The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Close Of The Year 2003
- The Belfast SWP

Diary Form

Davy Carlin • 31 December 2003

Introduction

Once again we come to the close of another year, a year that has seen my comrades in Belfast and beyond step up a gear with our initiation of and participation in various campaigns and movements that had brought together many differing organisations on issues of commonality. This time also at the close of last year we had seen the Falls and Shankill march and the first Belfast march of the Anti-War Movement to protest against the upcoming war in Iraq. On both of these issues the SWP had prepared and organised the ground work (on the Blanket previously) which saw Catholic and Protestant workers marching together, some eventually in their tens of thousands. So, in doing so, we had sought to reach out for that commonality of purpose. Yet for oneself I am as inspired by those small actions in struggle that often go unreported to a wider audience. As an Internationalist I search also and read of those daily and localised struggles of peoples around this world who seek also a better world for all. And reading of and learning from their struggles both gives one knowledge and that continual inspiration. So again as this year comes to an end I will outline the issues over the last few weeks that we as activists in Belfast have been involved in. We have heard and still hear so often of the division within our society that it seems hard at times to find a showing of the unity that has been forged. But that unity is again beginning in small ways to raise its head within and amongst many avenues and on many issues and in doing so we are playing our part. Finally I write often of the Belfast SWP, simply as this is where I would have the most detailed and hands-on knowledge of our activities and how we seek to organise and to reach out to others for that unity. But the Belfast SWP (district) is part of an organisation with many branches around Ireland which is part of an International tendency.

A few weeks for the Belfast SWP (Diary)

It was a cold day as I got the Black hack (taxi) to go down the Falls Road from the top of the Rock (Whiterock Road junction – with Ballymurphy on one side, Turf Lodge on the other and facing New Barnsley). It was the Saturday before the November 26th 2003 assembly elections and I was going up to provide solidarity for my comrade Eamon McCann who was one of the candidates standing for the Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) in the forthcoming elections. McCann, known by many for his involvement in the civil rights movement and also as a respected journalist, is one of the most inspirational socialists that I have met in my short time as a political activist. So it was a matter for me as with others that we wanted to go and offer that solidarity not only to Eamon but also more importantly to the SEA and its platform. Incidentally the last time Eamon had stood in elections was 1970. So arriving at the Belfast City Hall, Barbara, Ryan and Tom were already waiting in the car. Ryan was in the back engrossed probably in volume three or other of some selected writings with Barbara and Tom in the front. ‘Is that the Irish News Davy? Let's have a juke (look) at it’, Barbara asked. Looking then at the comrades in the car we together have already been through much together (each of us having been activists for several years). Even in each of their very earliest days I hold memories of them to the fore in local and international struggles, For a brief moment as I looked into the car I remembered that Ryan had lain down in front of Israeli tanks in Palestine several years ago to prevent the possible oncoming slaughter of Palestinians. I remembered Barbara linked to my arm as guards dragged us out at the end of our several daylong occupation against student fees in our very early days at Queens University. Where we were then unceremoniously dumped in the mud, which was already filling up with chunks of hair from those young women comrades who were also being dragged out by the hair. As for Tom, and as Dan approached, again I thought of those relatively recent past days, may it have been our numerous initiated occupations of multinational corporations, the road sit down protests, the US Consul occupations or whatever else around Belfast, they also had always been to the fore and had stood firm in our actions, home or internationally. Such brief memories of firm activism brought a passing smile to one's face and I thought although how relatively young we were in politics how much in fact we each, and collectively held old and politically experienced heads. Others had now arrived. ‘Right are we ready, lets get the show on the road.’ So with that we set off in several cars for Derry.

On arrival in Derry we saw McCann going around in a car with loud hailers on either side letting the public know as to why they should be voting for a socialist as opposed to the green – orange politics of Nationalism/Unionism. With that, we then collected our leaflets, posters and campaign material from election HQ and made our way onto the streets of Derry. On arrival to the various housing estates the heavens opened and I mean it absolutely poured down. Although it was cold when we left Belfast it did not look as if it would rain. So although we eventually ended up soaked through, it did not however dampen our spirits. So while several comrades went down each side of every street knocking at doors and putting through election material others would take turns walkingdown the middle of the street with a loud hailer again letting people know as to why it was important to vote for a socialist. The response we got was brilliant with many stating that they would vote for the SEA. Drenched to the skin but contented we headed for a well-earned hot cuppa. When the results came in, McCann, as a socialist standing on a socialist platform and but using that electoral platform to put forward that socialist agenda polled over 2250 first preference votes, over 5.5% of the vote in that constituency for Northern elections, which was a very positive poll and the largest received by a socialist in many many years.

Then we had the Campaign against Selection (CAS) that held a public debate very recently in St Louise’s Comprehensive Girls School on the Falls Road. My colleagues who are teachers initiated, worked and do work with many others in this Campaign. CAS was launched at St Louise’s School several years ago and continues still to be by far the lead campaigning voice within the North of Ireland on this manner. Set up in opposition to the 11plus and academic selection (which discriminates against working class children and is in effect educational apartheid – my previous article on the Blanket ‘Speech at the PUP Conference 2002’, goes into this issue also) it has been the campaign to the very forefront over recent years that has rigorously fought to end this unjust system. It has held rallies and mobilised Catholics and Protestants in and through Belfast, on demonstrations, marches and pickets etc, which have been supported both by many leading trade unionists and by many different national trade union banners at the various CAS events. They have held public meetings and have and are presently and regularly at the forefront of all the ongoing debates on Television, radio and within all the leading Northern Irish press, constantly putting forward their belief in ending educational discrimination. The recent debate organised by my colleague as organisational secretary of the campaign had E McCann debating Sir Kenneth Bloomfield (former head of the N. Ireland civil service) and was attended by over four hundred students.

This moves me then conveniently on to another matter in relation to the N. Ireland Civil Service (NICS). As like other of my comrades as a member of NIPSA (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance – the largest trade union in the North) and some of us like myself also being in Branch 8 (the largest Branch in the civil service, which the NIPSA general secretary referred to recently at a public meeting as the most ‘infamous’ branch in the N. Ireland civil service and within NIPSA – before the recent actions.). So on Friday 28th November after a long drawn out dispute over pay the N. Ireland Civil Service management ‘imposed’ in effect a 0% ‘pay rise’ in real terms, upon civil servants (while themselves earning many scores of thousands and getting many many thousands again in a pay ‘settlement’). One has to be aware that the civil service (in relation to job security, class make up and opportunity etc) is not what it once was. I know of married persons who have worked almost a dozen years in the NICS and take home less than £200 pound a week. Many working class men and women who work there also qualify for and are on state benefits, such is the poverty level of pay.

I note that the Labour movement in Ireland's history has had varied responses. We have seen strong individual and historical leaders within trade unionism as we have seen strong unions. Yet trade unionism is as much about the collective strength of a workforce as it is as about giving a solid lead as a representative to that workforce and to one's membership. It was when NICS management treated its workforce with contempt that solid lead needed to be given, and it was given from the workers, the rank and file on the shop floor. I believe that when your trade union leadership gives positive lead one should support them whole heartedly, yet when they are slow to move then it is the rank and file that should move and in doing so shake them into activity. If not, then independent action may need to continue (independent in the sense of mass collective rank and file worker action from below as opposed to trade union leadership bureaucracy inactions from above). So on the news that the ‘deal’ was to be imposed rank and file activists within Branch 8 NIPSA drew up placards and began marching around the floors of our thirteen story building in Belfast, with placards reading 'end poverty pay - all out.' And with that workers joined in behind and marched outside in their hundreds onto the streets of Belfast on ‘unofficial’ walkouts.

As the news spread around, other workers starting walking out of their offices all around Belfast with many marching upon Branch 8 to stand firm with their colleagues. With comrades now standing upon the steps of our workplace making addresses to the workers other workers looked down out of the windows of surrounding buildings shouting out ‘we are on our way down’; and down they came. As the news spread others started walking out as far away as Derry. Such was its impact and the inspiring spontaneous mobilisation of workers that the N. Ireland minister stated that ‘the actions of workers at branch 8 were deplorable’. Yet I tell you what was and is deplorable Mr minister - the imposing of a 0% deal in real terms and the keeping of workers on poverty wages. So with that the rank and file workers, Catholic and Protestant in their many many hundreds strong, took the lead, immediately downed tools when the ‘deal’ was imposed, and walked out, clapped as other workers marched towards them in solidarity and with that together stood firm and united on that day. Thus in doing so taking to the streets of Belfast and beyond, in solidarity and against poverty wages. This active and visual action led the way in showing both how much workers are sickened by the way they are being treated by management and provided a small example of the real power held by the workers as the businesses came to a virtual standstill. These workers therefore took that lead, stood firm against low pay and excuse the pun, walked the walk. As one worker and recently new union representative, recently interviewed and newly inspired, has stated (who had never been in such actions).

I have seen trade union activists in different trade unions during my time as a NIPSA member (8-9 years) and before, looking time and again to trade union election after election to try and bring change. Or looking to provide activist based leadership and involvement (from on top), but unfortunately providing just the very occasional sign of either. I believe that those unofficial walkouts were probably the largest and most feel-good immediate reaction responses against low pay that has been initiated, responded to, and more importantly led by ordinary union members, that NIPSA has seen in God knows how many years and, most probably, has ever seen.'

Such action gives workers a sense of collective power and solidarity but as importantly in this case it showed how much they felt about the dismal way that they have been treated and are under valued.

That evening it was now the Belfast Anti War Movement’s (BAWM) – (Anti War Movement and Stop The War Coalition’s origins and development can be found on the Blanket) turn to stand firm against the arrival of the British commander of the Iraq war, Colonel Tim Collins, who was coming to Queens University. Joined by some of the workers that had lead the walkouts that day we met at Queens. Our protest was loud and lively as one Northern Irish daily put it ‘the protesters stormed across the off bound green and were held back by security staff with police at security barriers.’ We had also handed out literature to many of those attending the function, for some were not aware of Tim Collin’s role in the Iraq war. Our point had been made and our presence felt with the BAWM now preparing to march and rally in Belfast in the time ahead against the ongoing occupation of Iraq.

Then on the 10th Dec the recently formed Anti Racism Network (ARN) called a vigil at the front of the Belfast City Hall. The ARN established to take a visual and practical stand against both the rise in racial attacks and racism. (The ARN’s initiation and beginning can be found on the Blanket and its development shall be penned similar to the Anti War Movement Part one and two in the months ahead for the Blanket). The ARN vigil on Dec 10th (International Human Rights Day) despite only recently established was the largest and most representative such event on that day around the North of Ireland. Around twenty five representative organisations participated including all the main minority ethnic organisations, The Northern Ireland Chinese Welfare Association, the Belfast Islamic Centre, The Belfast Travellers Association, The African Centre, the Indian Centre etc as well as minority support groups. Human rights organisations attended, as did trade union organisers, leading politicians, leading community representatives, anti-war and anti-capitalist activists, peace and students groups etc. Such a representative group to take a stand against racism has not been seen in well over a decade in the North. As the far right groups from Britain again voice that they may actively organise here we need to ensure that if they do that they will not only be condemned by wider society as recent attacks have, but they would need to be actively opposed within it. The ARN seeks to engage with working class communities, their organisations, trade unions and others to collectively attempt to halt such attacks

The next day was the ‘official’ strike action by NIPSA against the imposed pay 'increase’. So with that I arrived at my branch (branch 8) around 7.15am to see some comrades from the branch committee already there. With our loud hailer I took to the mike and made our points to passing workers while providing leaflets for anyone who had turned up to cross our picket line. Out of a building of around 1200 about 95% held solid behind the picket line and did not turn up for work. Postal vans and other delivery vans refused also to pass our picket. We were also joined for a time by leading colleagues from the fire-fighters union, the Executive as well as the NIPSA president and their solidarity was much appreciated as it was to the many workers from other unions who also came along through the day and stood in solidarity. Also many of the bus, postal, ambulance and fire fighter workers amongst many others who passed us (as our building is situated on one of Belfast city centre's busiest roads, as we are in the centre of Belfast) beeped their horns, waved or raised their fist in solidarity with us. Just after noon we then marched from Branch 8 (as Branch 8 had done - the only NIPSA branch to do so - with the branch 8 anti-war banner to then march to Belfast City Hall on day X against the bombing of Iraq.) to join other colleagues also on the march to Transport House for a rally. That evening (in relation to the Northern Ireland wide and very successful strike action) and the next day remarkably but not surprisingly apart from the NIPSA General Secretary J. Corey all those others interviewed on ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ TV or Radio or pictured in the main daily Northern Irish press the next morning were those activists who had stood on the steps of Branch 8 that day, who like many thousands of our colleagues did and still do stand firm against this deplorable pay reduction and the continual existence for many on poverty wages. Presently we are on work to rule in preparation for further sustained actions.

These are some of the events in but the last three weeks or so that go unheard to a larger audience. Yet for many of the Belfast SWP we are also involved in other campaigns, such as myself for example involved in the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). Again during that three-week period I participated in the IPSC white line picket on the Falls Rd with Blanket contributors such as A. Fox, S. Matthews, and A. McIntyre etc. I have been involved in this solidarity campaign for several years now and the commitment of many of its lead members is again inspiring. I remember not long back doing a ten mile sponsored walk for the campaign with the above persons, but for most of the walk having a discussion on many issues both local and international with Tommy Gorman who I would agree with on many issues. Similarly, speaking as I have at times to Brendan the ‘Dark Hughes’ or Tommy Mc Kearney etc I would find myself nodding in agreement. Yet discussing, engaging and debating with other ‘establishment and non- establishment’ leading republicans and similarly with aspects of leading political loyalism - Unionism or leading trade unionists, I have found at times intriguing analysis and indeed perceptions on many issues including that of Palestine.

Yet for one as I stated at the onset I am as inspired by what one would deem smaller acts. I remember several years ago when Clinton came here and we had organised a demo against his arrival. At that time there was a politic of embracement for this US president from Sinn Fein to aspects of the so-called left that swam with the tide. Yet when I arrived early for our demo I saw a woman sitting alone on the steps of the Waterfront hall with a hand drawn poster. It read, 'No US imperialism welcome in Ireland’ or words to that effect. So I went over and talked to her and she was not even aware of a demo but had come alone to stand her ground amongst the gathering masses who were waiting to greet and cheer on the leader of US imperialism. When she spoke she did so with her eyes, as they breathed fire and defiance as I had seen on various occasions. It was like when my comrade Andrew King who was shown around the world standing up and standing firm - when Clinton arose and spoke in Belfast’s Waterfront hall Andrew took him to task over US Imperialism’s role. Yet such was the nature of the almost total embracement of the established Nationalist – Republican parities of Clinton that the TV commentator thought that the socialist that spoke out live against Clinton and US imperialism was a loyalist! Yet one knows that like that woman I had first met on those steps (we are now good friends and she is still a committed activist) that there will always be those that will stand firm and speak out, and over the years I have found many such individuals around Belfast or they have found us and together we work now on many campaigns, through many networks with each other, with a similar belief of seeking a better, fair, just and equal world.

On a last point as I had stated not so long ago, that the Irish Congress Of Trade Unions (ICTU) had called a united campaign against the water charges which was good to see. But I had stated that I believed that they wanted firstly such a campaign cemented under their umbrella and secondly that I believe that little activity would be forthcoming for them, as is to date the case. It was not a coincidence that as rank and file activists were preparing the ground against water charges that the ICTU quickly moved to form an umbrella group. We with others initially had initiated and held very well attended meetings on the issue in communities such as South Belfast, (of which my comrade Ryan is the secretary) attended by many from the local community as well as by leading trade union activists from several trade unions. Yet after the ICTU led campaign launch had watched, waited and had given them the opportunity for an active response, but to date, as I thought, none has been realistically forth coming. So - what is to be done?

Quite simply if the ICTU with their clout do not move to actively organise and mobilise on this issue soon then its rank and file along with communities and their organisations should begin the process of organisation for the organised fight back against water charges. In the meantime pressure needs to be brought to bear on leaderships to actively organise. If they do not, then the organisation and the lead needs to come from below. One has to remember despite our differences in the ‘wee world’ of Northern Irish politics, that these water charges will hit the working class communities, poorest and most vulnerable foremost. Therefore those differences, for the benefit of those communities, however hard will need to be set aside, and in doing so putting the collective needs of the working class and the vulnerable to the forefront.

That has been but the last three weeks or so of some of our activity at the close of this year; a year amongst other things that had seen our initiation of the largest anti-war march in the North’s history and all that came with it (as recorded on the Blanket). So another year over, and a new one to begin, a year of a just struggle, a year of continual movement forward. To those engaged in that just struggle however large or small, for a just and equal world, for a world without war and famine, for a world organised for need and not greed, we send you our revolutionary Internationalist greetings.








 

 

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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles



8 January 2004

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

A Man for All Seasons?
Eamon Sweeney

 

"A Means to Fight Back"
Marian Price

 

Tame Bulls in the China Shop
Anthony McIntyre

 

The Rising of the Moon: the language of power
Liam O Ruairc

 

Limerick Feud Denial

Óglaigh na hÉireann

 

Selective Memory
Michael Youlton

 

A Free Press in Iraq?
Mick Hall

 

Robert Zoellick and Wise Blood - The Hazel Motes Approach to International Trade
Toni Solo

 

Christmas Greetings 2003
Annie Higgins

 

The Close of the Year 2003 - The Belfast SWP
Davy Carlin

 

4 January 2004

 

Bam
Anthony McIntyre

 

New Years Statement 2004

Óglaigh na hÉireann

 

New Year Greetings
Jimmy Sands

 

In Memorium
Brian Mór

 

Is This The Real IRA?
Liam O Ruairc

 

Dec. 16th Dail Questions

Transcript

 

Provos/SDLP/Dublin Securing Partition
Liam O Comain

 

The Patriot Game
Kathleen O Halloran

 

Wiping Out the Opposition
Aine Fox

 

They Will Never Get Us All
Sean Matthews

 

The Letters Page has been updated.

 

 

 

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