Caoimhin O’Muraile ☭ with a new addition to his series on Early 20th Century SocialistsWilliam Walker: Reformer.

William Walker was born at 35 McCluny Street Belfast on the 9th January 1871. His father Francis Walker was a boilermaker at Harland and Wolff Shipyards and a trade union organiser, his mother was called Sarah (nee McLaughlin). Like his father Walker was destined for the shipyards, a backbone of Protestant employment at the time, as a joiner and he too became a shop steward in the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.

This was one of the elitist craft unions which, back in the mid-nineteenth century when Britain was often referred to as “the workshop of the world,” along with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) had a motto “Defence Not Defiance” meaning defend what we have and work with, not against the employers. Both these groups of workers saw themselves as an “aristocracy of labour” and were very anti-unskilled workers, refusing such people entry into their unions.

However, after the Bryant and May Match Workers strike of 1888, exclusively women, and the Dockers strike the following year a concept which became known as “New Unionism” began to emerge. This was the organisation of the unskilled workers into trade unions of their own. William Walker, to his credit, was involved in the movement in the shipyard promoting “New Unionism” among the unskilled workers, despite being an activist in a craft union. At the time this was a bold step for a representative of a craft union to take, and very much frowned upon by that trade union’s leadership and employers alike! Walker was elected as the ASCJ delegate to the Belfast Trades Council in 1893, when he stood up for the rights of the unskilled, leading this move towards “New Unionism” and a different approach from the craft unions.

William Walker was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party in Belfast and was vehemently opposed to an independent Irish Labour Party, claiming Irish workers interests were better served by being an integral part of the British labour movement. This was in direct opposition to the ideas of Jim Larkin, James Connolly, Richard O’Carroll and William O’Brien, all of whom eventually went on to form an independent Irish Labour Party in 1912. This could be seen as a flaw in Walker’s socialism, supporting the imperialist power, a bit like a Roman Gladiator supporting Caesar expecting the emperor to mind their interests as he sent them out to fight to the death! The imperialist power, Britain, exploited Irish labour and gave Irish employers, like Harland and Wolff, the power to do the same. It is a clear contradiction and one, it would have been thought, would have been questioned by his own members. Unfortunately, this seldom if ever occurred probably due in no small part to the employers “playing the orange card” a concept introduced by Randolph Churchill in 1886.

Walker often spoke in favour of his brand of socialism from the steps of the Customs House in Belfast. Despite what could be perceived as an Imperialist position constitutionally, Walker had good socialist credentials. In 1904 he served as President of the Irish Trades Union Congress and he stood as an Independent Labour candidate in the 1905 by election in Belfast North. The future British Prime Minister, later denounced as a traitor by the British Labour Party, Ramsay McDonald was his election agent. In 1906 Walker stood as a Labour Representation Committee candidate, on an anti-Catholic platform revealing another major flaw in his socialism. On both occasions he lost by less than 500 votes. He claimed Roman Catholics were disloyal and should not be allowed to hold any high public office, such was the man’s sectarianism. Despite being an Independent Labour Party founder William Walker was an Orangeman and a member of the Loyal Orange Order. He always maintained that the “interests of Protestantism came before the interests of the Independent Labour Party!” This was a huge contradiction, putting the interests of his religious denomination before those of the class he claimed to represent. Again, this was in sharp contrast to other socialists of the day, like Connolly and Larkin or in more recent times people like Seamus Costello who, to quote stated; ‘I owe my allegiance to the working-class.’ William Walker, by his own tongue, would appear to owe his loyalties to the Protestant faith then, and only then, to the working-class!!

Walker saw himself as a true Protestant and opposed any form of Irish Home Rule, claiming as an internationalist maintaining Irish labour must be an organic part of the British labour movement. He argued Protestant means to protest against superstition, as practiced by the church of Rome in his view, and therefore Protestantism is synonymous with labour.

Walker may have a point, but for entirely different reasons to what he intended. All socialism and socialist theories, certainly in the early days, derived from the writings and teachings of Karl Marx. William Walker was one of the first reformers, a concept which gathered momentum during the First World War which saw the Second International split between the anti-war and pro-war factions. The likes of V.I. Lenin, James Connolly [though the two never met] Leon Trotsky and many other socialists opposed the war, whereas the German Eduard Bernstein, Arthur Henderson from Britain [who replaced Ramsay MacDonald who resigned over the First World War, as leader of the British Labour Party], and others backed their indigenous bourgeoisie and monarchs in going to war. Some of those opposed to war went on, with the exception of Connolly who was murdered after the Easter Rising, to form the Third International, as Lenin shouted; ‘down with the Second International, forward with the Third.’ Walker reformed Marxism to fit his own agenda, a left-wing narrative to fit a right-wing agenda so to speak, in much the same way as Martin Luther reformed Christianity in 1517 [hitherto Roman Catholic], giving birth to the Protestant denomination, this was the Protestant Reformation.

This is where the similarities between Protestantism and “Walkerism”, Walker’s brand of socialism, come in: they were both reformed versions of the original, both synthetic, not the genuine article. Today many of the world's labour parties are reformers, revisionists - remember the backstabbing of Jeremy Corbyn in the British General Election of 2019 by reformers and revisionists in his own Labour Party, despite their founders all taking Marx as their starting point. It could well be argued labour lost the 2019 British General Election, not because the Conservative and Unionist Party were attractive, but because right-wing labour MPs stabbed their leader in the back! Neither is the Irish Labour Party the organisation its founders had in mind. It is my guess if James Connolly, a founder of the Irish Labour Party, was around today, he would not cross the road for those who consider themselves his inheritors!

Though Walker took on board much of Marx’s teachings In 1911 he wrote; “though I admire Karl Marx, he is not a deity to me.” He should have admired Marx, it was he who put socialism on the political map, not only through his writings but also the International Working Men’s Association, often termed the First International which, incidentally, supported Irish independence! This concept, be it Marx’s position or not, could not possibly be followed by William Walker. He was a Unionist, an Orangeman first and foremost and an Independent Labour Party activist very much secondary. He was perhaps not alone in the labour movement at the time [indeed even today there are those in the modern British Labour Party, like Jeremy Corbyn and the late Tony Benn, who support openly Irish unification, and those who rabidly oppose it, like Baroness Kate Hoey] but was perhaps one of the most vociferous.

William Walker may have championed the cause of the unskilled workers at Harland and Wolff, that is undeniable. William Walker was the champion of the unskilled in the shipyards and often spoke for women workers in his capacity as an Independent Labour Party founder and activist in Belfast. The problem with his belief that Irish labour was better served within the larger British labour movement is that this served the interests of imperialism. Socialism, in its true form is an antithesis to Imperialism, as Lenin said, “Imperialism is the highest form of capitalism” once again highlighting the split in the Second International. 

Had the Labour Party been in governmental power, as they now have on many occasions in Britain, since the first minority administration in 1924 to the Clement Attlee landslide of 1945 and many times since, they have had to manage the imperialist cause of British capitalism. 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) once had a place at the Foreign Office. This was to control, or pacify, any nationalist aspirations among the working-class of the colonies. Indeed, the late Vic Feather, later Baron Feather, former TUC General Secretary from 1969 to 1973, was reportedly paid by the Information Research Department, a secret branch of the UK Foreign Office to write anti-communist and pro-colonial propaganda. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, she decided the services of the TUC were no longer required and terminated the arrangement. Perhaps Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC at the time who succeeded Vic Feather, should have heeded this early warning as a sign of things to come! The TUC would claim, on behalf of the Foreign Office, as did William Walker, the interests of the workers of the colonies were better served by the British labour movement, not national independence and their own labour associations and parties.

William Walker once wrote in support of his philosophy:

I am an Internationalist because the same grievances which affect the German and the Englishman affect me. I speak the same tongue as the Englishman: I study the same literature: I am opposed by the same financial power: and, to me, only a combined and united attack with out (sic) geographical consideration, can assure to Ireland an equal measure of social advancement as that which the larger and more advanced democracy of Great Britain are pressing for.

A reasonable argument on the surface except the British establishment has never treated Irish labour [in the case of the six counties still doesn’t, workers there are still trying for parity in pay with their British counterparts] as equals. Ireland was never part of Britain [in the case of the six counties still isn’t] it was a western outpost of the so-called United Kingdom where workers were never going to be paid the same or receive the same treatment as those in Britain, despite Walker’s delusions. 

If he believed, as do many modern Unionists and loyalists, that by serving Britain loyally they would be rewarded the same as English, Scottish and Welsh workers they were/are kidding themselves. London had never considered Ireland – pre-treaty – as an equal part of the UK. British workers, as seen during the Dublin Lockout, did consider the Irish as equals, but the establishment never did, and still do not rate workers in [Northern] Ireland as being worth the same. William Walker by hanging onto this fantasy was doing the Irish working-class a great disservice and the British ruling-classes a huge favour. Unfortunately, among many – though not all – labour leaders in the occupied six counties this Walkerite mentality still prevails, although there are small signs [post-Brexit] this train of thought is shifting.

Historically there are many Irishmen who would agree with Walker, men like Edmund Burke who called the United Irishmen of 1798 “that unwise body” also commenting that:

I cannot conceive that a man can be a genuine Englishman without being a true Irishman…… I think the same sentiments ought to be reciprocal on the part of Ireland, and, if possible, much stronger reason.

Another quote of Burke which William Walker would most certainly agree with was:

The closest connection between Great Britain and Ireland is essential to the well-being, I had almost said to the very being of the two kingdoms.

No doubt William Walker took the convenient bits of Marx and produced a political hybrid with the writings of Burke!

In 1911 Walker undertook a debate with James Connolly [see the Connolly Walker controversy} Walker arguing Irish socialists should focus their activities on the British labour movement, Connolly taking a different approach and, in my view the correct one, that the Irish working-class should have their own political voice separate from that of Britain or, more essentially England. This argument of Walkers for me does not hold water because what he is suggesting is the Irish should throw their lot in with their tormentors, the British establishment, and if the Labour Party were the government, then the Irish working-class should support such a government despite all the wrongs that same establishment have committed against the Irish, and in particular, the same Irish Working-Class! 

Connolly argued for a separate Irish Labour Party to work as brothers, comrades with their British counterparts in areas of common interest, but not “bedfellows”. Connolly believed in the model of friendship and camaraderie in true internationalist tradition with workers of all countries, including Britain, but Irish workers in areas affecting them must make their own decisions unilaterally without having to consult the British or any other larger country. This does not mean mutual assistance should not be given: internationalism is built on that concept as the events in the Dublin Lockout of 1913/14 proved. Seventy years later that mutual assistance was repaid by the Irish labour and trade union movement during the twelve month long British Coal Miners Strike.

James Keir Hardie was flawed to a certain extent by his anti-Lithuanian racism which even by the standards of the day were extreme, claiming they were carriers of the Black Death. Both Jim Larkin and Richard O’Carroll were stained by anti-Semitism possibly influenced by the odium of the times, and William Walker carried the stigma of anti-Catholic sectarianism. All not good attributes for anybody, but for trade unionists and labour men such baggage is unacceptable, certainly in modern times. Again, we must look at these prejudices through the prism of the times and language used in all walks of life which, though certainly not justifying such prejudices may make them a little more understandable? 

The difference between the likes of Larkin, O’Carroll and Keir Hardie speaking their racist and anti-Semitic rubbish was they could be described as victims of their time. Unfortunately, the kind of sectarianism preached by William Walker has lost none of its bitterness and has survived the passage of time. On 21st July 1920 workers returned to the shipyards after the twelfth of July holidays. Sinn Fein, during the 1918 General Election had scored enormous successes around most of Ireland but not so much in the Protestant dominated six counties. On the day of 21st July workers at Harland and Wolff Shipyard, majority Protestant though far from exclusively, were joined by men from the Workman/Clarke yard at a meeting to discuss expelling Catholics [Sinn Feiners as they were seen] from their employment. Around seven thousand five hundred, including about one thousand eight hundred Protestant shop stewards, considered “Rotten Prods,” were expelled in what could only be described as ethnic cleansing of the yards. The question may be asked; had William Walker still been active as a trade unionist in the yards, would he have been a “Rotten Prod” or an ethnic cleanser? His union record would suggest the former, however his political speeches against Roman Catholics may give credence that Walker could have forgot his duties to his class and become one of the mob!

William Walker was an Orangeman and as was mentioned above placed the interests of Protestantism “above the interests of the ILP”. Traditionally the Orange Order was/is politically Conservative and Unionist which suggests an antithesis to socialism. This may not be exclusively correct, as many working-class Orangemen at the time of Walker were trade unionists and socialists. Perhaps if Walker had thought out his position a little more scientifically, he may have come to a slightly different conclusion. He opposed the Home Rule Bill, claiming with many Orangemen that “Home Rule would equal Rome Rule”, a position which given the power and influence of the Catholic Church at the time may not have been unreasonable. If he had thought this through, he may have realised that an independent Ireland, with a built in million Protestants the power of the Catholic Church would have been somewhat diluted. The conditions would have been more friendly towards the building of socialism with this sizable Protestant minority built in an independent Ireland, free from British interference and church influence diluted, Walker may have found he had much more in common with James Connolly, Jim Larkin and many other socialists than he had opposites. 

An example of such unity, rare as such instances were, could be exemplified by the marriage of Winifred Carney, one time secretary, friend and confide of James Connolly, and veteran of the Easter Rising, socialist and feminist, to George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman. He was, however, a fellow socialist, which was what attracted the couple to each other, he opposed sectarianism and Winifred Carney alienated anyone in her life who did not support her marriage to McBride, while she still worked tirelessly for the ITGWU. The point is no matter if person comes from a traditional orange or green background socialism can be a bridging instrument if used and thought out correctly. Walker argued he would rather be part of a liberal United Kingdom than a conservative Ireland. With this million Protestants built in there was no reason why Ireland could not have thrown off the yolk of the conservative Catholic Church. In fact, given time the yolk of both dominant religious denominations could have been given the elbow!

In 1912, the same year the Irish Labour Party came into being, which Walker opposed so vehemently, William Walker left politics and took up a local government position related to health insurance, but he remains one of Irelands historical socialist titans whether you agree with him or not. He died in 1918, ironically the same year as the British Labour Party adopted Clause IV to their constitution. What William Walker would have made of that we shall never know. 

William Walker was what could be described as a conundrum. His views ranged from militant socialism to hard-line conservatism, a contradiction to say the least. What Walker would have made of Clause IV we shall never know neither, without holding a séance, will we know what position William Walker would have taken over the 1920 expulsion of Catholic workers from the shipyards. All of us can only offer unsubstantiated guesses!

Caoimhin O’Muraile is a Dublin 
based Marxist and author. 

Early 20th Century Socialists ➖ William Walker

Caoimhin O’Muraile ☭ with a new addition to his series on Early 20th Century SocialistsWilliam Walker: Reformer.

William Walker was born at 35 McCluny Street Belfast on the 9th January 1871. His father Francis Walker was a boilermaker at Harland and Wolff Shipyards and a trade union organiser, his mother was called Sarah (nee McLaughlin). Like his father Walker was destined for the shipyards, a backbone of Protestant employment at the time, as a joiner and he too became a shop steward in the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.

This was one of the elitist craft unions which, back in the mid-nineteenth century when Britain was often referred to as “the workshop of the world,” along with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) had a motto “Defence Not Defiance” meaning defend what we have and work with, not against the employers. Both these groups of workers saw themselves as an “aristocracy of labour” and were very anti-unskilled workers, refusing such people entry into their unions.

However, after the Bryant and May Match Workers strike of 1888, exclusively women, and the Dockers strike the following year a concept which became known as “New Unionism” began to emerge. This was the organisation of the unskilled workers into trade unions of their own. William Walker, to his credit, was involved in the movement in the shipyard promoting “New Unionism” among the unskilled workers, despite being an activist in a craft union. At the time this was a bold step for a representative of a craft union to take, and very much frowned upon by that trade union’s leadership and employers alike! Walker was elected as the ASCJ delegate to the Belfast Trades Council in 1893, when he stood up for the rights of the unskilled, leading this move towards “New Unionism” and a different approach from the craft unions.

William Walker was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party in Belfast and was vehemently opposed to an independent Irish Labour Party, claiming Irish workers interests were better served by being an integral part of the British labour movement. This was in direct opposition to the ideas of Jim Larkin, James Connolly, Richard O’Carroll and William O’Brien, all of whom eventually went on to form an independent Irish Labour Party in 1912. This could be seen as a flaw in Walker’s socialism, supporting the imperialist power, a bit like a Roman Gladiator supporting Caesar expecting the emperor to mind their interests as he sent them out to fight to the death! The imperialist power, Britain, exploited Irish labour and gave Irish employers, like Harland and Wolff, the power to do the same. It is a clear contradiction and one, it would have been thought, would have been questioned by his own members. Unfortunately, this seldom if ever occurred probably due in no small part to the employers “playing the orange card” a concept introduced by Randolph Churchill in 1886.

Walker often spoke in favour of his brand of socialism from the steps of the Customs House in Belfast. Despite what could be perceived as an Imperialist position constitutionally, Walker had good socialist credentials. In 1904 he served as President of the Irish Trades Union Congress and he stood as an Independent Labour candidate in the 1905 by election in Belfast North. The future British Prime Minister, later denounced as a traitor by the British Labour Party, Ramsay McDonald was his election agent. In 1906 Walker stood as a Labour Representation Committee candidate, on an anti-Catholic platform revealing another major flaw in his socialism. On both occasions he lost by less than 500 votes. He claimed Roman Catholics were disloyal and should not be allowed to hold any high public office, such was the man’s sectarianism. Despite being an Independent Labour Party founder William Walker was an Orangeman and a member of the Loyal Orange Order. He always maintained that the “interests of Protestantism came before the interests of the Independent Labour Party!” This was a huge contradiction, putting the interests of his religious denomination before those of the class he claimed to represent. Again, this was in sharp contrast to other socialists of the day, like Connolly and Larkin or in more recent times people like Seamus Costello who, to quote stated; ‘I owe my allegiance to the working-class.’ William Walker, by his own tongue, would appear to owe his loyalties to the Protestant faith then, and only then, to the working-class!!

Walker saw himself as a true Protestant and opposed any form of Irish Home Rule, claiming as an internationalist maintaining Irish labour must be an organic part of the British labour movement. He argued Protestant means to protest against superstition, as practiced by the church of Rome in his view, and therefore Protestantism is synonymous with labour.

Walker may have a point, but for entirely different reasons to what he intended. All socialism and socialist theories, certainly in the early days, derived from the writings and teachings of Karl Marx. William Walker was one of the first reformers, a concept which gathered momentum during the First World War which saw the Second International split between the anti-war and pro-war factions. The likes of V.I. Lenin, James Connolly [though the two never met] Leon Trotsky and many other socialists opposed the war, whereas the German Eduard Bernstein, Arthur Henderson from Britain [who replaced Ramsay MacDonald who resigned over the First World War, as leader of the British Labour Party], and others backed their indigenous bourgeoisie and monarchs in going to war. Some of those opposed to war went on, with the exception of Connolly who was murdered after the Easter Rising, to form the Third International, as Lenin shouted; ‘down with the Second International, forward with the Third.’ Walker reformed Marxism to fit his own agenda, a left-wing narrative to fit a right-wing agenda so to speak, in much the same way as Martin Luther reformed Christianity in 1517 [hitherto Roman Catholic], giving birth to the Protestant denomination, this was the Protestant Reformation.

This is where the similarities between Protestantism and “Walkerism”, Walker’s brand of socialism, come in: they were both reformed versions of the original, both synthetic, not the genuine article. Today many of the world's labour parties are reformers, revisionists - remember the backstabbing of Jeremy Corbyn in the British General Election of 2019 by reformers and revisionists in his own Labour Party, despite their founders all taking Marx as their starting point. It could well be argued labour lost the 2019 British General Election, not because the Conservative and Unionist Party were attractive, but because right-wing labour MPs stabbed their leader in the back! Neither is the Irish Labour Party the organisation its founders had in mind. It is my guess if James Connolly, a founder of the Irish Labour Party, was around today, he would not cross the road for those who consider themselves his inheritors!

Though Walker took on board much of Marx’s teachings In 1911 he wrote; “though I admire Karl Marx, he is not a deity to me.” He should have admired Marx, it was he who put socialism on the political map, not only through his writings but also the International Working Men’s Association, often termed the First International which, incidentally, supported Irish independence! This concept, be it Marx’s position or not, could not possibly be followed by William Walker. He was a Unionist, an Orangeman first and foremost and an Independent Labour Party activist very much secondary. He was perhaps not alone in the labour movement at the time [indeed even today there are those in the modern British Labour Party, like Jeremy Corbyn and the late Tony Benn, who support openly Irish unification, and those who rabidly oppose it, like Baroness Kate Hoey] but was perhaps one of the most vociferous.

William Walker may have championed the cause of the unskilled workers at Harland and Wolff, that is undeniable. William Walker was the champion of the unskilled in the shipyards and often spoke for women workers in his capacity as an Independent Labour Party founder and activist in Belfast. The problem with his belief that Irish labour was better served within the larger British labour movement is that this served the interests of imperialism. Socialism, in its true form is an antithesis to Imperialism, as Lenin said, “Imperialism is the highest form of capitalism” once again highlighting the split in the Second International. 

Had the Labour Party been in governmental power, as they now have on many occasions in Britain, since the first minority administration in 1924 to the Clement Attlee landslide of 1945 and many times since, they have had to manage the imperialist cause of British capitalism. 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) once had a place at the Foreign Office. This was to control, or pacify, any nationalist aspirations among the working-class of the colonies. Indeed, the late Vic Feather, later Baron Feather, former TUC General Secretary from 1969 to 1973, was reportedly paid by the Information Research Department, a secret branch of the UK Foreign Office to write anti-communist and pro-colonial propaganda. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, she decided the services of the TUC were no longer required and terminated the arrangement. Perhaps Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC at the time who succeeded Vic Feather, should have heeded this early warning as a sign of things to come! The TUC would claim, on behalf of the Foreign Office, as did William Walker, the interests of the workers of the colonies were better served by the British labour movement, not national independence and their own labour associations and parties.

William Walker once wrote in support of his philosophy:

I am an Internationalist because the same grievances which affect the German and the Englishman affect me. I speak the same tongue as the Englishman: I study the same literature: I am opposed by the same financial power: and, to me, only a combined and united attack with out (sic) geographical consideration, can assure to Ireland an equal measure of social advancement as that which the larger and more advanced democracy of Great Britain are pressing for.

A reasonable argument on the surface except the British establishment has never treated Irish labour [in the case of the six counties still doesn’t, workers there are still trying for parity in pay with their British counterparts] as equals. Ireland was never part of Britain [in the case of the six counties still isn’t] it was a western outpost of the so-called United Kingdom where workers were never going to be paid the same or receive the same treatment as those in Britain, despite Walker’s delusions. 

If he believed, as do many modern Unionists and loyalists, that by serving Britain loyally they would be rewarded the same as English, Scottish and Welsh workers they were/are kidding themselves. London had never considered Ireland – pre-treaty – as an equal part of the UK. British workers, as seen during the Dublin Lockout, did consider the Irish as equals, but the establishment never did, and still do not rate workers in [Northern] Ireland as being worth the same. William Walker by hanging onto this fantasy was doing the Irish working-class a great disservice and the British ruling-classes a huge favour. Unfortunately, among many – though not all – labour leaders in the occupied six counties this Walkerite mentality still prevails, although there are small signs [post-Brexit] this train of thought is shifting.

Historically there are many Irishmen who would agree with Walker, men like Edmund Burke who called the United Irishmen of 1798 “that unwise body” also commenting that:

I cannot conceive that a man can be a genuine Englishman without being a true Irishman…… I think the same sentiments ought to be reciprocal on the part of Ireland, and, if possible, much stronger reason.

Another quote of Burke which William Walker would most certainly agree with was:

The closest connection between Great Britain and Ireland is essential to the well-being, I had almost said to the very being of the two kingdoms.

No doubt William Walker took the convenient bits of Marx and produced a political hybrid with the writings of Burke!

In 1911 Walker undertook a debate with James Connolly [see the Connolly Walker controversy} Walker arguing Irish socialists should focus their activities on the British labour movement, Connolly taking a different approach and, in my view the correct one, that the Irish working-class should have their own political voice separate from that of Britain or, more essentially England. This argument of Walkers for me does not hold water because what he is suggesting is the Irish should throw their lot in with their tormentors, the British establishment, and if the Labour Party were the government, then the Irish working-class should support such a government despite all the wrongs that same establishment have committed against the Irish, and in particular, the same Irish Working-Class! 

Connolly argued for a separate Irish Labour Party to work as brothers, comrades with their British counterparts in areas of common interest, but not “bedfellows”. Connolly believed in the model of friendship and camaraderie in true internationalist tradition with workers of all countries, including Britain, but Irish workers in areas affecting them must make their own decisions unilaterally without having to consult the British or any other larger country. This does not mean mutual assistance should not be given: internationalism is built on that concept as the events in the Dublin Lockout of 1913/14 proved. Seventy years later that mutual assistance was repaid by the Irish labour and trade union movement during the twelve month long British Coal Miners Strike.

James Keir Hardie was flawed to a certain extent by his anti-Lithuanian racism which even by the standards of the day were extreme, claiming they were carriers of the Black Death. Both Jim Larkin and Richard O’Carroll were stained by anti-Semitism possibly influenced by the odium of the times, and William Walker carried the stigma of anti-Catholic sectarianism. All not good attributes for anybody, but for trade unionists and labour men such baggage is unacceptable, certainly in modern times. Again, we must look at these prejudices through the prism of the times and language used in all walks of life which, though certainly not justifying such prejudices may make them a little more understandable? 

The difference between the likes of Larkin, O’Carroll and Keir Hardie speaking their racist and anti-Semitic rubbish was they could be described as victims of their time. Unfortunately, the kind of sectarianism preached by William Walker has lost none of its bitterness and has survived the passage of time. On 21st July 1920 workers returned to the shipyards after the twelfth of July holidays. Sinn Fein, during the 1918 General Election had scored enormous successes around most of Ireland but not so much in the Protestant dominated six counties. On the day of 21st July workers at Harland and Wolff Shipyard, majority Protestant though far from exclusively, were joined by men from the Workman/Clarke yard at a meeting to discuss expelling Catholics [Sinn Feiners as they were seen] from their employment. Around seven thousand five hundred, including about one thousand eight hundred Protestant shop stewards, considered “Rotten Prods,” were expelled in what could only be described as ethnic cleansing of the yards. The question may be asked; had William Walker still been active as a trade unionist in the yards, would he have been a “Rotten Prod” or an ethnic cleanser? His union record would suggest the former, however his political speeches against Roman Catholics may give credence that Walker could have forgot his duties to his class and become one of the mob!

William Walker was an Orangeman and as was mentioned above placed the interests of Protestantism “above the interests of the ILP”. Traditionally the Orange Order was/is politically Conservative and Unionist which suggests an antithesis to socialism. This may not be exclusively correct, as many working-class Orangemen at the time of Walker were trade unionists and socialists. Perhaps if Walker had thought out his position a little more scientifically, he may have come to a slightly different conclusion. He opposed the Home Rule Bill, claiming with many Orangemen that “Home Rule would equal Rome Rule”, a position which given the power and influence of the Catholic Church at the time may not have been unreasonable. If he had thought this through, he may have realised that an independent Ireland, with a built in million Protestants the power of the Catholic Church would have been somewhat diluted. The conditions would have been more friendly towards the building of socialism with this sizable Protestant minority built in an independent Ireland, free from British interference and church influence diluted, Walker may have found he had much more in common with James Connolly, Jim Larkin and many other socialists than he had opposites. 

An example of such unity, rare as such instances were, could be exemplified by the marriage of Winifred Carney, one time secretary, friend and confide of James Connolly, and veteran of the Easter Rising, socialist and feminist, to George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman. He was, however, a fellow socialist, which was what attracted the couple to each other, he opposed sectarianism and Winifred Carney alienated anyone in her life who did not support her marriage to McBride, while she still worked tirelessly for the ITGWU. The point is no matter if person comes from a traditional orange or green background socialism can be a bridging instrument if used and thought out correctly. Walker argued he would rather be part of a liberal United Kingdom than a conservative Ireland. With this million Protestants built in there was no reason why Ireland could not have thrown off the yolk of the conservative Catholic Church. In fact, given time the yolk of both dominant religious denominations could have been given the elbow!

In 1912, the same year the Irish Labour Party came into being, which Walker opposed so vehemently, William Walker left politics and took up a local government position related to health insurance, but he remains one of Irelands historical socialist titans whether you agree with him or not. He died in 1918, ironically the same year as the British Labour Party adopted Clause IV to their constitution. What William Walker would have made of that we shall never know. 

William Walker was what could be described as a conundrum. His views ranged from militant socialism to hard-line conservatism, a contradiction to say the least. What Walker would have made of Clause IV we shall never know neither, without holding a séance, will we know what position William Walker would have taken over the 1920 expulsion of Catholic workers from the shipyards. All of us can only offer unsubstantiated guesses!

Caoimhin O’Muraile is a Dublin 
based Marxist and author. 

8 comments:

  1. Another fine piece of work Caoimhin. Walker was always a hate figure for republican prisoners influenced by Connolly - Walker and the priest, Kane.
    If things were reduced to a binary choice what would it be? UK rule with a state of the art NHS or a United Ireland with a third rate health system? Part of an Irish theocracy ridden by priestcraft or part of a secular UK? It does not reflect reality but the sort of thing that gets us thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hardly much of an ethnic clear out in H&W when Martin Meehan was working there as a boy.

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  3. I'd call over seven thousand people expelled, by force which only suited management, a variant of ethnic cleansing. As pointed out Protestant shop stewards, genuine ones who defended the working class irrespective of religious persuation were also forced out. This must have been like a pain killer for managements headache, the union reps outed by some of their own biggoted, ignorant members. The orange tradition has generally, with some exceptions like George McBride, have been alligned with the conservative and unionist party who hated/hate trade unions. Working-class torys the backbone of loyalism and traditionally fascism!! Working-class torys, people without two farthings to scatch their arse with, supporting their suppossed betters at the expense of fellow workers. Thick or what🤔🤔?

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  4. AM
    Had Connolly survived Ireland would have had a nationalised health service long before the Atlee Government introduced one in the UK in 1948. Had Connolly survived, and the ICA grown, the Irish revolution would have been just begining. "We are out for economic as well as political freedom".

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    1. Caoimhin - that is a lot of responsibility to place on one man's shoulders. It also veers too much towards the great men of history theory of dynamics rather than impersonal and structural forces. We simp,y do not know what would have happened had Connolly survived no more than we know what way Bobby Sands or Michael Devine would have oriented in regards to Northern politics today. And - a very big And - it does not address the question!!!
      The question is of course hypothetical but you swerved round it!!!

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  5. AM

    The politics, socialist politics of James Connolly were geared towards fully funded public services. Read the policies laid down of the ISRP which addresses funding of public services such as education, health and pensions. On pensions he was ahead of Lloyd George and on health far predated the Beverage report, which Atlee and Bevan based the NHS.

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    1. He had these policies for sure. I am still not sure in what way that addresses the initial question.

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  6. Get your point Anthony, and the fact Connolly advocated these pokicies before most others suggests the question is not "hypothetical". If you are saying we will never know because, alas, he did not survive is a fair point. Connolly was prepared, had the Easter Rising been a success to fight for socialism using the ICA - hence the "in the event of victory speech to the ICA prior to the rising - which may have brought the two former allies, the Volunteers and ICA into conflict. Had the working class been victorious then Connolly would no doubt enacted his policies for universal public services. Admittedly it would have been easier back then as capitalism was still generally localised. Today with capitalist globalisation the socialist revolution would have to cover ultimately more than one country.

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