A Historic Day
Militant, Sept. 1982
The Trade Union Day of Action in the North on September 22nd was an historic event. It was the first time since 1926 that the TUC called for a general strike in support of a section of the trade union movement. It was a massive show of strength and solidarity for the National Health Service (NHS) workers. September 22nd also highlighted the hate working class people have for the Tories.
But in Northern Ireland, September 22nd was doubly significant. It was a day which portrayed unity of the working class both Catholic and Protestant. As the shipyards, buses, docks and factories ground to a halt, thousands of workers from every part of Northern Ireland joined the NHS picket lines or the seven major rallies. Over 100,000 people were involved in some form of action, this enormous protest gave the answer to those who deny that the working class of Northern Ireland can be united. Different speakers from different platforms spoke of the 'spread of Larkinism'. Northern Ireland workers, unemployed and youth, Protestant and Catholic stood united.
One small incident vividly demonstrates that unity. At 12.30 drivers of the 'Falls Taxies' on the Catholic Falls Road staged a cavalcade to the city centre in Belfast. At exactly the same time, the Shankill Taxies with Protestant drivers did the same. Class unity, not sectarianism, points the way forward for the working class in Northern Ireland.
Many unions and many trade union activists with little tradition responded to appeals made by the TUC and the Northern Ireland Committee of ICTU. The weeks of organisation for this Day of Action both for NHS and non-NHS workers will not be forgotten. As like never before active rank and file trade unionists played a major role in adding to the day's success.
Northern Ireland and Britain were abuzz as hundreds of thousands discussed both the political and industrial aspects of the action. Many trade union leaders were pushed by the ranks to hold half-day and 24-hour national strikes. They were an overwhelming success.
The industrial muscles of the labour movement were flexed, and with effect. But what is needed now is for the unity on the industrial plane to be carried through onto the political plane. In Northern Ireland thousands of workers chanted 'Tories out'. Many others responded to appeals from platform speakers for the trade union movement to raise its own political banner. What is needed now is united political action on behalf of the trade union movement to fight against sectarianism, unemployment and poverty.
In the local government elections and general election, and in the coming devolved assembly elections these workers, Protestants and Catholics, who stood solid in support of their brothers and sisters in the health service and in defiance of the Tories will have no party which fights on these issues to cite for. October 20th, the election day for the Assembly, will stand in sharp contrast to the day of workers' unity on September 22nd. The various sects and Tory parties will be elected simply because no real workers alternative exists. Workers who do not support these parties have no other choice.
The trade unions are crying out for a political lead. The Labour and Trade Union Group is the only organisation in Northern Ireland campaigning for a conference of the labour movement to discuss the establishment of a mass, trade union based Labour Party and with radical socialist policies. The setting up of such a party would be a giant step towards political unity of the working class. September 22nd marked a new stage in the development of the united workers' movement.