The Watchword of Labour

The Labour Party, founded in 1912 by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien, is in closed negotiations with Fine Gael, a party whose ethos and values lie in direct opposition to the ethos and values of Connolly, Larkin and O’Brien, over a programme for government to which both parties can sign up to.

The Labour Party website states that: ‘The founders of the Labour Party believed that for ordinary working people to shape society they needed a political party that was committed to serving their needs; they knew that there is only so much that trade unions and community organisations can do, an effective political party is needed to create a fair society.’

This barely skims the surface of what the founders believed, but we can rely on a line from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for the fundamental principles that Connolly was prepared to die to establish, to understand his final position: “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”

The Labour website also states, with regard to the period after the 1918 elections: “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background. Moreover, the major parties were conservative and opposed to socialism. This meant that there was little or no attention given to issues of social justice, such as poverty, unemployment and emigration which badly affected the lives of Irish working people.

Poverty, unemployment and emigration? If those words create a sense of déjà vu, then so too should the opening line of that quote – “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background.”

Yes, we have been here before, many times. And now, as in previous times the leaders of the Labour Party, post-1916, will wrestle with their consciences, and the leadership will win, and win easily.

The Labour Party’s members, who just might exercise some authority over the leadership if they had a mind to, will be familiar with a song by James Connolly – indeed many of them will have joined in lusty renditions at Labour Party conferences and gatherings.

Just to remind them of Connolly’s stance on Labour’s duty, here it is:

The Watchword of Labour by James Connolly (1916)

Oh, hear ye the watchword of Labour,
the slogan of those who’d be free,
That no more to any enslaver
must Labour bend suppliant knee,
That we on whose shoulders are borne
the pomp and the pride of the great,
Whose toil they repay with their scorn,
must challenge and master our fate.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Aye, we who oft won by our valour,
empires for our rulers and lords,
Yet knelt in abasement and squalor
to things we had made with our swords,
Now valour with worth will be blending,
when answering Labour’s command,
We arise from our knees and ascending
to manhood for freedom take stand.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Then out from the field and the city
from workshop, from mill and from mine,
Despising their wrath and their pity,
we workers are moving in line,
To answer the watchword and token
that Labour gives forth as its own,
Nor pause till our fetters we’ve broken,
and conquered the spoiler and drone.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.


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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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