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Peter Hadden

Class action against repression

(May 1981)

From Militant [UK], Issue 551, 8 May 1981.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning the Catholic areas of Belfast, Derry and elsewhere resounded to the rattling of bin lids and the sound of loud-speakers.

This was how the news of the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands was spread. Since then there have been outbreaks of intensive rioting, and streets have been barricaded in many areas.

Three other prisoners are still on hunger strike. One of them, Francis Hughes, cannot have many more days to live. A further seventy are reported to have volunteered for hunger strike, and the possibility of another group being selected to begin a further fast cannot be disregarded.

Bobby Sands is dead because of the brutal policies of Thatcher and the Tories. Towards the demands of the prisoners, the Tories have refused even the slightest concession.

Last year the NEC of the British Labour Party supported six demands for prison reform in Northern Ireland. Among these were calls for prisoners to be allowed to wear their own clothes and to negotiate a choice of work, training and education. The implementation of these simple concessions to all prisoners would have made the hunger strike unnecessary and spared the life of Bobby Sands.

The National Executive of the British Labour Party last summer urged consideration of these demands, which have strong support among Labour’s ranks. Yet both Labour’s Northern Ireland spokesman, Don Concannon, and Party leader Michael Foot, have publicly supported the Tories on this issue.

The NEC and the Party as a whole must see that its parliamentary representatives advocate an independent, Labour position, and take a clear stand on this issue. They must immediately press the Tories to implement the necessary measure of prison reform.

Beyond this, the labour movement in Britain and Ireland must set up an inquiry into the system of so-called “justice” in Northern Ireland. It must campaign for the scrapping of non-jury courts and the repeal of all the repressive laws.

The labour movement must also review the cases of those convicted during the troubles to establish who is and who is not a political prisoner.

Sands’ death has underlined the futility of the methods of the Provisional IRA and the INLA [Irish National Liberation Army]. Their military campaign has given the British ruling class the excuse to step up repression. The prisoners and the occupants of the Catholic ghettoes are the people who suffer most.

The H-block committees, which are closely associated with the Provos, have campaigned in a totally sectarian manner. Bernadette McAliskey, for instance, has called for “Catholic unity” against the British. Such sectarian appeals have divided workers in Northern Ireland and have weakened the opposition to the H-Blocks.

Yet even now the potential for unity of workers, Catholic and Protestant, against repression and against the poverty and unemployment is being shown.

Last week there was a united demonstration of women from both Catholic and Protestant estates in West Belfast against rises in Housing Executive rents. There were strikes in the Harland and Wolff shipyard and the Royal Victoria Hospital. Civil servants are continuing to support their unions’ campaign of industrial action throughout the North.

Trades Councils, or organisations based on trades councils, are going ahead with their decision to contest the local government elections on 20 May in four areas. Derry Trades Council will have five candidates standing on a programme of class unity and socialism.

Such actions represent the way forward. United action by the working class, independent of all sectarian ideas, is the only way to end repression and prevent a new escalation of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

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Last updated: 12 September 2016