SAM NOLAN AND THE UNEMPLOYED PROTEST COMMITTEE, 1957-58: PART ONE

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There’s a great post on the 1953 unemployed protest march over on Come Here To Me, which pushed me to finally get around to editing this footage of Sam Nolan talking about the unemployed protests later that decade, in 1957 and 1958.

This is the first thirty minutes of an hour-long clip. It was filmed in Sam’s home in Ballymun in February 2010. The interviewer is Mick O’Reilly. The second clip should be up sometime during the week.

By way of background, below the video is an extract from Communist Party of Ireland: Outline History which deals with the setting up of the committee and the subsequent election of John (Jack) Murphy as the first unemployed T.D. in Ireland.

Part one: Origins – building slump – Werburgh St public meeting – trade union support – Jack Murphy – local authority housing – ‘emigrate, fight or starve’ – the 1957 election – Dublin South Central Constituency – Peadar O’Donnell – selection of candidate – election campaign – Roddy Connolly

Sam Nolan and the Unemployed Protest Committee, 1957 from conormccabe on Vimeo.

Early in 1957 a group of building workers came together at the Werburgh Street (Dublin) Labour Exchange and discussed the prospects of finding employment. They decided that the only hope was to organise the unemployed to demand work. They borrowed a chair from a nearby shop and began a public meeting. From that meeting an Unemployed Protest Committee [UPC] was formed which included such persons as Liam O’Meara, Jack Murphy, Sam Nolan, Packey Early, Steve Mooney and Johnny Mooney.

They secured a committee room in the premises of the Dublin Trade Union Council. From there they planned and carried out a series of public meetings and marches. Soon the support was numbered in thousands. They carried black coffins which had been a symbol of unemployed marches for many years.

In April 1957, a general election was announced and the UPC decided to contest the election as a means of focusing attention on the plight of the unemployed and make jobs the central issue in the election. The problem of an unemployed organisation fighting an election was considerable. The first problem was finance. An appeal was sent to the trade unions and to individual trade unionists. This was more successful than expected. Subscriptions were received from such unions as the National Woodworkers, Operative Plasterers, Bricklayers, Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, House and Ship Painters, Dublin Typographical Society and the Belfast and Derry Trades Councils.

The committee sought the help and advice from the veteran left-Republican, Peadar O’Donnell. He secured through personal contacts a guarantee of the £100 election deposit. The committee was fortunate in securing an election headquarters opposite Werburgh Street Labour Exchange. Within days a well-organised election machine had been knocked together and hand-made posters and leaflets were available outlining the demands of the unemployed in the Dublin South Central Constituency which was the area it was decided to contest.

The committee had to take a very important decision in the selection of a candidate. Two names were considered, those of Jack Murphy and Sam Nolan. Jack Murphy had a background of struggle in the building industry as a militant shop steward and his political beliefs could be described as Republican-Socialist. He had been interned during the war years.

Sam Nolan had a similar background in the building industry; he was publicly known as a leading Communist and a member of the Irish Workers’ League. [...] Members of the committee, including Sam Nolan, argued that his candidature would have left the unemployed movement open to accusations of being a Communist front; unemployment, as an issue, would have been pushed into the background.

Jack Murphy was finally the choice as the candidate. The response to the unemployed election campaign was very good and Jack Murphy secured 3,036 first preference votes which resulted in his election. He gained the Labour seat which had been vacated by Jim Larkin Jnr, and which had been contested for the Labour Party by Roddy Connolly.

The overall result of the election was the return of a Fianna Fáil majority. The Labour Party as the junior partner of the coalition dropped over 50,000 votes. Sinn Féin won four seats but did not take their seats in Dáil Éireann.

Jack Murphy’s election enhanced the growth of the unemployed movement and large rallies in Cork and Waterford resulted in the creation of unemployed organisations in these cities. The unemployed movement became the rallying point for all the radical and left-wing forces in the country. The combining of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary agitation were the correct tactics in the situation.

Reactionary forces, both lay an clerical, realised this better than most, and these forces worked to disrupt the growth of the unemployed movement. Jack Murphy experienced personal pressure from both these sources. This pressure took the form of persuading him that he was being used as a pawn by the Communists.

The budget introduced by the Fianna Fáil government provided for the removal of subsidies on food which cost about £7 million per year. The unemployed suffered most from this step. Jack Murphy, together with two other members of the committee, Jimmy Byrne and Tommy Kavanagh, decided to go on hunger strike in protest. This hunger strike lasted four days and each night thousands of workers assembled at Dublin’s Abbey Street corner to listen to speakers from the UPC. O the fourth day of the strike a deputation from the committee met the officers of the Trade Union Congress. A statement was issued from the trade unions which appealed for an end to the hunger strike. [...] A rally of about 5,000 people assembled at Christchurch Place and endorsed the appeal and thus ended the hunger strike.

The UPC decided, as part of the campaign against the removal of food subsidies, to seek a meeting with Dr. McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin. Instead, the Archbishop sent for Jack Murphy and a discussion took place. Jack Murphy later informed the committee that the Archbishop had made three main points. Firstly, that, as Archbishop, he could not interfere in political decisions made by the Government. Secondly, that he had authorised work of church property to help create employment. Thirdly, he warned Jack Murphy of the danger of associating with Communists, who were trying to use him. [...]

The last big demonstration of the campaign was a march of about 2,000 people from the Corporation Buildings and the Sean MacDermott Street area to the Dáil. Jack Murphy opposed the demonstration and from then on argued that he needed a period free from public agitation in order to settle down to Dáil work. The UPC opposed this policy, pointing out that the combination of both forms of struggle was the only basis for the existence of an unemployed movement. In August 1957 he broke with the UPC without any discussion, and later formed an alternative committee which was completely unrepresentative of the unemployed.

The next move was that Jack Murphy, for whom the Dublin unemployed and workers generally had campaigned to have elected, announced his resignation as a member of Dáil Éireann. He consulted none of the persons who had worked so hard to secure his election. He resigned from the Dáil in 1958 and in the by-election Fianna Fáil gained the seat.” (Communist Party of Ireland: Outline History, pp.59-60.)

This entry was posted in Irish Labour History, Radicalism, Social/Cultural History, Trade Unions. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to SAM NOLAN AND THE UNEMPLOYED PROTEST COMMITTEE, 1957-58: PART ONE

  1. Pingback: Jack Murphy - The Unemployed Protest Committee

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