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Peter Hadden

NILP and sectarianism

Letter to the Irish News

(October 1977)

From Labour & Trade Union Group files, October 1977.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.


Firstly his claim that the NILP is not sectarian in outlook – by now there are very few sections of the Labour Movement either in Ireland or in Britain who have any doubts about the true role of the leaders of this party.

Before the onset of these troubles the NILP unquestionably had the potential to develop into a mass party representing Catholic and Protestant workers. Considering its present sorry state it is worth recalling that in the 1970 Westminster election it polled no less than 100,000 votes.

All this potential was squandered. Lack of action or direction on the part of its leaders began a process of decline. As sectarianism took hold in society a section of the NILP leaders decided that it could not be overcome and set out to work on the basis of the principle, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. The formation of the SDLP in 1970 ripped away much of the NILP’s catholic working class support. The path to the catholic workers seemingly barred, more and more of the NILP leaders deduced that their support must come from among the protestant workers.

To gain this support they draped themselves in a thick overcoat of unionism and loyalism. Some of their leading figures developed associations in the murky world of protestant paramilitarism. All that the Labour Movement was formed to fight for was utterly degraded by such people.

By 1974 the dominant section of the NILP leadership backed such policies and in May 1974, the open support given to the sectarian Ulster Workers Council stoppage by prominent NILP leaders, was a clear indication of the rottenness which infested the top of this Party. Despite the claims of people like Alan Carr today, he and others like him were, in 1974, too busy clapping the UWC on the back to notice that their actions were also squeezing the life out of the NILP and converting it from a semblance of a Labour Party into a sectarian rump.

Since then the political and organisational degeneration of the party has continued apace. However, capable of remembering the disastrous consequences of their stand in 1974, the party leaders were more dubious about shouting so loud their praises of the 1977 UUAC stoppage. Nonetheless at least one of their spokesmen could not restrain his enthusiasm and publicly expressed support. Alan Carr’s intervention was a more polite version of the same thing.

His call for a Conference of Pro-Union political parties, made during the stoppage, he justifies in his letter on the grounds that

“it would bring together the broadest possible coalition of parties opposed to the strike in order to formulate an agreed programme capable of channelling the legitimate discontent in a positive campaign for better security and the democratisation of Local Government under Direct Rule.”

It speaks volumes about the attitude of this supposed “Labour” politician that the broadest unity he can conceive of is the marriage of the NILP with other pro-union groups such as the Official Unionists, the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, Vanguard and others. Equally it underlines his real attitude towards the UUAC that this effort during the height of their action are confined to issuing proposals as to how their aims can be achieved. While the NILP were drawing up paper alliances with other parties the working class were concerned with the real issues of the moment – the getting in and out of the factories and the organisation of protection against intimidation and attack.

Secondly, Mr Carr’s allegation that the Labour and Trade Union Co-ordinating Group has no significant influence in the Labour Party or in the unions. While the NILP has been dwindling into such insignificance that its leaders have had to set up a so-called “Labour Representation Committee” which exists to ask the British Labour Party to come to Northern Ireland and rescue them, the LTUCG have been extending its base and propagating socialist views.

The Irish Labour Party, by Conference Resolution, now supports the LTUCG. Two resolutions on the recent British Labour Party conference agenda did the same. Unfortunately these were not discussed. However a number of regional conferences of the British Labour Party, for example the Greater London Federation of Labour Parties, have passed resolutions backing our efforts. Also we have received concrete assistance from a number of major unions. In Northern Ireland our influence among the ranks of the unions and the Trades Councils is well known to the activists.

Finally Mr Carr accuses us of being “diehard nationalists” because of our attitude to the extension of the British Labour Party to NI. Firstly it must be borne in mind that the people pressing this issue are the same political bankrupts who helped destroy the NILP and who are now reduced to sending SOS messages to Britain to try and get an apparatus to keep them afloat.

We are opposed to the bureaucratic imposition of a Labour Party on the movement in NI no matter from what quarter such imposition comes. We are opposed to this because it could retard the growth of that Party. Both the British and the Irish Labour Parties and the trade unions in both countries can assist the development of a socialist party here. They can do so with resources, pressure on the local union leaders, etc. But the party itself can only be built by the local activists.

We would propose that a full discussion be initiated on this matter with the trade union movement – not merely a discussion at the top, but involving the grass roots of the movement at shop floor level. A delegate conference with rank and file trade unionists, Trades Councils and political groups such as our own could then be called. This Conference could lay the foundations of a new party. To do so it must be afforded the right to determine its own policies and structure. A conference cannot be called in order to decide that British labour recruit in NI. There must be no strings or such pre-conditions.

At such a gathering the Labour & Trade Union Co-ordinating Group would fight for socialist policies to answer the basic problems of the people. We would also favour the closest links with the workers organisations in the South and also in Britain.

These links could be formalised through the formation of a Council of Labour consisting of the British and Irish Labour Parties and the ICTU and the TUC. We would also stand for a movement towards the joining of the Labour parties north and south into an all-Ireland Labour Party. This is a basic class approach, not “diehard nationalism”. If Mr Carr thinks otherwise perhaps he would let us know his attitude to the fact that the trade unions in Ireland are united in one body, the ICTU.

On a democratic basis such proposals and direction could be accepted or rejected by a Conference of Labour. Alan Carr and his colleagues prefer to think in terms of a bureaucratic accommodation with the British Labour Party. They think in such bureaucratic terms because they know that the very first breath of democracy which hits them would blow them away.


Yours etc.,
Peter Hadden
18 Donegal St.

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