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Peter Hadden

Workers unity in action

Northern Ireland general strike

(April 1980)

From Militant [UK], Issue 498, 11 April 1980.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Most factories in Northern Ireland were closed from 2 p.m. last Wednesday [2 April] as thousands of workers responded to the call of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for a Day of Action against the Tory government.

In Belfast, the workforce of the shipyard were out. So too were a large percentage of the huge Shorts aircraft factory.

Many industrial estates throughout the city were brought to a standstill. Office workers, many of them members of the public services unions, also joined the protest, as did staff from the major hospitals and from the schools. Outside Belfast there was a similar response.

By 3 o’clock, almost 10,000 workers had gathered for a huge rally outside Belfast’s City Hall. Simultaneously, other rallies were being held in eleven other centres throughout the North.

In Derry, as many workers as in Belfast crowded into the Guildhall Square. In Newry and Lurgan, there were large rallies too. About 2,000 marched in Enniskillen. Over 600 heard members of Strabane Trades Council address a meeting there.

Even in places like Magherafelt there were rallies of a similar size. There has not been such a demonstration of the power and also of the unity of the working class, Catholic and Protestant, in Northern Ireland for decades. Everywhere, Catholic and Protestant workers stood shoulder to shoulder. Nowhere were the events marred by sectarian incidents – and this despite the conflict of the last ten years.

What was shown last Wednesday was the power of the labour movement in Northern Ireland to overcome sectarianism and to fight against the Tories.

The press and television are generally full of stories of religious conflict. But in both Britain and Ireland they treated the magnificent demonstration with a deafening silence.

Clearly, the bosses’ press are aware of the danger to the capitalist system of a united class movement in Northern Ireland.

The demonstrations were a great success. But the Belfast march in particular could have been bigger. Most of the workers who came out had received no clear instructions from their unions. Many of the shipyard and the Shorts workers had not been told either of the marches or of the rally.

No mass meetings had been held to organise the demonstration. With better preparation, there would have been tens of thousands not just 10,000 at the City Hall in Belfast.

From the platform in Belfast a resolution calling on the government to set a jobs-creation target was passed. Unfortunately, no clear fighting programme to oust the Tories and end the problems of the economy were spelt out.

But in other areas an alternative as put forward. In Enniskillen, Thomas Campbell, secretary of Fermanagh Trades Council, received a warm response when he made a call for the return of a Labour government committed to socialist policies.

A socialist appeal was also made in Derry by Militant supporter Bill Webster, when on behalf of Derry Trades Council he moved a motion calling for further action against the Tories and setting out clear socialist demands.

One of the most significant features of all the demonstrations in areas like Derry, Strabane, Belfast, Fermanagh and Coleraine was the strong presence of members of the Labour and Trade Union Group, who distributed leaflets and sold the group’s new pamphlet, Common Misery, Common Struggle.

In Belfast and Derry, the Labour Group and Derry Labour Party held successful meetings after the demonstrations. On the Belfast march alone, 450 copies of Militant Irish Monthly were sold. Reports from other areas indicate that about 900 copies of the paper were sold overall.

Following on from the success of 2 April, the call is now being raised in Northern Ireland by the Labour and Trade Union Group and other activists for 14 May to be declared a one-day general strike, both in Britain and in Northern Ireland, and for a full turn-out on socialist demands on that day.

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Last updated: 12 September 2016