Mid Ulster strike against sectarianism

Ciaran Mulholland, Chairman, Mid-Ulster Trades Council (personal capacity), Militant, April 1989

Workers in the Mid-Ulster area took strike action on Thursday 9th March (1989) against the wave of sectarian killings in the area.

On Tuesday 7th March the IRA shot dead three Protestants standing outside a garage in the Co. Tyrone village of Coagh. The IRA claimed the garage was 'a UVF stronghold'. Two of the dead were pensioners, one a former postman, the other a retired lorry driver. The IRA later admitted that the two had been shot 'in the general confusion'.

This attack was the latest in a wave of sectarian killings across the North in the last few weeks. In the Mid-Ulster area a loyalist gang has been operating since late November. They have assassinated one Sinn Fein councillor and the brother of another.

Several other Catholics have been wounded. The Coagh killings were the IRA's reprisal. They threaten to add further to the spiral of tit-for-tat killings. Indeed a wave of loyalist attacks on the following weekend left one Catholic dead and three injured.

Despite these incidents the overwhelming mood of working class people is anti-sectarian. The Mid-Ulster Trades Council, with supporters of Militant to the fore, decided to give voice to this mood by calling a one-hour protest strike on the day of the latest funerals.

The response to this call, given the lack of tradition for such a strike in this area, was excellent. There was a feeling among some trade unionists that the strike would be seen as an attack on the IRA alone. However, when the issues were clearly explained and the anti-sectarian nature of the strike emphasised, workers responded.


At the Unipork factory in Cookstown, almost the entire factory came out. The only people to remain were two Sinn Fein supporters. At the DHSS office in Magherafelt 60 came out on strike. Several dozen struck at a non-union timber processing plant. 30 people held a lunchtime picket at the local hospital. The strike received widespread publicity on the TV and radio and in the press.

This strike shows the way forward for the entire labour movement in Northern Ireland. The trade unions have 225,000 members, from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. If they were mobilised theses members in a serious campaign against sectarianism the paramilitaries could be forced back.

In late 1975 and early 1976 Trades Council strikes across the North brought thousands of workers onto the streets and cut across the wave of killings developing at that time.

The trade unions failed to build on this movement and develop a serious campaign against sectarianism, poverty and unemployment and for a socialist alternative.

The Labour and Trade Union Movement must now come out clearly against all sectarian killings. Already 28 people have been killed this year. Seventeen of these have been civilians - mainly the victims of the various sectarian assassins.


The trade unions in Northern Ireland should now call for a one-day general strike to stop the killings and to drive the bigots back. A special rank and file conference of labour, trade union and community activists should immediately be convened to discuss what steps need to be taken to defend workers in the workplace and in the communities. But defensive action itself is not enough. The labour movement must go on the offensive politically.

Tied to a socialist programme fighting for decent jobs and wages and fighting against the privatisation of Shorts, the shipyard and the health service, the labour movement could unite its 225,000 Protestant and Catholic members.

The choice is either, a socialist solution to unite workers and show a way out or Northern Ireland will slide further along the road of sectarian bloodletting.

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