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Peter Hadden

Class solutions vital

(July 1981)

From The Militant [UK], 24 July 1981.
Transcribed By Iain Dalton and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Two more hunger strikers in the H-Block have lost their lives. This is the result of the obstinacy of Thatcher and the Tories.

After the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson, the peace talks involving the Irish Commission for Peace and Justice have virtually collapsed.

Responsibility for this failure – and for these latest deaths – lies directly with the Tories. In the past, Thatcher has defended her refusal to grant basic concessions by stating that the prisoners would only settler for political status, nothing more, nothing less.

This lie has been firmly nailed. The prisoners themselves (in a statement issued on the Saturday before McDonnell’s death) have quite explicitly dropped the call for political status as a pre-condition for a solution.

They say:

“It is wrong for the British government to say we are looking for differential treatment from other prisoners. We would warmly welcome the introduction of the five demands for all prisoners.”

Not only could the hunger-strike have been resolved on the issue of basic prison reforms, but even the details of a reform package acceptable to the prisoners were worked out and part agreed by the government before McDonnell’s death.

Final agreement was not reached only because of the Tories’ refusal to make a clear statement of what was on offer to the prisoners, and because of their delay in visiting the prison until a few hours after McDonnell’s death.

This policy of obstinate repression within the prisons is being matched, measure for measure, by repression on the streets.

Since McDonnell’s death, state forces have killed three people, two of whom were innocent bystanders, while the third was an unarmed man involved in hi-jacking.

Lethal weapons

In Westminster, William Whitelaw while defending the government’s handling of the rioting in Britain, let slip that he was against the use of plastic bullets because he didn’t want to kill people. Plastic bullets are used daily in Northern Ireland. Whitelaw’s admission of their lethal results is well borne out by the facts.

Last Wednesday 29-year-old Falls Road housewife, Mrs Nora McCabe left her home to go to the shop to buy crisps for her children and cigarettes for herself. On her way home she was hit on the head by a plastic bullet fired indiscriminately from an RUC landrover, and died a few hours later. She had neither guns, stones, nor petrol bomb in her hand – only 20 cigarettes and some potato crisps.

Only the labour movement in Britain and Ireland can resist such repression. The H-Block Committees in Northern Ireland have conducted a totally sectarian propaganda campaign. They are closely associated with the Provisional IRA and the INLA. As a result, they have alienated not only the entire Protestant community, but many Catholics as well.

There has been far less reaction to the latest death than those of any previous hunger strikers. Joe McDonnell’s funeral was barely a tenth as large as that of Bobby Sands. This is despite the undoubted sympathy which exists among many Catholics for the prisoners.

The labour movement could fight the horrors of H-Blocks in a class manner, linking the issue of repression to the class issues of unemployment, bad housing, and other conditions. By opposing also the methods of the Provisionals, and the activities of all sectarian groups and individuals, they could draw support from Catholic and Protestant workers on this question.

The Labour Party National Executive Committee have passed a resolution supporting the demand for the right of prisoners to wear their own clothes and to negotiate the choice of work, education and training.

Rank and file members of the Labour Party would reject the ideas of bipartisanship, of following the line of the Tories, as amounting simply to complicity in the death of prisoners. The Labour Party must fight for these elementary demands.

The warning issued in the past by Marxists that Northern Ireland is the training ground for conflict in the cities of Britain has now become a reality. But the methods so far used in Britain are mild compared to those endured almost daily by workers in Northern Ireland. These methods, unopposed, could also be turned against the working class in Britain and their organisations at a future stage.

A labour movement inquiry into repression composed overwhelmingly from trade union activists must be established. This enquiry can be used as a basis for a campaign against all repressive legislation, against the murders and activities of the army and the police, and against the detention centres and non-jury court system.

Part of such an enquiry must be a review of the sentences of those convicted of offences arising from the Troubles. This could establish which prisoners the labour movement could fight to have released. The labour movement enquiry would determine which prisoners have been framed or tortured, who are political prisoners, and would distinguish these from those who are guilty of sectarian atrocities and would not be defended by the labour movement.

That the H-Block issue has not yet re-ignited a sectarian carnage has, as in the past, demonstrated that working class Catholic and Protestant, are sick of sectarianism. In this most deprived region of the United Kingdom there are no shortage of class issues around which the workers could be united. Even now there are strikers and movements on issues such as rent and housing, which continue to unite Catholic and Protestant workers.

But the labour movement cannot afford to take these things for granted. Further deaths in the H-Blocks could occur against the background of the traditional Orange parades and the coming tenth anniversary of internment. Failure by the labour movement to fight repression and sectarianism could have dangerous consequences.

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