Friday, December 15, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: James Larkin

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “James Larkin” by Christy Moore. The song chronicles a period of revolution in Irish history. It begins with James Larkin, a trade union organizer who coined the phrase "A fair day's work for a fair day's pay.” A 1913 union recognition strike for unskilled tram-way operators triggered an enormous lockout by employers and a dispute that lasted 7 months.

James Connelly was an important union figure during this time, who was also a leading republican and sought to establish an independent and socialist Ireland. His views included supporting Germany and opposing the conscription of Irish men into the British Army.

Matters came to a head in April of 1916 with the Easter rising. Connelly was eventually shot for his part in the rebellion. Part of this story behind this song has been dramatized in a 2016 Netflix move entitled Rebellion.

This song focuses on the harsh class system that affected Irish workers. This arrangement was a part of the historic exploitation of the Irish by English interests. Christy Moore has written a number of related songs, including this lovely one about James Connelly.

In Dublin City in 1914 the boss was rich and the poor 
Were slaves
The women working and the children hungry then on came
Larkin like a mighty wave
The workers cringed when the boss man thundered seventy
Hours was their weekly chore
They asked for little and less was granted lest getting
Little they'd asked for more

Then came Larkin in 1914 a mighty man with a mighty
The voice of labour the voice of justice and he was
Gifted, he was young
God sent Larkin in 1914 a labor man with a union tongue
He raised the workers and gave them courage he was
Their hero and a workers son

It was in August the boss man told us no union man for
Them could work
We stood by Larkin and told the boss man we'd fight or
Die but we'd never shirk
Eight months we fought eight months we starved we stood
By Larkin through thick and thin
But foodless homes and the crying children, they broke
Our hearts and we could not win

When Larkin left us we seemed defeated the night was
Black for the working man
But on came Connolly came with new hope and counsel his
Motto was we'll rise again
In 1916 in Dublin City the English army burnt our town
They shelled the buildings and shot our leaders the
Harp was buried beneath the crown

They shot Mcdermott and Pearse and Plunkett they shot
Mcdonagh Ceannt and Clarke the brave
From bleak Kilmanham they took their bodies to Arbour
Hill to a quicklime grave
Last of all of the seven leaders they shot down James
The voice of labour the voice of justice gave his life
That we might be free

-- Bob Barnetson

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