Claiming a future for workers

Whether there had been a pandemic or not, a radical economic strategy for Northern Ireland was always going to be a priority, but perhaps Covid 19 has brought that into sharper focus and added a new sense of urgency.

Already the business representatives, the media commentators and MLA’s from most parties have been setting out the case for economic recovery based on higher income tax, belt tightening and creating favourable conditions for commerce and the business sector.

But economic recovery and development is a much bigger issue that that. It’s about the quality of our lives, the public priorities we set, the value we place on each other and the social conditions we aspire to. In short, it goes to the very heart of the type of society we live in.

Only a socialist economic programme can address the current evils of job insecurity and an inadequate social security safety net. The increasing dependency on foodbanks, including by many people in employment, demonstrates the systemic failure of the current capitalist system.

One of the real dangers that we now face is a concerted drive for a restructured economy which serves as an agenda for the elites when what we need is a future based around the needs and aspirations of ordinary people – not a race towards a profit driven future.

A resolute and coordinated campaign to secure a future for working people is the challenge facing all those who know that a different way of life is possible.

Eighteen months ago, very few people would have thought that millions of people would be receiving 80%of their wages thanks to direct state intervention.  Who would have predicted that the number of people working from home would quadruple in the space of a few short weeks? Things can change dramatically and radically and for the good.

The struggle we face now is to channel that momentum in favour of ordinary working people and their families. The priorities of the coming period will be about reclaiming the future on their behalf. In a contradictory era of over work for some, intermittent and insecure employment for many, marginalisation, systemic poverty and exploitation and obscene wealth for the few we have to ask are ordinary working people living to work of or working to live.

In the face of a further tightening of the grip capitalism already has on this society, we must set out our alternative programme, be clear about its aims and not be afraid to confront the fundamental issues which stand in the way of reclaiming the  future

Steps One, Two and Three

There are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic. Upmost among them are the absolutely crucial role of our public services – health and social care of course, but others as well. Things would have been very different without those services and the people who delivered them. Very different.

Step One on the road to re-shaping the economy must be to prioritise a massive programme of re-investment into our public services: infrastructure, staff recruitment, research and development, a wage structure reflecting the contribution made by  public service staff and an absolute commitment to protecting  public services from privatisation.

Step Two requires the urgent development of a home-grown manufacturing base.

Northern Ireland’s current economic strategy is based on a low wage economy and a foreign direct investment model which impedes the development of a local skills base leaving workers and their families at the mercy of multinational companies as they shut up shop and move on to locations of higher profits and lower wages.

Only a hands-on government led strategy can secure jobs and develop a confident, thriving manufacturing, scientific and service base.

A four day working week must also be on the change agenda.

Step Three should see the rapid development of skills training and vocational apprenticeship programmes. They must be secure, co-ordinated and rewarded. They cannot be cheap, short term labour schemes with no prospects of a job.

Tuition free further education and free and accessible return to work programmes for all those seeking to re-enter the workforce are imperatives for future development and full participation.

All obstacles in the path of full economic participation by citizens and the objective of full employment in Northern Ireland, must be identified, addressed and overcome.

 Any economic strategy post covid must commit to a comprehensive charter of Workers’ Rights signalling the securing of existing legislation and the development of additional safe guards including protecting the working time directive and replacing the National Minimum Wage requirement with a Living Wage.

A priority amongst those must be the provision of available, accessible and affordable child care programmes.

The shaping, progression and delivery of this type of radical economic strategy is the only route to a society where working people can enjoy the practical, emotional and cultural benefits of their labour.

While we recognise that capitalism can never solve the problems facing the working class and that the solution can only be found in a socialist society, these are nonetheless important and immediate demands.

It is a task for workers, socialists, trade unionists, progressive thinkers and all those committed to a better and radically different future. It is a task to be spearheaded by the Workers Party.

Protesting against the illegal Cuban blockade

Workers Party members have taken part in the Solidarity Cavalcade through Belfast and the subsequent protest at the US Consulate in support of Revolutionary Cuba. Both events were organised by the Cuba Solidarity Forum.

In line with its long-standing position, the Workers Party unreservedly condemns the US embargo against Cuba and the illegal blockade which has been heroically resisted.

The United State imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in the early 1960s and this has been the centerpiece of its policy toward Cuba since then The blockade and embargo consists of economic sanctions aimed at isolating and destabilising the Cuba government

The unjust and criminal blockade/embargo against Cuba must immediately end. Cuba has the right to develop the full potential of its economy and its people and to engage in economic, trade and financial relations with the rest of the world.

The EU, sea borders and the threat of violence

The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there.

From the moment the result of the referendum to leave the European Union was announced the EU and the local ‘Remain’ lobby, spearheaded by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Alliance party, tried to scupper the outcome of the vote and even campaigned for a second referendum to reverse the result.

Between them they determined that the vote was invalid because it had been secured by ‘British nationalists’ and racists, and that people did not know what they were voting for – effectively saying that Leave voters were stupid and questioning their right to vote at all.

Blinkered View

Conveniently, this blinkered view of the result ignored the motives of the millions of Leave voters, many of whom had been pushed to the margins of society, who felt increasingly powerless and who were victims of economic inequalities and the centralisation of wealth in the greater London area.

Outside of Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the Remain motivation was, ironically, largely attributable to nationalisms, it was voters with low or no qualifications, and people with low incomes who rejected the EU project and voted to get out.

In the midst of the political posturing, the brinkmanship, the tensions between competing capitalist blocs, the political diversions and media smoke and mirrors, it is important that we remain focused on the principles of working-class unity and the efforts to construct a socialist alternative.

Years of EU wrangling later finally led to a leaving agreement that fell far short of the EU’s original plans. That does not mean that they will not stop trying to get their way.

Even the most ardent, or blinkered, EU fan cannot ignore the manner in which the EU has and continues to conduct its negotiations. It is a bully and continues to intimidate. Its unilateral block on Covid 19 vaccines coming into Northern Ireland in January is but one example.

The EU’s ambassador to the UK, insisting that  the Protocol is the only show in town, is another.

The EU’s punishment

The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there. Their insistence that it remains is the EU’s punishment for having had the audacity to leave and is being used to exert political pressure by disrupting trade and frustrating everyday cooperation.

The violent reactions to the NI Protocol witnessed in recent weeks cannot be justified. Nor can the threat of future violence.

It was cowardly of the Loyalist Communities Council to recruit and then hide behind a 19-year-old spokesperson as they dangled the threat of further violent actions. Just as it was inexcusable of Leo Varadkar, and others, to dangle the threat of violence at the possibility of a land border.

If indeed goods brought into Northern Ireland potentially pose a risk or threat to the integrity of the EU single market, then those risks can be assessed and managed – just as they are at other EU land borders.

The disruption to trade and the political upheaval the Protocol is creating can be easily avoided by the EU acknowledging that the risks to single market goods is negligible and have the decency and integrity to withdraw its demands for land or sea borders, its threats of legal action and its resort to Article 16 at every turn.

That, of course, all assumes that the EU has any integrity or decency or that its Northern Ireland fan club will have the mettle to call it out, stop supporting its unacceptable and aggressive posturing and pull the rug out from underneath those whose response to every situation seems to be to throw petrol bombs at it.

Further reading

Party Supporting Palestine

Belfast: 24 May 2021

Party members attended the rally in Custom’s House Square, Belfast on Saturday 24 May 2021 to demonstrate their support for the Palestinian people and their opposition to Israeli aggression and attacks on Gaza

Party members also took part in the US Peace Council’s on line forum to discuss recent events in Palestine and to chart an international response.

PIP time limits put pressure on claimants

The Workers Party has condemned an unannounced, but significant, change to the time limits for the completion of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims. 

During the pandemic the Department for Communities extended the time allowed to complete a PIP application form from one month to 90 days. As of Monday of this week, and without warning  or consultation, the time frame for new claims has reverted to four weeks,

Apart from the fact that it is too early to be making this change the Department for Communities has placed hundreds of people in a very precarious position and is risking putting already vulnerable people under additional and unnecessary pressure.

There will be many people who are left unaware of the change in time scales and will assume that they have the full 90 days to complete their new claim form. This could easily result in rejected claims, additional pressure on claimants and people left without benefits.

The Minister must reinstate the 90 day timeframe immediately and if it is eventually necessary to revert to the one month slot there must be full consultation, advance notice and a flexible approach to its implementation.

Domestic Violence: much, much more to do

Even though the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 passed into law on 1 March 2021 there are still huge gaps in legislation protecting women and girls.

In the past year there have been nine domestic violence related murders in Northern Ireland, more than 31,000 recorded incidents of domestic abuse and a significant increase in offences of harassment.

England, Scotland and Wales all have adopted specific strategies dedicated to tackling gender-based violence to help bring an end to violence against women and girls – but there is no such legislation is in place in Northern Ireland.

It is also now widely accepted that children living with domestic violence are also at greater risk of experiencing neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse

The shortcomings and delays in introducing legislation here have been criticised by the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Jacqui Durkan.

However, legislation alone, vital as it is, will not be enough to overcome a culture which sees women and girls as objects and commodities and tolerates misogyny and prejudicial gender-based attitudes.

Nor will it be overcome for as long as we are subject to an economic and social system which has an intrinsic self interest in sustaining and perpetuating gender discrimination in its pursuit of profits, lower wages and working class division.

Further reading:

Writing on the Wall

New political mural affirming the Socialist alternative

In a climate of resurgent nationalisms, both British and Irish, the increasing polarisation of the community, rampant social and economic conservatism and the dominance of right wing politics – it is more important than ever to proclaim the socialist alternative for society.

A painted mural of itself is little more than words on a wall, but the importance of clearly and publicly proclaiming the progressive and revolutionary values of Socialism, Secularism and Anti-Sectarianism in the context of our current situation cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

The future is to be forged through workers’ unity and socialism. We stand today as the standard bearers of the best traditions of the global progressive, radical and revolutionary traditions – it says so on the wall.

Pay parity a just demand by Hovis workers

Pay parity a just demand by local workers

An offer of a three percent pay increase for south Belfast based Hovis bakery workers has been described by Workers Party representative Patrick Lynn as a “calculated insult to a workforce that has laboured through the pandemic to keep bread on our tables”.

The workers and their trade union colleagues have asked for a fair pay offer of 10%, which would bring them in line with fellow workers in Britain.

“The fact that these essential workers kept our shelves stacked throughout the pandemic while the Hovis company recorded pre-tax profits of of £19.2 million the last year, amounts to a smack in the face for this dedicated local workforce,” Patrick said.

” For most of us, having bread on the table is an essential,. This was especially so during the periods of lockdown”, explained Patrick .

“Hovis management has an opportunity to fully support their workforce and pay them what they deserve for keeping the supermarket shelves stacked,” he said.

“They could have resolved these issues months ago, and were given every opportunity, but instead they have chosen confrontation with the very people who have kept their business afloat during the most difficult of times,” he added.

” The lock down boom in online shopping has seen the sale of baked goods, including bread, reach an all time high. So as the Hovis company piles up record profits the workforce delivering the goods are offered crumbs for their efforts,” Patrick added

“The Workers Party demands that the Hovis management team immediately agrees to the demands of the local workers and establishes pay parity with other workers in the Hovis Group”.

Concluding, Patrick said “I want to record my party’s solidarity and support for those on the picket lines and look forward to the immediate granting of their just demands”.

Crimes against humanity must stop

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza: a crime against the Palestinian people

With more than 130 killed in the past five days Workers Party President, Ted Tynan, has condemned the …ongoing murderous Israeli aggression against Gaza and police collusion with mobs attacking Arab homes in Israel”.

“The grossly disproportionate military force used by Israeli armed forces by air, land and sea, which has already killed 119 Palestinians in Gaza, including 27 children, is forcing Gaza residents to flee their homes and causing immense suffering to an area already afflicted by Israeli atrocities” Cllr Tynan said

” The current aggression is part of the sustained campaign to annex Palestinian territories of the West Bank and to continue the Israeli occupation on Palestinian territory”, he said.

“It is vital that we stand in solidarity with Palestine. Israel must be held accountable for its actions and on behalf of the the Workers Party I am calling for immediate action to stop these crimes against humanity, including the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassadors from London and Dublin”

There must be an immediate embargo on weapons and military technologies sold to and used by Israeli armed forces which facilitate these crimes against the Palestinian people.”, Cllr Tynan concluded

Read the Party’s full statement here:

Ballymurphy Inquests

The relatives’ campaign has been dignified and tenacious

The Workers Party has welcomed the findings of the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of ten people in Ballymurphy almost 50 years ago and says it hopes that the families and friends of those killed can take some comfort from the fact that the circumstances surrounding their loved ones deaths have now been publicly, and officially, acknowledged despite the appallingly long wait to have their names cleared.

The relatives of those who died have conducted their campaign with dignity and tenacity and today they have received the recognition and the outcome that they deserve.

The killings in Ballymurphy in 1971, and many, many more atrocities over the decades which followed, further underlines the rights of families of those killed during the ‘Troubles’ to  full judicial scrutiny of all legacy murders and other serious crimes committed during the ‘Troubles’