Paisley Victory - Danger for Irish Workers

Trade Union's: Mobilise Workers Against Sectarianism

Paul Jones (Derry Young Socialists)

Militant Ireland edition, May 1970, No. 5

The election of Paisley and Beattie in the Bannside and South Antrim bye-elections coming hard on the heels of the clashes at Easter indicate that Northern Ireland is in for another 'long hot' summer. Paisley, standing on a platform of vicious sectarianism, was able to use the discontent of a section of Protestant workers and farmers with the Unionists capitalist and landed 'gentry' to crawl into the Stormont. He was assisted in this, in no small measure, by the sectarian attacks on Protestant workers in the Belfast Ballymurphy estate a few weeks earlier.

'A Bullet for Ulster'

In the weeks up to the Election the official Unionist Party scraped the barrel of Orange chauvinism in a battle to stave off the deeper shade of Orangeism which Paisley represented. Among the dignitaries wheeled out of retirement to support the official candidate was the former Unionist Prime Minister Brookeborough '…the words of Carson are as timely as ever: United we stand, divided we fall.' Chichester Clark proclaimed his devotion to the B Specials and their continuators in the Ulster Defence Regiment. But the ultimate in 'loyalism' came from Brooke, a Minister of the Stormont Government and son of Brookeborough '…Put your X for Minford (official Unionist candidate) tomorrow. Its as good as a bullet for Ulster.' Irish Times, 16/4/70. And these are the 'liberals' who Callaghan and the Labour Government are banking on to introduce sweeping reforms! But the ruling class are caught in a trap. This policy of sectarianism over 50 years is catching up on them. (One of the ironies of the present situation is that if they had not abolished Proportional representation in 1929, as a discriminatory measure against the Catholics, then both the Bannside and Antrim seats would have remained official Unionist!).

The Unionist chickens are coming home to roost. Having nourished the Protestant population on a diet of sectarianism for 50 years, they are now balked at every stage from introducing the reforms which would provide their only way of preserving their position. Although a few basic democratic reforms on issues such as one-man one vote have been granted, these have had little effect on the ordinary lives of either Protestant or Catholic workers. The chronic unemployment and slum housing continues. In the recent few months there have been 1500 workers sent down the road And now the means of living of 15,000 workers - the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding yard - is being threatened with closure unless the bosses can extort a further subsidy from the Labour Government. They have already received £11 million but the begging bowl is still out. At least 100,000 houses are unfit to live in.

Labour leaders fail to give lead

Yet while the bankruptcy of official Unionism is demonstrated to a section of Protestant workers, the labour leaders have proved incapable of capitalising on this and rallying them behind the3 banner of the Labour Movement. In the volatile situation that existed over the past year a real situation was presented to weld the movement of Catholic and Protestant workers together by explaining the frustration of workers, which has shown itself in sectarian strife, in class terms. The problem is to concretise this conviction into a programme. At the Northern Ireland Labour Party Conference this month this must be the priority; a programme of minimum wage, equal pay, crash housing programme on the basis of a nationalised and democratically controlled building industry as part of a programme for the taking over of all the monopolies. Protestant workers have only been pushed towards Paisley because of the lack of a class lead by the labour movement.

May Day Demonstration called off

The leaders of the trade unions have even called off this year's Belfast May Day demonstration for fear of 'trouble'! Yet if ever there was a time for the labour movement to go on to the offensive that time is now. The shop stewards in Harland and Wolff's during the August clashes took the offensive in calling a mass meeting and prevented the sectarian clashes spreading to the factories. In the face of 9,000 workers the Paisleyite supporters were quietened. Instead of backing down to any threats from the Right the labour movement should have amassed its whole force for a May Day turnout with the aim of showing the indivisible class unity of all workers. This would, if implemented on the basis of a clear programme, spell out the end of Paisleyism.

With no real alternative being posed by the labour movement the scene is set for future clashes, and the whole fate of the Unionist Party and Stormont rests in the balance. The British capitalists want to defuse the situation. They are hoping that Parliament, which is supposed 'to have a mellowing influence on even the most awkward demagogue' (Times 15/4/70) will tame Paisley. But they are openly threatening the Unionist Party that a move to the Right would prepare 'a future for their province that contained a real threat of civil war, withdrawal of the army and acute economic distress. Times

What then is the perspective? Firstly, the situation in Ireland is not the same as in 1921: the position of British big business has changed. In 1921 most British investment was in the North, but now the majority is in the South, and the South is Britain's second biggest trading partner. In addition the Southern capitalists, after a period of independence in which they were unable to solve any fundamental problems, have become more and more integrated with international industry and finance.

British Army

However, the political settlement of 1922 has not been altered to match the changed needs of Britain's economy. Faced with the unstable situation in the North, with all the attendant risks to property and political stability, not only to the North but all over Ireland as the events of last August showed, it was obvious that the British Government acting in the interests of Big Business wanted to establish a more stable basis. Thus the British Army is used to keep the peace and 'order' by heading off movements from the Left or Right, whilst at the same time the Unionist Government tries to broaden its base by a policy of reforms. Unfortunately for them it is not so easy as that, because the monster of religious 'intolerance' created by the British Tories 50 years ago is temporarily out of control, and the hoped for alliance between the Green and Orange Tories has not yet come about.

Answer with Class policies

However, the victory for the Protestant Unionists in by-elections may act as a catalyst in scaring the liberal Green Tories and a few Unionists into a coalition of sorts, possibly in the 'moderate' new Alliance Party.

But neither 'liberal' Tories, Catholic Tories nor Protestant Tories are in a position to be able to offer homes, jobs or decent living conditions to the working people of Northern Ireland. Nor can the ideas of "striking a blow for Irelands' destiny…hammering the wedge home" etc., as suggested by some sections of the Republicans, provide any solution to the problems facing the Irish working class. To come out in favour of a purely military campaign, isolated from the working class and without its mass involvement, is to repeat all the mistakes of the IRA in the last 50 years. Despite the tremendous heroism and self-sacrifice of its members, the IRA's military campaign, right up to the late 1950's, completely failed in its object of unifying Ireland. Instead, by using these 'outside attacks' the Unionists were able to reinforce their hold over the Protestant population. Nor were the Catholic workers prepared to risk their lives for a vague idea of a 'united Ireland' which told them nothing about the issue of jobs, homes and living standards. Which faced them. The prospect of accepting a cut in standards, which incorporation into a capitalist united Ireland would mean, was calculated to evoke little enthusiasm. It took the Civil Rights campaign, which at bottom was a social movement, despite the narrow sectarian policies of the leadership, to unleash a mass movement which has irreparably shattered the Unionist Party in its old form.

Trade Union Defence Forces

In addition to British imperialism, although it would now like to see a capitalist united Ireland, as an economic and labour reserve for the British economy, nevertheless, with its overwhelming military might would suppress any attempt to force it out of Ireland on a military basis. And in any case even if 'unity' were to be achieved through a purely military struggle alone, it would be at the cost of bloody clashes, with the Protestant population believing that they would be fighting for their lives. The only way to dispel the fear that they would replace the Catholics as the minority discriminated against, would be through a class programme as outlined above. As a beginning the formation through the trade unions of joint defence forces of Protestant and Catholic workers is the only way to repulse the hooligan and sectarian attacks of the UVF and the other forces of reaction. It would then also be possible to appeal to the workers in uniform in the British army on a class programme. Their interests are at one with ours. Many have been forced into the army because of the same conditions which affect the Northern Ireland workers, unemployment, slum housing, low wages, etc. Moreover, class differences are more stark in the army. The ordinary soldier has begun to see this by demanding the right to form trade unions.

Workers and Small Farmers

This is the only way forward for the working class and small farmers in Northern Ireland. A military conflict, with the expectation that the United Nations will intervene to the advantage of the working people is belied by the very record of this organisation. The United Nations, in reality the dis-United Nations, intervened on behalf of Imperialism in Korea, it presided over the murder of Patrice Lumumba in Congo, while in Cyprus it has been powerless to solve the clash between Greeks and Turks. Not adventurous military action by small group, isolated from the masses, nor appeals to the bosses international organisations to come to our assistance, but the mobilisation of the workers on a class programme can bring about the unity of Ireland on a socialist basis. The rank and file of the labour movement must not lose a second in beginning to agitate and organise for a programme which will put an end to the poisonous and dangerous bigotry once and for all.

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