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Peter Hunt

Belfast picket shot – TU Defence Force needed

(February 1975)

From Militant Irish Monthly, Issue 32, February 1975.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

On Friday, January 21st, two gunmen attacked a group of workers on picket duty outside Belfast Dairy. A volley of shots was fired at the workers but, fortunately, only one man was shot in the foot. The attempted murder of these pickets was a calculated attempt on the one hand to intimidate these workers back to work, and on the other to sow the seeds of sectarian division into the dispute in which basic working class solidarity had been successful in binding workers of all creeds together.

The attack came after a weakening of the strike as a number of large dairies in the Belfast area drifted back to work. Those workers still on strike were employees of the Northern Dairies and Kennedy’s both of which have a workforce which is largely Catholic in composition. Cregagh Dairies, with its largely Protestant work force, had just gone back to work.

Consequently, the men on picket duty were, and were known to be, overwhelmingly Catholic. However, the result of this shooting was not to divide worker from worker, on a sectarian basis. The workers in Cregagh Dairy responded to this vicious attack by once again coming out in strike.

The response of the press has been to play down the significance of this shooting. Where reported, it has only commanded brief comment. In a similar manner, the killing of a picket in Larne, during the recent lorry drivers dispute, was glossed over by the press. Groups of farmers have broken into striker’s homes and have threatened and attacked the strikers.

Several leading members of the Strike Committee have received threats to their lives. Cowardly attacks on pickets will continue so long as the Labour movement permits them to continue. The workers of the Cregagh Dairies have shown the way in which the movement must respond against those who would disrupt the solidarity of any strikers, must be set the might of the Labour and Trade Union movement. If pickets are going to be attacked then picket lines must be defended with whatever force is necessary.

While picketing at Bangor, they were beset by the forces of the RUC and UDR. The working class must mobilise its own defence within its own ranks. A Trade Union Defence Force to defend pickets, to defend all workers from sectarian attack, must be established.

This incident should be the cue to the Northern Ireland Labour and Trade Union movement to convene a Conference of all workers’ organisations in the Province. This Conference should discuss firstly how to organise support for the milk men. Secondly, it should discuss the attempted murder of the picket, and set about establish a Trade Union Defence Force which could be called upon to protect picket lines in all future disputes.

The right to picket was won by the struggle of the workers’ organisations in the past. Bold action on the part of these organisations is needed urgently to prevent any infringement of this right.

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