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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A Party of Their Own

Mick Hall • 21 October 2005

After the recent summer of unrest within a number of the north of Ireland's loyalist communities, there has been much analysis of late about the current state of the Unionist working classes (as if the class is one large homogeneous block). The academics have now joined with media pundits in making and acquiescing to comments like the following, [the loyalist working classes] "have become dysfunctional, beyond help". Or even better they are "uneducated, socially and politically disgruntled, prey to drugs, their only role models are men like Jim Gray".

Of course when the likes of Misters Paisley and Empey are asked what the actual grievances were that lay behind the latest loyalist unrest, they cannot reply, not in public anyway. For the main grievance is not about any lack of equality of jobs, services or State funding between Protestant workers and their Catholic working class neighbours, for as far as equality of services is concerned, both communities are equally deprived. To put it bluntly, and it gives me no pleasure to say it, a large section of the unionist working classes' main grievance is they simply cannot stand seeing 'the taigs about the place'.

Who put that idea into their heads one might ask, if not the leaders of political Unionism and their forebears down the years within the Unionist Political Establishment? Nowhere was this attitude for me better illustrated than when I recently overheard a conversation between a loyalist worker who had spent the last 30 years living and working in England and his sister who had remained on the Shankill.

The brother said, "There has been some changes here since I went away."

The sister replied, "You don't know the half of it, they are all over the City Hall, something which was unthinkable when you were last home. They act as if they own the bloody place these days."

Sadly this attitude epitomizes the sad fact working class loyalists have failed to come to terms with the self confidence the Republican Movement under Gerry Adams' leadership has been able to instill within the nationalist working classes, which has made them demand equality as a right and accept nothing less.

Instead of challenging the bigoted and unacceptable viewpoint held by that section of the loyalist working class which rioted over the summer, the Unionist politicians and their academic go-for's either remain silent or they are searching for ways of legitimizing such prejudice. Hence the Professor of Politics at Queen's University, Belfast, Graham Walker, wrote the following little gem, "The Protestant working class remains the cutting edge of an identity and an outlook which has to be accommodated on its own terms to a far greater extent than even the new nationalism or new Republicanism seems prepared to accept."

Of course it is perfectly understandable the Unionist establishment should come out with such rubbish, as the same prejudices the good professor is attempting to set in stone, are prevalent not only amongst working class loyalists, but throughout sections of the Unionist community. Although the middle classes, unlike their working class brethren, are far too politically astute to express such politically incorrect prejudice on a street corner. When this subject is raised with them, it is hardly surprising one can hear the sound of silence.

Yet such reactionary crap did not fall from the sky into the minds of Protestant workers, but originated with the Unionist political elite. The purpose of which was to tie these workers to their apron strings politically, and create an unbridgeable chasm between the two sections of workers within the north east of Ireland, thus making it a near impossibility for the powers that be to be successfully challenged from the Left.

Whilst within the rest of the UK, workers long ago realized if they were to have any hope of gaining their fair share of the Nations political and economic cake, they would have to cease being represented politically by the Liberal and to a lesser extent the Conservative Parties, whose leadership were always going to place their own class interests before those of the working classes. Hence the British Trade Unions founded the Labour Party, which by the end of WW2 had gained the allegiance of the overwhelming majority of working class people.

In 1945 the party gained office with a large enough majority to place the welfare and needs of working people near the top of the national agenda. Bar that is, in the north of Ireland. For whilst in England, Scotland and Wales working people liberalized much of their way of life through a party of their own creation, in the north politics had stagnated, as indeed the founders of the northern state-let intended and the working classes, as if caught in a time warp, in the main still gave their political allegiance to a political party whose first interest was to represent the unionist middle classes and big bourgeoisie.

Any liberalizing that was to be done remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie, who were astute enough to understand that they could not stand out against the introduction of the Welfare State by the Attlee Government, but opportunist enough, despite being aligned with the then main UK opposition the Conservative Party, to claim credit for the introduction of it in the north.

Once the Nationalist sixty-niners, who almost exclusively came from working class backgrounds, refused to continue as the loyalist state's whipping boys, and in the process snail like began to remold a political party of their own (SF), the situation was never going to remain static. With the deindustrialization of the British economy by Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s, the halfpence of economic privileges the loyalist working class had been accustomed to since the state-lets formation began to evaporate with the decline of UK ship building etc. Until today, as I have already stated above, as far as equality in jobs, housing and services are concerned, there is very little difference between that which the nationalist or loyalist working class receive.

It is worth looking briefing at the claim made recently in the media that the loyalist working class are "uneducated, prey to drugs, its only role models men like Jim Gray". On the surface there may seem some truth in this and I myself have written an article as to how the nationalist working classes came to regard education more highly than their Unionist counterparts.* Basically it goes back to the availability of work, or the lack of it, however this explains the past, not the present. These days the Loyalist working classes are poorly educated because those they trusted to represent them politically channelled resources into areas from whence they came, i.e., the lower and middle class Unionist communities, at the expense of the working classes. It really is as simple as that; it boils down to a lack of decent political representation. It is a sad fact of political life that like their white South African counterparts under the apartheid state, the loyalist working classes failed to learn the maxim: if you want something done well, the only way to ensure it is to do it yourself.

As to drugs, yes loyalist working class areas are awash with illegal drugs, but then so are the nationalist communities, as is the so called Gold Coast and the more leafier suburbs of Belfast and elsewhere. Indeed loyalist working class areas are no more drug infested than many other part of the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland. For in reality illegal drugs are every where, including in all probability within the northern Assembly when it is sitting, and the London and Dublin Parliaments. Whether it be Knightsbridge or Tallaght, the Shankill or the Falls, illegal drugs are part of daily life these days and unless we get our heads around this fact, then society will never get to grips with this phenomenon and chart a sensible course as to how we deal with the problems which arise from their sale and distribution.

It is also outrageous to blame the Unionist working classes for the likes of Jim Gray or his ilk. Thugs like Mr Gray were nurtured and shoe-horned into positions of power by the British State via its security services, police forces and Army Intel. To suggest otherwise is like claiming the Kray Twins epitomized the English working classes, which is infantile.

The tragedy was that due to the loyalist working classes having no political representatives of their own, a political vacuum had emerged within their communities. This made it a simple process for the British state to infiltrate wretches such as Mr Gray into leadership positions within the loyalist working class communities, the more so when the political representatives of the British State and the Ulster Unionist Party fore-locked tugged to the leaderships of the UDA/UVF whilst behind the scenes giving the nod for many of them to gain immunity from prosecution for their criminal acts.

The fact is the overwhelming majority of leading loyalist paramilitaries acted with the full blessing of the British state, indeed, half of them were directly on the British security services payroll as touts and hit-men. When the British State no longer had need of these people, they almost to a man morphed into full time gangsters, which demonstrates their caliber perfectly. The fact that such gangsters have risen to prominence within loyalist working class communities in the north is an aberration, which can only be explained by the aforementioned British Security Service involvement.

To conclude, unless the loyalist working classes take control of their own destiny politically, then it is difficult to see a bright future for them as they will increasingly spiral downwards to become a lumpen underclass. The decision by the PUP not to break decisively from the UVF means this party will forever be doomed to act as an apologist for loyalist paramilitary criminality and act as its elbows to gain entrance to the master's table. However, the loyalist working class has a history of attempting to build a voice of its own with the NILP; it would do no harm for it to look back at this period and learn the lessons from it. A class that had the determination and grim fortitude to endure what was for them 30 plus years of civil war, surely have the political ability to found a party of their own.




* published on the Blanket website and in the loyalist/republican ex prisoners magazine, The Other View.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

23 October 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges
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A Long Way Down
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A Party of Their Own
Mick Hall

Reid's Sectarian Slur
Eamon McCann

Repeal Anti-Catholic Section of Act of Settlement 1701
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Nicola McCartney & the Facts About Irish History
Seaghán Ó Murchu

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Socialism in Ireland
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Turning "Smoke ban" thing into ANTI-DIOXIN movement
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A Bleak Future
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Provos Censor de Chastelain in Bid to Lie About Guns
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Taking Politics Out of the Gun
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Live From Hollywood: The IRA Disarms
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