Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Peter Hadden

UUAC – Loyalist stoppage

Letter to the Irish Times

(24 May 1977)

From The Irish Times, 24 May 1977.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.


Now that the UUAC stoppage is over the statement by Paddy Devlin (May 9th) that the trade union leaders, during its course, gave a real lead to their members for the first time in years can be evaluated.

It is true that the leaders of the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU made plain their opposition to the stoppage. It is also true that these same leaders together with the officials of all the major unions burned not a little energy in attempting to keep their members at work.

But the fact remains that all this effort was not co-ordinated in an attempt to mobilise the full power and support of the unions into direct action to break the stoppage. Demands made by the Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group and from other trade unionists, that such action be taken were resisted and ignored.

In contrast to the efforts of the trade union tops to maintain a low profile stands the reaction of the rank and file. In particular the mass meeting organised in Harland and Wolff, the determined stand of the power workers and, above all, the courageous refusal of the Belfast busmen to bow to intimidation, stand out as examples of how the ranks of the trade union movement responded with mass action and mass solidarity, even if their leaders were not prepared to initiate such activity. By these methods the workers of Northern Ireland and nobody but the workers left Paisley and his accomplices paralysed.

Seven days before the event the Action Council declared their intentions. Had a programme of shop floor meetings been organised during this period, and had these meetings discussed not only the attitude of workers to the stoppage, but what preparations could be made to ensue access to and from the factories and estates, far from the bigots of the UUAC being in a position to challenge the workers’ right to go to work, the workers would have been challenging the UUAC to dare lift one finger to stop them [going to work]. Unfortunately the union leaders deemed such preparations unnecessary. Fortunately the Harland and Wolff, and many other workers, decided otherwise.

On the eve of the stoppage, having wasted seven previous days, the union leaders could still have intervened decisively. A call could have been issued to workers to march en masse past pickets or through barricades, and the necessary preparation could have been undertaken to ensure that shop stewards organised such action. Again despite the lack of central direction, that is precisely what the workers did in many areas and in many factories. Throughout the course of the stoppage it would have been simplicity itself for the ICTU chiefs to organise mass demonstrations in Belfast and other major towns. Such a show of the enormous combined power of the working people would have forced the UUAC to retreat.

Demonstrations could have been coupled with shop floor meetings, meetings in estates, meetings of shop stewards, to discuss how the workers organisations could put a stop to intimidation. The murder of bus driver, Harry Bradshaw, could easily have been answered by a demonstration of tens of thousands of workers in Belfast. All that the union leaders had to do was name the time and the place.

Action on these lines was not taken. So far did the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU recoil from direct action that event eh traditional May Day parade in Belfast was cancelled. Again it is fortunate that the busmen and other groups of workers did not display such timidity and indecision but made a defiant and public stand.

As a substitute for the independent mobilisation of their movement the union leaders resorted to joint statements of condemnation with the Confederation of British Industry, total reliance on the army and the police to stop intimidation and complete backing for the policies of Roy Mason. A poor substitute such policies will be proven to have been! Certainly the CBI were totally opposed to the stoppage. But not for the same reason as the members of the trade union movement. The CBI wished for a return to normal working so that they could get on, undisturbed, with the job of exploiting the working people. Trade Unionists resisted the calls of the Action Council because, among other reasons, a sectarian stoppage would weaken the ability of the trade union movement to continue the fight against exploitation. They very arguments of the employers which the union leaders echoed, opposing the stoppage because it was political, because of the damage to the economy, etc., are precisely those which these “allies” in the CBI will use to attempt to discredit the future struggles of the working class, struggles which the ICTU leaders will be asked to head.

So also with the reliance on the army and the police and the policies of the government. In the first place the state forces have, for years, proven themselves incapable of defending workers. During the stoppage the action of one group of workers such as the busmen proved a thousand times more effective in breaking intimidation than the combined activities of the state forces. Policemen may stand at workers’ doors for a few days. But what remains in the minds of workers is what will happen when the police go away. Only the drawing into action of the workers themselves can guarantee lasting protection.

In the second place the repressive methods of the security forces, so called, can be supported by the labour movement at its peril. Repressive laws, repressive methods on the streets, no matter on who they are practised today, will be used against he working class movement in the future. Those who applaud the threats of Roy Mason to use his military power to break this reactionary stoppage should consider what was the role of the army during the 1926 General Strike in Britain, when workers took action to defend their lowering living standards, and what would be the role of the army if the return of a Thatcher government in the future were to provoke another General Strike in Britain.

The trade union leaders here now have the opportunity to make up for the indecisiveness they have recently displayed. They should now launch a campaign on the issues of jobs, houses, wages and against sectarianism. Were they to begin a struggle against wage restraint, for a national minimum wage tied to the cost of living, against unemployment, for a cut in the working week, for work sharing without loss of pay, for a crash housing programme, and for socialist measures from the Labour government to bring these about, they would arouse the mass of the working people into action. With the present demise of the UUAC sectarianism has been put on the run. But, like a discarded cigarette, it continues to smoulder and threaten future fires. A campaign concentrating on the fundamental class issues would stamp it out once and for all.


Peter Hadden
Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group

Peter Hadden Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 5 June 2015