Militant Irish Monthly, June 1974, No. 25

1974 UWC - Interview with Derry Shop Steward

The following is an interview with a member of the AUEW District Committee, shop steward in the Maydown Industrial Complex, near Derry.

MIM: The Ulster Workers' Council strike which has paralysed the North had little response her until Wednesday, May 22nd?

SS: Yes, that's true, most of the workers here are Catholic and only a few Protestant responded to the strike call. I left for work as usual around 7.30am but when I got across the bridge I found barricades, a bus and a can, manned by hooded men, blocking the way.

Everybody was seething, especially as we had been stoned when we approached the barricades and eh police had just stood there chatting to the hooded men. Some of the lads armed themselves with stones and bottles and approached the barricades again, but then a small army patrol appeared and called on us to halt.

The lads were incensed and some missiles were thrown at the barricade. Then the army opened up with rubber bullets and the people on the barricade fired more stones and bullets at us.

When the lads retreated I called for some union men to come forward as one of my AUEW brothers had already spoken to the police without success. As soon as I approached the patrol they took up firing positions and one soldier stuck his rifle against my throat. I told him who I was trying to impress the need for the workers representatives to tact. We talked amid confusion and anger. We were told that the soldiers would attempt to 'talk the barricades down', within ten minutes. But nothing happened and finally the officer came back.

We pointed out that we were only trying to get to work, that we were being blocked and if Len Murray of the TUC could get protection then we were also entitled to it! Within half an hour, the barricades came down and we went on to work around 9am.

MIM: Can you describe the mood at work?

SS: It was a mood of gloom and impending disaster. All day long I unsuccessfully tried to get meetings convened but there was no lead from the union officials of from most of the stewards. The men were left in limbo. No attempts were made to allay their fears which grew with every new rumour

MIM: What about Protestants at work?

SS: Only a few were away until Wednesday but now phone calls were coming in threatening them, their families and their homes. It was vital at that time for site meetings to explain the facts to everyone. Imagine the position of the Protestants! They were regarded with suspicion by the Catholics and at the same time were receiving threats from their own neighbours.

MIM: What was done?

SS; Nothing. I approached a group of Protestants to tell them that I appreciated them being at work and only then heard about the vicious and dirty intimidation. If only there had been a joint shop stewards committee covering the whole plant we could have organised meetings and discussed the situation openly. As it was, the Protestant left at dinnertime feeling very isolated and confused.

MIM: Can you tell us about other attempts to organise?

SS: The Chairman from the AUEW branch spent all day vainly trying to get the Trades Council to hold an emergency meeting. The Union of Postal Workers delegate to the trades Council asked the Secretary about calling a meeting but he claimed the situation was too full of rumours for action to be taken. On Wednesday evening the AUEW District Committee met, had talks with the police, and gained an assurance about roads being clear in the morning.

No blocks were met on Thursday and the security forces were very much in evidence, but there were very few Protestants at work and still no concerted action from the mass of Trade Unions.

MIM: What of the Derry Labour and Trade Union Party meeting on Thursday?

SS: Yes, this was the only organisation to my knowledge that attempted to discuss the situation. It was good because about eight shop stewards from Maydown were there. They came to discuss their problems and discuss the situation.

MIM: What do you think of the Derry LTU Party leaflets?

SS: I agree that Sunningdale must be opposed by workers. It is not in the interests of the working class. But the strike is indeed a sectarian one, despite the fact that many Protestants genuinely fear incorporation into a 'Catholic Republic'. And this intimidation is vicious. I think that the trade unions would have supported strike action if it had been called by them on a class basis to oppose Sunningdale.

MIM: What about the use of troops in the power stations?

SS: I don't want to see it happen. They would be scabbing and setting a dangerous precedent for the future. But in the present confusion it is a demand much supported among Catholics.

Not do I believe that troops or police should be protecting worker from worker. Anyway how can they protect us after work in our homes. Especially Protestant workers who oppose the strike? Only the workers can solve the problems and it is up to the Labour and Trade Union movement to give a positive lead.

MIM: You mean like the Belfast march?

SS: A march back to work depending on the troops for protection is not good enough. It's simply marching from point A to point B, with no idea of where to go from there!

MIM: Are you pessimistic?

SS; No, I don't want to minimise the problems, but these sectarian hurdles can only be cleared by the organised Labour and Trade Union Movement. This UWC action is not the best method of opposing Sunningdale from the workers' point of view. At the end of the day we are all struggling for existence. Something we should not have to do and something made harder by division. We must get together to fight on all fronts against the capitalists and not fight each other.

MIM: Do you support the demand for a Trade Union Defence Force?

SS: Yes, I do and also the need for socialist policies to cement class unity. But there is a dread of yet another armed force and a tendency to rely on the security forces. However, I think we will learn, not too painfully I hope, to rely on our own organisations which we can control and use for the good of all workers in the North.

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