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Peter Hadden

British Election – Keep Tories out

(July 1978)

From Militant Irish Monthly, Issue 65, July–August 1978.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

All eyes are now set on the virtual certainty of a Westminster election in the autumn, probably in mid-October. The British Tory Party, from their standpoint of the rich, lire warming up for class warfare.

Their election programme as put forward by Margaret Thatcher can be simply summed up in one phrase, drastic attacks on the living standards of workers.

The Tories, the openly declared party of Big Business stand for the slashing of public spending, pruning the Health Service, spending less on education, assaulting the nationalised industries and vastly increasing unemployment through a policy of letting “lame duck” industries close down.

They stand bitterly opposed to the trade union movement and to the rights and gains which that movement has won for its members over recent years.

The return of a Thatcher government would be a victory for the bankers, the industrialists and the millionaires who pump thousands of pounds into conservative funds. The alternative for which the rank and file of the British Labour Movement must fight is the return to power of a Labour Government. But workers will not be exerting their energy during the election weeks merely to see yet another Labour Government in office which will reward them by continuing with the Tory policies or the present Government. They will be demanding an end to the pro-capitalist policies of the Leadership of the Labour Party. In place of expenditure cuts and wage restraint the British working class will be increasingly insisting on socialist policies.

The election campaign in Britain will inevitably focus on class issues. But what of Northern Ireland? Here the major parties do not wish to talk about unemployment, housing or wages. To them the central issues are those associated with sectarianism. The truth is that all the major parties are conservative and anti-working class through and through. They cling to sectarian flag waving in order to stop workers from voting along class lines and ditching them in the process. Yet when it comes to voting on the central economic issues of the day, they are not slow to take the line of defending the interests of wealth and privilege. The Unionists, with their discussions and deals with Thatcher, have shown which side they are on. Scratch the Alliance Party or the bulk of the SDLP too deeply and revealed will be the true blue conservative, who chose to hide behind the “moderation” or “anti-partitionism” of these parties.

If the DUP, Official Unionists, Alliance, SDLP and Co. are allowed the field to themselves in the forthcoming election, working people will be the inevitable losers. The class alternative which could he provided by the Labour Movement will have failed even to find a voice. Put most simply the question boils down to the fact that no Labour Party exists in Northern Ireland.

Throughout the present troubles the old Northern Ireland Labour Party has been in a process of steady decline, largely brought about by the blatantly sectarian policies of its leaders. Today the NILP, in terms of policies and support, is incapable of providing a realistic alternative. It has no real links with the key organisations of the working class – the trade unions. In the 1977 Local Government Elections it managed to win a magnificent total of one out of 516 vacant seats, thereby loudly proclaiming its present irrelevance.

There have been other groups who have recently been making noises about Labour Representation. A section of the NILP, having totally lost faith in the future of that Party, have formed a so-called “Committee for Labour Representation”. It has made its sole policy the call for the British Labour Party to organise in Northern Ireland. This call is really a recipe for complete inactivity, since the British Labour Party has reaffirmed many times that it will not organise in or contest NI Elections. The CLR do not say what the NI Labour Movement should do while they are attempting to change the minds of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Presumably, we are to stomach the unemployment and mass misery while we sit with folded arms awaiting the outcome of their futile efforts!

In exasperation at the absence of a Labour Party another small group led by NUPE organiser John Coulthard have actually formed what they call a United Labour Party. Their intentions are obviously good. But the building of a workers’ party requires more than good intentions. According to their own figures the “Conference” to set up the new party was attended by 25 people. It has no direct links with any trade union or workers organisation.


It has only been the members and supporters of the Labour and Trade Union Co-Ordinating Group who have clearly explained how the present political vacuum can be broken. The Group has not set itself up as a separate political party because it has understood that a “Labour Party” without the support and participation of the trade union movement is nothing more than a set of initials. The present and future experience of the new ULP will prove this.

Consequently the L&TUCG has been campaigning for the convening of a Conference of Labour involving the trade union and political organisations of Labour to establish a broadly based Labour Party.

There are 300,000 trade, unionists in Northern Ireland, and the overwhelming majority of them are affiliated to the ICTU. This the force which could establish a Labour Party and end the political monopoly enjoyed by the bigots and Tories.

Trade Union members should now raise in their branches, in the Trades Councils and all levels of the trade union movement the need for that movement to provide an alternative during the Westminster Elections. If the preparations are begun immediately a Conference of Labour could be held in September. This Conference could discuss the framework of a new party, could hammer out socialist policies on which that party could fight, and it could also select candidates to represent the interests of the working class during a General Election.

An historic opportunity is opening up before the Trade Union and Labour Movement in Northern Ireland to go forward. Every activist within the Labour movement must now add his or her voice to the pressure already building up upon the trade union leaders to take political action.

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