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Peter Hadden and John Throne

Only working class can bring Irish unity!

(March 1972)

A Militant pamphlet, 1d. [March 1972. This was a 4 page, foolscap pamphlet.]
By John Throne, member Irish Labour Party, and Peter Hadden, member Northern Ireland Labour Party.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Ireland: Labour must lead the nation

The Irish Labour Party Conference meets [Feb. 25th–27th 1972, Wexford] at a critical time in the history of Ireland. There is a military and social crisis in the North and a social crisis in the South. The destiny of Ireland can be decided by what policies are decided by the Labour Movement and by what action it takes to implement these policies.

The presence of British troops and a discriminatory, repressive anti-Catholic regime in the North have accumulated and aggravated antagonism and social grievances to explosion point.

The murder of unarmed civilians in Derry by picked paratroops of British Imperialism have reintroduced the National question of the reunification of Ireland as the key question for the coming period. The Irish working class over the past decades has demonstrated its fighting spirit, tenacity and capacity for sacrifice and struggle. After Bloody Sunday in Derry the reaction of the working class was swift. A general strike of the Catholic workers in the North and an even bigger movement in the towns of the South. The workers of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and other cities took to the streets in tens of thousands. It was the trade unions in Dublin which gave the lead for the protest demonstrations.

Need For Socialist Lead

Unfortunately the Labour Movement failed to give these demonstrations a Socialist lead and a Socialist content. This allowed the Green Tories – hand-in-glove with British Imperialism to take over the Movement together with the Church and turn it into a harmless and pious demonstration of “classless”/ “Catholic” unity. This in turn aided the reactionary Unionists to draw the Protestant workers round them also in “classless” unity round the Unionists.

The tragedy of the North where unbearable decades of humiliation, discrimination and oppression of the Catholic population is that the present reactionary semi-theocratic Republic in the South can only alienate the Protestant population in the North. Lower social services, pensions, non-secular education together in general with lover living standards, higher unemployment, the same sort of slums and had housing cannot attract the Protestants of the North. The limitation of freedom of Divorce and contraception and the intimidate relationship between Church and State can only repel the Protestants in the North. In a united Capitalist Ireland they fear THEY could become a discriminated against minority.

To win them to a United Ireland on this basis would be impossible. British Capitalism would like a united Ireland under their financial and economic control at this time. But to further their ends they created the Frankenstein of sectarianism and are forced, even if reluctantly, to support the Protestants in their opposition to the unity of the Nation.

The truth is that Ireland South of the Border is today as much a British dependency, despite nominal independence as Ireland North of the Border. The London Daily Express boasted of this in its editorial columns recently.

Letters of Blood

Events demonstrate now and will write even more in letters of blood and suffering in the future that the capitalist class cannot solve the problem of the Border. The campaign of the IRA, both the Provisionals and Official, with large sums of money donated by Irish capitalists from the Republic can only end in an impasse. Their terrorist campaign can only alienate the British working class and assist British Imperialism in the use of workers in uniform, mostly from unemployed areas in Wales, Scotland and the North of England, against the Irish working class.

The struggle can only be waged as an anti-capitalist fight if it is to be successful. Unemployment in the South which will increase from 80,000 to 180,000 by the end of this year shows the incapacity of the ruling class in the South to solve the problems of the people in the South, let alone of the North. By raising the possibility of capitalism and conducting a fight in the South FOR SOCIALIST POLICIES, the Labour Party can strike the greatest blow for Irish unity that is possible. On a capitalist basis there can by no Irish unity, only bloodshed and chaos.

Only bold socialist policies can go any way toward providing a solution to the present situation. To this end the overwhelming majority of the resolutions on the North to this Conference are a welcome step in that in general terms at least they outline a fighting alternative in the interests of the Irish working class, Catholic and Protestant alike.

It is necessary however to firmly reject the type of solution put forward in one or two resolutions, for example resolution 104. Here the call is made for a peace conference made up of representatives of all shades of political opinion form the Labour parties, north and south, to the most reactionary shades of Toryism. The hope is that if the orange Bigots of the DUP and other parties are placed round a table with the right wing green Tories of Aontacht Eireann and the various other warring elements, bigotry and bitterness will disappear. In reality the representatives of Toryism, whether Orange, Green and Blue, wither individually or together, are incapable of solving even one of the basic problems facing the working people of this country. Peace commissions, peace conferences, political negotiations, neither these nor any of the other political deals conjured up in the past period, can go any way toward easing the problems of the North.

Bad Conditions

There can be no solutions until the root causes of the fighting are removed. Bitterness does not materialise out of the atmosphere. It is born out of the economic conditions of slum housing, of low wages and poor working conditions, and of high unemployment. According to official figures 100,000 houses in Northern Ireland are unfit for human habitation. More than 46,000 people are on the dole. In particular areas the percentage out of work is astronomical. According to one survey 50% of the people of Ballymurphy are unemployed. Strabane has the dubious distinction of having the highest unemployment in Western Europe. It is conditions such as these which breed discontent and which drive generations of working class youth onto the streets.

To this situation there is only one answer. The only way to solve the housing problem is, on the one hand, by taking a bulldozer to the acres of slums and, on the other, by implementing a crash programme made possible by the nationalisation of the land, of the building supply industry and the building societies. As is clearly stated in resolution 96, the only way the economic problem of poor housing, low wages and high unemployment can be overcome is by pledging the Labour Party to the “nationalisation, under workers control, of the Banks, Insurance Companies and Major Industries.”

“Community” Government no solution

Other than through these measures there are no miraculous political cures. It is this which makes nonsense of the so-called “practical” schemes advanced by the leaders of the Labour parties in the last few months. The NILP proposal for a community government, led by Brian Faulkner promised, as an aside, 65,000 jobs, and 140,000 houses. But at no time did they explain how such advances were to be made possible. In fact a community government, as with a coalition in the South, would be a damaging blow to the entire Labour Movement. The economic problems would remain. The only difference would be that the Labour Parties would be seen to share in the responsibility. They would be tarred with the brush of Toryism. A weakening of the Labour Movement would mean a strengthening of the illusions of thousands of workers in bigots, orange and green. When examined in class terms, these “practical” and “immediate” solutions are in fact the most impractical of all and would only serve to aggravate the entire situation.

Struggle against Discrimination

Over the past 6 months, the Catholic working class have been conducting a heroic struggle against British Imperialist oppression. Every outrage instigated by British Imperialism has been met with a renewed show of resistance. So the introduction of internment was answered with an uprising in almost every Catholic concentration in the province. Since that date 30,000 tenants have refused to pay either rent or rates. Such is the solidarity of the Catholic population that not even the reactionary Emergency Powers Payment of Debt Act which permits debts to be taken from social security benefits and from wages, has been able to undermine the effectiveness of the strike. The atrocities of Bloody Sunday in Derry gave rise to one of the largest mass movements seen in Ireland this century. In all One million people, North and South, joined the strike in protest against the measure. The Civil Rights march in Newry in which 70,000 people from all over Ireland participated, was a tremendous show of solidarity and defiance.

As almost very resolution on the north points out, it is the duty of the Labour Movement to give a clear class lead to this movement and to all the workers of Ireland. A large share of the responsibility for the deterition of the situation must rest with the Labour leaders for the continual failure to intervene in this struggle. Their philosophy has been that to even raise their heads in “a delicate political climate” would alienate either one section or the other of the workers. Trapped on the horns of their own opportunism this policy of silence has actually lost them the support of both sections of the community, getting the best of all possible worlds has meant getting the best of none.

As a result of this miserable abdication the magnificent movement of the Catholic workers has been left without a direction. The present leaders of the Civil Rights movement and the Northern Resistance campaign have failed to raise any social issues and pose the class alternatives, the revolutionary energy of the million workers who took part in the protest against the Derry murders was smothered both north and south in the mantle of church and state. In the south Lynch was able to place himself at the head of the movement by declaring a national day of mourning. The Green Tories, in the North, have for a whole period been permitted to divert the movement into the rut of pure nationalism.

No attempt to win Protestant workers

Most criminal of all has been the complete lack of any attempt to win the Protestant working class. Imperialism today retains its grip on the North only because of the latent support of the million Protestants. If an appeal were made to these workers, spelt out in the everyday class terms of jobs and houses, undoubtedly they could be won to the struggle. Protestants in Derry actually struck in protest at the Derry massacre. Elsewhere, where they did not actually join the strikes, many Protestants looked on sympathetically. But the Green Tories and other elements leading the present movement have proved themselves utterly incapable of understanding how to react to the Protestants. At best they ignore them. At worst they stoop to the level of taunts and insults. The speech made by Paddy Kennedy at Brandywell on D for Disruption Day is a disgrace in this respect: “The Protestants should remember that they are a minority in the 32 Counties in Ireland and while I would stand up for their rights as a minority, I would warn them that if there is a Protestant backlash here, there will be one hell of a backlash from the whole of the Irish people. The Protestant minority has no right to hold the rest of the Irish people to ransom.” (Derry Sentinel, Feb 16th 1972) With over 100,000 guns in the hand of northern Protestants, those people who toy in this way with the idea of a Protestant backlash are toying with the lives of thousands of Catholic residents of the ghettoes of Belfast and elsewhere.

Above all, it has been the campaign of the Provisionals which has served to turn the mass of the Protestants in the direction of the sectarian mouthings of McKeague, Hull & co.

A policy of individual terror is a poor substitute for and no rival to mass action. By widening the sectarian divide and driving away even the best of the Protestant workers it can only strengthen rather than weaken the grip of Imperialism. In this way the heroic fighters who make up the rank and file of the Provisionals are being sacrificed in the blind alley of fruitless guerillaism.

Defence against sectarian attack

It is entirely legitimate for the working people to defend their areas from sectarian attack and from the murderous pillages of the military. But defence of this nature is something different from a campaign of bombings and retaliatory shootings. If anything these can only undermine the ability of the workers to defend the areas. On the one hand the Provisional campaign invites the systematic arms swoops of the troops. On the other, it places the responsibility for defence not on the whole population but on a handful of individuals.

Both the defence and the running of the areas should be undertaken by representatives elected from the street committees. Only in this way can the entire population be mobilised to the struggle. The idea posed in resolution 108 of the “setting up of freely elected street committees. With the help of the trade union movement” is a significant step in the right direction. Only when the Labour Movement as a whole takes up the question can adequate defence of all areas, Catholic and Protestant alike, be guaranteed. The demand must now be raised for the complete and immediate withdrawal of the Army and not simply to the barracks as has been suggested. But if this demand is put forward in isolation there will undoubtedly be a bloodbath. It must be linked with the establishment, as Resolution 100 points out, of an armed Militia under the control of the trade union movement. The trade unions in the North embrace 46% of the workforce. Their support is drawn from both Catholic and Protestant. If the leaders of this Movement were to put forward the idea of an armed defence force and link it with a full class programme in the interests of all sections of the working class, this support could be mobilised. In 1969, it was only as a result of prompt action by the shop stewards in the shipyards that class unity was retained. In the Ardoyne, East Belfast, Oldpark, and a whole series of areas, the peace was maintained by groups of vigilantes who protected Catholic and Protestant homes alike. It is this type of initiative which could be built upon to provide a peace keeping alternative were the Labour Leaders to respond.

Campaign of Irish Labour

A campaign on these questions from the Irish Labour Party would act as a beacon to the workers of the North, both Catholic and Protestant, and to those in the South also. The Council of Labour could in this way be transformed into a fighting organisation which would quickly draw on mass working class support. In this way a tremendous class movement of Catholic and Protestant workers would be unleashed in the struggle for a 32 County Socialist Ireland as a first step to a Socialist Federation of the British Isles and a Socialist United States of Europe.

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