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Peter Hunt

End Sectarianism

(April 1978)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 62, April 1978.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The bombing at La Mon, the renewed spate of attacks on soldiers, UDR men etc., and the killing of a soldier and civilian searcher by gunmen disguised as rag day students – incidents and others mark a dramatic stepping up by their Provisional IRA of their military campaign.

This renewed violence, above all the sickening atrocity committed at the La Mon restaurant have aroused deep indignation and revulsion. Catholic and Protestant alike have responded with one sentiment – no return to the years of tit for tat atrocities.

The new round of Provo activity comes after a long period of decline, isolation and military exhaustion of all the paramilitaries. The ruling class have clearly gained the upper hand militarily. With a flow of information from the ghettos they have been able to turn the vice of state repression on all paramilitary groups. The rate of conviction for “terrorist” offences in 1977 reached the all-time high figure of about three per day. The Provos have launched their new offensive in order to attempt to regain lost ground.

This attempt is doomed to be no more fruitful than the previous activities. In 1972 this organisation could claim mass support in the Catholic ghettos. Yet even with this support it inevitable that its chosen method of struggle – the bomb and the bullet – would prove incapable of defeating British Imperialism. If individual terrorism proved an adventure then, how much more futile it is now, when it does not even have the support of the people of the Catholic ghettos. The result will be even more intense military repression of the Catholic ghettos.

No Lead

The furious intensity of this latest activity must at least raise the question of whether or not the real aim of the Provos is to provoke a sectarian backlash. Whether or not it is the intention of the Provo volunteers is a secondary matter. The actual effect of a continuation of these military activities, in the absence of any lead from the Labour Movement, can only be to heighten once again the old sectarian tensions. Largely because of the activities of the working class in organising mass protest activities and in defeating the May 1977 loyalist stoppage, bigotry has been put on the run. In practice, the Provos are attempting to drag the situation back to the nightmare of revenge killings, from which it has all but escaped.

To date there has been no physical reaction from the loyalist paramilitaries. Loyalist politicians, together with other political leaders, have been provided with an opportunity to sound off loudly against the renewed campaign. But the UDA and UVF have held back. After the La Mon incident these groups issued important sounding statements warning of “dire consequences” if such atrocities continued. But the Protestant murder squads were not dispatched onto the streets.

Why? The answer lies in the total weakness and isolation of these groups. Like the Provos the support they once enjoyed has melted away. Their ranks have been decimated by arrests and, above all, they can sense the outright opposition of all workers to any attempts to restart the cycle of assassinations. Fear of provoking a mass movement of opposition is what underlies the statement of Andy Tyrie, commander of the UDA, that it would be madness for the loyalist paramilitaries to retaliate.

La Mon

Thus the present mood of workers is against any escalation of the violence from any quarter. The question is: how long can such a mood last? The answer is that if it is untapped by the class organisation, the trade unions, it will not last indefinitely.

Already there are ominous signs. After the La Mon incident protest activity was organised. The UDA called for a one-day strike. Their hands still smarting from the caning they received in May 1977 they said that no coercion would be used to stop workers attending work. Because of the fact that it was people like the UDA who were associated with it this strike was virtually ignored. But in some areas workers did take action because their anger at the atrocity outweighed their dislike of the UDA. Workers marched to the City Hall to find the only organisers of a protest was the Orange Order. Through lack of an alternative, these protests were given a sectarian expression.

Protest Strike

Following the Students Rag Day shooting the members of the Civilian Search Unit staged a one day protest strike to coincide with the funerals. Almost the entire student population of Queens University took part in a silent march of protest to Belfast City Hall.

Again the indignation of people has been registered – but in a confused fashion. It is up to the trade union movement: to give clear expression to rising anger of workers. The trade unions are supposed to be conducting a campaign against sectarianism. It is about time that campaign was given some bite. Protests against, killings should be organised by the unions. Mass activity must be conducted in all working class areas to draw out the joint opposition of Catholic and Protestant workers to sectarianism. The entire trade union must itself take on the task of isolating the gunmen and organising the defence of all workers.

At the moment this is not being done. Instead the movement is busy leaning on the shoulders of the army. After nine years it should now be clear that the so-called security forces can solve nothing. The army itself is sure to be used to break future struggles of the trade unions, extending the strike-breaking role they revealed against the firemen. For the unions to look to the state forces now is the equivalent to tying the knot in the hangman’s noose which is being prepared by the forces of capital for their neck. They must instead rely on their own forces, their own movement, to end the violence.

The situation is extremely favourable for a class intervention by the unions. Mass protests would strike a chord with workers. But a warning must be given. Continued atrocities plus nothing but silence from the Labour Movement is a recipe for disaster. Unless the workers’ organisations intervene with a class campaign against sectarianism and against poverty sectarianism could once again get a hold. The desire of workers for – “no return to tit for tat” killings must immediately and urgently be echoed by class action.

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