Conference of Workers Parties needed Now
Peter Hunt, Militant Irish Monthly, July-August 1974, No. 26
The creation of a 78 man 'Convention' - this is the British Government's answer to the political stalemate resulting from the downfall of the Assembly.
The resulting pattern of Government, the new White Paper states, must be acceptable to the British Government. Some form of power sharing is recommended but the Council of Ireland has disappeared from the British plans, this paper giving only brief mention to the 'Irish dimension'.
This White Paper is aimed at meeting many of the demands of the loyalists who succeeded in running the Province for two weeks. UWC leader Glenn Barr has given it a guarded welcome. There has been a succession of White Papers, Green Papers, 'initiatives', Conferences, all with the 'final answer' to the Northern Irish problem!
Political organisations themselves are in a constant state of confusion. Above all, the squalor and misery of the dole queues, the poor housing and the wages, £5-£10 per week below those of Britain, remain. These economic conditions are at the very heart of the troubles. Nothing can be solved until they are tackled. Instability and violence in some form will remain as Catholic and Protestant working class people are forced to live in squalor. The latest solution, like its predecessors, fails to answer these problems. Workers suffer most from our troubles. It is they who must provide a solution.
In the past we have had solutions to suit the profiteers and the wealthy who merely want 'peace' so that their system of exploitation of ordinary men and women functions smoothly. Now we need something different. Not a bosses' but a workers' solution.
The Faulkners, Fitts and Alliance have shown themselves the friends of Big Business. The Craigs, Paisleys and Wests are no less conservative, no less concerned with upholding the present economic system.
Unlike the major parties, who have dominated political life here, the para-military organisations o both sides are working class in composition. Yet they do not offer any real alternative in the interests of their rank and files, instead of unity they offer division.
The Provisional IRA, in words, stand against sectarianism. In deeds they fuel the sectarian inferno with the continued bombing campaign. A recent Republican News carried a front-page article on the Protestants. It gives a glimpse of the sectarianism of the Provisional tops.
'Pro Imperialist Protestants', the article states 'whose attitudes are as reactionary as Ian Smith's or the Klu Klux Klan's are powerless against the determination, skill and heroism of those who have traditionally spearheaded the fight for complete political, economic, social and cultural liberation, the Republican movement.'
The article contains not one phrase which might be interpreted as an appeal to the Protestants.
Loyalist para-military leaders often talk of the working class interest and of non-sectarianism. Again words and deeds are poles apart. Their past actions have been sectarian. Their present role is to divide the working class movement.
Politically they do not put forward any demands which could arouse their working class supporters to fight against the economic power of their Unionist overlords. Instead they hang on to the right wing of Unionism, Tories like Paisley and Craig. This is reflected in the decision of the UVF to link their new 'workers' political party with the DUP, official Unionists and Vanguard in the UUUC.
These groups, like the two wings of the Republican Movement, have been able to gather working class support only because there has been no alternative political lead offered to workers by the Labour and Trade Union movement.
Yet even now the trade union movement is strong enough to alter the situation by intervening and appealing to Protestant and Catholic workers on a class basis.
Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Since the UWC strike this task has become more urgent. The UWC members have been instructed to work in the trade unions for the breaking of the ICTU. This would open up the very real possibility of Protestant TU's and Catholic TU's, thereby taking the muscle out of the arm of the working class just at the time when unity is required to resist any attacks on living standards.
So far the leadership of the ICTU have done little to answer this threat. Indeed the speech of Denis Larkin at the ICTU conference held the first week of July, in Dublin, was ammunition for the Loyalists. He suggested that the British TUC might consider 'cutting the apron strings of the Irish Movement'.
His speech was an attack on the British based unions. About 90% of Northern workers belong to British unions. Fortunately it received no real echo from Congress.
A conference of trade unionists, representatives of workers' political groups and other workers organisation such as tenants associations should be called. This conference should firstly deal with the practical steps needed to end sectarianism. The establishment of a defence force under the control of the TU's could be begun.
Secondly, this conference should deal with the need for political representation for the working class. Elections both for Westminster and for the proposed 'Convention' are in the offing. If begun there could be a Party of Labour, firmly rooted in the TU Movement to contest both these elections.
This would be the only party posing a solution in the interests of workers, were it to fight on the demand for the taking into public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. Backed up by a Trade Union Defence Force it should deal a deathblow to sectarianism and to the capitalist system which spawns it.
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