Rosie Hackett and the
Union Women of Jacobs Biscuits
On 22 August 1911 three thousand women at Jacob's factory withdrew their labour in pursuit of a pay claim. Jim Larkin said the conditions for the biscuit makers were 'sending them from this earth twenty years before their time'. A contemporary description of the strikers, although not exactly sympathetic to their position, shows clearly how ready workers were to support each other in times of strife.
The greater number of the employees of Messrs. Jacob, biscuit manufacturers, were on strike yesterday. The strike originated on the previous evening in the secession of the bakehouse hands to the number of 350. This was subsequently followed by the stoppage from work of 140 men employed by the New Row branch of the firm. The men on strike paraded yesterday morning in the vicinity of the works, and in sympathy with them a number of girl employees came out at an early hour.
A procession of the strikers was then formed, and moved round the block of buildings which constituted the factory. A great deal of excitement in vent of the strike spirit was manifested and the ranks of the strikers being reinforced by many without work to do, there was a continued state of turmoil in the streets. ..... Shortly after noon, the strikers were reinforced by some 3,000 girls who were employed in packing and other branches of the firm's business. These latter formed in professional order and moved about. .... The output was largely at a standstill, though the machinery continued in motion. The girls admitted that they themselves had not struck from any grievance to themselves, but only out of sympathy with the men." (Irish Times, 23 August 1911)
One of the first women to come out in sympathy with the men was Rosie Hackett, a young messenger for the company, who had joined the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in the previous year. Two weeks after the successful Jacob's strike, Rosie was one of the founder members of the Irish Women Workers Union, set up to protect women in the face of the appalling conditions in which many of them were expected to work.
In August 1913, when the tramworkers struck, Rosie and her fellow workers from Jacob's again mobilised in support of the pickets and they gathered in O'Connell Street on 31 August for a rally against the employers. She was in the crowd that was baton charged by the police, resulting in the terrible injuries to the workers that made the day infamous as 'Bloody Sunday'. On the following Saturday, three Jacob's workers were sacked for refusing to remove their ITGWU badges and Rosie was one of the organisers of the supporting strike which began immediately afterwards. The employers retaliated by locking out all the workers and Rosie began a period of tireless work, bringing together the members of the IWWU to provide physical and moral support for the strikers throughout the city.
As a result of her efforts during the lockout, Rosie was not re-employed by Jacobs, and instead, she took up a full-time post as Clerk to the IWWU. She was involved in the 1916 Rising and she was arrested for the part she played but it is as a stalwart trade unionist that she will be remembered. Rosie Hackett died in 1976, after giving more than sixty years of service to the trade union movement.
We are grateful for her example, and that of her colleagues in Jacobs, in coming out in support of striking fellow workers when times were really hard and taking a stand could mean risking your life. It is time yet again for the trade union movement to remember its roots in the brave efforts of workers like Rosie Hackett and to defy the sell-outs of those union leaders who are prepared to make endless concessions to the bosses in the fruitless quest for partnership with the old enemy.
1911 Jacobs Biscuits Strike Rosie Hackett
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