NEW YORK — Gerry Adams, member of parliament from Northern Ireland and the president of Sinn Fein, the political party of the Irish republican movement, addressed a capacity crowd of trade unionists and guests at a local union hall here March 14. Having been escorted into the hall by the kilted pipers of Transit Workers Union Local 100’s “Transit Pride” band, Adams was greeted by a thunderous ovation.
The occasion of Adams’ visit was Local 100’s annual “Quill–Connolly” commemoration, which celebrates both the life of the famous socialist and Irish republican leader James Connolly and the life of legendary TWU leader Mike Quill.
In introductory remarks, Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100, noted that Connolly’s writings are studied all over the world. He recalled reading Connolly as a young man in his native Trinidad. Toussaint said that he and Connolly “both came from small islands that had spent too much time under British imperialism.”
Among the other labor leaders on hand were AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, New York State Federation of Labor President Dennis Hughes and NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch.
Labor historian Josh Freeman put the event in historical context, pointing out that James Connolly saw the connection between the Irish freedom struggle, union struggles and the struggle for socialism. Freeman said that Mike Quill shared this broader view.
Adams thanked the crowd for the warm greeting saying that he was delighted to be a guest of TWU and felt very much at home speaking before a group of trade union friends. Adams said that, like Quill and TWU, Connolly had a broad vision, seeing beyond pay and working conditions.
Adams recalled the years that Connolly had spent in the U.S. as a union organizer, eventually returning to Belfast to organize and lead the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. He also founded the “Irish Citizen Army” in 1914. For a time, he united Protestant and Catholic workers in a powerful movement.
Adams also commented on Connolly’s dedication to the cause of women’s equality. Connolly was deeply struck by the conditions of Irish working women, and what he came to see as their double oppression. Connolly called these women “the slaves of slaves.”
Connolly was later to lead the Citizen Army into the Dublin General Post Office during the 1916 Easter uprising. Adams asked his audience to read the “Proclamation” issued by the Irish rebels on that day, pointing out that although it was issued some 90 years ago, it called upon men and women to participate as equal partners in the Irish freedom struggle.
When the rebellion failed, Connolly and other leaders were called criminals. Adams compared the attacks and slanders directed at Connolly and the other Irish patriots to the vitriol currently being heaped on Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army.
When you are fighting for equality there are always elements that will resist you, Adams said. He believes that the present difficulties will be overcome and the Irish people will go forward to freedom and to peace, and, without apology, to build the type of society that Connolly and Quill fought for.
Adams closed his remarks with words written by Irish martyr Bobby Sands, “Let our revenge be the laughter of our children,” bringing the cheering audience to its feet as he left the stage.