About the Society
The Irish Labour History Society (ILHS) was established in 1973, with a founding objection, as outlined in our constitution, to; ‘promote the knowledge of Irish labour and of Irish people in labour history abroad and labour history in general; the appreciation of the importance of labour history in the educational curriculum; and the preservation of all records and reminiscences, oral and written, relating to the current and past experiences of the Irish working class and its organisations’.
The Society has since striven to fulfil this obligation, despite the handicaps of lack of resources, financial and human, and reliance on the voluntary efforts of its committees, members and activists. These efforts have borne much fruit. The Society’s annual journal, Saothar, has gained an international audience and generated much critical acclaim in historiographical reviews. The Society has conscientiously attempted to rescue threatened material and raise Irish labour’s archival consciousness, particularly within the trade union movement.
Under the guidance of the Society’s founding President, the late John Swift, the records of his own union, the Irish Bakers, Confectioners and Allied Workers Amalgamated Union, formed the first deposit in the ILHS Archive, housed at present by the Archives Department of University College, Dublin.
The continuing task confronting the society, in association with the trade union and labour movement, is to ensure the safety of the records of the labour movement. This is imperative because of the condition in which some of these records have so far survived, but additional urgency is occasioned by the spate of trade union mergers and amalgamations. In such situations premises are vacated and structures rationalised.
Trade union archives are often the first thing to be ‘rationalised’, usually into the nearest shredder or skip. We appeal to unions, and individuals, to reflect on the responsibility they bear as custodians of their own past and join with the society in guaranteeing the safe transfer of their unwanted material to a suitable and accessible archival location. In this context, the challenge of the Irish Labour History Museum and Archives at Beggar’s Bush offers exciting possibilities for those within our movement with vision.
See also: Labour History