From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.7, July 1945, pp.218-219.
Transcribed & by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Our co-thinkers in Ireland write:
The class struggle continues in the form of sporadic strikes but there is still a disheartened, apathetic attitude towards politics among the majority of the workers. The mass exodus of young Eire workers – 300,000 – to Britain, where they have found work in the war industries or have enlisted in the British services, is the root cause of the stagnation. If emigration had been dammed up, the desperate plight of the workers would have produced a tremendous pressure upon the existing organizations. As things have been, the various tendencies have each stewed in their own juice. The Stalinists are split into two rival factions; each one numerically insignificant.
This is not to say that they are finished for good. Needless to say, the limits within which the Eire CP may move to the left to meet the postwar situation will be determined by the Kremlin diplomacy; it is reasonable to suppose that there will be a new turn of policy before long. And it is realistic to expect that for a time the Stalinists will make some headway again. This is not to say that any large number of Eire war workers are under Stalinist influence. Most of them, in fact, are undoubtedly strongly hostile to British imperialism and, therefore, far from sympathetic to the antics of the Stalinists.
The decline in the living standards of the Irish worker will be even more precipitous than in Britain. Of course, in the long run the majority of British workers have equally bleak prospects, but no section will experience such a sharp and steep decline in living standards as the “redundant” Eire workers. These workers will fight. They will not accept pauperization as an unalterable fate. The British war effort has enabled them to escape the unbroken unemployment which has demoralized the 70,000 unemployed remaining in Eire. Least of all among the workers have they held the illusion of possessing a stake in the Empire’s war effort; so quite naturally Eire workers have been noticeably to the forefront in the British industrial struggle. The grip of the priesthood – always strongest where family relationships are stable – will undoubtedly have been loosened among many of these workers, most of whom are young.
Even if, for the reasons we have indicated, in the first stages the Stalinists recruit a certain percentage of these returning workers, it is none the less evident that Stalinism in Eire will labor under a grave disadvantage compared to, let us say, French Stalinism, or even to British Stalinism. Probably in no country, apart from the totalitarian states, has Stalinism collapsed so completely as an organized force as in Eire during the war years. The Stalinists cannot hope to emerge from their present state unscathed. The returning workers will approach politics with a seriousness corresponding to the situation. At the same time, most of them will be entering politics for the first time. The Stalinist movement, even allowing for the transference of some British party members back to Ireland, will have only a handful of the type of rank and file workers who have put much effort and sacrifice into the party and who have become indoctrinated with the ideology of Stalinism over a lengthy period.
No matter how stringently the bourgeois government attempts to deal with the returning workers, inevitably the lightning growth of the unemployed will contribute to an increase in the rate of taxation; and consequently further lower the vitality of the already depressed industries of Eire. It is not improbable that Eire unemployment will rise to the fantastic figure of half a million. A discussion on the transitional demands of the Fourth International in relation to the special problems of Eire unemployed is not the sole concern of the party in Eire. It transcends the 26 County boundaries to the same extent as the Eire workers have themselves done so.
In Northern Ireland a scandalous regulation exists which excludes Eire workers from receiving unemployment benefit unless they have worked in the North for 5 years; although the Eire war workers are compelled to contribute the same sum into the Unemployment Insurance scheme as Ulster or British workers. At the same time the iniquitous residence permit system excludes almost all Eire workers from qualifying to receive payment. Agitation on behalf of returning Southern Irish workers who have contributed to the British insurance scheme will be carried out by our British comrades.
The majority of the Eire war workers are dilutees. Moreover, the arrangement between the Eire and British governments allows them only a specified stay in Britain. They are therefore in a singularly weak position to resist sackings; and they will be in a particularly desperate plight once they have become unemployed. Many – perhaps the majority – will have worked in Britain in types of industry of which there exists no equivalent in Eire. Moreover, it is even doubtful if there exists sufficient [illegible] to absorb the majority in any capacity. Our key demand in Eire must therefore be for the inauguration of public works projects, financed by taxing the rich, on a scale capable of absorbing all unemployed and of a nature which will produce genuine use-values for the workers. This is not to say that the transitional demand for a sliding scale of hours in inapplicable. At every stage it must be agitated for both in relation to the situation within the factories already operating and to the public works projects under workers’ control. For example, the bourgeoisie will cite the shortage of raw materials in order to demonstrate the impossibility of introducing useful public works on a scale sufficient to absorb the unemployed. Our reply must be: “Then shorten the hours of work while preserving the normal weekly wage.”
The bourgeois political leaders must have wracked their brains more than once over the question of the returning workers. In general, their problem reduces itself to two main tasks: (1) to find adequate funds to cope with the situation during the most critical stage – that is, before the decentralization of a sufficient number has been achieved; (2) to decentralize the unemployed as quickly as possible by establishing some form of slave camp system. The bourgeoisie will be assisted in their plan to drive the unemployed – the unmarried youth in particular – out of the capital city by the unevenness of the scaling down of the British war effort. The workers won’t come home together in one huge mass but, to begin with, in dribs and drabs. However, even the British bourgeoisie cannot control the transition from war economy to peace economy exactly to suit their own political purposes. Naturally, they will try to organize the pay-offs in the most expedient way. Nevertheless, a huge and uncontrollable slump in employment is bound to take place shortly after the end of the war in Europe. And then Dublin will be crowded with returned emigrants.
From Ulster also a large emigration of workers to cross-Channel jobs has taken place during the war, although not on the same huge scale as from Eire. The majority of Ulster workers have been absorbed by the war industries of the Province. Before the war nearly every Ulster worker who thought politically considered himself either a Unionist or a Nationalist.
The Labour Party had only negligible influence at this period and the Stalinists were quite insignificant. The working class is at a much higher level of political consciousness today. Sectarian bitterness has died down. The majority of workers have swung to the left. A series of bitter strike struggles, made possible by full employment, has severely shaken the power of the Unionists; and, of course, the whole international situation has awakened the. workers to socialist ideas. However, the hardships of war have pressed lightly on the shoulders of the Ulster workers. The British conscription laws do not cover the Province. The working class as a whole has therefore gained materially out of the war. There is work for all. No one has been forced to don uniform. This situation, we think, reflects itself among a number of militants who accept our policy in the following attitude: “Tomorrow I will be back on the scrap heap, but meanwhile I am not too uncomfortably placed. If I join the Trot-skyists I may be immediately victimized. So, although I support them, I will hold my job while it lasts.” When considering the problems of Northern Ireland it must never be forgotten that a police regime exists. The workers themselves never forget this. Irrespective of the actual powers which the police can use at a given moment the traditional fear of them persists. This exercises a most depressing effect.
The dominant force in the working-class movement during the war years has been the Shop Stewards’ Movement, led by a mixed bunch of left Labourites and workers deeply imbued with syndicalist illusions. However, wartime illusions are already in process of being shattered. Male unemployment has trebled in the past three months. The heavy industries have little or no postwar future, and most of the workers realize this.
The Stormont Government is little more than a glorified Town Council. Almost 40% of the Six County population belong to Belfast. The great majority are workers, unlike in the South; there is only an insignificant urban petty-bourgeoisie, politically inconsequential, while at least 40% of the rural population is hostile to Stormont on nationalist grounds. Already the Unionists have lost their ideological grip on the Protestant workers, who were the main prop of their power in prewar years.
The majority of workers are employed in two or three large industrial plants. When any one of these close down – and unemployment is already developing in aircraft – a governmental crisis is threatened. Large industrial struggles in Belfast affect the Stormont regime in much the same way as the General Strike threatened the British capitalist state. We believe, therefore, that the onslaught of depression may produce a revolutionary crisis in Northern Ireland sooner than in England.
Last updated on 6.6.2005