Our History

Playwright and ITGWU member Sean O'Casey once wrote:

“In a room in a tenement in Townsend Street, with a candle in a bottle for a torch, and a billycan of tea, with a few buns for a banquet, the church militant here on earth, called the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, was founded.”

For more than 100 years, SIPTU has been fighting for workers across Ireland.

In 1909, our predecessor, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), was founded by ‘Big’ Jim Larkin.

At a time of grinding poverty for millions, its organising won increased pay, improved conditions and dignity at work for members in every corner of the island.

The ITGWU was organised to unite all workers — skilled and unskilled, men and women, of every occupation — into ‘One Big Union.’

It soon became the first all-Ireland union too, with branches in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Wexford, Dundalk, Sligo, Bray, Waterford, New Ross and Kilkenny.

The union’s earliest pioneers, such as Larkin, James Connolly, William O’Brien and Constance Markievicz, led the heroic 1913 Lockout when tens of thousands of workers in Dublin fought their bosses for the right to unionise.

At the time of the Lockout, more than 80,000 people lived in Dublin’s slum tenements, which were some of the worst in the world and usually no bigger than a single room.

Years later, the poet Paddy Kavanagh would describe the ITGWU’s mission:

“And Tyranny trampled them in Dublin’s gutter

Until Jim Larkin came along and cried

The call of Freedom and the call of Pride

And Slavery crept to its hands and knees

And Nineteen Thirteen cheered from out the utter

Degradation of their miseries”

Together, the IWWU defied the ban placed by many other unions on women’s membership. Another of their colleagues, Rosie Hackett, is commemorated for her role in the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory Strike with a bridge in her name across the River Liffey.

SIPTU’s founding generation also played a key role in the fight for Irish independence. As well as hosting the meetings which planned the 1916 Rising, the ITGWUs headquarters in Liberty Hall was the place where the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was composed and printed.

220 trade unionists from the Irish Citizen Army, founded during the Lockout to defend striking workers, took part in the 1916 Rising.

In its aftermath, two of the union’s fighters — Acting General Secretary, James Connolly and Michael Mallin — were executed for their role in the uprising.

In their honour, the ITGWU continued to fight for a Workers’ Republic and by 1919 it numbered over 350 branches and 100,000 members, the largest union in Ireland’s history.

The decades which followed saw numerous unfortunate splits in the union (the largest of which was reconciled when the ITGWU and Workers’ Union of Ireland merged into SIPTU in 1990) but it didn’t stop the fight for fairness at work and justice in society.

More recently, SIPTU has led the battle for recognition in Irish women’s football, fought justice campaigns for workers in Vita Cortex and Clery’s, as well as taking part in movement’s for women’s right to choose, LGBT marriage equality and migrants’ rights.

We continue to campaign for the right of every worker to organise in their workplace, receive the pay they deserve and be treated with respect.

We fight against exploitation, harassment and injustice — and believe that everyone has the right to a voice at work through a trade union.

If you would fight for the same and stand in the tradition of Jim Larkin and join SIPTU today!