A compilation of reports and articles dealing with the mass protests organised in Mid-Ulster (on January 21st) and in Belfast on Feb. 4th and 7th against the upsurge in sectarian killings.
· Workers Unity in Action! By Michael Morton
· Biggest trade union demo for 20 years
· Better Life for All Campaign - Learn lessons from the past
· Ormeau Road massacre - By a local resident
· 1,000's join vigil
· Successful rallies in Mid Ulster
· ICTU backs M Ulster rally
· Militant's Demands
Editorial: Working class people Catholic and Protestant are beginning to give the sectarian killer their answer.Working class people Catholic and Protestant are beginning to give the sectarian killer their answer. Workers in Mid-Ulster responded to the Teebane bombing and to the killing of Catholics in the area with the successful protests in Magherafelt and Cookstown.
Pressure from the trade union rank and file compelled the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) leadership to convene the magnificent rally of 20,000 workers from all parts of Belfast outside the City Hall on 4 February. Undeterred, the UFF carried out the horrific Ormeau Road attack the following day. But within 24 hours the Belfast Trades Council had agreed to contact local community organisations with a view to holding a protest in the Ormeau area.
Militant can proudly report that it has been our supporters who have initiated the calls for protest action, both in Mid-Ulster and in Belfast. As we report elsewhere we are now intensifying our pressure on the ICTU leaders to ensure that there is no let up in the trade union and community action. The array of trade union general secretaries who made up the 4 February platform clearly saw the event as a one off and issued no calls for further action. This must not be accepted by the rank and file.
ICTU should now be inundated with demands that it organise an even bigger protest - a half-day general strike against sectarianism. Such action should be linked to the establishment of anti-sectarian committees in workplaces and estates, so that through these bodies, workers can take whatever concrete action is necessary to defend themselves and their communities.
While workers have been mobilising, politicians have been issuing their ritual calls for more repression, especially internment. John Major has announced that he will become personally involved in talks with the major parties.
None of this will achieve a solution. Major's initiative has more to do with the coming general election than with the fact that people are dying on the streets of Northern Ireland. It is completely futile to look to right wing and sectarian parties, Orange and Green, to solve the problems of sectarianism. These parties are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Likewise the state cannot defend workers, as Chief Constable Hugh Annesley as much as admitted, when interviewed outside the Ormeau Road bookmakers. Internment or other such desperate measures of repression would only be an admission that the state has no answer. Apart from the suffering internment would bring to working class areas, through indiscriminate arrests, it would result in more violence. The years after internment in 1971 were the bloodiest in the history of the troubles. The labour movement must give no measure of support to this or other forms of repression.
It is the working class who bear the brunt of the violence and it is the working class, and only the working class, who can bring it to an end. The real significance of the recent trade union demonstrations is that thousands of workers have come to realise that they do not have to be passive in face of the killings, but that the working class, organised independently and acting as an independent force, has the power to solve the problem.
This means taking protest and defensive action but it must mean more than this. It also means mobilising the working class behind a programme of offensive action against the cuts, the poverty and unemployment which underlie sectarianism. It is not enough to simply denounce the paramilitaries and to issue pleas for peace, which was all that was done from the ICTU platform on 4 February. It is necessary to offer workers a programme and a perspective of struggle for a better society in which their economic insecurity and hardship can be ended. In Catholic areas in particular it is not sufficient to denounce the IRA. The labour movement must offer a platform of struggle against the legitimate grievances of workers and youth in these areas, especially against the daily harassment and repression to which they are subjected and which provides the main ongoing support for the Provisionals.
Above all the trade unions must immediately broaden this struggle onto the political plane. The ridiculous idea put forward by ICTU leaders that the trade unions must stay out of politics must be abandoned.
If the trade unions accept their responsibility to bring workers together on the streets against the bigots, they should also accept their responsibility to bring these workers together at the polling booths against the same bigots and Tories. A socialist Labour Party linked to the unions must be created in time to field a candidate in every constituency in the general election.
Sadly these ideas were missing from the 4 February platforms. Not only were there no political speeches, there were no banners or no placards expressing ideas for this campaign. This must be changed for the future. It is not possible to build mass movement on empty ideas.
Trade unionists must now demand both ongoing action against sectarianism and a clear socialist programme to bring workers together in industrial and political action for a socialist solution.
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Workers Unity in Action! By Michael Morton
The death toll in Northern Ireland so far this year is the worst for 16 years. In a 33-day period 27 people have been killed. Tit-for-tat sectarian killings have given way to tit-for-tat sectarian atrocities. In 1991, 94 people died in the troubles, including 75 civilians.
However, the mood in working class areas to this butchery has developed into anger.Since the Teebane massacre the trade union movement has organised four mass protests which displayed the unity of the working class against eh bigots – two in Mid-Ulster on 21 January, Belfast City Hall on the 4th February and the Ormeau on 7 February.
As yet the working class has only flexed its muscles. The 20,000 strong demonstration in Belfast could have been even larger. Had the ICTU leaders made a clear call fro a half-day general strike thousands more workers would have responded to their call. Belfast should have been plastered with posters about the event. Full-page advertisements should have been placed in the local daily papers. Buses should have been organised to transport workers from all points across the North. Individual community groups, trade unions and trades councils should have been called upon to mobilise their members. On this basis the massive power of the working class could have been displayed on 4 February. 50,000 or even 100,000 working people could have demonstrated outside Belfast City Hall. Northern Ireland could have brought to a standstill. The message to the death squads would have been loud and clear – back off!
Nevertheless, the momentum of the campaign against sectarianism should now be stepped up. The ICTU should now begin preparations for such a half-day general strike and mass demonstration in Belfast.
Following the Ormeau Road shooting the Belfast Trades Council has approached community leaders in the area and shop stewards form local workplaces. Following the vigil on 7 February the trade union movement should now organise a mass demonstration through the area.
The power of workers which has already been demonstrated on the streets should now be organised into a force to provide protection for all working class people in the areas and in the workplaces. As a first step anti-sectarian committees should be set up in the workplaces by the trade unions. These could deal with threats and intimidation and take other necessary steps to defend trade union members. Similar committees could be established in working class areas and could take whatever steps necessary to defend areas from sectarian killer gangs. These committees could also take steps to ensure that retaliation attacks were not launched from their areas. These bodies could be brought together in a conference which could elect a leadership to take the overall struggle against sectarianism forward.
It is becoming more apparent day by day that the only people with a solution to the conflict in the North is the working class. The state cannot end the violence. Shoot-to-kill, internment, plastic bullets, etc. only worsen the situation. In any case the recent trial of Brian Nelson, the UDA’s intelligence chief and a British military agent, underlined the degree of collusion between sections of the state and loyalist paramilitaries.
The political parties in Northern Ireland have their basis on the very sectarian division we want rid off. It should be obvious that the paramilitaries who carry out the killings have no solutions for working class people.
The trade unions movement in tackling sectarianism must also tackle its root – the poverty, the unemployment, social deprivation and repression.
The trade unions must also mobilise workers politically against eh bigots. They should from a mass socialist Labour Party to enable workers to stand shoulder to shoulder and provide a lasting solution to this conflict.
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Biggest trade union demo for 20 years
Up to 20,000 Catholic and Protestant workers took to the streets of Belfast on 4 February in a magnificent show of defiance to the paramilitaries and to demand an end to the killing in Northern Ireland. This was the biggest trade union demonstration against sectarianism since the troubles began - indeed it was the biggest trade union mobilisation for 20 years.
The rally was organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) following the success of the rallies in Cookstown and Magherafelt on 21 January. On Tuesday workers from all parts of the city left factories and workplaces to join five marches that converged on Belfast City Hall. Some strike action did take place but as there was no strike call many workers re-arranged their lunch hours and many others were unable to attend.
Even so, the marches were impressive. Nearly 4,000 marched over the Queen's Bridge from the shipyard and Shorts in the East. An estimated 2,000 marched from the Art College in York Street on the northern fringes of the city centre. They were joined by 1,5000 workers who streamed out of the Castle Court complex. By the time the march from Belfast City Hospital from South Belfast arrived at the City Hall 1,500 had joined it. A similar amount marched from Victoria Square in the city centre and another left the Royal Victoria Hospital in West Belfast.
There were people from many varied locations. Two women workers from a nursing home brought an ex-worker who had been widowed by the paramilitaries years ago. She was beyond words and in tears at the size and mood of the march.
The demonstration was calm and patient, straining to hear the speeches over an abysmal speaker system. Many of those present only stayed for 10 or 15 minutes because of this. At the same time more and more workers were joining the demonstration. Indeed, two hours after the rally started more people were still arriving.
The speakers denounced all killings, but went no further. The largest trade union gathering in Belfast for decades was given no programme of ideas for carrying the campaign forward. While most of those who attended went home happy that they had attended, they were unaware that they could play a much more active role in combating sectarianism.
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Ormeau Road Massacre
By a local resident
The Ormeau bookies' massacre brought memories of the 1970s rushing back to the residents of the Hatfield area in South Belfast.
The crowds which gathered just after the attack were shocked and angry at the killings. Everybody had expected revenge for Teebane, but no one expects it in their own area.
The UFF struck indiscriminately at a soft target, machine-gunning everyone in a small room making escape impossible. It was inevitable that the body count would be high.
Witnesses say that everyone was made to lie on the floor and were then machine gunned by one killer while another followed firing single shots from a handgun. It is reported that over 80 shots were fired and everyone in the room hit.
The scene after the attack was one of chaos. People from the tight knit Hatfield community rushed to see if relatives and friends were among the dead. IN the crowds there were relatives of those killed who were crying or standing in a daze being comforted by local people.
Amongst the people there I recognised many who had taken part in the ICTU demonstration on the previous day against sectarianism. During the evening people in the surrounding area began leaving, scared of further trouble.
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1,000's join vigil
Several thousand people joined a mass silent vigil on the evening of Friday 7th February outside Sean graham's bookies. We gathered not only to pay our respects but also to show our defiance. Many families of the victims were moved by the presence of many Protestants.
Called by ICTU this was a moving display of workers' disgust, anger and deepest sympathy. For 15 minutes we stood quietly. Not only locals were present, but also residents of the nearby Catholic Markets and Protestant areas across the bridge. Trade unionists of all backgrounds attended from every part of the city.
Heaped on the steps and taped to the shutters of the bookmakers were bunches of flowers. One read simply: ' From a Protestant in Ballynafeigh.' Local Militant supporters placed their own floral tribute but most were from friends and relatives of the dead. There was nothing grand here - a bunch of daffodils, a spray of primroses - but they symbolised a community united in mourning. A school tie and a tribute to 'Mush' painted in Liverpool FC colours reminded us that the youngest victim, James Kennedy, only 15 years, was being missed by his whole school.
None of the victims shall be forgotten in this area. The hope is that their deaths shall be among the last.
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Better Life for All Campaign - learn lessons of the past
The lessons of the Better Life for All Campaign against sectarianism in 1975-6 are vital for the working class today. By the mid-1970's working class communities were sickened by the continuous tit-for-tat killings. Revulsion and anger eventually turned to action.
1976 saw the culmination in the spate of killing, In two incidents, 5 Catholics were murdered by the UVF. In retaliation a workers bus was stopped on a country road at Kingsmills in Armagh. Its occupants were lined up. The ten Protestants, all ATGWU members, were shot dead. The one Catholic was let go.
Newry Trades Council organised a strike and drew thousands to a protest rally. Shop stewards in the Lurgan-Portadown area came together and organised a strike and demonstration through Lurgan. Factories, offices and shops closed as 6-7,000 workers marched.
At this stage the mood of the working class was for decisive action to stop the killings. The leadership of the trade union movement - the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU (NIC-ICTU) were inundated with demands from workers for action. Under pressure from the rank and file they launched a campaign - the Better Life for All Campaign.
The campaign was launched on 27 January 1976 with a call for a two-minute silence in memory of the dead of the 'Troubles'. The call was supported in factories, offices and on the streets where traffic stopped. The potential for future action was clear.
However, the Better Life for All Campaign never went beyond this token and passive gesture. The leadership were unaccountable to the rank and file. They dissipated the movement rather than taking it forward. They failed to tackle the roots of sectarianism - the poverty, unemployment, social deprivisation and repression.
The failure of the trade union leaders then to take the movement forward and the bloody events since are a warning to the trade union leaders today. The paramilitaries were delivered a blow by the working class movement in the mid 1970s, but this blow wounded them, it did not defeat them. This failure by the trade unions to drive the paramilitaries back fully, allowed them to wait for 'better' times and re-emerge.
The real lessons of 1975-6 must be drawn - for mass action including strike action against sectarianism, for an ongoing campaign building to a one-day general strike, for the defence of all workers to be organised by the trade union movement and community groups, and for the immediate launching of a trade union based socialist Labour Party.
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Successful rallies in Mid Ulster
The rallies in Cookstown and Magherafelt on 21 January, against sectarian killings, were the biggest united mass demonstrations the area had seen for decades. One thousand five hundred workers turned out in Cookstown and nearly a thousand in Magherafelt. They marched from factories and came demo a wide number of workplaces and working class areas. Over 30 workplaces responded to the Mid Ulster Trades Council call.
Over 90% of Unipork workers linked up with cement workers and marched to the centre of Cookstown. The Peter England factory saw the biggest strike in its history. The vast majority of DHSS workers, with a proud record of united action against the bigots, joined the demonstrations, some coming from as far away as Dungannon. Post Office staff, Housing Executive workers and health workers from many hospitals across the Mid Ulster area joined the protests. Workers from a short factory in Castledawson joined the rally in Cookstown. Shops, pubs and offices closed. Teachers and pupils alike joined in. Here was a tremendous show of defiance by Catholic and Protestant workers and youth.
There were messages of support read out from unions outside the Mid-Ulster area and one from Terry Fields and Dave Nellist, the two left-wing LPs recently expelled from the Labour Party. Harry Hutchinson of the Mid-Ulster Trades Council called the rallies 'magnificent and historic events which showed workers determination to stand up to republican and loyalist paramilitaries.'
He continued: ' People power is a tremendous force in society and should be used to defend the working class. The Trades Council calls for the setting up of anti-sectarian committees in the factories, workplaces and working class areas to monitor the situation in each area and take the appropriate action where necessary to defend workers against sectarian killings and threats.' Terry Carlin from the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU was the other speaker.
The success of the rallies had a huge effect in cutting across sectarianism. Those workers who could not attend the rallies were enthusiastic when people returned. They eagerly read bulletins produced by the Labour and Trade Union Group which were brought back form the rallies and handed out. A cleaner in the DHSS photocopied 50 bulletins and distributed them to all her workmates. Catering staff in one factory pinned a bulletin on the notice board for all to read. These actions typified the determination to spread the message amongst all workers.
In the Unipork meat factory the action lifted the whole tension that existed after the Teebane killings. A worker from Peter England clothes factory said the rallies were a huge step forward and now we must build on them.
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Irish Congress of Trade Unions Backs Mid-Ulster rally
Within hours of the Teebane bombing on Friday 17 January, the Mid-Ulster Trades Council issued a statement condemning the bombing as sectarian. The following day it issued the call for a half-day strike and demonstrations in Cookstown and Magherafelt for Tuesday 21 January.
These were to unite all workers, Catholic and Protestant, against all the sectarian killings in the area over the past few years. This call was also echoed by the Labour and Trade Union Group. The Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU was called on to back the two mid-day rallies in Magherafelt and Cookstown.
However, the first reaction of Terry Carlin of ICTU was to say that the call for strike action first came from the Labour and Trade Union Group “..which is Militant under a different name…and as far as I am concerned they are just cynically exploiters of situations like this and we will have nothing to do with them.”
But within 24 hours, due to local union support for the Trades Council ICTU were forced to back the two rallies and Terry Carlin had to do a 180-degree turn. A meeting of shop stewards, including those from Unipork Meat factory, Peter England, Blue Circle cement workers and various DHSS workplaces, clearly showed the overwhelming support for action.
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For a half-day general strike and day of action to stop the killings.
Set up anti-sectarian committees in the workplaces and the estates.
For a conference of these bodies to elect a leadership to take the campaign forward.
Link the struggle against sectarianism with the struggle against privatisation, cuts, redundancies and for democratic rights.
Build a socialist Labour Party, based on the trade unions, to challenge the Tories and bigots at the general election.
For a socialist solution – a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland.
This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.
The full range of articles from the Socialist Party
are available in our sitemap