In the new Working Notes, Brendan McPartlin discusses the 1913 lock-out and sees the old pre-1913 deal returning in post-modern dress. Gerry O’Hanlon offers hope: there is an alternative to the present system. The March 2014 issue of Working Notes, the journal of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, includes challenging contributions to the debate on just and sustainable economic development from Fr Brendan Mac Partlin SJ, a member of the Portadown Community, who for many years lectured on employment relations and social ethics in the National College of Ireland, and from theologian, Fr Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, who is a staff member of the Jesuit Centre.
Brendan Mac Partlin explores the meaning of the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and its relevance to industrial relations in today’s globalised economy. He outlines the origins and development of the dispute and the escalation in the hardship endured by the workers and their families. Interestingly, the article features a photograph of an original ‘food docket’ issued by unions to the locked-out workers’ families.
Brendan Mac Partlin argues that the dispute one hundred years ago was fundamentally about the denial to the Dublin workers of the right to freedom of association for the purposes of bettering their working conditions, in a context where huge numbers of people worked for poverty wages, had little or no security of employment and where there was no safety net of social welfare. He argues that the gains achieved in the decades after 1913 in terms of workers’ rights and improved living conditions represented a ‘new deal’ for employees but that these have come under increasing threat since the 1970s, with the globalisation not just of economic activity but of a new form of laissez- faire capitalism. He says that we are now seeing the ‘old deal’ in post-modern dress, with the widespread return of precarious employment: ‘security, permanent contracts, decent pay, guaranteed working hours and welfare entitlements are all being whittled away’. Brendan Mac Partlin concludes that in our globalised economy the essential rights of workers, social protection and equity must also be globalised; achieving this is a significant challenge to the trade union movement of today and to the international agencies.
The article by Gerry O’Hanlon SJ explores the need for a ‘redemption narrative’ – involving a re-examination of assumptions and fresh analysis of values and policies – which might provide hope as Ireland deals with fallout from its economic crash, and also guide us towards a more balanced, just and sustainable form of economic development. Gerry O’Hanlon focuses here on the socio-cultural, political and theological resources that might contribute to the process of developing such a redemption narrative. He highlights the need for new thinking and for dissenting voices prepared to challenge not just the pervasiveness of modern capitalism, with its blind faith in ‘the market’ and insistence on growth, but also the widespread assumption that ‘there is no alternative’ to the current system. He emphasises the need for a politics that is open to new thinking and can take on board the notion of the common good and its attendant values, such as equality, solidarity and fairness. And he looks too at the particular contribution which theology and faith can make to the process of recovery and renewal, by reminding us that are secure grounds ‘for our hope that love, goodness, truth, freedom and justice are how things are meant to be and will be’.