The Irish Women Workers Union

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Rosie Hackett Campaign

20th August 2013

Dublin City councillors will vote over the coming weeks on who to name the new bridge over the Liffey after. The Irish Women Workers Union, you won’t be surprised to read, is backing one of its founding members and early activists, Rosie Hackett.

Rosie was a trade unionist, a 1916 veteran and a woman who was far ahead of her time. She helped change the working conditions for thousands of women, as well as contributing to Ireland’s fight for freedom. She should be remembered.

Christened ‘Rosanna’, she was born in Dublin in 1892 and at the time of the 1911 Census she lived on Abbey Street with her mother, sister, stepfather, stepsisters and a lodger.

She joined the Irish Transport and General Workers Union when it was founded in 1909 and in 1911 was working as a messenger for the Jacob’s Factory. The conditions at the time were so bad for workers that Jim Larkin himself described them as ‘sending them from this earth 20 years before their time’. The male workers withdrew their labour in pursuit of better working conditions and Rosie was one of the first women to come out in sympathy with them.
She subsequently helped to galvanise and organise more than 3000 women in the factory to withdraw their labour.

They won better working conditions and an increase in pay. Rosie was just 18 years old at the time.
Two weeks later Rosie co-founded the IWWU, which was set up to protect women from the horrendous conditions which they were expected to work in and she was soon helping to lead the women in Jacobs out on strike again, this time in a dispute that played a key part in the early days of the 1913 Lockout.

Rosie was in the crowd that picketed O’Connell Street on Sunday, August 31st and resulted in the infamous ‘Bloody Sunday’. This too was to prove pivotal to the start of the Lockout which lasted for more than four months.

In the end, Rosie lost her job in Jacobs but she continued to play a huge part in the struggle for better working conditions. Initially, she then went on to train as a printer and in 1916 she was among the small group that printed the 1916 Proclamation. They were able to print it off on a faulty printing press and, the story goes, they handed it to James Connolly still wet.

By then, she was a member of the Irish Citizen’s Army and she fought for it alongside Constance Markievicz and Michael Mallin as part of the group that occupied the Royal College of Surgeons at Stephen’s Green. After the Rising she was sent to Kilmainham with her comrades.
Following her release, and with the support of Connolly, she helped to relaunch the Irish Women Workers Union with Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix. At its height, the union organised over 70,000 women. She later spent more than 40 years working in the Eden Quay Co-Operative.

In 1970 Rosie was awarded with a gold medal for giving 60 years of her life to the Trade Union Movement. She passed away in 1976, aged 84, having dedicated so much of her life to Irish freedom and the trade union movement

Until recently, she was in danger of being forgotten but we are now asking the elected representatives of the people she devoted her life to helping to ensure that her name lives on as a symbol of all the women and workers in Dublin who worked tirelessly to make it a better city for their fellow citizens to live in. Incredibly, she would be the first woman to be accorded such an honour by the city.

Some councillors have already declared their support for Rosie and have said they will vote for her when the decision is taken, quite possibly on September 2nd (Labor Day in the United States) and many other politicians, writers, trade unionists have lent their weight to the campaign.

Rosie, though, is up against Willie Bermingham, Bram Stoker, Kay Mills and Frank Duff and your support is needed if we are to win this final battle for her. You can help by writing to, emailing, calling, tweeting at your local (or any other for that matter) Dublin City councillor and letting them know that you want them to support Rosie at their forthcoming meeting.


Irish Women Workers’ Union

8th March 2013

To commemorate the founding of the Irish Women Workers’ Union more than 100 years ago and its role in the 1913 Lockout, a ceramic plaque was unveiled this afternoon (March 8th, International Women’s Day) by the celebrated historian Margaret Mac Curtain and the union’s last serving General Secretary Padraigin Ni Mhurchu along with IWWU member Kay Marron at Liberty Hall today.

Jack O’Connor, president of SIPTU which has sponsored the plaque, was also present along with sculptor Jackie McKenna, who created it.
Dreaming in the Zeitgeist, a poem written specially for the occasion by Paula Meehan, was read for the first time. For those of you who couldn’t make it along, here it is…

Dreaming in the Zeitgeist

‘Nothing was granted: not your vote, not your education, not your daily wage – all were hard fought for’ Annie Ryan: Cigarette Factory Worker

I catch them in half light, or winter dawns,
a summer’s evening, shadows cool and blue
when dipping sea gulls skim the brimming river;
I catch them from the corner of my eye –
the ghosts of women workers long since gone.
I get down on my knees and bless their dust,
I salute them in my every waking breath –
mothers and grandmothers who made a stand
against slavery, against the whip hand.

Hard times again, a different song of fear,
a different whip, the same indifferent face.
We track them through the archives silting dust:
in photographs, in newsprint yellowing in drawers –
undaunted grandmothers, mothers of the poor,
the ones who raised their voices to be heard,
spat on, slagged off and slandered by the mob
they louder spoke for every silenced voice,
for the lost and broken sisters in their sad haunts.

Sometimes on the city’s granite quays
we sense them in the river’s lonely prayers.
They reach between the future and the past
their work-worn hands across from there to here.
They watch their daughters dancing out their fate
under the waxing or under the waning moon:
stars in their courses, wise bringers of dream.
They will not let us rest – they need us now
as much as we need them, to show the way.

Community activist and IWWU commemorative committee member Rita Fagan also gave a rendition of the Laundry Workers’ Song.

“The significant contribution of many Irish women has frequently been sidelined in our history,” said MacCurtain at the event. “The Irish Women Workers’ Union is an example. Initiatives such as the one today serve to remind us all of the central role played by women generally and, in particular, the membership of the IWWU in the 1913 lockout.

The union played a key role in the events of 100 years ago, not only standing up for their own right to organise in the pursuit of better pay and working conditions but also, in many cases, working tirelessly to support others in their fight.

“Women like Delia Larkin, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Louie Bennet, Helena Molony, Mary Galway, Rosie Hackett and a host of others have become part of the school curriculum because other women will not let them be forgotten. Jackie McKenna’s plaque will ensure we continue to remember these and other women and establish them in the mainstream rather than the margins.”

Also speaking at the event SIPTU President Jack O’Connor said that: “The decision by three young women, members of the women workers branch of the ITGWU (which later became the Irish Women Workers’ Union) to refuse to take off their union badge while at work in Jacobs Biscuits played a significant role in the decision by Dublin employers to enforce the Lockout.

“It is important to commemorate their role and that of the women who came after them in the union and the wider labour movement in Ireland. Today, more than half of those in Irish trade unions are women. The struggle for decent working conditions for Irish women is far from over. But we could not have come this far without the heroic contribution of our sisters in the Irish Women Workers Union.”

The IWWU Commemoration Committee would like to thank everyone who supported and attended the event.

Margaret MacCurtain

Plaque celebrating the IWWU to be unveiled at Liberty Hall

6th March 2013

To commemorate the founding of the Irish Women Workers’ Union more than 100 years ago and its role in the 1913 Lockout, a plaque will be unveiled by the feminist historian Margaret MacCurtain and the union’s last serving General Secretary, Padraigín Ní Mhurchú, at Liberty Hall this International Women’s Day (March 8th) at 5.00.

The plaque, which also recalls the union’s achievement, almost 70 years ago, of two weeks paid holidays for all Irish workers, was designed by the artist Jackie McKenna.

A new poem, written for the occasion by Paula Meehan, will be read at the launch.

Also present at the event will be Jack O’Connor, President of SIPTU whose support has made this event possible, women who were members of the union and some of those who have worked to keep its legacy alive.

All are welcome, though, and a social event will be held afterwards in Liberty Hall with the €5 admission going towards the work of the IWWU Commemoration Committee’s work.


A message from Maeve Higgins

8th March 2013

One of our patrons, Maeve Higgins, who couldn’t make it over from London for the launch sent the following message to mark the occasion:

Happy International Womens day! I am sorry I can’t be at the unveiling of the plaque today but I am working today. The sooner I can
get married and finish up with all of this career business, the better. I hope you know I’m joking!
I work in a male dominated field and from time to time I do get downhearted about the disparity
therein, but remembering the fantastic work done by women like Delia Larkin, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Louie Bennett, Helena Moloney and Rosie Hackett fortifies me no end.

Truly –the women behind the IWWU all those years ago are an inspiration to me. They were brave and smart and when I think about
what they achieved, I feel lucky and proud to be an Irish woman. Beyonce says that girls run the world –I love that song, but it’s not
really based on fact. We don’t run the world, not yet. And we especially didn’t in 1913 which makes the women of the IWWU’s
contribution even more incredible and worth celebrating at today’s ceremony. There’s an awful lot more to do before we can say that women have gained parity with men – in Ireland and across the world.

Remembering those who’ve gone before us, with their badges defiantly
pinned to their uniforms and their heads held high, will surely remind us that the personal is political and the struggle for equal working and human rights for women is as important today as it was 100 years ago.