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Peter Hunt

With a Trade Union Defence Force

Workers can break Paisley

(May 1977)

From Militant [London], Issue 354, 6 May 1977.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

For nearly two days the workers of Northern Ireland have courageously defied the call of the Reverend Ian Paisley and the United Unionist Action Council to stop work. Most services were kept running, only a few factories closed. Shipyard and aircraft workers reported for work. More people turned up on the second day than the first.

Clearly the stoppage had no genuine support and only vicious intimidation would get any response. But as we go to press the threatened closure of the large Ballylumford Power Station makes it clear that those threats are finally having some success.


There were hundreds of threats to workers particularly directed against shop stewards. Small groups of youths went round shops forcing them to close. They tried to erect barricades in a few areas to stop people getting to work. But until the possible closure of the Ballylumford power station all this intimidation appeared to have no effect.

The example of the busmen showed the tremendous determination of the Belfast workers not to be dictated to by thuggery. On the first day they had worked normally. On the second day they were threatened. Drivers were held at gunpoint and one was injured by lead piping thrown through the driver’s window. So they stopped work and marched down to TGWU headquarters where, on failing to find their officials, they held a meeting and unanimously decided to continue driving.

The courage of these workers shows that the stoppage could be broken if only the trade union leaders would lift their little fingers to act. Paisley and his friends gave seven days notice of their action, designed to restore a sectarian Stormont parliament. That was seven days when the unions could have prepared.

When the strike was announced the Labour and Trade Union Group, a body of labour and trade union activists, called on the union leaders to act by holding workplace meetings of shop stewards to coordinate action factory by factory, estate by estate to defeat intimidation. They called for mass demonstrations in every area. At that time the Ballylumford Power station workers had voted against action and gave an extremely hostile reception to the UDA member who tried to win their support. 7,000 shipyard workers had voted against the stoppage.

If the union leaders had called for meetings in every factory on Monday to organise marches to the factories, then Paisley would have been powerless. But they did nothing.

Only once have the union tops issued any call to members. That was on Sunday, when, under pressure from fifty delegates from trades councils in Northern Ireland, Terry Carlin, the Northern Ireland Congress of Trade Unions leader, announced a five point plan of action, including a call for shop stewards to organise defence. But nothing has been heard of this since. Carlin has since called for the churches to intervene!

The danger exists, now increased by the power station situation, that if no lead comes from the unions, or if the shop stewards themselves do not take up the example of the busmen, then fear of intimidation will begin to have an effect. Any intervention by the army or police as the union leaders have asked for will only provide support for the UUAC.


The Labour and Trade Union Coordinating Group held a meeting on the first night of the strike and made a call for the unions to act to ensure that workers are organised before they enter factories to work where UDA pickets are outside. Threatening phone calls should be answered by marches to the estates threatened. Meetings should be held there and vigilante groups controlled by the unions set up to defend families and property of men at work. Mass demonstrations should be organised in the centre of all towns at midday so workers can march directly from their factories. The LTUCG has organised a petition in the factories calling on the leaders to take this action.

Only the organised working class, Catholic and Protestant, can defeat sectarianism. The smashing of this intimidation would make the unions the major force in Northern Ireland. The basis of a trade union defence force would have been laid. A march back to the factories to continue with the status quo would not be enough. The unions must then take up a campaign for decent wages, housing and an end to unemployment, with the necessary socialist policies to achieve it.

Already a hundred times and in a hundred different ways Paisley’s mob could have been broken, but the trade union leaders have buried their heads in the sand. If the sectarian forces now succeed because of the unions’ inaction, the trade union movement will suffer a grievous blow further dividing the working class.

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