The Read

Courtesy of the Dublin Dockers Preservation Society
Courtesy of the Dublin Docklands Preservation Society

The Read was so called because it was how men from my community got work. In order to get work men had to present themselves to the read and they got work by having their name read out. Employment was casual and on a daily basis. During the photoshoots, participants recalled to stand and be chosen. If the Stevedore didn’t like you or took against you, your name would not be called and your wife and family would have to go without the money to buy food. The stress on families who were impoverished and desperate was enormous. This culture often resulted in the men having to bribe the stevedores to call their names. If the stevedore asked you to go and buy him cigarettes and matches, the men would often resort to placing money in the matchbox to try to ensure their name would be called. Payment would take place in the pub, which meant buying the man who called your name a drink to say thanks. Failure to do so could result in your name never being called again. This led to all kinds of cronyism and abusive practices. The dockers tried to unionise themselves with the introduction of the Button System. The button was passed from Mother to son. Usually the youngest sone who was still at home if her husband had died. However it meant that you could have a single man, who had a button competing for work against a family man who didn’t have one. It meant that the younger man was guaranteed to be called while the family man would go home without being called. It was a breeding ground for very intense feelings, given that not being chosen and not being able to provide for your family in your role as husband and father was a highly shaming and humiliating experience.

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