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18 January 2002

Northern Ireland: Workers Strike Against Killings

UNDER INTENSE pressure from trade union members, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have called a half day strike on 18 January in protest at the spiralling wave of sectarian attacks and threats.

Peter Hadden, Belfast

Last week saw vicious riots across much of north Belfast. School students from both Catholic and Protestant schools were threatened and attacked. In one incident a gang of men, at least one armed, forced their way into a Catholic school and wrecked staff cars in the car park.

On Saturday morning the violence worsened with the murder of a young Catholic postal worker, Daniel McColgan as he arrived for work in the Protestant Rathcoole estate near North Belfast.

The UDA carried out this killing, using the cover name, the Red Hand Defenders. It was followed with a threat that all Catholic postal workers and all Catholic staff in schools are now 'legitimate targets'.

Postal walk-out

This latest situation follows weeks of attacks on workers, especially those providing services to working-class communities. Late last year bus drivers withdrew night services from parts of Belfast following attacks on drivers, some sectarian, some because of vandalism.

Just after Christmas bus drivers struck to try to resolve this situation. Ambulance personnel have also been attacked and a mood for strike was only averted when UNISON officials persuaded members to postpone a ballot for two months.

Firefighters have also been under attack. In Portadown a fire crew was attacked by a crowd of 50 hurling missiles and bottles. A train driver has also been injured by a missile. Park rangers and other city council staff have received threats. Most recently a threat has been issued to Protestant council staff claiming to come from the Catholic Reaction Force.

Workers have had enough. Union members have bombarded their officials with demands for action. The phones have not stopped in many union offices with workers complaining that they're having to work under threat and insisting that the unions do something.

Following Daniel McColgan's killing the Communication Workers Union led the way. The main sorting office outside Belfast immediately walked out. The union has called a total stoppage of all postal collections and deliveries until 16 January, the day after the funeral.

All indications are that the ICTU strike and rally will get a huge response. Socialist Party members in the workplaces have been the most vocal in demanding a stoppage and are now building to make it a success.

An emergency meeting of trade union members of the party was held on 13 January where initiatives were discussed in the teaching unions, in the public-sector union NIPSA, in the FBU, the T&GWU and CWU.

The union leaders want this rally just to let off steam before handing responsibility to the politicians. But local politicians are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The strike needs to be followed by further protests and by local initiatives by the unions along with community organisations. These bodies need to act to ensure that those providing services in the areas can do so without threat. They also need to discuss how the working class can act to challenge and overcome sectarianism.

School Students United

A NEW campaign "School students UNITED against sectarianism" has been launched. Socialist Youth members took this to Belfast's streets last Saturday demanding free access for all students to schools.

The campaign calls on school students, Catholic and Protestant, to unite to fight for more resources for education and against privatisation and not to be divided along religious lines. This message got an excellent response.

Now "School students UNITED against sectarianism" are organising a school students' meeting on the day before the trade union rally. It will discuss a call for students from all schools to join the strike and march together to the union rally.

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