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Peter Hadden

Stop sectarian violence

Trade Unions hold the key

(December 1972)

From Militant Irish Monthly, Issue 8, December 1972.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

On November 16th several men broke into the home of SDLP MP Austin Currie. Only finding his wife Anita at home, they beat her up, kicked and insulted her and then, with a knife, carved the initials UVF on her chest. This incident, which was given widespread publicity, is only one of a growing number of sectarian attacks. Only some of which have been reported.

Hardly a day goes by without news of some fresh outrage. Both Catholics and Protestants have been victims. About a week before the attack on Mrs Currie a 13-year-old protestant girl from the Crumlin Road was caught by Catholics in the New Lodge Road and held for several hours. During this time she was severely beaten up and had her head shaved.

For months one incident of brutality from one side has been matched and surpassed by the other. But in general it has been Catholics who have fared worst in this sectarian carnage. In the past, those of us who argued that the Provisional campaign would only provoke a more severe reaction against the Catholics and the Catholic areas were largely ignored. Now such warnings do not have to be given.

The reaction has begun. Catholic bars have been bombed, always without warning. Catholic civilians have been gunned down in the streets and in their homes by sectarian assassins. In East Belfast the tartans have launched a witch-hunt against Catholic residents. Chapels, shops and houses have been burned and hundreds of residents have been intimidated out of their homes.


The bitterness and hatred whipped up in the Protestant ghettos by the Provisional bombings has brought to the surface all sorts of criminal and gangster elements who are only too willing to provide the storm troopers for the “loyalist” reaction. Behind these thugs who are now, and even more in the future will prove to be, the worst enemies of the Protestant working class. Among them are those who do not shirk from proposing the annihilation of the entire Catholic community of the North.

All workers should be repulsed by the bigoted filth being peddled by some of these people. One loyalist paper in its November issue has the following to say on the subject of Catholics:

“When we have restored the rule of the majority and the right of the majority ... only then will we think about the RCs. But then if our policy is adopted there will be no RCs left to worry about. They will all have been expelled from NI. Whether it is alive or dead is entirely their choice.”

That such material is being sold on the streets of Belfast is itself an indication of the enormous dangers facing the working class. It also shows the cul-de-sac into which the Protestant workers have been led. For, so long as reactionaries like Craig and co, stand at their head, any attempt to put forward their class interests can be ruled out. All this doubly illustrates the hopeless contradictions which riddle the politics of the Protestants. For alongside statements like the above can be placed the demands of sections of the UDA and UVF for non-sectarian politics and even occasionally for Socialism. The Orange Cross, No. 15, referring to the decision of Lord Moyola not to re-contest his seat and to the autobiography of Lord O’Neill advises its readers to “have no regrets for these land-owning leeches, their pockets are well lined and their bellies will never know the word hunger. How we were ever silly enough to accept them God only knows. The Clarks and the O’Neills only count their loyalty in terms of pounds, shillings and acres of land.” Add to this the fact that Brian Faulkner and Stratton Mills had to run for their lives when chased by the people of the Shankill Road and the contempt of working class Protestants for their middle class exploiters can be measured. But the UDA and LAW are no more capable of representing the interests of Protestant workers.

The Protestant working class must be utterly baffled by the twists and turns of the UDA leadership. One minute they are at war with the troops. Then the troops are once again “our boys” engaged in a glorious crusade against the IRA. One minute the vanguard leaders are middle class “sabre rattlers”. Craig included. Next, these same “sabre rattlers” are sitting in an umbrella Protestant organisation which includes the UDA!

From every side it is abundantly clear that the interests of all sections of the working class are identical. Over the past two years through internment, tortures, the gunning down of innocent civilians, the Catholic working class has faced the brunt of military repression. Now with the rampages of the paras through Protestant areas, sections of the Protestant workers have had a taste, albeit only a small taste, of what the Catholics have endured. On Saturday November 18th at an enquiry organised among others by the NCCL, along with representatives of NICRA, a Shankill Road councillor gave evidence of army brutality. Although the two did not attend jointly, the fact that both participated is itself significant.

No Improvement

Heath, after his two-day lightning visit to the province commented that things had improved noticeably since his last trip. Yet when basic economic facts are considered any talk of improvement becomes meaningless. There has been no improvement for the thousands of families who live from day to day scraping a hand to mouth existence. Heath and his government cannot solve the problems of NI. The Green paper, with its new assembly, its closer links with the republic etc. does not even begin to tackle the real problems. For as the document itself says “Northern Ireland’s problems flow not just from a clash of national aspirations or from friction between the communities, but also from social and economic conditions such as inadequate housing and unemployment.”

Heath and Whitelaw, agents of British Big Business, can do nothing to ease the conditions of the working people. For they stand as the prime representatives of the system which creates and perpetuates the social misery. The same Tories who bleat about low earnings in NI. introduce a wage freeze in order to prevent any wage rises.

Murders go on

And while the workers scrimp and scrape to make ends meet the big companies continue to roll in the profits. Last year Allied Breweries improved their sales by 13% and their trading profit by 18%. For United Drapery Stores the figures are 27% and 25% respectively.

Only a united class movement mobilising both Catholic and Protestant workers can solve these problems. So long as sectarianism cuts like a knife through the working class this economic slavery will remain. Yet the organisations which should be giving a lead, the Labour and Trade Union movement, have done nothing over the last period. Even now, however, a class lead would gain an eager response.

Demands for the ending of unemployment, for work or full pay, for a minimum wage tied to the cost of Iiving, for a crash housing programme, should now be campaigned upon. These, linked to the nationalisation of the banks, insurance companies and major monopolies under democratic workers’ management, could mark the beginning of the beginning of the end of the system of poverty and destitution in Ireland.

A campaign on these lines should be tied to an intervention by the Labour movement to weed out sectarianism. The demand must be made for the withdrawal of the troops. Many people may argue that this will lead to a bloodbath.

But the troops have not prevented the sectarian murders or the intimidation or the bombings. Their main roles has been that of carrying out the oppressive policies of the Tory government, first against the Catholics and now the Protestants. Far from preventing a bloodbath, sections of the army have been responsible for countless atrocities; killings beatings and the torturing of innocent civilians.

Only the people in the area involved can provide protection for themselves. Every side has already found this out and has organised its own defence, the Protestants with the UDA, the Catholics with the IRA and the ex-service men’s association now being mobilised. Even the students at Queens University have had to organise patrols in the university students from the roaming tartans.

Trade Union Defence Force

The Trade Unions by giving a lead could cut across these sectarian forces and provide a non-sectarian force, which because it would patrol both sides would alone give adequate protection. The Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU has a membership of 263,000, 54% of the NI workforce. By mobilising this force, firstly by calling a conference of shop stewards, jointly with local tenants associations and street committees in all areas, and then building on this skeleton to provide an armed defence force under the control of the Trade Unions, sectarian attacks from all side would be ended.

Such a defence force, linked with the creation of a mass all-Ireland party of labour on the above policies, would open a new and brighter chapter in the history of the Irish working class.

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Last updated: 17 January 2018