The sectarian fiasco between the politicians in Stormont could not be further from the aspirations of working class people across Northern Ireland. As the Assembly Executive grinds to a halt in yet another political crisis, the onslaught of austerity for ordinary people continues.
The health service crisis spreads as waiting lists rise, operations cancelled, and health workers forced to work in dire conditions. Schools across the North face closure with class sizes expected to grow in the coming years. Workers are increasingly struggling to make ends meet after years of successive pay freezes and real pay cuts. Hundreds of thousands of local government workers across Britain and Northern Ireland will strike for the second time this year in October for real pay rises. Not one Minister in the Assembly Executive has agreed to give workers a decent pay rise even though MLA’s were awarded with a £5,000 pay rise last year and MP’s are set to be awarded a 10% rise!
The crisis surrounding welfare reform and the crisis in the health service though show that the politicians are nervous of the growing anger at their failure to deliver for working people. But the approach of the politicians on these issues is one of grandstanding, not one of principle.
Electoral considerations for Sinn Fein, primarily in the South, has meant they need to pose as being anti-austerity on the issue of welfare reform. But if Sinn Fein were genuinely anti-austerity why are they refusing to implement cuts to education and other services? Why did they together with all the other parties in the Executive vote to increase the retirement age of public sector workers and increase pensions contributions for a smaller pension?
Likewise, the spectacle of right-wing DUP stripe-suited politicians decrying Sinn Fein as being responsible for the draconian fines imposed by the government of millionaires in London, and their sudden interest in people relying on services which will now face further cuts is utter hypocrisy. The DUP want to see vicious cuts to welfare which will mean the most impoverished working class people will end up paying yet again for the crimes of the bankers and millionaires who caused the recession.
The fact is that all the parties in the Assembly Executive are inflicting austerity on us. But not only are they attempting to cover up their role as devolved hangmen, they are also injecting a sectarian edge to the debate. The timing of the Newsletters editorial which described West Belfast as being “lavishly tax-payer funded” – a reference to the scandalously high levels of unemployment – is a blatant sectarian smear. Sinn Fein though have also attempted to add a nationalist sheen to their stance on welfare reform by referring to the cuts as “Tory cuts from London”.
They cannot find a way forward to solve contentious issues such as parades, flags and emblems and how to deal with the past. It is in the interests of both sides to enflame sectarian tension not extinguish it.
Workers, the unemployed, young people, students and oppressed minorities are victims of a failed sectarian, capitalist system which only offers continued austerity and sectarian stalemate. A new politics is needed to provide a real way forward. The vast majority of people want to see more jobs for young people not less, major investment in services not cuts, an end to sectarian attacks and division and a decent future. A new party to represent the interests of the majority of society – the working class – is urgently needed. A party which would unite all communities against austerity and sectarianism and demand a genuine future for young people.