Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Peter Hunt

Mobilise Unions

60,000 unemployed, 150,000 in poverty

(November 1976)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 48, November 1976.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

On October 14th a delegation from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions visited the British Prime Minister in Downing Street. They brought with them the facts and figures about the present dire economic situation in the Province. They left the meeting with nothing – no concessions, no promises of special treatment, no new measures to tackle the problems of unemployment and poverty.

Even those leading Trade Unionists were shaken by the outright refusal of the Government to give in on even the smallest point. One member of the delegation commented afterwards that this was the “most fruitless such trip” that he had ever been on.

The facts of the grim and deteriorating situation speak for themselves. Over 60,000 people are unemployed. The Trade Unions have estimated that within a few months this figure will have risen to 80,000. The crisis in the meat and ancillary industries, according to the ICTU Northern Officer, Terry Carlin, directly or indirectly will affect 8,000 jobs. Wages in the North are so low that 150,000 families are now living in absolute poverty, below what is known as the “minimum needs level. ̵ 35% of the heads of households are now known to take home £25 per week or less

The ICTU have always argued that facts such as these make Northern Ireland a “special case”. The delegation pressed for example, that the Province should be exempt from the cuts in public expenditure. 2% of the population of the UK live in Northern Ireland, yet these people have been asked to bear 3½ % of the cuts.

When asked to restate the commitment made by previous Governments that living standards in the North would be brought up to the levels of the rest of the UK, Callaghan gladly did so. But having made this promise, he went on to say that “because of the difficult economic situation” there would be no prospect of fulfilling this commitment in the “foreseeable future”.

In 1969 Callaghan visited Northern Ireland and witnessed the poverty of the ghettos. He remarked that the underlying cause of the troubles was the economic conditions endured by the people. It is sheer hypocrisy to now claim to be seeking a solution to the problems and at the same time pursuing policies which are grinding the ever increasing poverty into the faces of the people. Equally it is hypocrisy for British Government Ministers, as they have done, to applaud the efforts of the “Better Life For All” campaign. They should be reminded that the demands of this campaign include such things as the right to well-paid work, to good housing and to security of employment.

Big business

The Trade Union movement will have to rethink its strategy in the light of this visit. Going cap in hand to Downing Street will gain nothing but smiles, warm handshakes and flat refusals. Equally it must now have sunk in that more demands for ‘special treatment’ mean nothing.

It would be very slight comfort to bring the workers of Northern Ireland up to the levels of misery endured in Britain. In any case the fact has been stated that this is not going to be done. The British Government, under pressure from Big Business and from the sharks of international finance are attempting to solve the problems of capitalism at the expense of working people.

The Trade Unions must mobilise their support to link arms with the British working class through the unions and the Labour Party rank and file to force the Government to change its policies. Instead of carrying out policies in the interests of Big Business the Government must be forced to carry out socialist policies, to take the commanding heights of the economy out of private hands and place it under the control of the working class.

Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 5 June 2015