Thomas Ryder Johnson, Irish Labour Party politician and trade unionist who serves as Leader of the Opposition from 1922 to 1927 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1917 to 1927, is born on May 17, 1872, in Liverpool, England. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin County from 1922 to 1927. He is a Senator for the Labour Panel from 1928 to 1934.
Johnson works on the docks for an Irish fish merchant, spending much of his time in Dunmore East and Kinsale. It is this way that he picks up ideas about socialism and Irish nationalism, joining a Liverpool branch of the Independent Labour Party in 1893. In 1900 he starts work as a commercial traveller, then moves in 1903 with his family to Belfast where he becomes involved in trade union and labour politics.
In 1907 Johnson helps James Larkin organise a strike in the port, but has to watch in dismay as the strike, which begins with remarkable solidarity between labour, Orange, and nationalist supporters, collapses in sectarian rioting. At various times he is the president, treasurer and secretary of the Irish Trades Union Congress (ITUC) which is, at the time, also the Labour Party in Ireland, until officially founded in 1912 by James Connolly and James Larkin. Johnson becomes Vice-president of the ITUC in 1913, and President in 1915.
Johnson sympathizes with the Irish Volunteers, many of whom are sacked from their jobs, for illegal activities. During the Easter Rising, he notes in his diary that people in Ireland paid little heed to the fate of the defeated revolutionaries. He succeeds as leader of the Labour Party from 1917, when the party does not contest the 1918 Irish general election. When the British government tries to enforce conscription in Ireland in 1918, he leads a successful strike in conjunction with other members of the Irish anti-conscription movement.
Johnson is later elected a TD for Dublin County to the Third Dáil at the 1922 Irish general election and remains leader of the Labour Party until 1927. As such, he is Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil of the Irish Free State, as the anti-treaty faction of Sinn Féin refuses to recognise the Dáil as constituted. He issues a statement of support for the Government of the 4th Dáil when the Irish Army Mutiny threatens civilian control in March 1924.
Johnson is the only Leader of the Labour Party who serves as Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil. He loses his Dáil seat at the September 1927 Irish general election, and the following year he is elected to Seanad Éireann, where he serves until the Seanad’s abolition in 1936.
In 1896 he meets Marie Tregay, then a teacher in St. Multose’s National school, outside Kinsale. A native of Cornwall, she has advanced political views. They marry in 1898 in Liverpool. Their only son, Frederick Johnson, is born in 1899, and becomes a well-known actor. Johnson dies on January 17, 1963, at 49 Mount Prospect Avenue, Clontarf, Dublin.
Each summer, Labour Youth holds the “Tom Johnson Summer School” to host panel discussions, debates and workshops.