Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/324/9618
Northern Ireland: Socialists Stand For Workers' Unity
THE SOCIALIST Party in Northern Ireland is challenging the right-wing and sectarian parties who have dominated Northern Ireland politics for generations by putting up two candidates (in East and South Belfast) for the Assembly elections on 26 November.
Socialist Party candidates will fight to defend the common interests of working class people and to end the deadlock caused by sectarian politics.
JIM BARBOUR, who represents Northern Ireland's firefighters on the Executive of the Fire Brigades Union, is running in South Belfast. Jim, one of Northern Ireland's best known trade unionists, has been active in the trade union movement for 20 years.
Jim explained why he's standing:
"I have helped lead firefighters through a difficult dispute over pay and against government attempts to run down and eventually part privatise the fire service. This dispute is by no means over.
"But the fire service isn't the only public service under attack. Schools, hospitals, transport, water and other services are threatened with cuts and privatisation and those who work in them find their conditions being eroded.
"The battle against this has to be fought politically as well as industrially. If elected, I will act with the same resolve to defend public services as I have fought for the fire service."
"DURING OUR dispute with Belfast International Airport, and in our difficulties with our union officials, the people who helped us most were the Socialist Party and the Fire Brigades Union.
Gordon McNeill, Madan Gupta and Chris Boyer, sacked airport shop stewards told The Socialist
"We are absolutely confident that Jim Barbour and Tommy Black will fight to defend the interests of workers, especially people like ourselves who were in low paid jobs. We have no hesitation is asking people to vote for them."
TOMMY BLACK, a trade union and community activist, is standing in East Belfast. Tommy is chairman of East Belfast Water Charges "We won't pay" Campaign, fighting the latest burden being imposed on working class people.
Tommy is a school caretaker and a NIPSA union rep. for education workers. Tommy says:
"It was working-class people who created the peace process by coming onto the streets demanding a halt to paramilitary activity. The sectarian parties have made a mess of this opportunity.
"Unless we can put this right it will be working-class people on both sides who will pay the price. We need to build a genuine peace process by bringing the people in working-class communities together to fight sectarianism and poverty.
"It's time that the common interests of workers were represented in the Assembly. It's time we started to build a new working-class party that will fight to defend the interests of trade unionists, of the deprived communities, and of young people.
"Assembly members are completely out of touch with ordinary people's problems. How could it be otherwise given the huge salaries and allowances, not to mention the other income many of them have?"
"TONY BLAIR says he has no money to improve our services but when it came to waging war against Iraq he had money to burn. The war and occupation will cost the British government over £5 billion and estimates are rising as the situation in Iraq deteriorates.
Carmel Gates President NIPSA, (personal capacity). NIPSA is Northern Ireland's largest union representing 40,000 civil and public service workers
"Jim Barbour and Tommy Black's answer to Blair and to the local parties who supported this war is that the money should be spent on services not war."
Living on a workers' wage
JIM AND Tommy won't take the inflated salaries of Assembly members but will continue to live on a workers' wage. Jim's campaigning slogan is "A worker's voice - on a firefighter's wage".
They will donate the rest of their Assembly salary to the socialist, trade union and community movements, including the campaign to defeat the water charges in which both are heavily involved.
Assembly members get £41,321 plus allowances of over £50,000 plus perks. The Chairs and Deputy Chairs of Assembly committees get a further £10,290. Half a million people - 185,000 households - in Northern Ireland live in poverty. 37.4% of children are growing up in poverty. 21% of total household income is from state benefits, compared to 12% for the UK.
Even while the Assembly was suspended, assembly members (MLAs) still got £31,617. Workers in Shorts, the shipyard, the textile industry and the many others who lost their jobs in this period got the dole. Workers at Richardsons' factory in Belfast even lost most of the pension entitlement their contributions had paid for.
During the suspension, a childcare allowance continued to be paid to MLAs. 67% of lone parent families live in poverty, most unable to afford childcare to allow them to work.
Using his Ulster Unionists' (UUP) new slogan of "Simply British", and depicting a fish supper, David Trimble reminded us we can eat fish and chips just like people in London, Manchester - or Dublin come to that. What he didn't say is that we have to pay more for the privilege.
Food in Northern Ireland costs about 14% more than in Britain. Electricity is around 18% dearer. Gas costs 31.6% more than in England. But wages are much lower - in fact the average gross household income in Northern Ireland is 22% less than in Britain.
In plain terms, households have about £100 a week less to spend. Yet the politicians justify water charges and increased rates by saying we have to pay the same local taxes as people in England. After all we are "simply British"!
We'd all be a lot better off if the energy that the major political parties put into trying to squeeze extra taxes out of us were put into fighting to bring wages up and prices down to levels that apply in England.
Our real equality agenda
THE IDEA of an equality agenda has become a bit of a catchphrase during the peace process. It goes without saying that the Socialist Party totally opposes any form of discrimination, whether on the basis of religion, race, nationality or gender.
The Paisleyite DUP, Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein may have talked about equality, but, during their period in power, real inequality, ie the gap between rich and poor, actually widened. The richest 40% of households now have 67% of the total household income while the poorest 40% have only 17%.
True, the gap in jobs and income between Protestant and Catholic has narrowed over the last two decades. But this is as much to do with the collapse of the manufacturing base and the growth of low-income sweatshop jobs as to any real improvement in the lot of Catholic working-class people.
It seems that the "equality" agenda simply means that things are OK if working class people are equally poor.
The conflict in Northern Ireland will never be resolved so long as the search for a solution is left to the right-wing and sectarian parties. It is anger at poverty, low wages and inadequate services that underlies the conflict. The right-wing parties can only deliver more of the same.
The Socialist Party is campaigning for a real peace process based on uniting working-class people in fighting for a socialist society.
We want to link this struggle in the North with the similar struggle of workers in Southern Ireland and in Britain. When we build a decent society where poverty and want are things of the past, it will be an easy matter to resolve where lines are drawn on a map.
We advocate a free and voluntary socialist federation of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales as part of a European socialist confederation.
In The Socialist 22 November 2003: