The Birth and Growth of the Transport Workers Union
Date:1985
Organisation: Transport Workers Union
Author:Gerald O’Reilly
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

9th September 2013

Many thanks to Jim Lane for forwarding this document by Gerald O’Reilly, (1903 - 1990), one of those instrumental in the foundation of the US Transport Workers Union. It is an useful addition to the Archive, not least because it points to labour and political activism in the United States by Irish leftists and those of Irish descent. It’s also important to note that O’Reilly’s papers have been placed in the archives of New York University and can be accessed here .

The dedication notes that:

The little coffee shop on Columbus Avenue, where the idea of a Transit Union first germinated over a half a century ago, has long since gone. Gone, too, are almost all the pioneers whose unselfish efforts brought our infant organisation to maturity. Some day, perhaps, an honour roll in the Union will preserve their memory. To them this brief history is dedicated and in particular to the memory of Molly Quill. She stood out in her quiet way and from her great heart and generous spirt gave to he husband, Michael, and to all of us her priceless help and encouragement in the early and difficult days.

A further note includes biographical information on Gerald O’Reilly…

…born in 1903 and raised on a sixty-acre farm in County meath. When he was a student in the Agricultural College in County Cavan, he joined the First Eastern Division of the Irish Republican Army, then engaged in the Black and Tan War against England.

He took the Republican side in the Civil War, was captured and emigrated to the United States in 1926 on his release.

He joined the IRT and its attendant union. He was one of those who founded the Transport Workers Union, and remained active in Irish Republican and left wing circles and became a ‘liaison man’ between the Union and the Communist Party (USA). Interestingly he took the CP side in the later split between the Union and Michael Quill (another Irish expatriate and pivotal leftist union figure in New York, for more on which see here ), and was expelled from it. However after that he resigned from the CP and returned to the Union as an organizer.

Although only 16 pages long it is a fascinating read with a clear insight into the nature of union and political activism amongst Irish and Irish Americans during the 1930s and onwards.


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  • By: Brian Hanley Mon, 09 Sep 2013 08:24:49

    The tribute to Molly Quill is a pointed reference to Mike Quill’s second wife, Shirley, whose book on Quill and the TWU O’Reilly was contesting in this pamphlet.
    Joshua B. Freeman’s ‘In Transit: the Transport Workers Union in New York City’ is the best history of Quill and co.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 09 Sep 2013 12:40:28

    In reply to Brian Hanley.

    Thanks a million for that, I have a copy of that book and never made the connection.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Mon, 09 Sep 2013 12:51:34

    Quill claimed to have backed Browder in the CPUSA split. Alas, for him, Moscow backed Foster.

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