The play “not on our watch” produced by Kabosh with support from Unite The Union brings to life the story of the workers of the Regina Ceoli Hostel’s struggle to save the service. In this dispute activists from the Socialist Party and ROSA participated and supported the workers every step of the way. Most notably Susan Fitzgerald, Unite’s Regional Coordinating Officer and Socialist Party member who dedicated an immense amount of time and effort to assist the workforce in saving the service. Unite alongside the workforce organised the “Women Demand Better” rally in Belfast to link this struggle to the wider struggle of working-class women. Unfortunately the hostel was not stopped from closing. The service was supposedly guaranteed, with promises of a new women’s only hostel being opened in May of 2022 from Sinn Féin’s Minister for Communities,Deirdre Hargey. At the time of writing this has not been fully followed through with. The fight for the full implementation of this service continues.
By Gerry Malone
The occupation of the Regina Coeli Shelter for Women for 12 weeks starting in mid-January 2022 should be celebrated as an important moment in class struggle by and for women in these islands and further afield. It was a gulder of outrage by the workers and residents which other workers and their unions and the wider community could not fail to hear. The undoubted courage of the workers and residents was magnified and bolstered by the support it inspired from many quarters. Workers and their representatives came from every corner. Their union, Unite, fought with the owners/employers alongside this small group of workers and the residents to defend jobs and save the service.
There is an irony in the fact that the owners were the Legion of Mary, an organisation that celebrates the role of Mary in the Christian story. No insult is intended to any believer, but it was the Legion of Mary who chose to close a hostel which had become the safe haven for vulnerable women trying to piece their lives together. Those who administered the property and could dispense of it as they wished were not prepared to accept the viable solution that was offered – the handing over of the building to the Housing Executive and the public provision of an essential service, fully staffed and resourced
And so, to the play;
The intensity of the events experienced first hand by workers and residents is recreated with energy and passion and, of course, with outrage. And yes, the play sparkles with humour and also wonderful unexpected outbursts of singing. The wide range of characters played by these actors was a tribute to their skills and always felt like an authentic reflection of the women involved. Your heart’s eye could see them. You felt their anxieties and uncertainties. You felt the weight of their past traumas and present struggles.
You could see the residents through the workers’ eyes. You could understand too that they were all women who needed the safe space these women workers provided for them.
You could see the workers through the residents’ eyes. They understood that the workers’ struggle to keep their jobs and continue to serve them was inseparable from their own struggle to find their place in the world.
Their common courage shines through this performance and we see as if under a microscope the constituent elements of workers’ struggle, open and full communication with one another, a collective commitment to one another in a common goal, an appeal for assistance to organised labour, We see too how seemingly hopeless situations can change in the blink of an eye when the class stirs from its slumber and those individual feelings of sympathy and empathy are transformed in the alchemy of class consciousness.
The title of the play is more than a declaration of individual defiance – Not on My Watch! It is a clarion call not only to those consciously involved in class struggle but also to the wider class. It is a challenge to make the “My” into “Our” watch