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Northern Ireland: Mass Workers' Action To Defeat Sectarianism
HEALTH AND postal workers in Northern Ireland were forced to take industrial action in protest against sectarian death threats from republican and loyalist paramilitaries last week.
Gary Mulcahy, Socialist Party Belfast
900 workers in North & West Belfast Social Services Trust went on strike on 1 August when one of their colleagues received a bullet with their name on it in the post.
At an emergency branch meeting of NIPSA [Northern Ireland Public Services Association] Branch 705, it was unanimously decided to organise a one-day stoppage and call a public rally in Belfast city centre.
Socialist Party members played a central role in organising the action. As a result, loyalist paramilitaries released a statement denying any involvement with any threats.
Over 400 workers showed up to the rally in Transport House where many workers expressed the importance of workers' unity against all sectarian threats.
Socialist Party member Kevin Lawrenson spoke at the end of the rally congratulating his fellow workmates for taking a principled stand against sectarianism and demanded that the trade union movement should follow up by taking independent action against sectarianism.
Meanwhile, Derry trades council organised a march on Monday 5 August from the spot where David Caldwell, a Protestant construction worker, was killed by a bomb planted by dissident republicans. Over 200 people attended the rally at the Guildhall Square.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have different ideas of fighting the sectarian attacks.
Following an approach by the Northern Ireland Committee (NIC) of ICTU, Belfast city council announced the launching of an anti-sectarian campaign, with first Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Alex Maskey at the helm. Yet Maskey, because of his sectarian background, is viewed with deep suspicion by many Protestant workers.
Belfast city council called for a demonstration on Friday 2 August with the support of the churches and the bosses' organisation, the CBI, outside City Hall. Immediately, the hardline Unionist party, the DUP, opposed it for their own sectarian reasons.
Many workers see the politicians as being highly selective in their condemnation of sectarianism. Their role has been to condemn "the other side" for attacking "our community" and to refuse to face up to the reality that sectarianism violence is not a one-way street.
AT THE NIC-ICTU consultation meeting to discuss giving support to the council demonstration, Socialist Party members argued that instead of supporting the right-wing sectarian politicians' so-called 'anti-sectarian demonstration', the trade unions should independently organise mass action. These politicians are the same people who are opposed to council workers receiving a fair wage and who are implementing Blairite policies of privatisation in the Assembly.
Unfortunately, NIC-ICTU rejected the proposal for independent mass action. Less than 2,000 people showed up on the demo as compared to the 80,000 who showed up to the trade union demo on 18 January.
Socialist Party members had a stall emphasising the need for independent action by the trade unions to oppose all sectarian attacks on both communities. We raised over £430 and sold over 700 special bulletins.
Many workers welcomed our initiative, as many found the prospect of seeing the sectarian politicians protesting against sectarianism too much to stomach.
Because of the failure of the ICTU to build for taking mass independent action, thousands of workers are now facing more threats.
Postal workers in Derry went on strike over the weekend against a death threat from loyalists. Health workers in hospitals in Belfast are now under threat from the Catholic Reaction Force and the loyalist Red Hand Defenders. They have now been forced to hold lunchtime stoppages and protests.
Sectarian attacks and rioting are still a nightly occurrence. Unless a socialist alternative is built to challenge all forms of sectarianism, Northern Ireland society will continue on the road to deeper sectarian conflict.
In The Socialist 9 August 2002: