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Peter Hadden

Internment: Threat to all workers

(29 October 1971)

From The Militant (UK), Issue 89, 29 October 1971.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

In the 12 weeks since the Heath and Faulkner governments introduced internment, the cities and towns of Northern Ireland have become battlefields. This vicious sectarian measure has mobilised huge sections of the Catholic working class into opposition.

“At present, the loss to the central exchequer in the North due to the rent and rates strike, is thought to be more than £60,000 per week, and more than 26,000 families in Belfast, Derry, Newry, Dungannon, Omagh and Strabane are engaged in the strike” (Irish Times, 7/10/71). The brutal mental and physical torture being meted out to many internees, the arbitrary shooting by the troops and the systematic lying of the Tory press, illustrate the crisis of the Faulkner Government.

From crisis to crisis

Last weekend six people were shot dead by the army and the Army Information Centre, as usual, acted on the premise – if he’s dead he’s a terrorist. An account of the treatment given to some of the political prisoners was given last week in the Irish Times and the Sunday Times.

“... I heard another man, I think a policeman, coming up behind me and I felt something, at first gently and then firmly, being pressed against the back of my head. I had prepared myself for a click, but instead he fired a blank and there was what seemed to me to be a massive explosion. ” (Irish Times, 19/10/71)

A person interned on suspicion without trial stands a high chance of losing his job, a chance which increases according to the length of his detention. He will not be compensated for this loss, even though he may have been innocent of any crime. The family of an internee must forfeit that proportion of his income which was in excess of the level of welfare benefits on which they now have to rely. A man can be interned for any length of time – even in South Africa a 90 days limit is set! In the past, some men have been interned for as long as seven years at a stretch.

Over the past few months, Faulkner’s government has stumbled from crisis to crisis. Only by means of repression, by the brute force of the British army, do the Unionists remain in office. Through their Stormont puppets, the British ruling class has shown itself capable of going to any lengths and using any means to protect its interests. Internment is one indication of the methods of imperialism. More recently, the Special Powers Act was invoked to make it illegal to walk in a funeral procession! In an attempt to cripple the rent and rates strike, emergency measures have been rushed through Stormont so that money outstanding can be taken from social security benefits and even from wages. This demonstrates clearly that all the talk about the administrative difficulties of getting the reform legislation through Stormont was a sham to cover up the unwillingness of the corrupt Unionist regime and their Orange paymasters to surrender their privileges.

The ruling class, after decades of consciously-fostered sectarianism, have precipitated the present crisis, and for them there are no simple all-powerful cures. As the situation deteriorates at its own pace, they are capable only or clamping down, first on one section of the working class and then, when it suits their interests, on another.

Sectarian violence

Every day there are minor sectarian incidents. In one such case, a young Catholic schoolboy was taken by Protestant schoolchildren to the outskirts of Belfast where, with pieces of broken glass, they carved the initials U.V.F. on his arm. More ominous has been the spread of bitterness to the shop-floor. On the morning following a recent explosion which killed two people in the Shankill Road, 100 Catholic workers had to be evacuated from the Wimpey building site at Glencairn estate after a half-hour battle.

No faction reaps the fruits of the increased bitterness more than Paisley and his new party. The real political allegiances of this group were clearly shown by the visit to the province of Enoch Powell, who shared a platform with Craig. Demands for the setting up of a third force, for stiffer penalties, for the re-introduction of hanging have fallen from the lips of these gentlemen.

These demands are not in the interests of any section of the working class, yet the campaign of the Provisionals has pushed big sections of the Protestant workers into taking them up. 15,000 listening to Paisley and Craig at Victoria Park, 5,000 outside the City Hall, 6,000 to hear Paisley at Port adown, thousands of Protestants arming themselves to protect their areas against Catholic Attack – these are the results of months of bombings and shootings.

In the face of the present crisis, the proposal of the N.I.L.P. for the setting up of a Community Government is a formula for disaster. This government of social re-construction, which is to be headed by Faulkner, is somehow to solve the problems of the working class! A party such as Faulkner’s, which has begun to eat away at the fabric of the welfare state, and which has supported its Tory class in Westminster against the British Trade Union Movement, can never bring anything to Ireland but hardship and strife.

Protestants and Catholics may have moved apart politically, but in the field of social conditions, there is no discrimination. Of the houses in Sandy Row. 94% lack indoor toilets. Unemployment will rise to 65,000 during the winter.

Yet, under moral pressure from the NILP and others, Brian Faulkner is to build 150,000 houses and provide 65,000 jobs? In reality the so called Community Government, because it could not challenge the power of Big Business, could not begin to do these things. Guaranteed employment, decent houses and wages, these things are only utopian if put forward within the framework of capitalism. On the basis of a nationalised economy, controlled and run by and for the working people, these demands would be easily attainable. Instead of constructing schemes to unite the leaders of the community, the Labour Movement should be campaigning on socialist policies which would win the workers from these leaders.

Trade Union action – only alternative

It is the duty of the Trade Union Movement to protect working class homes and lives. It is the clear duty of the Labour and Trade Union leadership to intervene in the rent and rates strike, and turn it in a direction of a united working class assault on the lackeys of interest.

There are a quarter of a million trade unionists in Northern Ireland. If the leaders were to mobilise their rank and file into workers’ militias, they could show by example that they are capable of defending all areas from sectarianism of all shades. The workers who now rely on the Provisionals or the Orange bigots who enrol the Protestant militias could be swung behind the Labour Movement. This is the only solution. No other force can provide an answer.


Peter Hadden (Belfast Young Socialists)

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