Militant Irish Monthly
, No. 50, Feb. 1977
Editorial: The Peace Movement
The Peace Movement has covered a lot of ground since last August when it began. At that time there were memorable mass marches and allies of ten, twenty and even thirty thousand people. Nothing could diminish the significance of this coming into the streets in such vast numbers of the working people of Belfast and other areas. No one could detract from the magnificent spectacle of working class men and women from all parts of Belfast and Northern Ireland descending on the Shankill Road and marching to Woodvale Park. That demonstration laid flat for a short period the barriers which had stood between the people of the Shankill and the Falls. This was a genuine movement of ordinary people determined to stamp out the scourge of sectarianism.
The final rallies organised by the campaign in the pre Christmas period were worlds apart from the initial movement of, in the main, working class women. The much publicised Trafalgar Square rally demonstration attracted 10,000 people, not the 40,000 expected by the organisers, not the 100,000 expected by the police. At the head of the march were the familiar 'Trinity' of Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan and Ciaran McKeown. But they were not alone. Also participating were a host of invited 'dignitaries'. For example three politicians who received a special invitation were Clement Freud, Lord Longford and John Biggs-Davidson, who happens to be the Tory spokesman for Northern Ireland.
Subsequent rallies and other events have been attended by individuals of similar 'note'. In addition, the welcome coming to the Peace Movement and its leaders from 'respectable' and 'honourable' sections of opinion throughout the world has been growing in volume. Lords and Ladies have spoken in glowing praise of the peace leaders. Even 'Royalty' in the persons of the King of Norway and the Queen of England have bestowed upon it a blessing. Not to mention of course the Pope.
As a result of this seemingly unstoppable hurricane of support the three main spokesmen of the movement have been hurtling back and forwards across the world to 'carry their message aloud', or in simpler terms to be lavishly treated by the middle and upper classes of countries such as Germany and Norway. On the day following the Trafalgar Square rally the Peace leaders flew to Norway to receive a sum of £200,000 which was added to the 'quite a lot of money', to use the words of Ciaran McKeown, which has been donated to assist their cause.
All this is a far remove from the origins of the movement in Belfast's ghettoes. In particular it is a million light years removed from the social problems of unemployment and poverty which lie at the heart of the sectarian violence. In fact it could be said that in equal measure to the support given to the Peace Movement by the upper classes in England and elsewhere, it has shrunk in credibility in the minds of the working people in Northern Ireland.
The potential revealed in the early demonstrations was not tapped; a solid movement of the working class which could have stamped out the sectarian violence and the repression was not built. Instead the energy of the masses has been drained in what, to many, must now seem to have been futile effort. What has emerged is another middle class peace group little different from the likes of Women Together, Witness for Peace and numerous others.
Initially the Peace Movement cultivated the image of a spontaneous movement led by 'ordinary people' with no connections with any political parties, paramilitary groups or other organisations. In this way it was able to reflect the total frustration felt by the mass of the population at the existing political parties, etc. In place of all the propaganda of such groups it raised only one demand - Peace. For as long as success led to success and the momentum of march after march maintained itself, this could be done. But such momentum does not last forever. It is only possible to keep in being a mass movement if it is being led somewhere definite.
Without the protection of ever popular support the leaders of the Peace Movement have found that controversial issues which they previously ignored, such as the role of the security forces, can no longer be willed into extinction by mere chants of 'Peace. Peace' They have adapted a stance on this issue. During a press conference before the Trafalgar Square demonstration they repeated the statement that the violence of the security forces 'is not as bad' as the violence of the paramilitary organisations. Mixing with the upper circles of society it is hardly surprising that they should come round to a position of virtual carte blanche support for the state forces.
'Peace' will only be achieved if the causes of the present violence are understood. At bottom it is poverty and the frustration to which it gives rise especially the youth, which underlies the violence. In Northern Ireland this frustration finds its vent in the form of sectarianism. The prime responsibility for this rests with British Imperialism, which in the past, deliberately set worker against worker to foster its own ends The army and the police are agents of the capitalist state and cannot be called upon as the protectors of the working class.
In fact this violence has been one of the major factors in driving young people into the paramilitary groupings. The sectarian slaughter and the repression can only be stopped if the organised labour movement is mobilised to call a halt to the activities of the sectarian gangsters and also the activities of the security forces. This could have been done in August and September of last year . The mass movement then existed. What was required was a programme which could have carried it forward - a series of class demands to unite workers in a struggle against the miseries of capitalism.
The lessons must be absorbed. Particularly they must be learnt within the trade union movement. The leaders of this movement share a large part of the responsibility for the inactivity which has now set in again after the mass mobilisation. At the outset they could have intervened and explained the need to link the fight against sectarianism with a class programme for jobs and houses. Equally they could have explained the need for the workers to rely on their own strength and their own organisations to provide protection. Instead of offering such a lead they bowed to the pressure from the leaders of the Peace Movement, declared their humility, and did nothing.
The Trade Unions have their own campaign against sectaranism - the Better Life for All Campaign. However the activities of this campaign have been half-hearted and marked with the stamp of timidity of the Union tops. Yet the unions remain the only force capable of leading a sustained movement of workers. The rank and file organs of the movement, most especially the Trades Councils, must ensure that the Better Life for All Campaign is revitalised so that the pace rallies of last August and September may be dwarfed by the unleashing of the unparalleled power of the working class.
Another article on the Peace People is available here
This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.
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