Time to support and defend

Workers in almost every service and manufacturing sector have been, are planning to, or are currently taking industrial action in defence of standards conditions, safety, jobs and wages. It is a situation almost without parallel.

Nurses and midwives are considering strike action for the second time in three years, local council workers have been forced on to the picket lines and university staff have been forced to defend their pensions, terms and conditions and levels of pay.

Shop workers and transport staff, delivery service drivers, postal workers and hospitality staff are all either taking or considering industrial action to counter a cost-of-living crisis they didn’t create.

Supermarket staff can’t afford the products they are selling, restaurant workers can’t afford the food they are serving and factory workers can’t afford the products they are making.

Compounding the Crisis

People in employment, including many in the NHS, are dependant on additional benefits and food banks to get by from week to week.

The crippling cost of everyday essentials, heat, fuel and energy compound the crisis.

All the while, banks, energy giants and major corporations pile up their profits.

Royal Mail, whose staff are currently on strike for better pay and conditions, quadrupled its profits last year to £726 million, the top six energy companies recorded profits of £1,268 million and between them Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank profits were over £729 million.  A further, conservative figure of, £35 billion is estimated to stolen from public funds through tax evasion every year.

A Socialist Society

Only a socialist society and a socialist economy can bring an end to the exploitation, indignity and misery inflicted on working people by a capitalist system.

However, there are real, immediate and pressing problems confronting working people. The awareness, confidence and belief that has been generated in recent times must not be wasted or watered down.

The current struggles are about much more than above inflation pay rises.

The actions of the trade union movement and the reactions of government, capital and the media have brought the entire set of working relationships into focus.

Now is the time to shift that relationship in favour of working people. We all have a collective responsibility to support and defend the movement towards a new dynamic based on the rights of workers, a high wage economy, an end to zero hours contracts, affordable, accessible and flexible childcare and a four-day working week.

Urgent Meeting with Utilities Regulator

The Workers Party has requested an urgent meeting with the Utility Regulator to discuss recent hikes in energy costs, the profit returns of the main energy suppliers and any proposed initiatives to protect consumers.

Yesterday’s announcements will see the cost of gas and electric increase again by around 30%.

Anyone struggling with paying bills should contact Advice NI at https://www.adviceni.net/money-debt/debt or other advice services.

Unacceptable Levels

In 1971, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Reggie Maudling talked about “an acceptable level of violence”. Fifty years later we are wallowing in what could be justifiably described as ‘an acceptable level of sectarianism’.

Recent events have once again highlighted the depths to which this society has sunk.

We have witnessed young people inanely chanting about and glorifying three decades of murder, sectarianism and terror, that they fortunately did not have to live through, yet more bonfires burning images and symbols designed to heighten community divisions, the grossly insensitive and provocative display of Parachute regiment flags in Derry and, perhaps the most telling of all, the vitriolic, unapologetic and tribal reactions on social media, radio phone in programmes and from elected representatives and commentators.

Offensive and sectarian acts are not only being justified, they are being normalised through a narrative which argues that ‘they do this and we do that – so that’s alright’.

All sorts of cover is offered as justification for the vilest and most divisive behaviour. It is defended as ‘culture’, it is minimalised in an attempt to make it insignificant, it is boasted as a ‘right’.  It is shamelessly and brazenly defended without apology or concern. These are the depths to which we have sunk.

Such is the polarisation and division in this society that it now seems impossible to call out one sectarian act without reference to another, often unrelated, incident by way of justification. 

The levels of vitriol and invective, particularly on social media, evidences the arrogance, the confidence and the assuredness of the perpetrators, in what amounts to tribal warfare.

Arguably, we have reached what many view as ‘an acceptable level of sectarianism’, as any pretence at uniting the community is swept aside and battle lines are drawn between competing nationalisms, British and Irish.

All the while, the major political parties happily reap what they have sown, retaining their positions of power and privilege at the expense of working-class people including, ironically, those who act out the sectarian script on their behalf.

That this is happening during one of the worst a cost-of-living crisis in recent memory makes it all the more frustrating for those on the political left who seek unity amongst workers, an end to sectarianism and a radical change in the structure of society.

History will not look favourably on our condemnations alone if we do not seek ways to build a bulwark against the tribalism of our times.

It’s about Public Ownership – not about protecting profits

The cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy bills will not be solved by handouts, tinkering around the edges or populist sound bites.

They have real and life changing consequences from an increasing reliance on food banks, fuel poverty, financial pressures, physical and mental health crises and malnutrition to hypothermia.

How often does it have to be said? How loud do the demands have to be made? Taking our utilities into public ownership could, at a stroke, alleviate the human misery and suffering currently being experienced by young and old alike.

In the past year energy bills in the UK – where oil, gas and energy are all owned by multi-national companies- have increased by 215%. In the same period bills in France – where the government owns the gas companies and is the major shareholder in the main electricity provider – have risen by just 4%.*

What this current crisis of capitalism has shown, once again, is that short term measures result in short term and limited solutions. Another crisis will evolve and working people will be forced to bear the brunt, pay the price and shoulder the blame.

Thousands of working people across all sectors are being forced into taking industrial action in defence of their standard of living, terms and conditions of employment and the future and safety of the services they provide. They are being met with the full and organised force of hostile politicians, willingly supported by the mainstream media, and a growing list of apologists for profiteering multi-national companies.

It will require a disciplined, co-ordinated and class-conscious response if we are to counter and overcome these attacks on our living standards, services and quality of life.

Only fundamental change to the current economic system can address the cost-of-living crisis, runaway inflation and the erosion of workers rights. Taking public utilities out of the clutches of private profiteers and into public ownership and control would be a first important step in that direction.

* Sources: Ofgem, Enerdata, Ecoscope, Politico, Guardian

Grotesque attempt to rewrite history

To argue, as Michelle O’Neill has done, that the Provisional IRA’s bloody campaign was justifiable and unavoidable is not only a lie, it is yet another grotesque attempt by Sinn Fein to rewrite history.

Unfortunately, that is a project that has brought them some reward. Such is the ‘greenwashing’ of the period of The Troubles that today, twenty five years after they ended, a generation of young nationalists, which knew nothing of their terror, butchery and ultimate futility, blithely chant pro IRA slogans as they play out their odious tribal rituals.

Michelle O’Neill and the Sinn Fein machine knows exactly what they are doing when they glorify three decades of atrocities, sectarianism and barbarity.

They are playing to their own gallery, consolidating the lowest denominator in their support base and, using very specifically tailored language, constructing a counterfeit history in which everyone else is to blame.

It is worth remembering that the Provos were no friends of the Civil Rights campaign. They opposed it, they attacked it, they condemned it. But they did not support it. Nor did they support the efforts of all those who were working for a better and more democratic society.

They rejected the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 only to, eventually, sign up to the Good Friday Agreement twentyfive years and three and a half thousand deaths later.

The only inevitability about the IRA’s actions was that, like all forms of militant nationalism, British and Irish, they will always revert to the elitism of violence rather than join with others in a united approach to tackling the injustices of society.

There was no justification for what the IRA did over three decades. There is no legitimacy in its glorification or in attempts at its justification today.

Hugh Scullion is Chair of the MId-Ulster Branch of the Workers Party

Labour no longer a Party of the Left

Its failure to support striking workers, its sacking of the Shadow Minister for Transport for joining a picket line and the announcement by its current leader Keir Starmer that it should no longer be a party of protest has confirmed that Labour is not a party that will defend the interests of working people.

At a time of crisis in the cost of living, rising inflation, stagnant wages and the erosion of workers’ rights, the Labour Party elite has set its sights on winning power at the expense of working people engaged in a daily struggle to survive.

A Labour party that ignores workers when it’s in opposition is not going to champion their cause if it gets into government.

The Starmer Labour Party is all too familiar. We saw ‘New Labour’ set the scene for today’s abandonment of working people.

Labour is again saying ‘we don’t need working people’. The reality is that working people don’t need them, Now, more than ever, working people everywhere need a workers party.

Assaults at Work

The rising number of attacks on workers as they go about delivering vital public services is a disgrace. It is inexcusable and abhorrent.

Recent attacks on Translink workers, and on a member of the public in one of the incidents, has highlighted the issue – but when that fades from the headlines the problems will still persist.

Nobody going to or from their work, or while they are at work should be subjected to any form of abuse: physical, verbal or sexual. Yet for thousands of people that is exactly the case.

More than 5,000 nursing staff were attacked at work in the first six months of last year. Ambulance crews, some now wearing body cameras, are subjected to an average of two assaults a day. In the past year paramedics have been attacked with a sledge hammer, knuckle-duster, a crow bar and a hatchet.

Public services are not the only targets. There are also an increasing number of assaults on retail and delivery workers, many reporting high levels of verbal and physical abuse. Several pieces of legislation currently deal with attacks on workers but they need to be updated and strengthened.

All workers deserve respect, support and protection. We all have a responsibility to ensure that happens.