Workers Break the Stoppage

An account of the intervention of the Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group during the 1977 Loyalist stoppage

Originally Printed and Published by the Queen's University Branch, Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group in the autumn of 1977.

The LTUCG was an attempt by trade union activists and socialists to recapture the Northern Ireland Labour Party from the old leadership who were leading it into the sectarian wilderness. By 1977 the activity of the LTUCG was really aimed towards the creation of a new party of labour, based on the unions. Throughout the existence of the Co-Ordinating Group, 1974 until the mid 1980's, members of Militant, who later went on to form the SP, played a key role along with others from the labour movement.

This expanded edition reprinted by the Belfast members Socialist Party in the Socialist Reprints series, No 3, March 2005.




Introduction from 1977 edition

The United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) stoppage has resulted in a humiliating defeat for its organisers. After eleven days, despite the use of every possible means to whip up support, the result was abysmal failure.

The working class broke the stoppage. It was their determination which left the combined weight of Paisley, Baird, the Ulster Defence Association and the other loyalist paramilitaries utterly powerless.

The cause of working class unity has won a major victory. Sectarianism has suffered a defeat and a major setback. Yet, as this pamphlet explains, the full extent of the victory which was possible has not been achieved.

Throughout the course of the stoppage the trade union movement had opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity to decimate the evil of sectarianism. All were missed by the union leaders. A General who ordered his troops to stop firing just as they were beginning to get the upper hand in a battle, and thereby saved the enemy from rout, would probably face court martial.

Three years ago it was the trade union movement which was put to 'rout' at the hands of the Ulster Workers Council. Since then the unions have swung the tide somewhat in their favour, particularly with the Better Life for All Campaign. The UUAC stoppage placed sectarianism, for the first time in years, under the heel of the workers' movement. But instead of issuing the order to use all their force to stamp on it, the union tops decreed that they should do nothing, but leave it to the police and the army. As a result the bigots have been allowed to crawl away wounded, but not totally crushed.

Had the rank and file of the trade union movement adopted the attitude of the leadership the result would have been disastrous. Fortunately, they did not. Fortunately, they leaned instinctively upon their own power to hit back at the UUAC. In a thousand different ways, some of which are documented in this pamphlet, the workers took action themselves. It was this action, not the heavy hand of the state, not the condemnations of middle class politicians, and not the prayers of the Churches, which won the day.

Because mass action was not co-ordinated by the union leaders, because so many opportunities were allowed to slide by, the blows which the workers have dealt reaction have been painful but not fatal.

A few days after the stoppage was ended the Local Government Elections were held. The sectarian and right wing politicians on both sides managed to hold their ground. As previously, voting took place almost exclusively along religious grounds. On the Protestant side, Paisley's democratic Unionist Party actually increased its representation in many councils - generally reflecting its spread from a locally based party to the province wide expression of right wing Loyalism. Its chief competitor was the Official Unionist Party - no friend of any workers -, which remained as the single largest party in the Province.

On the Catholic side the sectarian based Social Democratic and Labour Party actually increased their grip in these elections. The other major party, the Alliance Party, increased its cotes in a number of areas. But it remains a thoroughly middle class organisation, hostile to the aspirations of working people. It is a seeming paradox that one week the working class unite to defeat reaction and the next they re-elect the same brood of reactionaries that have misrepresented them in the past. This paradox can be explained in two words - NO ALTERNATIVE!

Had the unions taken the initiative against the UUAC they would have mobilised tens of thousands of workers. All eyes would have been upon them. They would have emerged as the strongest force in society. The stage would have been set for a class campaign to turn the defeat of the stoppage into a mass movement against slum hosing, low wages, unemployment, inadequate services, etc. With this the workers would have taken an enormous stride away from the problems and the divisions of the recent past.

In this situation direct intervention by the trade union movement would have transformed these elections. Why should trade unionists struggle to rebuff Paisley and his equally vicious counterparts on the Catholic side, only to leave the field open to these people during elections? Paisley's DUP won control of Ballymena Council. It did so because four of its eleven councillors were returned unopposed.

In reality this is what happened everywhere. Sectarianism and reaction were returned unopposed to every District Council. True, there were two parties who call themselves 'socialist'. One, the Republican Clubs, is bound by its name and traditions to a sectarian appeal. The other, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, has degenerated politically beyond measure in recent years. For example, its intervention in the UUAC stoppage was around the demand for a conference of al political parties who favour the link with Britain to be held. As a result of its political degeneration it has been virtually eclipsed as an organisation. Only one NILP candidate managed to win a council seat. Almost half of its candidates came bottom of their respective polls.

If ever there was a need for a political party to represent the working class it is now. Had the trade unions intervened in the Local Government Elections, with candidates for a union based Labour Party, and if this party fought on socialist policies, the growing revulsion of working people at sectarianism and the growing anger at lowering living standards would have been tapped. Even candidates sponsored by local Trades Councils would probably have captured seats. A focus of opposition would have been created in some District Councils and, in this way the nucleus of a future Labour Party would have been formed.

No more opportunities must be missed. The situation is still extremely favourable for the organised workers' movement. The crisis in the capitalist economy and the resulting attacks on living standards are opening up a whole period of class upheaval - both here and internationally. But inaction breeds danger. Paisley and like reactionaries will also be attempting to make use of the rising tide of anger among workers to further their won ends. Only if the labour movement failed to give a lead can his ideas gain ground.

Gains have been made by the working class as a result of the UUAC action. In order to consolidate these there is a need for the unions to launch a major campaign on class issues such as wages and unemployment. This campaign would bind workers together in struggle. It would be directed also against sectarianism in all its manifestations. Through it the workers' movement could lay the basis for an ending of the violence and also for the eradication of poverty.

Such a campaign, by its very nature, would be political. Obviously, it would be pointless taking its demands to Paisley, to Harry West, to John Hume or to Oliver Napier. These gentlemen want nothing to do with socialist ideas. The need for the unions to create their won political organisations would be posed.

A rank and file conference of the trade union movement, which would also include the various independent Labour Parties, the remnants of the NILP, and the Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group, should be called. From such a conference a political party of Labour could be formed.

A similar conference of rank and file delegates from trade unions, Trades Councils and shop stewards committees should be called to launch a major campaign against poverty and against sectarianism. This conference should be preceded by the fullest possible preparations throughout the trade union movement, including shop floor meetings to discuss these objectives. In this way the most democratic and representative decisions would be arrived at.

It is the purpose of this pamphlet to record the intervention of the Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group during the 1977 stoppage, and also to plot the way forward for the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. The pamphlet contains a series of statements and leaflets issued by the L&TUCG in connection with the UUAC action. Each statement or leaflet is preceded by an explanatory introduction.

The Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group was formed shortly after the Ulster Workers Council stoppage in 1974. It is a group of trade unionists and socialists whose primary aim is to campaign within the trade union movement for the creation of a broadly based party of Labour.

The whole pamphlet can be read in the pdf format here.

Socialist reprints:

The 1977 UUAC stoppage was linked to the 1974 one. The members of Militant in Northern Ireland brought together this earlier pamphlet, For Workers Unity in response to articles by supporters of that stoppage who were intend in dividing the unions along sectarian lines.

This pamphlet has been reprinted and printed copies are available from the SP offices, 13 Lombard Street, Belfast BT1 IRB for 3. It can also be obtained at: http://www.geocities.com/socialistparty/Publications/FWUIntro.htm



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