William Conor is celebrated for his warm and sympathetic portrayals of working-class life in Ulster. The subject of the present work is likely to be the 44 Hour Strike, the largest and longest industrial dispute in Belfast's history, which took place at the beginning of 1919.
For nearly four weeks shipyard, engineering workers and corporation employees were out on strike and the city was without light, heat, trams or heavy industry. The strike was part of a general movement for shorter hours which affected all the major industrial centres of Britain as well. During the First World War workers in all industries had been forced to accept gruelingly long hours and low pay. Resentment had built up especially among the well organised engineering workers, and already there had been several disputes in Belfast and Glasgow. With the pressure of the war over, the workers were determined to get their demands. They were spurred on by the approaching demobilisation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and the threat of mass unemployment. Shorter hours were seen as a form of work-sharing to create more jobs.
The present work is painted in highly worked oils and on an impressive scale. It was clearly a subject that Conor felt strongly about and another version was lent by the artist to an exhibition of 143 works by Conor at The Museum and Art Gallery Belfast in 1957 (The Strike 1919, cat.no.49).
We are grateful to Nelson Bell for his assistance in cataloguing this work.