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The INTO Teachers' Strike of 1946

Seventy Years On – the INTO teachers’ strike of 1946

Original article by Noel Ward, INTO Deputy General Secretary/General Treasurer



Seventy years ago this month saw the end of the INTO strike of 1946 which had taken place even as the Labour Court was being established. For more than seven months, Dublin teachers had sustained a dispute to win pay demands from government.

But after 30 weeks – during which they were paid at 90 per cent of salary funded mainly through a levy on INTO members outside the capital – the strikers returned to work empty-handed. They did so at the request of their powerful ally, the Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid.

Why is 1946 commemorated?

If this strike failed to deliver on INTO demands, why is it still remembered, even celebrated, and referenced in debates?

Many unions assess their histories through the lens of great struggles and strikes. The strike remains the ultimate weapon in a union’s arsenal but can also represent a failure of negotiation. And rarely do strikes end in total victory or defeat; the immediate failure of 1946 has to be balanced against subsequent linked achievements.

Historically, key INTO advances achieving redeployment panels and gender-equal pay scales are examples – were achieved through negotiation. But 1946 is still recalled with pride; it has to be acknowledged that sustaining an indefinite strike (which ultimately lasted from March to October) required deep reserves of solidarity, stamina and support.

This dispute is the subject of a book by Eugene McCormick (available to download as an INTO publication from 2006).  And John McGahern set his short story Crossing The Line in the aftermath of the dispute.

“Desperation has lent them courage”

The dispute had long roots. Pay cuts in the early years of the Irish Free State were contrasted with a marker pay settlement of 1920. An economic downturn in the 1930s was followed by the rationing and inflation of the worlds war years, teachers noting better treatment for other public servants.

As the strike began, INTO President Kathleen Clarke (also quoted in the heading above) characterised it as a culmination: “And now the patient waiting of years has come to a head…..It is going to be a fight to the finish”.

Features of the strike

The 1946 events were of their time in that some aspects are unimaginable now while other show the value of innovation. Among the outstanding features were:

  • Press support: This was almost unequivocal, the Irish Independent, Times, provincial and Catholic papers backing the strikers, and even the government supporting Irish Press distanced itself from the Fianna Fáil administration.
  • Church backing: The redoubtable Archbishop of Dublin was clearly on the teachers’ side, the Presbyterian General Assembly for Dublin endorsed INTO demands, and a well-attended public rally of support was addressed by a Methodist clergyman.
  • Maintaining visibility: The INTO throughout adopted innovative publicity strategies, from the use of newspaper advertising to holding public meetings,
  • The All Ireland Final

On 6th October about seventy teachers dressed in black coats and carrying banners rushed on to the pitch at half time in the 1946 All Ireland Football Final between Kerry and Roscommon. They were removed following scuffles with gardai and stewards. It was later revealed that the demonstration took place without INTO approval.

The match, which was a draw on the day, was originally scheduled for 22nd September but was delayed as part of the “Save the Harvest” campaign of 1946. On 22nd October Kerry won the replay by 2-8 to 10 points for Roscommon.

Looking back to learn

Scarcely any INTO strikers from 1946 are still with us. But a number gathered in the 1990s in the Teachers’ Club to commemorate the events. They recalled the difficulty of sustaining the dispute, the devastation of its failure to achieve immediate gains but also the emergence of a new generation of leaders and eventual progress on demands regarding pay scales and negotiating machinery.


Original article by Noel Ward, INTO Deputy General Secretary/General Treasurer

InTouch, October 2016. [this version slightly edited]

The INTO and the 1946 Teacher Strike by Eugene McCormack 1996