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Peter Hadden

Labour Movement must give a lead

(April 1981)

From Militant [UK], No. 549, 24 April 1981.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Over the last ten years the people of Derry have suffered their fair share of atrocities. But few have been worse than that committed by the army there last Sunday.

An army vehicle was driven full speed straight into a crowd of stone-throwing youths. Two youths were killed, having been knocked flying by the impact.

The vehicle then reversed away. The soldiers fired plastic bullets at the crowds as they retreated. According to one eye-witness account (reported in the Irish Times) they actually reversed back over one of the bodies.

This incident has given Derry its second Bloody Sunday. The police immediately reacted by saying that there had been a “traffic accident”. This was no such thing.

These deaths have added a new dimension to the second H-Block hunger strike now approaching its climax. Until now, the support for the hunger-strike, because of its association with the Provisional IRA, has been extremely sparse.

Last Wednesday the H-Block Committees called for a half-day strike and protest. The result was a non-event. In Derry a crowd of less than 2,000 turned out. This compares with an attendance of about 10,000 at a strike protest-meeting called in Derry during the pre-Christmas hunger-strike. In Belfast there was simply no strike. A small crowd, little more than 1,200, marched down the Falls Road. They did not have a single workplace banner among them.

Last Sunday, the traditional Republican Easter Parades were held all over the North. In Derry the parade attracted only about 1,200 according to press reports.

In Belfast, despite Provo and some press claims, Militant supporters who watched reported that it was the smallest Provisional Easter Parade for years. The later parade of the Official Republican movement, drew less than 500 people.

But the deaths in Derry, and the rising tensions in the province, have sparked off widespread rioting. In Derry there has been rioting for over a week, in the Bogside and other areas. Riots have taken place on the Falls and Ormeau Road areas of Belfast and in Strabane.

These riots are far more a reaction of the youth to the terrible conditions of high unemployment and poverty, and vicious repression of both the army and police, than gestures of support for the Provisionals. Derry youth are on the streets for the same reasons which drove young people in Brixton to violence.

In fact the Brixton trouble undoubtedly had an effect on the North. For the first time for years, petrol bombs are being thrown, with the youth obviously taking the cue from the Brixton events.

If the hunger strike ends in the death of Bobby Sands, there will undoubtedly be a further increase in violence. This could ultimately develop upon sectarian lines, threatening the growing unity of workers now building up through the labour movement.

The labour movement in Britain and Ireland must take up both the issue of repression in general and of H-Block in particular. Only the labour and trade union movement has the power to move the Tories on this question.

The resolution passed by the British Labour Party National Executive on H-Block last year contains the basis for a solution. Demands for decent conditions for all prisoners, including the right to wear civilian clothing and the right to negotiate a choice of work, training and educational facilities, are now the two most contentious issues involved.

On the issue of “political status”, the labour movement has a responsibility to review the cases of those convicted on offences arising out of the Troubles to determine for itself who is a political prisoner.

Many in H-Block are political prisoners, but the labour movement would not include in this category those, Loyalist or Republican, who have committed deliberate, brutal sectarian murders.

The trade union and labour movement in Northern Ireland must immediately offer the youth an alternative; a class campaign to draw young people into struggle against the policies of the Tories, and for jobs, homes, and decent wages and conditions.

We must oppose all forms of repression. Derry, both in January 1972 and in April 1981 proves that the army provides no answer other than the hammer of repression.

The labour movement should campaign for the withdrawal of troops. In their place it should take into its own hands the responsibility to defend workers from potential sectarian attacks.

Sectarianism is a dead end. So are the methods of the Provos, which only brings further repression. But neither will mass rioting provide young people with an answer. The youth are today returning to the petrol bombs because they can find no better weapon with which to fight. The labour movement can and must provide them with that weapon.

Only the fighting, class approach can provide a way forward. All recent events underline again and again the urgent need for the building of a Labour Party in Northern Ireland, based on the unions.

Such a party would provide the youth and workers with an organisation through which they could fight back and which they could use finally to eliminate poverty, repression and sectarianism.

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Last updated: 12 August 2016