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Peter Hadden

What will be changed after today’s rally?

Letter to the paper

(August 2002)

From The Irish News, 2 August 2002.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Around 100,000 responded to the trade union call for mass demonstrations after the murder of Daniel McColgan in January.

That huge mobilisation had an effect in isolating the bigots on both sides and lessening the attacks for a period.

But sectarian attacks are once again a nightly occurrence and, in the last few weeks, two people – one a Protestant the other a Catholic – have been killed.

Many people will once again want to show their disgust by turning up to the demonstration that has been called today to oppose the attacks.

There is, however, a difference this time. Because the January rally was called by the trade unions it received support across the sectarian divide.

It was a united demonstration of the might of the working class.

Today’s rally has been called by Belfast City Council and, for this reason, is unlikely to get anything like the same response.

True, many workers will turn up – despite the presence of sectarian politicians on the platform – because their overriding concern is to show their disgust at the attacks.

Many more will not attend because they find the idea of parties, who day and daily whip up the sectarian division, holding a protest against sectarianism too much to stomach.

These are the same parties who, up to now, have been highly selective in their condemnations of sectarianism.

Their role has been to condemn the “other side” for attacking “our community” and to refuse to face up to the real truth that sectarian violence is not a one-way street.

They also promote the policies of low pay and privatisation of services which make life worse for working-class people. Their answer to the anger that inevitably arises from ongoing poverty and deprivation is to direct it along sectarian channels so that it is not turned against them.

If today’s rally represented any kind of change of heart by these parties it might be possible to take their anti-sectarian declarations seriously.

But there is nothing more certain than that tomorrow they will be back to business as usual, whipping up sectarian issues to make sure that working-class people stay divided and the voting in next year’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections will yet again be strictly along sectarian lines.

The trade unions are supporting today’s rally and that fact alone gives it some credibility. Still, it will be a caricature of January 18.

Trade union support will boost the numbers but the politicians will claim the benefit. The result may reinforce sectarianism by boosting sectarian and right wing politicians and allowing them to masquerade as something they are not. It would have been better for the unions to have acted on their own.

The real issue is what happens after today. What is needed is an independent campaign by the unions to unite workers against sectarianism in all its forms. If such a campaign got off the ground the main political parties would be on the other side.


Regional Secretary
Socialist Party
Victoria Square, Belfast

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