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Peter Hadden

H-Block and Sectarianism

(2 December 1980)

Press Statement, 2 December 1980.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The Labour and Trade Union Group condemn entirely the sectarian manner in which the issue of the H-Block hunger strike has been presented by loyalist and republican groups alike. Neither demonstrations and stoppages whose appeal is purely sectarian, nor threats such as those which have been made by the UDA, can serve the interests of Catholic or Protestant workers.

The trade union movement must ensure that no group of sectarians are able to exploit the issue of the hunger strike for their own ends. Any attempt to push us back to the days of foul sectarian assassinations must be answered with the opposition of mass trade union action.

With unemployment now 15% and rising and with government attacks on living standards it is essential that the unity of the trade union movement is not weakened.

The Labour and Trade Union Group believes that the Labour movement in Britain and Ireland can and should adopt a position on H-Block which would get the support of all sections of their membership. H-Block, like every other aspect of repression is a class issue which, unfortunately, has been posed in sectarian terms.

We believe that the Labour movement should support the right of all prisoners including those in H-Block and Armagh, to enjoy tolerable living conditions. The following demands which were supported by the National Executive Committee of the British Labour Party, should now be fought for by the Labour Movement as a whole:

  1. The right of prisoners to wear their own clothes;
  2. 2 visits and 2 food parcels per week;
  3. Access to TV, newspapers and unrestricted numbers of letters in; and
  4. Right to negotiate a choice of work, training and to decent educational facilities;
  5. Right to join trade unions and trade union rates of pay;
  6. Right to elect representatives to negotiate with the prison authorities on their behalf.

We do not support the call which has been made for ALL these prisoners to be treated as political prisoners. Instead, we call upon the trade union movement to conduct a review of the cases of all who have been convicted on sentences arising out of the N.I. troubles so that the trade unions may decide who is a political prisoner. We believe that under no circumstances could people who are guilty of conscious sectarian atrocities, be they loyalist or republicans. be regarded as political prisoners.

We call for independent trade union action on the question of the conditions in H-Block and all other prisons and against any attempt to rekindle sectarianism. We oppose the involvement of any section of the Labour Movement with the sectarian directed existing H-Block Committees, but stand for class unity and independent class action against the three enemies of workers in Northern Ireland – poverty, sectarianism and repression.

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