This was an important occasion for trade unionists in Belfast. The unveiling by the ICTU President John Douglas of a new mural complementing the statue of Jim Larkin at the ICTU (NI) office at Donegall Street Place. The Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir attended the ceremony. The work was commissioned from well-known Belfast muralists Danny Devanny and Mark Ervine. It depicts banners, signs and logos of the constituent unions, including the National Union of Journalists.
I represented the NUJ at the unveiling in my capacity as Chair of the Northern Ireland sub-committee of the Irish Executive Council. The artwork tells the story of organised labour from the Dockers’ and Carters’ Strike of 1907 and the struggle of women in the factories and mills, up to the current campaigns against austerity and for social justice.
Afterwards the proceedings moved to the nearby John Hewitt Bar. The Lord Mayor unveiled an item of particular significance for the Belfast Trades Council. It is a bell and commemorative plaque which were presented to Samuel Munro in 1893 when he was President of the Council.
The same year the former Northern Whig employee who came from Lurgan in County Armagh and represented the Typographical Association was elected as President of the Trades Union Congress then encompassing Ireland and Britain. On September 4th to 9th 1893 the TUC held their 26th annual Congress over six days at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. At the time there were 380 delegates from 226 unions, representing 900,000 members.
The Chair of NIC-ICTU Pamela Dooley gave a short speech followed by remarks from Paddy Mackel, Secretary of the present Belfast Trades Council which Munro had led. The story of this committed trade unionist who rose through the ranks and held the top post in the TUC was related splendidly by Francis Devine of the Irish Labour History Society, who finished with a poem he wrote himself in honour of Munro. He explained how Munro came from the old craft section of the trade union movement and was conservative and cautious by character. “Defence not defiance” was his way of operating.
Munro’s address to the TUC on the second day of Congress (September 5th 1893) was illuminating, according to Devine, and demonstrated radical foresight, with demands that were very advanced for their time for the organisation of women, factory reform and protective legislation, labour representation and temperance.
It was a shade ironic therefore that the memento of Munro should now be displayed in a pub! Brian Bingham from Belfast was present, a friend of Munro’s last known relative, his granddaughter, who lives in London and who presented the bell to the ICTU.