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Peter Hunt

Belfast Workers protest

Meter man murdered

(April 1976)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 42, April 1976.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Early on the morning of Friday 27th February a meter inspector employed by the Northern Ireland Electricity Service went into a house just off Belfast’s Stranmillas Road, to inspect a meter. The house was booby-trapped and the inspector triggered off the bomb.

Twenty-four hours later he died as a result of his injuries. This man, 35 year old Harold Blair, was merely going about his day to day duties as an employee of the NIES. His death adds one more statistic to the growing list of those who have been murdered either going to or from, or while at work.

It is not surprising that his death incensed other workers in this industry. They are called upon to do exactly the type of work which led to his murder. Meter inspectors, throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland have continued to inspect derelict houses, even at night. This service is necessary in order to prevent electrical appliances becoming a danger to local people, particularly children. Shop stewards in the industry are now discussing whether such a service can be continued in the light of this latest attack.

Another factor in causing outrage among electricity workers was the particularly grisly manner of Harold Blair’s death. According to some of his work mates he was blown right out of the house onto the street. Both his legs and one arm were blown off. One of his feet was found at the other side of the street. In addition the explosion destroyed his eyesight. In this condition he lingered on the verge of death for one full day.

The feeling of all the men in the wake of this vicious killing was clear. Something must be done! A meeting of electricity workers was called by the leading shop stewards to take place first thing on the Monday morning.

Several hundred workers attended the meeting and their total support was given to the call by the shop stewards for action. A march of about four hundred workers paraded from the East Bridge Street depot through the streets of East Belfast to Stormont where a delegation went to see Mr Don Concannon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Get Lost!

The delegation was made up entirely of leading trade unionists. Inside the building were a number of Northern Ireland’s leading political figures. No doubt with their previous ability to con groups of workers into allowing them to led delegations and speak on their platforms in mind, two of the leading spokesmen of sectarianism in Northern Ireland appeared on the scene and began to harangue the crowd.

The response of the workers was to pay no attention and the leaders of the march politely told the two people in question, Messrs Paisley and West, to get lost as they did not want this workers’ demonstration in any way associated with sectarianism.

This march demonstrated that when a lead is given a mass mobilisation of workers can be achieved. Coming as it did in the middle of the Northern Ireland Committee’s campaign against sectarianism and unemployment it was an important signal to the trade union leaders that the workers of Northern Ireland are ready to join the struggle against these evils.

However the murder of Harold Blair and the anger it caused among all his work mates poses the question – who is going to protect the lives of working class people in Northern Ireland?


The feeling of the working people of Northern Ireland is one of complete frustration at the role of the security forces. It is little wonder they feel this way! Both the army and the police have been agents of repression in working class areas. Their repressive methods have not stopped or even significantly hindered the murderers and have been merely another source of misery for working class people.

The policy of the trade union leaders throughout their Better Life for All Campaign has implicitly been to support the security forces. But if the trade unions were to look to their own structures for defence there would be no need to seek meetings with the RUC, the parliamentary sections or anyone else. Instead of vainly pleading with the authorities for protection the unions could organise the defence of their own members.

The murder of Harold Blair should be a signal to the trade union leaders that as a part of their Better Life for All Campaign immediate discussions should be begun throughout the trade union movement in the ways and means of organising defence and the first steps should now be taken to bring to being a genuine, non-sectarian, trade union defence force.

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