His brand of socialism and unionism was known as ‘Walkerism’. His life with trade unions began with the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners. He later sat on the British Trades Council. Walker was also President of the Irish Trades Union Council and an executive member of the British Labour Party.
William Walker was a regular orator at of Belfast’s speaker’s corner on the steps of the Custom House.
Walker is well known for his public dispute with James Connolly, who he called "the drawing-room warrior".
Walker saw himself as a socialist, but he clashed with James Connolly on the question of Irish independence - William Walker opposed Home Rule for Ireland.
William Walker wrote in 'A Socialist (Symposium and An Evasion' (1910):
"I am an Internationalist because the same grievances which afflict the German and the Englishman afflict me. I speak the same tongue as the Englishman: I study the same literature: I am oppressed by the same financial power: and, to me, only a combined and united attack, with out geographical consideration, can assure to Ireland an equal measure of social advancement as that which the larger and more advanced democracy of Great Britain are pressing for."He opposed Home Rule on the ground that workers would be better off within a liberal British state than a conservative, clerically dominated Irish one. As Irish History Society explained:
"By the 1890s, however, the memory of Grattan’s parliament had slipped beyond the horizon. If trade unions still clung to an obsessive ‘buy native’ mentality, they could see no purpose in their support for nationalism other than nationalism itself. Only the tiny coterie of socialists, and William Walker’s labourites in Belfast, gave any serious thought to what kind of regime might follow Home Rule. Connolly’s syndicalism shaped the socialist view of the state; and syndicalism itself was notoriously weak in its analysis of state power. The 'Workers’ Republic’ ideal did little to clarify the options facing the contemporary labour movement. Walker opposed Home Rule on the ground that workers would be better off within a liberal British state than a conservative, clerically dominated Irish one. Mainstream labour had no economic policy in place for the proposed Home Rule administration, and could scarcely think of any specifically working class argument for self-government."The clash with Connolly affected Walker's electoral chances, and ultimately he was never able to bring together Catholic and protestant voters in the numbers required to beat the incumbent parties. He failed to secure the North Belfast Westminster seat in 1905, facing similar defeats in 1907 and 1910.
During the 1905 election campaign Walker declared support for the retention of the British sovereigns accession declaration against transubstantiation and for the exclusion of Roman Catholics from high State positions. Walker said he would put the interests of Protestantism before those of the ILP:
"Protestantism means protesting against superstition, hence true Protestantism is synonymous with labour."Walker wrote in 'Socialism and Internationalism: A Reply to Friend Connolly' (2011):
"Against clericalism I am (and I have said much more about the Protestant than the Catholic clergy); yet there is not a worker in either ranks who doesn’t know that my activities are not self-interested. But that my opinions are honestly if wrongly (?) held, and that not once in all my public career did personal religion in the least influence me."He also wrote in that essay:
"Into a pitfall of errors Comrade Connolly falls when he assumes that I was quoting “the Protestant rebels,” as approving of them. I wasn’t, but I was pointing out that Catholic Ireland had many Protestant leaders in all the great revolutionary movements, and this evidently was information to friend Connolly. But to get to essentials. What do you want an Irish Labour Party for? Will Ireland more readily respond to it than to the British Labour Party? What is your experience? Have you proved that? No; everything that the people of Ireland want can be safeguarded much better under the protection of the United Democracies than if we were isolated. This truth has been reaffirmed at the recent Irish Trade Union Congress, when once again a Congress of Irish representative workmen pledged themselves over to the British Labour Party, recognising therein the elements of protection; but Comrade Connolly, who three weeks ago found me without Nationalism, finds me today full charged with parochialism, and this he declares is why I am not an Internationalist like unto him. Just so. That is just the reason. Whilst frothy talk about “Nationalism forming the basis of Internationales” has been plentiful with some people, some of us in Belfast have been doing something to improve conditions – in the Poor Law Board, in the City Council, and the Trade Union branch. Amongst the textile workers, the sweated and oppressed, the dockers and the carters, we have gone to help to lift them to a better condition of life. Of course this is Parochialism. Well, Friend Connolly, I am proud of my ‘parochial’ reputation."James Connolly was emphatic in his contempt for Belfast and the unionists of the north. The north and the northern Protestants were regularly assailed by the Labour activist and Citizens Army leader.
As William Walker wrote, Connolly loved to "sneer at Belfast" and used his writing to "attack Belfast and all within its borders" - he was "obsessed with an antipathy to Belfast and the Black North." He chief weapon was "vituperation", as Walker also wrote.
James Connolly wrote in 1911 in an essay, ‘Plea For Socialist Unity in Ireland’:
"It may be assumed that the 12th of July parade in Belfast this year will be exceptionally large, as every effort will be made, and no money spared, to make an imposing turnout in the hopes of, at the last moment, averting Home Rule, but the parade will be as the last flicker of the dying fire which blazes up before totally expiring. A spell of bad trade in Belfast might have enabled Orange orators to stir up rioting among idle mobs, but the rush of good trade we are at present enjoying destroys any chance of such senseless exhibitions. The Orangemen of today may hate the Pope, but he hates still more to lose time by rioting, when he might make money by working, and in this he shows the “good sense which pre-eminently distinguishes the city by the Lagan.” Home Rule, then, is almost a certainty of the future."James Connolly wrote an essay in March 1914, 'The War in Ulster,' and described the faces on the streets:
"Strangely enough, Belfast itself seems bent upon its use lines of strict attention to the business of profitmaking, and when I look around for the “grim, determined faces”, so celebrated in the song and story of the Tory Press, I fail to see them, and see instead... in the faces of the people in the streets the same unimaginative smugness, tempered by the effects of a Calvinistic theology in some cases, and by drink in many more."Connolly wrote in another essay:
"For that matter a sense of humour is not one of the strong points in an Orangeman’s nature. The dead walls of Belfast are decorated with a mixture of imprecations upon Fenians, and, the Pope, and invocations of the power and goodness of the Most High, interlarded with quotations from the New Testament. This produces some of the most incongruous results."William Walker wrote in ‘Rebel Ireland: And Its Protestant Leaders’ (1910)
"Bunkum, friend Connolly; you are obsessed with an antipathy to Belfast and the black North, and under your obsession you advocate reactionary doctrines alien to any brand of Socialism I have ever heard of."He also wrote:
"He utilises the first two paragraphs to attack Belfast and all within its borders, and draws a lurid picture of what the “Orange orators” would do, etc., “if trade were bad.” A picture that, however true of 20 years’ ago, is totally false as applied to the present day. For I affirm that it has now become impossible in Belfast to have a religious riot, and this is due to the good work done by that much despised body, the I.L.P.
I hold no brief for Belfast, but past bigotry aside, we have moved fast towards Municipal Socialism, leaving not merely the other cities of Ireland far behind, but giving the lead to many cities in England and Scotland.
We collectively own and control our gas works, water works, harbour works, markets, tramways, electricity, museums, art galleries, etc., whilst we Municipally cater for bowlers, cricketers, footballers, lovers of band music (having organised a Police Band), and our works’ department do an enormous amount of ‘timed’ and ‘contract’ work within the Municipality. With the above in operation, we, in Belfast, have no need to be ashamed of being compared in Municipal management with any city in the kingdom. What does Comrade Connolly say?"He also wrote in, ‘Rebel Ireland: And Its Protestant Leaders’ (1910)
"Bailie Jack (Scottish Ironmoulders) declared that “what was wanted was the unity of our forces all over.” Just so, but Ireland has to be, must be, treated differently. Why? Because of the Conservative temperament of certain Irish propagandists, and because of their insistence on viewing the class war as a national question instead of, as it is, a world-wide question."Walker wrote in 'A Socialist (sic) Symposium and An Evasion' (1910):
"Belfast’s municipal activities seem to be gall and wormwood to our Comrade. They excite his ire. They induce him to throw aside the last vestige of comradeship, and to descend to the level of the corner-boy in his rage against all and sundry, who have dared to spend their time in doing the collar work which ALONE makes for success, instead of leading an invisible ammy nowhere, but content if the general be visible to the people of the plain."