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Peter Hadden

Trade union movement must defend workers

(March 1974)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 22, March 1974
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Proofread by Einde O’ Callaghan (February 2013).

Many times Militant has carried articles, dealing with the sectarian carnage which has swept Northern Ireland. But seldom have the incidents we have reported been so gruesome as the present wave of assassination attempts.

Two things can be said of the murders of the past few weeks. Firstly, instead of individual assassination attempts they have been attempts at mass murder. Secondly the victims have all been Catholics, and as important, Catholic workers, either at or on their way to work.

The most horrific of these incidents are worth noting. On February 1 gunmen walked into a workers’ hut occupied by electricity workers on their lunch-break. The gunmen asked who, if any, were Protestants. Not knowing whether it meant a bullet or not, two of the workers stepped forward. The remainder were herded together at the back of the hut and sprayed with gunfire.

Miraculously only two were killed although most of the others were wounded. This took place at Rush Park in Newtownabbey. Ten days later and only about a mile from the scene of this first shooting another attempt at mass murder was made. That day, Monday February 11th, the Belfast Telegraph announced this latest shooting. Its headline read “Worker’s car is raked by gunfire”. At 8 a.m., five Catholic workers, all of them teenagers, two of them girls, were driving into the Abbey meat factory in Grenville Road. Two gunmen who, according to reports, had been waiting for over an hour, opened fire on them with a pistol and a sub-machine gun.

All five workers were hit, and a young Protestant worker in the car behind them was also wounded in the hail or bullets. Later, in hospital, one person, a 16 year old, died from his wounds.

Nor did the death count end with these two murder attempts. On Tuesday 12th February, a 57 year old Catholic, Peter Carty, was shot dead during a robbery of the petrol station of which he was the manager. On Wednesday February 13th, in North Belfast, a workers hut in the grounds or Belfast zoo was demolished by a bomb. Had the workers who use the hut been inside few would have survived. This, and the fact that again North Belfast was the scene of the explosion, points to an effort to repeat the work of Rush park and Grenville Road.

Responsibility for most of these events has been claimed by the UFF. Proud of their record of butchery to date, they have stated: “We will not stop until all the 12 have been accounted for”, referring to the 12 victims of the Yorkshire bus bombing.

What is new about the UFF’s latest crimes is that all the attacks are on workers either during or on their way to work. This is an ominous warning to all workers in Northern Ireland. It means that today Catholics are not safe if they work to earn a living. If the UFF actions provoke retaliation, it will mean no worker will count himself safe.

It could provoke a new wave of murders mounted though attacks on workers’ buses, cars and attempts to kill men while on the job. Everyone can understand what this would mean.

Apart from the toll of death and injury it would entail, an even deeper chasm of suspicion and hostility than now exists would open up between workers of the two religions on the shop floor.

Irish Congress of Trade Union

When Rolls Royce worker Jack Mooney was shot on his way into the night shift at the plant just over a year ago, the revulsion and fear felt by many workers at this killing caused the trade unions to sit up and take “note” of the situation, But apart from pleas issued through the press, no direct action to protect workers’ lives was taken by the Northern Committee of the ICTU. In March of last year bus drivers struck in protest at the shooting of Patrick Crossen. But again the TU leaders took no action.

On Saturday February 16 of this year, Brother Wylie, in summing up a conference of the Northern Irish TUs, which was to discuss economic issues, made reference to the Abbey meat factory killings. He said he had visited the factory and had noted the anger of both Catholic and Protestant workers at the deaths of two of their workmates. He also spoke of their determination not to allow the incident to inflame sectarianism on the floor of the shop.

But the TU leadership must do more than take note of situations such as these. They must take action to ensure that they are not repeated. Only the trade union movement can stop the killings. Not the army, not the police, not the UDA, not the IRA – a non-sectarian force which can mobilise support within the ghettos, alone can deal with the murder squads. The trade union movement is the only vehicle through which such a defence force can be built.

The Northern Committee must act now to protect the lives of their members and prevent the spread of sectarianism and the further division of the TU movement. A conference must be organised of shop stewards, trade union delegates, together with representatives of all workers’ organisations to discuss the building of a trade union defence force.

This should go hand in hand with action on the issue of these killings. Shop floor meetings should be called throughout industry in Northern Ireland. These should discuss the defence of workers at work, on their way to work in the morning and on their way home in the evening.

Defence organisations, established in each factory could then be co-ordinated by the TU leadership. Drastic action of this nature is the only answer that workers can give to the UFF and their partners in bloodletting from whatever religious group they spring.

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