolly and Cathal O’Shannon perform as ITGWU editors throughout the period? Who were the key ITGWU press contributors? In addition to putting the union’s newspapers into context by discussing other contemporary Irish labour titles, as well as examining the first uncovered issues of Larkin’s 1917 American edition of his landmark Irish Worker newspaper, this thesis addresses these questions. Mostly utilising a close reading of the relevant ITGWU organs in conjunction with material taken from a range of declassified British intelligence files, this thesis examines the history of the union’s press up until 1920. The ITGWU’s papers are central to the story, not used as source material to chronicle the union’s turbulent early years. This thesis proves that British authorities were concerned about the potential for inciting violence in the ITGWU’s press from as early as August 1911, but it was not until the outbreak of the First World War three years later and resultant passing of the Defence of the Realm Act that the union began encountering what would prove to be six years of suppression due to its advocating in print of advanced Irish nationalism.
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