Working class people today face an unprecedented assault on jobs and on wages. Our public services are threatened by cuts and privatisation. More than ever we need to stand united to defend living standards.
The killings in Antrim and Lurgan are a reactionary attempt to divert the attention of workers away from the class issues that bring people together by stirring up sectarian division.
Dead end methods
The dissident republican groups responsible for these attacks are trying to justify their actions as part of a “legitimate” war against the state. This is just empty rhetoric which should fool no one.
The real purpose of the attacks is political, not military. The decades long campaign by the Provisional IRA showed that the methods of individual terrorism are incapable of succeeding. That campaign was a dead end for those who took it up. It strengthened the State rather than weakened it, by providing the excuse for repression on a massive scale. It also provoked a sectarian backlash that divided and weakened the working class.
If the provisional campaign, which began with a significant measure of support in working class Catholic communities, proved to be a dead end, how much more so the actions of today’s dissidents which are carried out without any real support from any community.
Hoping to provoke a backlash
The dissidents’ strategy is based on the hope that their attacks will provoke the Assembly and the State to resort to the type of repressive methods that were used at the height of the Troubles. They also hope that there will be a sectarian backlash from loyalists.
Sinn Fein would then have the choice of staying in an Executive that sanctioned repression or else pulling out and putting the Assembly and, with it, their entire political strategy in jeopardy.
In short these killings are an attempt to boost the fortunes of the dissident groups by taking us back to the past nightmare of sectarian killings and state repression which most people hoped we had left behind.
Mass action to isolate them
It is true that the dissidents would benefit from a return to methods such as the shoot to kill policy that provoked outrage, especially in Catholic working class areas in the past. The way to defeat them is, not through a “gloves off” clamp down by the State but by mobilising people in the working class communities to make sure that they are completely isolated.
In the past it was mass united action by the working class which forced a halt to the sectarian attacks and killings carried out by all the paramilitary groups. We need a similar response today. These killings – and any future attacks whether by republican or by loyalist paramilitary groups – should be answered by mass united demonstrations in which working class people in the workplaces and communities can show their revulsion.
New working class party needed
Apart from an over-reaction by the State, the one other thing that can give the dissidents a future is the growing anger and disillusionment in working class communities at the right wing economic policies being carried out by all the parties in the Assembly Executive – and the lack of any alternative to express this anger.
The trade unions are to be congratulated for acting swiftly in calling today’s protests against the killings. This is in marked contrast to the total inaction by the trade union leadership forty years ago which contributed to the start of the Troubles.
But instead of silent protests the unions should use these events to loudly spell out their independent alternative to all the sectarian and right wing forces. Instead of linking arms with employers and political parties who are busy attacking jobs and public services the unions should be championing the idea of a new working class party to offer a socialist alternative.
If no such political alternative is built there is a danger that class anger at the right wing policies of the Executive can take a sectarian and reactionary form, boosting groups such as those responsible for the recent attacks as well as their equivalents on the loyalist side.
But by building such a party we can isolate them politically as well as in the communities and ensure that there will be no return to the Troubles.
How united mass action stopped the killings
Todays protests show that the vast majority of working people are completely opposed to the shootings carried out by dissident groups whose intent is to drag us back into sectarian conflict. Throughout the ‘Troubles’, it was working class communities, Catholic & Protestant, who paid the price and suffered the most. The ‘campaigns’ carried out by paramilitaries on both sides of the divide resulted in the deepening of sectarian division in society which weakens the interests of workers.
A history of workers unity in action
The most effective weapon against sectarian killings and state repression has proven to be when workers take mass independent action. This was seen in the early 1990s when a series of strikes and large demonstrations against killings and threats (for instance after the Shankill bombing and the Ormeau Rd bookies massacre) played a key role in leading to the ceasefires in 1994. When postal worker Danny McColgan was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in 2001, it was the mass action by postal workers and the wider working class which succeeded in forcing loyalist and republican paramilitaries to lift the threats against workers. Over 100,000 workers demonstrated on January 18th 2001 in one of the biggest ever protests seen in Northern Ireland.
Independence from sectarian parties makes us stronger
These few examples show that mass action of working people, independent of sectarian politicians, church leaders and business representatives, is the most effective weapon to combat sectarianism in all it’s guises. If there is a sustained continuation of attacks in the coming weeks, then workers should ensure that local committees are elected in workplaces and communities which can campaign against sectarianism and respond to the threat of attacks and shootings swiftly.
We need a new political voice
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the peace process has managed to limp on, lurching from crisis to crisis, from suspension to restoration of the Assembly institutions to paralysis of the Executive from issue to issue. While the sectarian parties have superficially come together at the top in an uneasy coalition, the reality is that society has never been as divided along sectarian lines. There is now more segregation than ever before. There has never been less interaction between working class communities. Left in the hands of the sectarian parties, the peace process is in reality a process of division.
Assembly: United on right-wing economic policies
At the same time as the parties are divided on the ‘sectarian issues’ they have shown complete unity in implementing right-wing policies of cuts in public services and privatisation. The Assembly Executive’s budget is a horror story for workers with attack after attack contained within it. 2,500 jobs are to go in the Belfast Health Trust alone. Nursing homes are being threatened with closure across the North. 450 jobs are being cut from the Housing Executive. The list goes on.
A mass working class party is urgently needed
The parties in the Assembly are in agreement that working class people should pay for the economic crisis which has been caused by the super-rich. There is no opposition in the Assembly or at local council level to the right-wing policies being implemented by the sectarian parties. A mass party is needed which unites working class people, Catholic and Protestant, to fight the attacks on services, jobs, wages and conditions. The policy pursued by the leadership of the trade unions of supporting the parties in the Assembly Executive is failing to deliver for ordinary people. The unions should immediately support the establishment of a mass independent party which represents the united interests of working class and young people. By offering a fighting socialist alternative, the ability of sectarian forces to tap into the growing discontent in society, in particular amongst young people, can be cut across.