From Militant Irish Monthly, January 1975
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Proofread by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL). (July 2012)
By an overwhelming majority the delegates to the 51st Annual Conference of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, passed a motion which condemned “those who, during the post year, have employed sectarian tactics to gain popularity with certain sections of the electorate”.
While the motion itself was couched in vague terms the discussion upon it was precise. It was a discussion which raised all the central issues which were to dominate the two day conference. Its mover spoke at length on the role played by the party’s executive during the Ulster Workers Council stoppage. It was made quite clear that it was to the statements of tacit support for the UWC which come from NILP spokesmen that the motion referred. Other speakers from the floor demanded to know why, when the official trade union movement had called on workers to support the right to work marches, the NILP issued a statement demanding that Rees negotiate with the UWC strike co-ordinating committee.
The feelings of the conference, particularly of the trade union delegates, were clearly shown by the angry response which greeted the remarks of a delegate from Coleraine who in moving an amendment, spoke in praise of the UWC and denied any extensive intimidation in the strike. The amendment, which praised the party executive, was heavily defeated.
The conference itself which took place on the 6th and 7th of December, was a small scale affair, The final agenda contained a meagre 10 resolutions from the affiliated organisations and had to be cushioned by further 10 passed by the Executive Committee, in order that it might resemble a conference agenda. The size of the conference reflected the decline in activity within the Labour Party over the recent period. The discussion throughout was dominated by the controversy over the Party’s adoption of a sectarian pro-protestant stance over the last year in particular.
Events during and after the UWC strike caused furore inside the party. Some members resigned in disgust at the party’s attitude of support for the stoppage and its leaning towards the UWC in the aftermath of the strike. The Newtownabbey Party, probably the most active constituent organisation, disaffiliated. In particular a storm of indignation arose within the trade unions. Some threatened to disaffiliate from the NILP seeing the attitude towards the UWC as a stab in the back of the efforts of the Trade Union movement to bring about a return to work.
A series of meetings of trade unionists and disgruntled members of the NILP were held. Out of these a “Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee” was elected and given the instructions to prepare for the NI LP conference and ensure that not only were the executive given a rap over the knuckles for their sectarian posturing but that a new executive be returned composed of people who would better express the socialist aspirations of the trade union movement.
The Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee accepted from its first meeting that a Labour organisation must be built in Northern Ireland in order that the working class people be united in their own interests. The question of how such party could be built was fully discussed. The view that an entirely new organisation be set up was aired. However the Committee in the end adopted the strategy which has been long advocated by supporters of this paper, that since the structure of the NILP existed with its links with the Trade Union movement, this structure should be used as the bare bones onto which the flesh of a mass Labour Party could be added. A first necessity was to scrape away some of the cancerous ideas which had attached themselves to the NILP in the process of its recent decay.
The NILP conference was inconclusive in one other sense. It managed to debate only half the resolutions on the agenda. In order that the remainder of the resolutions can be discussed the conference is to be reconvened. This provides the party rank and file with an opportunity to give a clear mandate to its EC on how they wish the party to be run in the coming year.
One resolution in particular deserves note. Ards Labour Party have moved a resolution demanding that the Workers’ Association and the British and Irish Communist Organisation be declared proscribed organisations. This resolution has been amended by the Young Socialists to read that the ideas of these two groupings are contrary to the policies and principles of the Labour Party. This will be an important debate because it has been the WA who have been the strongest advocates of the pro-Protestant standpoint within the Party. This group issued praises without end of the UWC. Subsequently they demanded the carving up of the trade unions in Ireland and the creation of an Ulster TUC. To proscribe them would be wrong as they must be permitted to voice their opinions within the Labour movement, Unless they adopt an openly scab position, as they came within a fraction of doing when they implied in their material that it would be better for workers to vote Tory in the February elections last year in Britain, however a clear condemnation of their policies would represent a clear demand that the EC abandons any such sectarian policies.
Whatever the outcome of this conference the situation in the North demands that a united political expression of the working class be built. The tradition of the Labour movement has been usurped. Speakers at the conference from the rostrum proudly boasted of their Unionism and their Loyalism. So long as such sentiments find a controlling echo in the NILP the party will remain stagnant. When Northern Irish workers of all religions move into the arena of intensified class conflict such ideas will continue to be on impediment and must be swept aside. In such circumstances even on organisation like the NILP can be transformed and develop. The task of socialists is to facilitate this process by helping to transform the NILP into an organisation attractive to all workers by campaigning on socialist policies, by fighting against all forms of repression and by combating sectarianism by whatever means are necessary.
Last updated: 5.7.2012