‘The Class Politics of Poverty’: Workers Party’s Northern Ireland Conference

Criticism of the Stormont Executive, and its repeated failure to deliver for working class people, was a recurring theme at the Workers Party’s annual Northern ireland conference held at the weekend.

Conference discussed the worst cost of living crisis in decades, the impact it is having on working class people and their families and how that has been made worse by a dysfunctional Stormont Executive. which has failed, failed and is set to fail again.

“With families, the vulnerable and the elderly particularly affected, the main political parties have, yet again, put their own sectional and sectarian interests ahead of the community”.

Conference Quote

Confernece presentations included papers on Poverty Facts and Figures, Women and Poverty, Mental Helath and Poverty, Child Poverty the Class Nature of Poverty, Food Banks and Poverty and The Failures of the Stormont Executive .

The conference was also addressed by guest speaker Pastor Tony Meehan of the West Belfast Food Bank and by the Workers Party President Cllr Ted Ted Tynan.

Members also discussed the recent sackings of P&O ferry workers by parent company Dubai Port World and extened solidarity to Unite the Union workers currently engaged in industrial action in pursuit of a just pay settlemernt and to staff at Ulster and Queens Universities in dispute over pensions and terms and conditions.

The conference in pictures and quotes:

Solidarity, support and donuts

Lily Kerr extending solidarity and sharing donuts with staff on the picket line in North Belfast

Lily Kerr headed up a group of local Workers Party members as they joined with staff on the UNITE the Union picket line at Alexandra Park Recycling facility in North Belfast earlier this morning.

Workers from local councils, the Education Authority, the Housing Executive and number of colleges have been forced to take industrial action following the refusal by management to move on a pay offer of just 1.75% – effectively a cut in income after eleven years of pay freezes.

“It is intolerable,” Lily said” that these workers, who helped keep our society functioning during the pandemic and who now face rapidly escalating rises in the cost of living, should be treated in such a callous and uncaring manner”.

“The Workers Party is adding its voice to the growing demands for management to propose a realistic pay settlement in line with staff expectations and one which will recognise the massive hike in living costs and the invaluable contribution these workers make to our everyday lives”, Lily said.  

Domestic Abuse, Sexual Abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls

The Workers Party has made a formal submission to the Department of Justice’s consultation on a strategy to address Domestic and Sexual Abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls.

During 2020-2021, police responded to 31,196 domestic abuse incidents in Northern
Ireland. There were also 3,335 sexual offences and yet much of the extent and
impact of domestic and sexual abuse remains hidden.

The Party’s submission highlighted the fact that, as we enter the sixth year of the current seven year strategy, very little progress has been achieved since 2016.

While recognising that domestic and sexual abuse knows no boundaries factors such as class, cultural, ethnicity and sexual orientation increased the vulnerability of women and girls.

Financial abuse was rightly identified in the Department’s consultation document as a form of coercive behaviour but the Party’s submission took this further, going on to identify policies which condemn women and girls to exist on inadequate benefits, low pay and inferior terms and conditions of service as equally culpable. Zero-hour contracts and precarious employment can also be a form of violence and abuse.

The submission also called for adequate and ring fenced funding to ensure implimentation of the strartegy and for the Assembly to be the statutory provider for safe housing and hostel accommdation.

Ferry routes are a vital public utility

The Workers Party has described the actions of P&O Ferries as “ contemptible, arrogant and dangerous” as they sacked 800 employees  replacing them with lower paid agency staff.

To treat staff in this manner is completely unacceptable. To sack the very staff who provided P&O services throughout the pandemic is disgraceful and the manner in which this was conducted demonstrates the company’s contempt for workers.

The Larne to Cairnryan route carries over half the freight coming into Northern Ireland. There will inevitably be knock on effects and further risks for workers throughout the supply chain.

This is the inevitable outworking of a system which serves the interests of capital and demands the subordination of working people’s interests and workers’ rights to the overriding priority of “competitiveness”.

This, and other ferry routes, should be classed as public utilities providing vital connectivity between these islands. They should never have been left to the devices of the private profit making sector.

Now we have seen the consequences that has

The Westminster government must now intervene directly and bring this route into public ownership, re-instating the links with Scotland and the jobs of all those working the route.

We offer our support and solidarity to the staff and their unions in the struggle to re-secure and copper fasten the service and their jobs.

A Stagnant Stormont fails again

In the face of the worst cost of living crisis in decades the dysfunctional Executive has failed, yet again. With families, the vulnerable and the elderly particularly affected, the main political parties have, yet again, put their own interests ahead of the community.

Where is the political response to this crisis? Where is the outrage and the indignation against the poverty, the deprivation and the misery that is being inflicted on working class people?

Not one MLA, not one, will face the dilemma of heating or eating this week. Not one will be unable to pay household bills and not one will be left with empty pockets. Not one.

All five Executive parties bear responsibility and the DUP and Sinn Fein in particular have both walked away from their obligations in pursuit of a strategy of political brinkmanship with their opponents, in recent times

This deliberately dysfunctional Executive oversees a rotten and corrupt capitalist system that lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When the inevitable crisis strikes, they walk away, they blame someone else, they pass the decisions on to others. What they don’t do is to step up and take action in defence of working-class people.

For as long as we accept this brutal social and economic system working class people will always be at the bottom of the pile.

People’s problems exist today, here and now and they must be given immediate help and support. The Workers Party supports the following measures designed to start addressing the worst effects of the rising cost of living

  • An immediate Increase in Universal Credit payments of at least 20%
  • An additional Vulnerable Children and Families crisis payment
  • An initial, and universal, home energy support payment of at least £300
  • The removal of VAT on home heating bill and the suspension standing charges
  • An immediate cut in petrol tax of at least 20%
  • A reversal of the planned increase in National Insurance payments
  • The immediate restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive
  • The adoption of a budget to allocate the available £300 million
  • The passing of the necessary legislation at Westminster if the Executive continues to abdicate its responsibilities.

The financial and economic response to the pandemic was swift and effective. If golf clubs can receive cash subsidies and businesses be supported to the tune of over £22 billion then working-class people, families, single parents, the elderly and the vulnerable can also be provided for. But we can’t rely on the Executive, the five main parties and their politics to do it.

Violence, and the violence of poverty, against women

In recognition of the recent murders of women in Ireland, the rise in incidents of domestic violence and the violence occasioned against women through poverty, our International Women’s Day event this year will address ‘Violence, and the violence of poverty, against women’

For the Zoom discussion, starting at 7pm this evening, we have a panel of speakers from across the Party who will be joined by Dr Laura Lee, from Women’s Aid (Northern Ireland) and Maria Antonopolou of the Greek Communist Party

Email workerspartyni@yahoo.co.uk for the link

The Executive has failed us all

We are living through one of the worst crises in years. The cost of living is out of control, everyday essentials are beyond many people’s means and, for the second time in a matter of years, we have no functioning government.

Add to that, the pressures on the health service, a low pay, unplanned economy, an education system not fit for purpose, 25% of children living in poverty and an inexcusable lack of public housing.

Instead of concrete plans to address these and a host of other pressing issues, the five main parties try to disguise their collective lack of action by pointing fingers and blaming everyone but themselves.

None of the urgent issues that we face came about because of Covid, none of them appeared overnight and they are not even related to the current collapse of the Executive.

They represent the collective failure of parties committed only to tribal politics, various forms of nationalism and their point blank refusal to deliver for the common good at the expense of their sectional interests.

Yet, we are fed a daily, if not hourly, diet of flags and identities, cultures and communities and bogus debates over who will be the First Minister. It’s time to ‘Bin the Spin’ and set about electing an Assembly that prioritises people over party and quality of life over tribal confrontation.

The socialist alternative to sectarianism and tribal politics is to deliver

better jobs with better wages

a more flexible working environment

higher pay for low-income families

strengthen and simplify the benefits system

invest in public services

an immediate universal fuel allowance

more public affordable housing 

The time to do it is now.