Black Lives mattered in Belfast’s radical past

Commemorating revolutionary ideals

The Workers Party has marked the anniversary of the death of Henry Joy McCracken to highlight the links between today’s Black Lives Matter campaign and the anti-slavery movement in Belfast in the late 1700’s.


Party members handed out leaflets in Belfast’s Cornmarket this afternoon drawing the parallels between the local opposition to the slave trade then, and the struggle to overcome the systematic targeting of black people for discrimination and oppression today. A poem recalling Henry Joy’s life and death, written by veteran Party member Marian Donnelly, was also recited.

The ‘United Irishmen’ of McCracken, Jemmy Hope , Thomas Russell and others were appalled by the practice of slavery. They attacked it in their publications. They applauded the liberation of slaves by French troops.  They expressed their solidarity with the uprising in Barbados in 1795. They organised campaigns against the consumption of tea, rum and sugar as the products of slave labour.  

Mary Ann McCracken, led by example. She refused to eat sugar and even in her later years she could be seen handing out leaflets at Belfast Docks highlighting the evils of slavery and demanding its abolition.

These were radical thinkers and activists who were unquestionably ahead of their time. They recognised the link between social and economic inequality and the demand for political change and,of course for the unity of Catholic Protestant and Dissenter. Today that struggle continues as we strive for a socialist, secular and anti- sectarian society

NHS: not safe in private hands

NHS: not safe in private hands

This weekend saw hundreds of demonstrations marking the 72nd anniversary of the NHS. A few celebrated its past, a number praised its present, but the most significant ones were those that sought to protect its future.

Were it not for the Covid 19 pandemic, and the magnificent way in which health and care staff have risen to the challenge of a generation, there may have been few if any events to mark this NHS birthday.

Wealth not health

Prior to 1948, your health depended on your wealth. The National Insurance Act of 1911 provided only limited access to a GP and covered only those in work – it did not cover their family.

The foundation of the NHS in 1948, and the securing of the principle that health care would be free at the point of use and available to every citizen from the cradle to the grave, was amongst the most significant social developments of the 20th century in Britain and Northern Ireland. These changes were not given freely, they were won by the struggles of the organised working class.

Neither are safe today

Seven decades later neither that principle nor the institution itself are safe from private enterprise and greed, aided and abetted by free market parties at Stormont and Westminster

Only a few months ago, for the first time in its history, the Royal College of Nursing, had to call on its members to take industrial action to secure pay parity and safe working conditions. Sinn Fein, the DUP and the other executive parties had been denying them both demands for years.

For at last ten years the NHS budgets have been slashed by Tories in Westminster and in Stormont. All seems to be forgotten as the very people responsible for the cuts have been falling over themselves to applaud the nurses they refused to pay.

Lucrative profits

With less than  thirty years to its centenary, and in the wake of its response to Coronavirus, neither capitalism, nor the political parties which support and administer it, will be looking at the NHS and saying ” How can we improve this, how can we make it better , or how can we fund it more effectively?”.

Instead they will endeavour to seek ways of privatising and profiting from public and personal health. They are already drafting plans for even further privatisation of health and social care services, selling off the potentially lucrative areas to the private sector much as they have done with the care of the elderly

Circling Vultures

Some will celebrate the NHS while forgetting to look up at the circling vultures. The life changing principles gained  over seventy years ago have transformed our health and wellbeing and have brought significant benefits to the working class. In the coming period we need to be prepared to defend those principles

We can do that by demanding that the state invests in and grows the service, values NHS staff and protects and advances their terms and conditions of employment and supports innovation and research.

We must collectively and forcefully say ‘Hands Off’ to privatisation and profiteers, to the exploitive pharmaceutical companies, the political parties which facilitate them and ultimately to the economic and social system which places wealth above health.

A publicly funded health and social care service designed to deliver quality outcomes is central to a humane and decent society. Only a socialist society can guarantee that – for this and future generations.

School Governors must be held to account

Academic selection reinforces privilege and disadvantage

Members of the Board of Governors of local grammar schools should be asked to explain why they continue to support academic selection at 11 despite it being scrapped by the Assembly in 2008 and universally criticised in report after report.

The call comes from Workers Party spokesperson Joanne Lowry, after six local grammar schools – St. Mary’s CBS, St. Dominic’s, Rathmore, St. Malachy’s, Aquinas, and Dominican College – all announced that they would be going ahead with transfer testing, run by private companies, for next year’s intake of pupils.

“School governors are currently using the Covid 19 crisis as a smokescreen behind which they can talk about welcoming the delay in this year’s tests when the realty is that academic selection at 11 is wrong, it doesn’t work and it results in educational disadvantage, particularly for children from working class families”,  Joanne said.

“Numerous reports and studies by bodies ranging from the United Nations to the recent Iliad Report (Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation) – undertaken by experts from Queen’s University and Stranmillis University College in Belfast – repeatedly confirm that academic selection reinforces “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to reverse educational disadvantage”.

“Some grammar schools have decided to proceed this year without the use of selection tests because Coronavirus makes sitting the tests unsafe. If testing is not needed this year, it is not needed any year.”

All those opposed to academic selection – parents, teachers, trade unions and others – must reignite this debate and campaign for the complete and final abolition of academic selection at 11 – and an explanation from school governors would be a good place to start“, Joanne concluded