Belfast Trade Unions demonstrate against Austerity

Trade Unionists march against Austerity

As part of the trade union campaign against austerity across the UK the trade union movement in the North of Ireland organised a demonstration in Belfast to coincide with those in London and Glasgow.  It is difficult to estimate the size of the demonstration which appeared significant as it snaked its way through Belfast’s city centre but didn’t look impressive as it assembled and looked even less so at the final rally.  The latter however is a feature of trade union demonstrations. The notion that the purpose of a rally at the end is to explain what to do next and get everyone involved is as alien to most people at these things as little green men from Mars.  What happens next always depends on the decisions of the union leaders.  It is not for deciding by those involved.

Supporters of the United Left Alliance in the North correctly made this the subject of their leaflet and put forward the key task of the demonstration as one of creating a real permanent campaign against austerity:

“Last November saw 40,000 mobilised in Belfast in a general public sector strike  – but it was a one-off event and everyone went home again.  No further action was taken, there was no continuing campaign and the next public sector strike was much less successful.

Everyone is no less opposed to austerity and the Tories and Labour plans show the issue isn’t going away.

At the end of this demonstration we must make sure we don’t go away either.  To ensure that this doesn’t happen we need to come together to create an on-going cross-union permanent campaign that will oppose austerity.  Not one that pops up every six months but one that continues every week to campaign inside the trade unions, inside workplaces and inside communities to unite them all in a way that each of them cannot do by themselves.”

I overheard one of the trade union leaders responsible for the demonstration express her delight at the size of the turnout.  The demonstration was successful in so far as it confirmed that a basis exists for starting to build a wider and potentially successful campaign but one should not underestimate the obstacles.

The first is that the demonstration was no more than a few thousand at the very, very most.  It was dwarfed by the very, very large sectarian demonstration three weeks before, which commemorated the signing of the Ulster Covenant that led to partition.  This was celebrated by the participation of dozens of ‘kick the pope’ flute bands.  A prominent organiser of it was Nelson McCausland of the Democratic Unionist Party who has led the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill in the Stormont Assembly, which imposes in Northern Ireland the cuts decided by the Tory Government in London.   It is ironic that many of the marchers in the Ulster Covenant commemoration will be shafted by these cuts.

The welfare changes introduce the biggest assault on entitlement in decades and were also supported by Sinn Fein.  The latter bring their own ironic aspect to its passage.  The back bone of Sinn Fein’s political machine is a network of advice centres at which Sinn Fein activists help those on welfare get as much as they can.  It is what they called ‘screwing the system’ when they first started doing it.  Now of course Sinn Fein has joined the system and the only people getting screwed are their constituents.  The first many of them will know about the changes will be when their benefits get cut.   They will then run to the advice centres where Sinn Fein will tell them ‘sorry but these are the new rules’.  What they won’t tell them is that Sinn Fein voted for them and had the power to stop them but didn’t.  While welfare is cut along with public sector pay Martin McGuinness will continue to complain that the British won’t let Sinn Fein and the DUP cut corporation tax.  Sinn Fein posturing has been particularly vacuous – they have said they ‘might’ make an issue of monthly payments of benefits and demand that they are paid fortnightly instead.

The third obstacle is reflected by the fact that so many walked away from the demonstration with no demand to those on the platform that they provide them with a strategy promising success.  The demonstrators were activists in their various trade unions and community groups but there is no understanding of the need for wider organisation.  They were there to protest and no more.

A protest is an expression of disapproval, summed up in the slogan ‘not in my name’.  It is not an alternative and it ultimately receives the following answer by the Government and State – ‘yeah, so what?’  Sinn Fein and the DUP live and breathe as defenders of their respective community against the other even as together they fillet both.  The limits of the trade union leaders’ challenge can be seen in the statement released before the demonstration:

“The devolved administrations must build a robust joint defence of the people who elected them.  Let this rally today send a message to our MLAs and our MPs from all political parties that we the people are firmly opposed to the failed policy of austerity which destroys lives and futures.”

An appeal to the political parties at Stormont and to Stormont itself is not a strategy.  It amounts to an appeal to the enemy.  The financial crisis exploded because of a property boom and the well-reported antics of the Developers’ Unionist Party and hidden ‘let’s get rich’ antics of the leaders of the Provisional Movement mean these people ae personally tied up with the system that is demanding the cuts.

The political sectarianism of the left means that it too is not an alternative.  It is unable to unite its tiny forces in an attempt to make a difference, although this is not the biggest problem.  The Left’s inability to organise in an open and democratic way means it cannot include the wider forces needed to create a real movement.  Were it to attempt to do so the Left group concerned would no longer retain control.  Since their absolute need for control is not just a rather unfortunate sectarian aberration in their practice but a foundation in principle of their existence- they all believe that they are the sole essential nucleus of the mass working class party of the future because of their particular approach to socialist politics -they are both practically and in theory sectarian.

The leaflet of the supporters of the United Left Alliance correctly put forward the next step – creation of a permanent campaign that is organised across unions by rank and file members, in workplaces and in communities and their community campaigns.  This is not just the next step in a campaign against austerity.  Just as socialism is the creation of working people themselves so is the resistance to capitalism, one of the means by which the capitalist system will be superseded by the power of a new ruling class, made up for the first  time by the vast majority of society.

11 thoughts on “Belfast Trade Unions demonstrate against Austerity

  1. No, I wouldn’t be “delighted to have you aboard”. As I’ve already told you, I have no interest in you, or your politics, or those of the two grouplets involved in your sham “supporters group”. There is no political basis for us to collaborate. There is no political basis for an alliance involving your little collection of left nationalist leftovers and the Socialist Party. If you were serious about your own politics, you would already know that.

    As for you question about “vetos”, the ULA is an alliance between the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and some independents. Each of those elements has representatives on the steering committee, and through those representatives each of those elements has a veto on changes in policy and organisation. That’s the basis we’ve agreed to work together on. You don’t have to like it or approve of it because the ULA doesn’t organise where you live and isn’t going to do so.

    If you want to “fight austerity”, let me encourage you to get on with it rather than wasting your time trying to fool people into thinking that you and your politics have something to do with the ULA.

    • Yes I am aware of the limitations of a diplomatic alliance and how little holds the present SP/SWP relationship together, but insulting supporters who see the potential for something new, a dialectical development, is hardly the way to proceed. A comradely dialogue is not much to ask for but it appears to be out of the question with you. From your answer you prove the first reply to your posts correct, you are definitely partitionist and beyond a shadow of a doubt, sectarian. In your arrogance you manage to insult left nationalists and by association left republicans. It seems that from even within the sectarian prison-house of the north, that you limit northern socialists to, you are building against austerity from a pretty narrow ‘broad base’ good luck with that! It seems the pink orange party analysis is also correct. If you want to read up on the difference between a diplomatic compromise and a united front it may be interesting for you to have a look at Trotsky on the subject. Sin-e!

  2. The slanderous and dishonest nature of Mark P’s role is clear from his interventions. Even when the transparent, open and democratic nature of the organisation of the supporters group is explained and that it was done throught the ULA office with the knowledge of the ULA steering committee, he keeps smearing with claims of conspiracy. He claims that we are setting up a ULA branch when we have simply said what we are – ULA supporters and members in the North.

    Mark tries to make some political points without success. The ULA is not a party but an alliance and iti is quite clear that an anti-austerity alliance should exist in the North. He is also mistaken in his partitionist idea that the differences between the SP and the rest of the Irish left exist only North of the border. Clearly a pro-partionist position effects alll Irish workers. The ULA is in crisis largely due to the dogmatism of the SP.

    Political differences can be resolved by joint action and honesty. Fat chance with Mark!

    • Once more, why on Earth would you want a political alliance with people who are “pro partition”, “dogmatic”, “slanderous”, “dishonest”, etc?

      Let’s be clear about this: Joining the ULA means, amongst other things, entering into a political alliance with the Socialist Party. There is not enough political agreement between the Socialist Party and the couple of little grouplets in Belfast who are trying to sneak into the ULA for there to be an alliance between them. Therefore, because the Socialist Party unlike those grouplets is serious about its politics, there will be no alliance between them. That’s one of the funny things about alliances, you can’t form one with people who want nothing to do with you.

      You can whine and splutter and call us names all you like. But that basic fact isn’t going to change.

      As for your “democratic” organisation, I have no interest in whether your grouplets organise democratically or not, because I have no interest in any aspect of their existence. Except in so far as they are dishonestly passing themselves off as having a connection to an organisation I’m a member of and except in so far as they have the brass neck to pass of their views as having some connection to those of the ULA.

      Neither the ULA office (which incidentally has no more authority on such issues than the ULA independents group) nor the ULA steering committee has agreed to the establishment of any ULA structures in the North of any kind, branches, a “supporters group” or anything else. The people passing themselves off as the ULA have no mandate from the ULA to do so. Nor are the views they express in its name those of the ULA. Their behaviour is dishonest and manipulative.

      • So the ULA is a diplomatic agreement between the SP and the SWP and the SP exercises a veto within this agreement on organising in the north, that is all that matters. The SP and SWP will make deals and the rest will nod their heads approvingly. The ULA office and the non aligned have no authority!!?? But not everyone in the ULA agrees with you Mark! We exist, we are ULA members and we are active in the north and we want to try to make a difference to the level of working class resistance to austerity, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not really about any particular group or individual, it’s about class struggle. I’m sure on that basis, as fellow members of the ULA, we agree, don’t we, and you would be delighted to have us on board, wouldn’t you? Incidently, it is not dishonest to say we are ULA members, because we are, and for one who has no interest in what we do you sure post a lot! I know, I know, it’s just that we are using ‘your’ name, but is it yours at all?

  3. Mark P is a slacktivist who spends a lot of time on the internet as an apologist for the Socialist Party. His activity here is to slander unnamed groups as conspirators and the ULA supporters in the North as a conspirators’ front.

    His bile is offset by his ignorance. The background is that the SP and SWP, in an attempt to persuade militants that they were serious about unity without moving towards a new party, agreed that two nonaligned members be elected to the steering committee. This has led to a number of national meetings of the non-aligned group. A recent meeting appointed organisers for each province and the Ulster (9-county) organiser called a meeting that was advertised by the ULA office in official bulletins and in emails to non-aligned members.

    The convened group did not decide to set up a branch but agreed to work together to intervene in the debate in the ULA and to intervene more generally in the struggle against austerity. They describe themselves as what they are – ULA members – and are a great deal wider in composition than two groups.

    It is true that if the ULA were to establish formal branches in the North this would be in conflict with Socialist Party ideas of establishing a pink orange party here – but I would see that as their problem and not of concern to any other socialist current in Ireland – no-one else thinks we should unite Irish workers by constructing two parties.

  4. It is dishonest for two grouplets in Belfast to be associating themselves with the United Left Alliance and putting forward their views and ideas in its name. The ULA does not organise in the North. These people are not ULA members. The ULA has no input into the views they express in their leaflets.

    They are perfectly entitled to argue that the ULA should organise in the North. It is strange that they would do so, given that this would centrally involve a political alliance with the Socialist Party, an organisation they have little political agreement with, but they are entitled to lack seriousness about their own politics if they so choose. That’s quite different from trying to pass themselves off as having a connection to the ULA in advance of the ULA deciding to allow them any such connection.

    • I would like to think that no one here is being dishonest but what is striking is the dogmatism of Mark’s, and the SP’s position. This position is being maintained by banning any activity by non aligned ULA members in the north. The result of that position is that people who have joined the ULA north of the border must either remain in fragmented ‘grouplets’ each following their own agenda, refusing to operate within a united front and as a result excluding independent socialists, or possibly they should remain content to sit on their hands and do nothing? You say that we can argue for the ULA to organise in the North, when you know very well there is effectively a veto in place. You surely can’t be serious Mark?

      • The ULA does not organise in the North. The ULA itself is the only body competent to decide to change that. It’s not up to some of the ULA’s non-aligned members to change it unilaterally, nor is it up to the members of a couple of little groups in Belfast. It’s up to the ULA, through its agreed decision making structures.

        Now, my two anonymous critics here are perfectly correct that the ULA isn’t going to decide to organise in the North any time soon. There are good reasons for that, chiefly that there is no political basis for an alliance between the Socialist Party and the SWP in the North and still less is there one for an alliance between the Socialist Party and the little Belfast grouplets currently falsely passing themselves off as the ULA.

        That there is no political basis for such an alliance should be clear from the level of bile our would be “allies” in Belfast direct at the Socialist Party on a regular basis, not least the roaring and shouting and heckling they engaged in when the North was discussed at the ULA’s meeting in Liberty Hall. We don’t agree at all on a whole series of basic issues about Northern politics. That these “ULA supporters” know this and yet are trying to push their way into an alliance anyway, shows only that they aren’t serious about their politics. The Socialist Party is however serious about its politics and wants absolutely nothing to do with them.

        Northern ULA branches involving the Socialist Party, the SWP and these grouplets would be a complete circus. There would be bitter disagreement on a whole range of basic questions, with no prospect of anyone agreeing to go along with the other’s views should they lose a vote, or with absolutely everything being vetoed. There is no underlying political agreement that could make the extension of the ULA to the North worthwhile. I can’t really credit the idea that these “ULA supporters” are somehow unaware of this. I mean what do they think would happen?

        As for your questions about what would these “ULA supporters” should do in the North, you are mistaking for somebody who has the slightest interest in them. I really don’t care if they sit on their hands or unite or divide. My only concern with them is their dishonest attempt to pass themselves off as the ULA and their decision to represent their own views as having some association with the ULA.

      • The ULA has members in the north that are not members of the SP or the SWP, who want to intervene in the class struggle as part of a united front …. but they can clear off and stop calling themselves ULA supporters and you don’t care a hoot, haven’t the slightest interest! And, yes I’m afraid you have answered my question; you are actually serious!

      • If there are independent activists in the North who are putting time and energy into trying to push the ULA into organising in the North, then they are wasting that time and effort and would be better off putting their talents to work on a more useful cause.

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