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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Birth of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Irish American politician who serves as the 35th president of the United States, is born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. He serves from 1961 until his assassination in 1963 during the height of the Cold War, with the majority of his work as president concerning relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Kennedy is born into the wealthy, political Kennedy family, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a businessman and politician, and Rose Kennedy (née Fitzgerald), a philanthropist and socialite. All four of his grandparents are children of Irish immigrants. He graduates from Harvard University in 1940, before joining the United States Naval Reserve the following year. During World War II, he commands a series of PT boats in the Pacific theater and earns the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his service.

Following a brief stint in journalism, Kennedy, a Democrat, represents a working-class Boston district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953. He is subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate and serves as the junior senator for Massachusetts from 1953 to 1960. While in the Senate, Kennedy publishes his book, Profiles in Courage, which wins a Pulitzer Prize.

Kennedy meets his future wife, Jacqueline Lee “Jackie” Bouvier (1929–1994), while he is a congressman. Charles L. Bartlett, a journalist, introduces the pair at a dinner party. They are married a year after he is elected senator, on September 12, 1953. Following a miscarriage in 1955 and a stillbirth in 1956, they produce three children, Caroline, John, Jr., and Patrick, who dies of complications two days after birth.

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy narrowly defeats Republican opponent Richard Nixon, who is the incumbent vice president. His humor, charm, and youth in addition to his father’s money and contacts are great assets in the campaign. His campaign gains momentum after the first televised presidential debates in American history. He is the first Catholic elected president of the United States.

Kennedy’s administration includes high tensions with communist states in the Cold War. As a result, he increases the number of American military advisors in South Vietnam. The Strategic Hamlet Program begins in Vietnam during his presidency. In April 1961, he authorizes an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. He authorizes the Cuban Project, also known as Operation Mongoose, in November 1961. He rejects Operation Northwoods, plans for false flag attacks to gain approval for a war against Cuba, in March 1962. However, his administration continues to plan for an invasion of Cuba in the summer of 1962.

In October 1962, U.S. spy planes discover Soviet missile bases have been deployed in Cuba. The resulting period of tensions, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly results in the breakout of a global thermonuclear conflict. He also signs the first nuclear weapons treaty in October 1963.

Kennedy presides over the establishment of the Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress with Latin America, and the continuation of the Apollo space program with the goal of landing a man on the Moon. He also supports the civil rights movement, but is only somewhat successful in passing his New Frontier domestic policies.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the presidency upon Kennedy’s death. Marxist and former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested for the state crime, but is shot and killed by Jack Ruby two days later. The FBI and the Warren Commission both conclude Oswald had acted alone in the assassination, but various groups contest the Warren Report and believe that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.

After Kennedy’s death, Congress enacts many of his proposals, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Revenue Act of 1964. Despite his truncated presidency, he ranks highly in polls of U.S. presidents with historians and the general public. His personal life has also been the focus of considerable sustained interest following public revelations in the 1970s of his chronic health ailments and extramarital affairs. He is the last U.S. President to have been assassinated as well as the last U.S. president to die in office.

(Pictured: John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Oval Office, July 11, 1963)


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LGBT Group Marches in 1991 NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade

For the first time in the 230-year history of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, members of an LGBT group, the Irish Lesbian & Gay Organisation, are allowed to march in the parade on March 16, 1991.

New York Mayor David N. Dinkins gives up the traditional lead-off position in the parade and instead marches with the Irish gay group more than two hours later. It marks the first time in memory that a New York City mayor has declined to lead a St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

On March 14, Dinkins agrees to march with the gay group “for reasons we all understand” as part of a compromise to get the group into the parade. The Mayor and the 135-member gay group are guests of Division 7 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the midtown Manhattan chapter of the fraternal order that sponsors and organizes the parade.

Normally, politicians jockey for high-profile spots in the parade, which is billed as the world’s largest civilian parade. No mayor has ever been in the difficult spot of trying to resolve such a public dispute between Irish-American groups, which have long been political powers in New York City, and gay groups, which have gained strength and are an important part of the coalition that helped bring Dinkins to office.

Police officials have 3,100 officers along the parade route to provide security for the estimated one million spectators and 150,000 people marching in the parade. The parade costs the city more than $500,000 in overtime for police, sanitation, traffic, and other employees.

Dinkins is booed for nearly 40 blocks, briefly showered with beer, and dodges two thrown beer cans as he and other elected officials march up Fifth Avenue with the gay Irish group.

Governor Mario M. Cuomo also gives up a place at the front of the parade, marching with a group of handicapped children in wheelchairs that had been denied a place among the bands and bagpipes until they threatened to sue the parade organizers.

Cardinal John O’Connor, who in past parades has come down the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to greet passing dignitaries, makes most of them come to him.

As in previous years, some marchers wear green sashes reading, “Free Joe Doherty,” referring to the Irish Republican Army soldier jailed in New York City. Others wear yellow ribbons to honor soldiers returning home from the Persian Gulf war. But the dispute about the homosexuals is the focus for much of the march.

After the parade, Dinkins says although he expected to draw protests for marching with the lesbian and gay group, he is surprised by the depth of anger directed against him and the homosexual marchers. “It was like marching in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement,” he said. “I knew there would be deep emotions, but I did not anticipate the cowards in the crowd. There was far, far too much negative comment.”