Fight the bigots....and the Tories

Editorial in Militant Labour, Nov-Dec 1993

The Chiefs of the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU named 18 November as the 'community day for unifying peace', with a two-hour stoppage, one-minute silence, rallies in twelve centres and a fanfare of factory horns and church bells across the North. But after one of the worst episodes of sectarian carnage in recent history, people are asking: Is this enough?

For years Militant Labour members have been arguing for decisive action to be taken by ICTU in response to sectarian killings, threats and intimidation. Only when coming under enormous shop floor pressure have they begrudgingly given way and enacted the most unenthusiastic of programmes.

During 'bloody October', it was shop stewards who initiated walkouts, rallies and strikes.

1,000 Shorts employees came out on Friday 15 October after the UFF shot dead a Catholic worker, Joe Reynolds, at their factory gates. Ten days later thousands of the same workers were joined by shipyard and Sirocco workers in a protest march, after the IRA massacre, to the Shankill Road. The general mood of workers was one of anger, acute fear of reprisals, as the 'loyalist' revenge began in earnest. There was a wave of shootings which included the killing of two workmen in Kennedy Way, in West Belfast, and culminating in the Greysteel massacre.

There was determination that something should be done to stop it. ICTU were inundated by trade union branches, with resolutions demanding action and a general strike. ICTU should have acted immediately and organised a one-day general strike for Wednesday 3 November - the day of the Belfast and Derry city centre rallies. Such a call would have received a universal response, uniting Catholic and Protestant, in a clear offensive against sectarian killings, poverty and unemployment.

Instead ICTU hesitated. They set about discussions with the bosses organisation, the Confederation of British industry, and eh churches on what to do next. But the violence will not be ended with pious platitudes, or with everybody simply coming together for 'peace'.

It will not be possible to fight sectarianism, attacks and killings, without also attacking the rots of the problem - the poverty, the social deprivation, low wages and state injustices. That means it must be a campaign against the bigots and the Tories.

Certainly, if the churches and the CBI are prepared to support such a campaign well and good, but it must be under the terms outlined by workers themselves.

The ICTU agreed to limit their first proposal of a one-day stoppage to two hours because of the opposition of the CBI to the idea. This shows how these people will only water down any independent campaign of the working class.

A high level meeting has taken pace between senior trade union leaders and ministers of the Northern Ireland Office. On Thursday 18 November, the ICTU will move a resolution at the 12 rallies urging support for the inter-party talks. Is this at the prompting of the NIO? These Tories cannot be part of the campaign. It is their policies - and the poverty and social deprivation - which lie at the root of the conflict.

Militant Labour wants an end to the pointless paramilitary campaigns. We want an end to all violence, including that of the state, but also the injustice of widespread poverty. To achieve this working class organisations need to develop an independent programme from the Tories and the bigots. The trade unions need to act in the interests of ordinary workers not in conjunction with the aims of NIO officials and the bosses.

With this editorial were a number of reports about the demonstrations

Enormous rally in Derry.
The centre of Derry ground to a halt on 3 November, with Guildhall Square overflowing with 12-15,000 people. They were there to protest at the sectarian killings in October, and in particular in the brutal slaying at Greysteel, only 10 miles away. The rally had been called at two days notice by the Derry Trades Council and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. At the rally 115 copies of Militant Labour were sold.

Belfast demonstration
Tens of thousands of Catholic and Protestant workers joined demonstrations organised by ICTU in Belfast on Wednesday 3 November to protest at the recent wave of brutal sectarian killings, including the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel massacre.

Almost 25,000 crammed around Belfast City Hall for a lunchtime rally. Many of those who attended the lunchtime rally were civil servants working in city-centre offices.

Some of these workers marched round the City Hall. They were joined by postal workers, British Telecom engineers, aircraft workers from Shorts, health workers, printers, bus drivers, shop workers, and many, many more. The rally only lasted 20 minutes, and as people started to leave, thousands more were still arriving. Militant Labour members sold 308 copies of a special bulletin on the killings.

For Independent Workers' Action

Niall Mullen

Catholic and Protestant workers face many attacks including sectarian killer gangs, poverty, Tory cuts and despair. More than ever independent working class action is needed to change this situation.

The paramilitaries who carry out the bulk of the killings cannot defend working class people and their actions only deepen the divisions further.

Injustices carried out by the police and the army, and the collusion by some of them with loyalist paramilitaries have added to the conflict. Their solution - more repression, shoot-to-kill, internment, etc.- only exacerbate the problem.

If it were solely a matter of prayers and creating numerous peace groups, the paramilitaries would have resigned a long time ago.

Can we trust the local Tories and bigoted political parties who have rested upon sectarian differences for decades, to cobble up a long-term settlement on our behalf? These people depend on sectarian division for their political survival. These people are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. For them to fight for an end to sectarian division, would be like turkeys fighting for Christmas.

It is necessary to end the political domination of the Tories and the bigots in the political arena also. There is talk of some agreement being cobbled together between the political parties, with the possibility of elections to an assembly at some stage.

ICTU should not mobilise thousands of people on the streets against the sectarian killers, and then allow the bigoted politicians a free run at the ballot box. If there are elections for an assembly the trade unions and community organisations should come together to stand socialist Labour candidates in every constituency. Such a development could lay the basis for the building of a mass socialist Labour Party to shatter the sectarian blocks.

Militant Labour demands

  • A one-day general strike, with mass demonstrations to stop the killings.
  • The setting up of anti-sectarian committees in the workplaces and working class areas to oppose sectarianism and discrimination, and to provide defence against attack.
  • An emergency conference of ICTU, with delegates from trade union branches, workplaces and representatives from genuine community organisations, to discuss a strategy to fight sectarianism.
  • A trade union campaign against the policies of the Tories, and against poverty, mass unemployment, social deprivation and injustices which act as a breeding ground for sectarianism.
  • An end to all military and paramilitary campaigns.
  • A strategy to break the domination of sectarian and Tory parties in the political arena - this means building a mass trade union based socialist Labour Party to unite Catholic and Protestant working people to fight for a socialist solution.
  • For a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland on an equal and voluntary basis. Within this the rights of all minorities would be guaranteed.

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