Spirit of Mother Jones lives on in Cork reunion
Saturday 9th August 2014
A remarkable festival in Ireland brought together Irish, British and US trade unionists. Peter Lazenby reports
IT MUST have taken some doing to be labelled “the most dangerous woman in America.”
Mother Jones did it. But she wasn’t a gangster. She was a trade union organiser and political agitator.
“Mother Jones” was the name given to her by the labour and trade union movement of the United States, where she is a legend.
She was born Mary Harris at Shandon in Cork in 1837, emigrated from Ireland as a teenager to Canada and died in the US in 1930 aged 93.
My Morning Star colleague Peter Frost told her story in his column in April.
Mother Jones’s name lives on in many ways, not least among campaigning women in the US who call themselves Daughters of Mother Jones.
Today, back in the land of her birth, her story is being revived and spread.
Three years ago a Mother Jones Committee was formed in Cork to organise an annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. The project is supported by Ireland’s trade union movement.
In 2012 they staged the first festival in celebration of her life. It involved political speakers, poetry and, of course, music. A plaque was unveiled on a street wall close to Mother Jones’s birthplace.
Last year the festival grew, and this year’s festival in the last week of July was the biggest so far, building on its international links with the US and Britain.
Over four days speakers from Britain included Durham Miners’ Association general secretary Dave Hopper, Anne Scargill and Betty Cook of Women Against Pit Closures, ex-miner Paul Winter of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and campaigning solicitor Gareth Peirce.
The film The Battle of Orgreave was shown.
Other accomplished speakers included leading academics and trade unionists from Ireland and from the US.
There was a lecture on the Cork Harbour Soviet — the takeover of Cork Harbour by its workers in a dispute in 1921, and the raising of the red flag over the harbour commissioner’s office.
Scargill and Cook were reunited at the festival with a former mineworker from West Virginia, Libby Lindsay, renewing an old friendship.
Thirty years ago women mineworkers from the US raised funds for Women Against Pit Closures during the 1984-5 miners’ strike. The friendships forged then are still strong today.
In a joint address to the audience with Cook, Scargill told the audience that during the strike the people of Dublin sent over enough money in a single donation “to keep all our soup kitchens going for a fortnight.”
Such acts are not forgotten.
A new banner was raised at the festival in honour of Mother Jones and bearing her portrait, pit-head gear and mill chimneys.
The pit-head gear is an image of the winding machinery at Allerton Bywater colliery, the last pit to close in the Leeds district of West Yorkshire.
It was created by Morning Star supporters Joan Heath and Sheila Woodhead and when the reverse side is completed it will be presented to the women mineworkers from the US.
The banner celebrates the transatlantic links forged between women during the miners’ strike. It bears the title: “Women Against Pit Closures, Barnsley Miners’ Wives Action Group, United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) Women Mineworkers, and Daughters of Mother Jones.”
There’s also a quote from Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead — and fight like hell for the living!”
The banner will be taken to the US next year to be handed over to women mineworkers of the UMWA in Illinois, where Mother Jones was buried in a mineworkers’ cemetery at her request.
A replica of the banner will be created for use by Women Against Pit Closures in Britain.
Speaker after speaker at the festival talked of the relevance of Mother Jones’s socialism and activism to today’s struggles.
Hopper told of the growth of the Durham Miners’ Gala and the record crowd which attended this year, before making presentations of framed pictures to the festival’s organisers.
When the festival ended, Scargill, Cook and other activists headed for Dublin, where they joined the picket line of the city’s locked-out refuse and waste recycling service.
In a mirror image of what is happening across Britain, the workers’ jobs were transferred from the public sector to a private operator, Greyhound, which demanded a 35 per cent pay cut.
The workers refused to accept and were locked out. The solidarity of the Dublin workers and the British coalfields during the miners’ strike 30 years ago lives on.
Next year’s Spirit of Mother Jones festival is expected to be bigger still and bring together more trade unionists and political activists from both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the Irish Sea.