Report back: ‘Ireland & the Wobbly world’ conference, NUI Galway

IWW members in Scotland are excited about the presence of the union in Ireland and want to do our best to support organising there.  Irish FW Morgan Brannigan wrote this report at a recent conference conference, Ireland and the Wobbly World – Irish Labour Radicals and the IWW in the early 20th Century, held at NUI Galway 11-12 November. We look forward to finding our more about our shared Wobbly heritage.

ireland-and-the-wobbly-worldThe Conference, hosted by the Irish Centre for Histories of Labour and Class, yielded some fascinating material and most /all talks will be uploaded as recordings and might be published as well. I would recommend a listen.

Proceedings opened with Labour Historian Francie Devine singing ‘Joe Hill’, and in the course of his talk he wondered how many Irish Wobs there might still be about – a FW in Liverpool having enquired. It was good to be able to clarify that there was organising going on, and it gave me a chance to plug the meeting and stall.

Overall, what came through strongly in the papers and discussions was the ingenuity and endurance of Wobs in general, with the Irish ones as the focus. I came across many figures I’d never heard of and have much follow up reading to do. It was striking how much people sacrificed in the past and we should gain strength from this: it certainly made me think about what I consider to be ‘risk’, compared with what many endured.

There was discussion about how the IWW influenced Connolly and Larkin’s thinking, and an attempt at unpicking the tides which have flowed back and forth throughout history and across the globe. So while, of necessity, the conference focussed on Irish migrants, the impact of other similarly oppressed groups on the IWW was evident throughout – underscoring the relevance of the world wide aspiration put forward by the union.

I was particularly taken with Kristin Lawlor’s analysis of Gurley Flynn’s formulation of sabotage as “conscious withdrawal of efficiency” and there was a good discussion of the role of mobile phones, internet etc. as a means of oppression today, and as a site of disruption. Interesting stuff too on South Africa. I also learned of Patrick Read who has an astounding history of activism, two points among many on  him, he played a major role in the Lincoln Brigade, in the Spanish Civil War  – which was written out of history – and he was the first to write a critique of Hill’s music. Which leads me to my next point…

There were papers given at an event in a Galway pub on Friday night and singing afterwards. The music of Joe Hill, songs of the Spanish Civil War, and James Connolly, among others were given an airing. Someone called for a Leonard Cohen song, as his death had been announced that day, and I did the Partisan, not sure what the French at the end was like, but the point was a few people who came over to talk at the stall the next day mentioned the singing, and we got into useful discussion on the back of it. This brought home to me the centrality of music in our union, and the wisdom of the early Wobs in putting it at the heart of our activity.

FW Steve Thornton who runs the Shoeleather History Project  is doing a piece on the conference for Industrial Worker and said he will have something on our organising meeting in the article, along with a photo of Alexis Kelly’s banner, which I have to say was a major hit!

The organisers were happy to promote the IWW presence and very welcoming. The stall was visited by probably all conference attendees and a number of students throughout the two days. Leaflets and banner were left up throughout, and I did merchandise in the breaks. I’d have liked to have had a chance to talk to cleaners and other workers in NUI, but I didn’t get round to it, though perhaps they got leaflets.

The public meeting had maybe ten attending, and April Maria Sheehan Corkery came up from Cork to provide moral support which was most appreciated.  I spoke about why I joined the IWW at the tender age of 53, traced a disillusionment with business unions, and a history comprising growing up in a community in the North of Ireland, with an antipathy to the state (which I’m convinced was mutual), seeing the subtler oppressions while living in Dublin, and my own developing analysis which convinces me of the bankruptcy of ‘representation’ and the need for an organised working class.

The first line of the preamble is what ‘sold’ the IWW to me, and I explored that as a theme, along with the model of industrial democracy. There were questions on this, and on recent successes like Deliveroo. I’m not sure if we gained any members in Galway but it generated the message that the IWW is organising in Ireland, and some useful contacts were made. Overall, I’m pleased to get my first public meeting over and done with, to have learned more Wobbly history, and to see a bit more clearly how similar is the struggle of 100 years ago to that of today.

For the One Big Union,

Morgan Brannigan


Those interested in the IWW in Ireland should check out their facebook page.  You can now join through


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New Scottish Peace Network pamphlet.


Download link (pdf): scottish_peace_network_for_web

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New Scottish Education Workers Network (SEWN) pamphlet.


Download link (pdf):sewn_leaflet_for_web_use

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Edinburgh IWW statement on Scotrail/RMT railworkers strikes.

The Edinburgh Branch of the IWW extends our solidarity to Scotrail workers and RMT members across Britain over the issue of Driver Only
Operated (DOO) trains . We support this strike on the principle of an
Injury to One is an Injury to All.

The move to DOO trains will mean  that without conductors, drivers cannot ensure the safety of passengers(especially the disabled) and further , drivers are put in a more risky and dangerous position themselves. Clearly Scotrail and other train companies across Britain are putting profit before safety, describing this move as  “competitive” and “modernisation” and looking behind the rhetoric we  can see that this is an attempt to open the way to future attacks on  jobs and conditions.

This attack, this putting profit before people is  in essence no different from the 19th century workhouse-like  conditions of Sports Direct warehouses or the recent cuts in hours and pay for retail workers with the increased Minimum Wage.All we can  learn from these instances is what should be by now plainly obvious- that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. Our interests are not just different but opposing factors within  society.

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IWW supports UCU HE action on pay, anti-casualisation and gender pay gap

Are we in the 21st century or the 18th?  We do not need to tell you the importance of education for both individual development and flourishing communities.  But over half of academics are on insecure contracts, nearly half of UK universities use zero hours contracts for teaching and approaching 50 years after the equal pay act women academics still earn £6100 per year less than their male colleagues.

We applaud you for taking action to end casualisation and the gender pay gap as part of your pay campaign and offer you our support and solidarity. Fighting discrimination and inequality are important to the IWW.  We also recognise that your campaign on pay, casualisation and the gender pay gap is part of a wider struggle for the type of education we want, which is free to everyone, embedded in communities and encourages thinking and asking awkward questions, not privatised and opened up to short term profiteers, as encouraged by the Westminster government white paper.

Endorsed by  Edinburgh IWW, Clydeside IWW and Scottish Education Workers Network (SEWN)


A picket line at a previous HE strike at Glasgow University, December 2013

For more information on the strike: ‘What is this dispute about?’ (UCU)





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May Day 1918

Glasgow has a proud tradition of radical politics, one that is particularly important to remember when the government is promoting jingoistic celebrations of World War I centenaries. During the four years of that devastating conflict, the Glasgow working class engaged in a series of mass actions to protest the war and the profiteering that accompanied it.

One event that deserves special mention took place on May 1, 1918. By then, the war had been grinding on for nearly four years, with casualties already in the millions. Glasgow’s workers, who built the ships and many of the munitions deployed by the British military, were ready to act. Although many workers were eager to pressure the government to bring the war to an immediate end, the War Cabinet, a coalition of Tories, Liberals and the Labour Party, suppressed any open opposition.

Through his determined and courageous opposition to the war, John Maclean had become a folk hero among the Glasgow working class. Maclean had consistently urged the anti-war Left to move beyond merely passing anti-war resolutions to organising political strikes that would shut down the war industries. In early 1918, Maclean began pushing for a one-day general strike to commemorate May Day.

May Day had been marked by massive demonstrations in Glasgow for several years before World War I began in August 1914. Tens of thousands would march from different tenement neighborhoods to converge on the Glasgow Green. A dozen or more platforms were set up around the Green so that marchers could decide which speakers to listen to. Thus, no one organisation dominated, while everyone got the chance to present their point of view.

Still, as exciting as these marches were, they were planned for the first Sunday of May, which did not usually coincide with May Day. Work was therefore only minimally disrupted. Maclean sought to break this practice and proposed, instead, that the march be scheduled for May 1, with the explicit intention of making this a dramatic protest against the war.

For the first years of the war, Maclean and his small group of supporters within the Scottish division of the British Socialist Party had been isolated within the wider anti-war Left. Only in early 1918, as grass-roots support for a policy of active resistance rapidly grew, was there a widespread acceptance of Maclean’s strategy. A broad coalition of left-wing organisations called for a march to the Green to take place on May Day itself. Unfortunately, by the time the march took place, Maclean was again in prison for speaking out against the war.

On Wednesday, May 1, 1918, factories and shipyards throughout Glasgow and along the Clyde were closed as tens of thousands of workers quit work to join the neighborhood marches heading for the Green. The marchers held placards demanding a rapid end to the war and the immediate release of Maclean from prison, themes echoed by those who spoke to the crowd. It was a stirring day and one that should be remembered.

Nearly a hundred years later, May Day in Glasgow is celebrated by a lackluster march sponsored by the Scottish TUC. Once again, the march is held on a weekend and not on May Day itself. (By chance, the coming May Day falls on a Sunday.) The radical Left needs to revive the spirit of the true May Day, so that in the coming years we can renew the events of May 1, 1918.

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Liverpool IWW Statement on the Hillsborough Verdicts

Liverpool IWW


The Liverpool branch of the Industrial Workers of the World union massively welcomes today’s announcement of the Hillsborough inquest verdict. Finally, ‘The Truth’ that working class people of Liverpool and all around the world have known for 27 years has been officially recognised – ultimately, the South Yorkshire Police killed 96 Liverpool football fans.

For many of us growing up, living and working in Liverpool and surrounding areas, the Hillsborough Disaster and the events that happened in its aftermath were of massive personal significance. Almost everyone on Merseyside knew someone who had been there. Many of those who were fortunate enough to come home physically unharmed still bear the psychological wounds to this day, and hopefully this verdict will give them some peace.

But if we may say so, today is as much about the final victory of working class people over the political establishment’s attempts to cover up the…

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