The dublin docker
Working loves of dublin sea port
Aileen o Carroll and don Bennett
Irish academic press

I was apprehensive about reading this. Something didn’t quite fit, an academic look on working class dublin. An overview of employees of dublin port. I always find it amusing when academics and those born into privilege can be spokespeople for the less well off. They may never have walked a yard in our shoes. Not that I’m implying the authors need to walk a millimeter in a dockers boot to be able to tell their story. I just wasn’t sure what kind of take an academic press can have when critiquing the lives of dublin dockets.

Thankfully any apprehension I had was quickly eroded when the story began. It is a factual account of what life was like firstly seeking work and then working in dublin docks.

From lining up in the pavement hoping to be picked for a days work and knowing what was the best tricks in an attempt to be chosen. To being a button man, union member who has preference.

Of course the work of a docket in ore automated times was Labour intensive. Coal, sugar, cement, oats all came into the country in huge quantities on massive ships that were constantly flowing into Dublin’s small port before making their way on land throughout the countries myriad of small roads. All had to be manually handled, despite the rats that appear in any damp city. It is a striking that jumps out of the pages. The type of work dockers were undertaking was only suitable for strong workers.

The description is of a blossoming and booming docks where boats were queueing up to be offloaded. Where people had roles like stevedores and hobblers. Where employment was plentiful and this area was the welcome mat for nearly all goods entering the country. Each ship with a tale to tell

And then with a collection of workers you in the 29th century you are bound to get them trying to be organized. Trade unions started appearing in the latter half of the 1800s but it wasn’t rally until James Larkin looked to organize labour that things started germinating. Then there was splits as unions were popping up representing not only different types of work but sometimes two were looking to represent one as they detailed ways they felt they could organize better. Gamesmanship and oneupmanship was battled but overall the plight of the worker improved in a battle for increased terms and conditions. Hard to fathom now but there was a huge battle for breaks, an 8 hour working day and paid leave. A huge huge battle.

There were other things that communities worked together for. Despite the poverty amongst people there was a sense of solidarity. There was a culture of alcoholism amongst male workers who after most days working hard went to the pub to let their hair down. It wasn’t for lack of love for their family it was how society was evolving. The authors provide vivid detail Into the hardship yet real belonging for people at the time. A superb recollection of life in dublin not so long ago and a world of casualisation of work which really is not too dissimilar to where we are heading today. How many of us know of people hoping to get the call up for a days work. Rather than lining the cities streets they wait for the email or text of approval.

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