From Militant Irish Monthly, October 1982.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Proofread by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL). (July 2012)
If there is one issue which is NOT a topic of conversation in the North it is the elections to the new Assembly. Not in the factories, not in the offices, not in pubs, not in shops ... Instead, workers are discussing the real immediate issues – the health dispute, how to stop job losses, and the cut backs in basic services.
Scarcely at any time in the last decade can there have been less interest or enthusiasm for an election. Why is this so? In the first place, every worker knows that there is no chance of the new Assembly working. The SDLP have stated they will not attend. The Official Unionists oppose the Prior package. The Irish Independence Party are not even contesting the elections and no representatives elected by the Catholic community are likely to participate.
The election is not really about the Prior initiate any more. Mainly it is becoming two separate battles, one between the DUP and the Official Unionists, and the other between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. All that is at stake for these parties in who can claim the title of the major representative of either the Catholic or the Protestant community.
No worker faced with redundancy, no unemployed school leaver, no family trying to buy the basic necessities with shrinking wage packets, will benefit in any way from the sectarian counting of heads on October 20th..
Even if the SDLP can be enticed by prestige and fat salaries to sit in this new body it will solve nothing. Argument between Tory politicians, orange and green, will not end sectarianism and will do nothing to improve living standards or create jobs. The second reason why the mood is apathetic towards October 20th is because it is the same old parties and politicians once again unfurling their banners. No doubt the SDLP, and the various unionist parties will receive a large vote. With no IIP candidates standing, Sinn Fein may gain a more respectable vote, especially in the rural areas, than would otherwise have been the case.
But these votes will not reflect any enthusiastic support for these parties. All that it will show is that for workers and for the youth in particular there has been no alternative.
While the political pundits will pore over the votes cast to see what trends the election has shown, labour movement activists will draw different conclusions. The most significant thing about October 20th will not be whether the DUP gets more votes than the Official Unionists or by what margin the SDLP beat Sinn Fein. The real significance of the result will be that the working class have no candidates to vote for who could represent their interests.
The contradiction of October 20th is the key contradiction of politics in Northern Ireland. Not since the 1930s have Catholic and Protestant workers been so united. The strike on September 22nd in support of the health workers showed how a powerful and united class movement can be built.
Yet with the united class struggle all around, this election is the first since the early 1920s when, at the time of writing, it appears that there will not even be an attempt to field labour candidates. The former Northern Ireland Labour Party has been destroyed by the sectarianism of its leaders and is unlikely even to contest the election. Within the trade union movement the Labour and Trade Union Group campaign for trade union candidates to stand on socialist policies. It is, however, unlikely that such candidates will stand, mainly because most workers do not see these elections as important.
One group, the Workers Party, formerly Republican Clubs, do claim to stand on the left. This body has, however, no connection with the official labour movement and its support is confined solely to Catholic areas. In any case, it is not standing on clear socialist policies but advocates unity between itself and the other ‘centre and left parties’ in the Assembly, whoever these parties might be!
After October the campaign for genuine workers’ representation must be stepped up inside the trade unions. The list of trade union bodies who now are committed to the building of a Labour Party is both long and lengthening. Recently both the ASTMS N.I. Divisional Council and the Conferences of ASTMS and CPSA added their support.
A Conference of Labour, representing trade unions, shop stewards organisations, trades councils and independent labour groupings must be called and from this a genuine Labour Party created. A general election in Britain could be less than twelve months away. If a start is made now, there can be a Labour candidate fighting on socialist policies in every constituency. In this way we can have workers not only marching and picketing together but voting together as well.
Last updated: 18.7.2012