By Neil Moore
Recent months have marked an upsurge in the struggles of workers and young people across Northern Ireland. School students are taking a stand for their future and walking out of school to demand action on climate change. Civil servants are striking for decent pay and conditions, and may well soon be joined by health staff. As we go to press, workers at Wrightbus have secured a future for the plant and their community by taking a stand. The nine-week occupation by workers at Harland & Wolff has led to the shipyard being saved, along with the jobs and skills.
Throughout all of these struggles, politicians from the main parties have either been absent or totally ineffective in putting forward anything but empty words. No local politician took up the demand from workers in Harland & Wolff for re-nationalisation, instead letting ‘market forces’ dictate the future of working people. That posed a question to the workers of political representation, with suggestions one of them may have stood in a snap general election.
Growing desire for change
The DUP, Sinn Féin and the other sectarian parties feed off and consciously foster division and disillusionment. Workers’ candidates standing in an election could pose a real challenge to the sectarian status-quo and break people from the disillusionment that they have with politics.
Despite his weaknesses, Jeremy Corbyn has importantly raised the sights of a large section of workers and young people, breaking with the neo-liberal consensus of cuts and privatisation which has dominated for decades. An anti-sectarian, left alternative which reflects this desire for change must be built in Northern Ireland.
Trade unionists can lead the way
Trade unionists have a vital role to play in this process. The trade unions represent almost 250,000 workers here, from all backgrounds. Throughout the darkest days of the conflict here, right up to today, they have been the key force able to unite workers and young people against the sectarian divide through fighting for their common interests. The trade union movement needs to again find its political voice.
Building a mass political party for the working class here will not be an easy task, but it is a vital one. We need a force which stands up for the interests of workers, young people, women and oppressed groups; which stands for solidarity, mutual respect and compromise on the issues which divide our communities; and which fights for a socialist future free from poverty and division. The fact that Cross-Community Labour Alternative – initiated by the Socialist Party – won its first council seat earlier this year on that basis gives a glimpse of what is possible, especially if the power and resources of the trade union movement were moved into political action.