Boyd, Alexander (‘Alex’)
Applying the organisational skills commensurate with his trade-union activities, Boyd made a major contribution to the expansion of the IOO from eight lodges in July 1903 to a peak strength of thirty-eight lodges in July 1907. Boyd's was the only existing loyal Orange lodge in Belfast to defect to the independent order, Sloan himself being unable to bring over his own lodge. The IOO expressed a populist hostility among a section of the protestant working class and landed tenancy to the mercantile and propertied ascendancy within the unionist and Orange leadership. While Boyd represented a quasi-class-conscious labourist element, the IOO's prevailing ethos was Sloan's fundamentalist, virulently anti-catholic, evangelical protestantism. At the order's Twelfth of July celebrations in 1905 Boyd urged protestant workers to cease supporting bourgeois unionist politicians who, though elected on working-class votes, never themselves voted in the workers’ interests. He distanced himself from the incipient liberal perspective articulated in the ‘Magheramorne manifesto’ (13 July 1905) of the IOO's imperial grand master, Robert Lindsay Crawford (qv).
Narrowly defeated in the January 1904 municipal elections, Boyd was elected to Belfast corporation for St George's ward in a June 1904 by-election, and was returned for a full three-year term in the January 1905 election. By 1905 he was a vice-president of both the trades’ council, and of the Belfast Labour Representation Committee (LRC), and attended the LRC conference in Liverpool. He strongly supported LRC candidate William Walker (qv) in his three unsuccessful campaigns in Belfast North in a parliamentary general election and two by-elections (1905–7). He hailed Sloan's reelection to parliament in 1906 as a triumph for the ‘democracy of labour’ (an interesting variant on the IOO's assertion of ‘Orange democracy’).
After labour's disastrous performance at the 1907 municipal elections, when all seven LRC candidates lost, Boyd was isolated as the only one of three remaining labour councillors to be backed by BTC. Later in the year he was censured by BTC for endorsing the conservative candidate in an aldermanic by-election against the candidate of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL), then being energetically organised in Belfast by James Larkin (qv). Nonetheless, he extended wholehearted and valuable support to Larkin and the NUDL during the four-month dock strike and lockout (May–August 1907). He was among the first local trade-union officials to join Larkin on platforms at public meetings. Affording use of MEA offices at 11 Victoria St. as strike headquarters, he served on headquarters staff as general adviser on communications. Urging intensification of the struggle in rhetoric even more militant than Larkin's, as the dispute escalated (by mid July over 2,300 dockers and carters had struck or were locked out), Boyd threatened to pull out MEA members in the corporation's gas and electricity departments in sympathetic strike (which, in the event, he may have been unable to persuade them to do). In early July Larkin, confronting both open and veiled criticism of himself as a catholic, outsider, and unrepresentative militant, temporarily handed over leadership of the strike to Boyd and an experienced local catholic trade unionist, Michael McKeown; the manoeuvre generated resounding endorsements of Larkin's leadership. Boyd condemned attempts to divide the workers on religion, insisting that men of all creeds were determined to stand together against the common enemy: the employer who denied his worker a fair wage. In mid July he participated, alongside Larkin and Crawford, in nightly public meetings in both protestant and catholic working-class residential areas, demonstrating the broad support for the strike throughout the city. He was among the leaders of the massive march organised by BTC through all areas of working-class Belfast (26 July). In response to riots in the catholic Falls area (10–12 August) against the introduction of troops amid a threatened ‘police mutiny’, Boyd joined Larkin, other strike leaders, and local catholic clergy in efforts to quell sectarian passions, including the posting of pickets to keep order in affected areas. Attending the British Trade Union Congress at Bath (5 September), he successfully proposed a motion demanding a government inquiry into the shooting dead by troops of two persons during the disturbances in the Falls. In the aftermath of the strike, he defended Larkin against charges (determined by BTC to be unfounded) of sectarian favouritism in administration of the strike fund.
Disillusioned by the IOO's lukewarm endorsement of the strike, Boyd withdrew from the order by the end of 1907. Thus estranged from independent Orangeism, and strenuously opposed by official Orangeism and unionism, he lost his council seat in the January 1908 municipal elections, to the detriment of his position within the MEA, whose members resented losing their voice on the corporation. Boyd broke with Larkin over the latter's dispute with the NUDL, resulting in the launch of the ITGWU (January 1909). Deeply suspicious of an Irish-based trade union of the unskilled, he vehemently resisted efforts by the ITGWU to organise dockers and corporation workers in Belfast, denouncing the new union as ‘a Sinn Féin organisation that not even a decent nationalist in Belfast would have anything to do with’ (quoted in Morgan, 116); his rhetoric overlooked Arthur Griffith's (qv) suspicion of trade unionism generally, and of Larkinism specifically.
Having lost his post with the MEA by 1912, Boyd appears to have left Belfast for several years. By 1916 he was active in the city again, serving on the BTC executive, but ceased his trade-union activities in the late 1910s. Retaining immense popularity in his political base on Donegall Rd and Sandy Row, he topped the poll in the 1920 municipal elections, standing as independent labour, and becoming alderman for St Anne's ward. Driven by the spectre of nationalism back to his early militant political protestantism, he defended the expulsions of catholics and leftist protestants from the shipyards and other workplaces in July 1920. In council debate he contended that during the first world war protestant workers who had enlisted for military service had been replaced by catholic workers from the south and west of Ireland who were shirking ‘their duty in the trenches’, and that ex-soldiers had not been reinstated by their employers.
After a constituency redrawing, Boyd was returned as alderman for St George's ward (January 1923). He died shortly thereafter, presumably as a sitting alderman, while undergoing an operation.