From Militant [UK], 19 July 1996.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
There will be no lasting solution unless the underlying social and economic problems are resolved. The one thing which was common in the separate rioting in Protestant and Catholic areas at the time of Drumcree was that in both cases it was the working-class areas which erupted.
Two years ago there were huge expectations of the promised peace dividend. This idea now has no credibility in working-class areas. Rather there has been more of a “peace deficit” as the Tories have used the period of the ceasefires to attempt to claw back on public spending and to go further with the privatisation of health and other social services.
A system which cannot provide decent jobs and which is based on poverty and exploitation cannot offer any hope of stability. If the discontent simmering in working-class areas cannot find a united class expression it will always be liable to take a sectarian form.
The anger on both sides over Drumcree was also anger at the lack of jobs and lack of any hope for a decent future for working-class youth whether Catholic or Protestant.
A stark choice now exists. Either there will be a real peace process based on the united interests of the working class or else there will be a renewal of violence, possibly even a slide into civil war.
In the long run the choice will become increasingly simple, either the emergence of a united working-class movement which offers a socialist alternative to sectarianism or civil war.
Even now there are voices raised on both sides who see a civil war as a necessary evil to sort things out. This is a dangerous and completely false argument. In fact a civil war would resolve nothing but would lead to a form of repartition, population displacement and store up new grievances ready to explode in the future.
The examples of Lebanon and Bosnia should be enough to dispel any idea that civil wars result in neat cut-and-dried solutions.
What is now urgently needed is a new voice – the united voice of the working class challenging the established politicians and campaigning for a decent society. The victory of the Labour Coalition in winning two places at the talks table has been a significant first step, but only the first step, in building this working-class alternative.
For the peace process to be put back on the tracks at all certain immediate steps need to be taken. The remaining obstacles to all-party talks must be lifted. This means that Sinn Fein must be allowed to the table on the basis of their vote.
The immediate restoration of the IRA ceasefire must also be demanded. If the IRA do not intend to restart their campaign proper they should end the suspense caused by their present strategy and reinstate the ceasefire.
If their intent is to go back to war they do so in the knowledge that they will provoke a fierce sectarian reaction, possibly tip the scales to civil war and must accept their share of the responsibility. Any IRA resumption or any breakdown of the loyalist ceasefires must be met with massive demonstrations even greater than after Canary Wharf.
The idea of a general strike, which was raised at that time should be immediately put back on the agenda.
Presently the initiative is firmly with the sectarian organisations. All now depends on whether the working class can regain and retain it. At this year’s Northern Ireland’s civil service union, NIPSA, conference a call for a body bringing together community organisations and trade unions to give the groups voice in the peace process was passed.
This proposal needs to be implemented immediately. Such a parallel Forum could involve the Labour Coalition, the Women’s Coalition and possibly some of the smaller parties alongside the unions and community organisations.
It could demonstrate that working-class people are able to negotiate and make reasonable decisions on delicate issues such as parades, policing etc. while the politicians are not.
It could also be used to mobilise opposition to sectarianism on the ground, particularly to help communities organise defence of their areas from sectarian attack and to make sure there is no intimidation of any people living within the area.
An either/or situation has opened up. Hopefully there will be a drawing back from the brink as has happened in the past. If there is, the key lesson must be acted upon this time. It is no good leaving things in the hands of the Tory government and the politicians. A united working-class movement must be built.
It must be built in the workplaces, the communities and it must offer a political challenge to the right-wing and sectarian parties. To succeed it must be based on recognition that there can be no solution on the basis of the present economic system and that the real answer is working-class unity in the struggle for a socialist solution.
Last updated: 6.1.2011