Irish-American labour activist Mother Jones remembered in Ireland

This video says about itself:

Mother Jones- ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in America’

31 July 2012

Short documentary on ‘Mother’ Mary Harris Jones. She was a Cork native and went on to become one of the most prominent figures in the American labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

By Peter Lazenby in Ireland:

Rekindling the spirit of the legendary Mother Jones

Tuesday 4th August 2015

British trade unionists visited Ireland for a celebration of one of the 19th and 20th centuries’ most remarkable trade unionists. PETER LAZENBY was with them

AN annual trip across the Irish Sea has become something of a pilgrimage for Davey Hopper and a team of leading figures from the Durham Miners’ Association.

The same goes for Anne Scargill and Betty Cook, leaders of the Women Against Pit Closures movement.

They make the journey to celebrate at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork.

“Mother who?” is the usual response from many citizens of Cork when they’re told about the four-day event.

But across the water in the United States the name Mother Jones was known to millions of workers, and still is.

Even though she died 85 years ago, she remains an icon of the labour movement. She is the US movement’s matriarch.

Mother Jones was born Mary Harris in Shandon in Cork in 1837. When the Great Hunger struck Co Cork was one of the worst-hit parts of Ireland. Starving people died by the roadside.

Mary and her family, along with hundreds of thousands of others, emigrated to Canada. A few years later Mary moved to the US where she became a teacher.

She married George Jones, an iron founder and union man, in 1861.

Her husband and their four children died in a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1867. She set up a dress-making business which burned down in the great fire of Chicago in 1871.

But in the late 1890s, now in her sixties, she became a union activist. She helped build the fledgling United Mineworkers of America, travelling from pit town to pit town, making fiery speeches, inspiring strike action, and at the same time winning her a following of tens of thousands.

In 1903 she led the “March of the Mill Children” against child labour. Children as young as four were employed in textile mills, some suffering shocking injuries when their limbs became trapped in machinery.

She was arrested and imprisoned several times, kept in solitary confinement for months illegally and without charge. Thousands of people, particularly women, protested, demanding her release.

The early 1900s were tumultuous times for the US labour movement. From 1912 to 1914 industrial battles known as the “coal wars” broke out in West Virginia and Colorado.

Mine owners and state authorities deployed troops and armed company guards against striking miners and their families who were resisting poverty pay and appalling conditions.

Fourteen people died in the Ludlow massacre in Colorado when troops and company thugs attacked a camp set up by 1,200 evicted striking miners and their families in 1914.

The troops and guards set fire to the tents, causing the deaths of those in shelters created beneath them.

Mary was known across the US labour movement — and to the mill and mine owners, who dreaded her arrival — as Mother Jones.

She had no settled home, simply walking from town to town, appearing wherever there were injustices against working people, rousing them to action with the call “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

She organised bottle washers, domestic workers, steel workers.

Charged with inciting a riot, she was described by a prosecutor as “the most dangerous woman in America.”

In a filmed interview a few months before she died in 1930 at the age of 93, she said: “You know, I am considered a Bolshevik, and a red, and an IWW and a radical, and I admit to being all they charge me with. I am anything that would change this moneyed civilisation to a higher civilisation for the ages to come and I long to see the day when labour will have the destiny of the nation in her hands and she will stand a united force and show the world what the workers can do.”

This video from the USA says about itself:

Mother Jones Speaks

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is filmed by a newspaper reporter on the occasion of her birthday while living in Adelphi, MD in 1930. This is the only known moving image and audio recording of the “Grand Old Champion of Labor.” Mother Jones was a tireless advocate for workers and children and her work as an organizer for mine workers is particularly noted. The footage was taken from a longer video produced to commemorate the dedication of a Prince George’s County, MD school named for and dedicated to Mother Jones.

The Peter Lazanby article continues:

She was rebellious to the end. At her request she was buried in the US miners’ union cemetery in Illinois, where a monument stands in her memory.

Her funeral was attended by 40,000 people, and when she was reburied six years later in front of a new granite memorial at the cemetery, 60,000 turned up.

The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork was founded four years ago and lasts four days, bringing together union and political activists, speakers and performers from the US, Ireland and Britain.

Davey Hopper of the Durham Miners’ Association was a speaker both last year and this at the Firkin Crane Theatre, one of the festival’s two venues.

In a speech Mother Jones might have been proud of, he attacked the boss class, the Tories and Blairite Labour, calling for widespread union action against the Tories’ next raft of anti-union legislation.

He said that there are now 214 food banks in Durham, feeding thousands driven to absolute desperation by austerity. He sang the praises of Mother Jones.

“She cared about humanity and the cause of labour,” Hopper said. “We need Mother Jones to come back now. We live in a horrible, terrible world — the first generation to leave it worse for our kids than we found it. We will take the story of Mother Jones into our communities and tell them, look what one woman achieved in America — and there are thousands of us.”

Other speakers from Britain included Chris Mullin, author and former Labour MP for Sunderland, who fought for years against the unjust imprisonment of the Birmingham Six, falsely accused of being IRA activists who planted a bomb which killed 21 people. The six were cleared and released after more than 16 years in prison.

US radical and actor Kaiulani Lee gave a stunning performance playing Mother Jones in a self-penned drama, Can’t Scare Me … The Story of Mother Jones.

No Irish festival would be complete without music, and on each of the four days there were performances at either the theatre or at the festival’s second venue, the Maldron Hotel.

The final concert was a tribute to Joe Hill, the IWW organiser falsely charged with murder and executed by firing squad in 1915.

Hopper and his delegation from the Durham coalfield will be back next year, and hope that other British trade unionists will attend the festival.

The Communist Party of Ireland, Cork Council of Trades Unions and several Irish trade unions support the festival, including the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (Siptu), Unison and Irish teachers’ union ASTI.

Michael O’Donnell, secretary of Munster Council of the CPI, lived in England for a time and was a member of Fulham Trades Union Council, and was also a Morning Star seller. His team ran a daily book stall at the festival.

The festival is organised by the Cork Mother Jones Committee which dedicates the festival to “Mary Harris/Mother Jones and inspirational people everywhere who fight for social justice.”

In the United States the spirit of Mother Jones lives on through a women’s political campaign group, The Daughters of Mother Jones, and a magazine which is named after her.

This music video from the USA says about herself:

17 April 2010

Music by Gene Autry. Mary Harris (Mother Jones) was an organizer for the United Mine Workers.

The Death of Mother Jones

The world today’s in mourning
O’er the death of Mother Jones;
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners’ homes.
This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land;
She fought for right and justice,
She took a noble stand.

O’er the hills and through the valley
In ev’ry mining town;
Mother Jones was ready to help them,
She never turned them down.
On front with the striking miners
She always could be found;
And received a hearty welcome
In ev’ry mining town.

She was fearless of every danger,
She hated that which was wrong;
She never gave up fighting
Until her breath was gone.
This noble leader of labor
Has gone to a better land;
While the hard-working miners,
They miss her guiding hand.

May the miners all work together
To carry out her plan;
And bring back better conditions
For every laboring man.

From Only a Miner, Green
Note: Copyright held by William Callaway: author unknown.
Recorded by Gene Autry in 1931

4 thoughts on “Irish-American labour activist Mother Jones remembered in Ireland

  1. This week in August 1915, a major strike wave swept the northeastern United States, with machinists and other munition plant workers taking industrial action despite the efforts of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) to prevent it. Workers were reacting to the high profits being generated by war production and the long hours they were forced to work. The eight-hour day was at the centre of many of the disputes.

    Workers at Aluminum Company of America in Massena, New York, at the Remington Arms plant in Utica, New York, at the Locomotive Co. of America in Bridgeport, Connecticut—involved in the production of army trucks for Russia and England—were among those on strike. The DuPont Powder Co. granted its 50,000 employees the eight-hour day at no reduction of pay in order to avert strike action.

    Vice-President of the IAM J.J. Kepler announced a drive for the eight-hour day and wage increases that would directly affect 500,000 workers, threatening a general strike if they were not met. A conference was held in Hartford, Connecticut over the weekend of August 7-8 of the leadership of the IAM which beat back proposals for an immediate general strike.

    Union President William H. Johnson articulated the fear of the union bureaucracy over the growing movement of rank-and-file workers, stating, “I’m afraid the men will act on their own initiative. The hardest task we have now is keeping them at work and we are being severely criticized in many places for keeping the men in. In many places in New England the men feel grieved because we won’t give them the word … In the last two weeks in New England alone, 15,000 new members have been admitted. The men will accept nothing short of a straight eight-hour proposition, which machinists have hoped and prayed for these many years.”

    Leaders of 500,000 rail workers announced on August 8 their decision to join the campaign for an eight-hour day.


  2. Pingback: Stop wasting food in Britain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Tuesday 6th September 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    At long last Ireland apologises to James Gralton, a communist and the only person ever deported by the Irish government for his political beliefs. PETER FROST tells the story

    IRELAND’S President Michael D Higgins told an assembled crowd in Effrinagh, County Leitrim that an apology is due to communist James “Jimmy” Gralton, the only Irish person ever to be deported by an Irish government.

    The president was speaking as he unveiled a memorial to Jimmy Gralton at the birthplace of the Leitrim communist last weekend.

    The large crowd cheered President Higgins as he condemned “the wrongful intimidation and ultimate deportation by an abuse of the law of Jimmy Gralton to whose memory, and whose family, an apology is due.

    “Jimmy Gralton’s treatment at the hands of the Irish state and its agencies in 1932 was wrong and it is indefensible, and I hope that even at this distance of time the recognition that is being afforded to him today will remove any lingering stain on his fine character.”

    President Higgins went on say that as head of state, he acknowledged that the state’s authority was abused under undemocratic pressure when Gralton was deported. “Church authorities have previously acknowledged the wrong done to Jimmy Gralton. I do so now as President of Ireland.”

    Today Gralton is probably most widely known as the subject of Ken Loach’s 2014 film Jimmy’s Hall.

    He campaigned for the rights of tenant farmers and workers, repeatedly clashed with the clergy and mainstream politicians, and joined the Revolutionary Workers’ Group, a predecessor to the Communist Party of Ireland.

    Finally, in August 1933 he was deported by the Fianna Fail government as part of a vicious anti-communist crusade by the massively powerful Catholic Church.

    The erection of the granite memorial this month is the culmination of a long and vigorous campaign by local activists, trades unionists, Communist Party of Ireland members, local people and members of the Gralton family. All were present in the huge crowd at the unveiling.

    In a message of solidarity read to the gathering, Ken Loach said he regretted not being present for the celebration of Gralton’s life. The director said it was tempting to imagine Gralton’s response to the news about Apple’s tax avoidance: “How he would have excoriated the deal.”

    Jim Gralton (80), a cousin of the original Jimmy, told the audience that the President’s comments “meant everything”. He said it was a proud and very special day for the family, who believed an apology from the state was overdue.

    He told how his parents Maggie and Packie had witnessed Jimmy Gralton’s deportation in 1933 and “little did they think that 83 years later the president of Ireland would be unveiling a monument to his memory”.

    The secretary of the Gralton Labour History Committee, Sligo county councillor Declan Bree, commended the president for “saying what others feared to say.”

    The impressive granite memorial stone tells the story of Gralton’s life as a socialist, communist and campaigner. It marks the spot where Jimmy opened the Pearse-Connolly Hall on New Year’s Eve 1921.

    The local community used the hall for dances and for all kinds of education classes. Jimmy also held political events which angered local priests who described the hall as a “den of iniquity.”

    This criticism led to the hall being targeted by those elements in Irish society who hated to see people organising entertainment and education for themselves rather than under the strict control of the Church.

    Jimmy’s enemies attacked the hall with bombs, gunfire as well as picketing to collect names of those attending. The names were read out at Sunday mass. Finally, the hall was burned to the ground in December 1932.

    Jimmy Gralton was born into poverty, in Effernagh, near Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, in 1886. He left school at 14 to join the British Navy and at 21 he went to the US, where he played an active part in trade union activity discovering socialist politics.

    He returned to Ireland in 1921, just before the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, and built his famous hall on his father’s small farm.

    Jimmy became involved in land agitation, holding people’s courts in his hall that often returned stolen land to poor farmers.

    His radicalism and socialist ideas saw him fall out, not just with the Church, but also with sections of the local IRA. Somewhat disheartened he went back to the US in 1923.

    When Eamon de Valera came to power in 1932. He returned to Ireland briefly throwing in his lot with de Valera’s Fianna Fail.
    He hoped it would be a radical alternative. He was soon disillusioned.

    By now a huge Red Scare was stalking Ireland. Eoin O’Duffy would launch his fascist Blue Shirts. One of their main principles was to oppose communism and to uphold Christian principles. Soon O’Duffy would take some of his fascists to Spain to fight for Franco.

    Religious fervour and rabid anti-communism emanated from both Church and state. An official church pronouncement even urged violence against anyone who promoted communism. The order went out to arrest Jimmy Gralton.

    He had no alternative but to go underground. He lived, worked and organised for six months, being feed and sheltered by his many supporters, but after six months the Garda — the Irish Police — tracked him down.

    So afraid were the authorities of Jimmy that, without any trial or enquiry, they simply put him on a ship to the United States. He wasn’t even given a chance to say goodbye to his mother.

    In exile in New York, Gralton became a trade union organiser and member of the Irish Workers’ Club. He reprinted James Connolly’s pamphlets, raised funds for the International Brigades in Spain, and was an active member of the Communist Party of the USA for the remainder of his life.

    Galton died in New York in 1945 without ever returning to Ireland.


  4. Pingback: United States fascism, from William Pelley to Donald Trump | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.