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The independent workers' union : class, nation and oppositional labour movements in Ireland from 1900 to the Celtic Tiger

Stewart, Paul and McKearney, Tommy and Garvey, Brian (2014) The independent workers' union : class, nation and oppositional labour movements in Ireland from 1900 to the Celtic Tiger. Labor History, 55 (4). pp. 486-500. ISSN 0023-656X

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Abstract

This article examines the rise of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) in Ireland, North and South, in relation to the bifurcation of trade unionism on the Island, from 1900 until the demise of the so-called Celtic tiger in the early years of the twenty-first century. It is argued that two competing ideological and political trajectories defined the major divisions in the Irish labour movement and where given added impetus with the formation of two separate states after 1920. One tradition was committed to an idea of a progressive British empire, while the other was born of a movement linking together trade union, class and national autonomy. A trade union with a long history and recent past, the IWU represents a labour movement formation whose tradition extends the latter: it is committed to developing forms of opposition to state and capital. If more subdued since the partition of the island, this tradition was reignited with the implosion of Social Partnership in the South and the rise of the new sectarianism in the North. Neoliberalism, with its consequent assault upon labour and its various institutions more broadly, provided additional impetus to the creation of the IWU in 2004. The article also assesses its various alternative union and community organising strategies.