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.

Cut profits, not jobs and services

The Workers Party supports the industrial action of the RMT Union to secure
decent pay, job security and good working conditions.

Rail workers who worked through the pandemic are now confronting an attack on their terms
and conditions and are facing a pay freeze and hundreds of job cuts.

This is unacceptable at any time but is outrageous in the midst of a cost-of-
living crisis when inflation is at 11.1% and rising. Private train companies
bolstered by public contracts seek to generate even greater profits at the
expense of workers’ rights.

The Tory government which has the power to resolve the dispute, has instead
chosen to prolong it.

Today’s strike action is a clear message from workers of their determination to
secure their future. The RMT is fighting not only for its members rights but for
the future of the railways.

The Workers Party sends its solidarity to the RMT and to the other unions
working to secure workers’ pay and conditions and labour rights.

Re-writing the script

We are living in a bubble. It cuts us off from the real world, it substitutes politics with tribalism, it offers nothing but a Groundhog Day view of the world and yet the majority of people here seem perfectly happy with it.

The cost-of-living crisis that is having a devastating effect on working people, families, pensioners and the young is being driven by profit taking, dividends to shareholders and plain old-fashioned greed.

Wage demands haven’t caused inflation. Capitalism has.

Inside the bubble

Yet here, inside our bubble, we are, once again without a Stormont Executive

We still have a segregated education system. We’re not building enough affordable public housing but instead happily force people into the clutches of the private rented sector. We have the longest health waiting lists on these islands, while our public services continue to be subjected to cuts, privatisation and profiteering.

Our economy is designed specifically to accommodate multi-national companies and is based on low wages, part time employment and deregulation.

Workers’ rights are trampled on as companies pursue a policy of ‘fire and re-hire’

Just and necessary pay demands are met with derisory offers that fall way short of inflation.  Working people are told they must tighten their belts and do without while  the top 350 companies on the London Stock Exchange  have had a 73% increase in their profits in the last three years.

All the while, inside our bubble, were told that our priorities are border polls and protocols.

Working people have made it possible

Working class people built this society. The infrastructure, the services, the rights, the housing and the health – we made all that, and more, possible.

We’ve had to defend those gains every step of the way. We’ve had to do it in the face of sustained, coordinated and vicious attacks from capital and conservative forces.

It’s time we burst the bubble – it’s time to rewrite the script in favour of those who deliver with their hands and brains for the common good – not for those who leech off our efforts, hive off the profits and divert out attention away from the realities they want to cover up.

The coming months will be a serious test for working people, their living standards, their quality of life and for the nature of the society we live in. It’s not a battle we can afford to lose.

Tory Story

Amidst all the news coverage, speculation and conjecture surrounding Boris Johnson’s replacement, there is emerging dangerous and distracting talk of a ‘good’ Tories and ‘better’ Tories. Neither species exists.

The idea that Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister was a one-off, once in a lifetime, bit of eccentricity serves the Conservatives and the political class that they represent very well. It is also a line being adopted by many in the media. The collective message is that, with Boris behind us, we are set for new and exciting times for all. We’re not.

The collective message is that, with Boris behind us, we are set for new and exciting times for all. We’re not.

Suggesting that it will make any difference at all whether the next leader of the Tory party is a woman, from an ethnic minority, gay or the product of a grammar school education is a deliberate strategy to divert attention from the fundamental issue. Who ever the next Prime Minister is they will be a Conservative and a Tory.

For thousands of households and for millions of workers that should be the only characteristic that matters.

Next leader

The next leader of the Tory party, and the next prime minister, will not serve the interest of working people, people looking desperately for employment, single parents, students, people in part time jobs on minimum wage and less, pensioners or people on zero hours contracts and other forms of precarious employment.

Neither Sajid Javid, Liz Truss, Jeremy Hunt nor Rishi Sunak will champion the rights of working people, support their demands for above inflation pay rises and better working conditions or make the necessary investments in our public services.

What they will do, what the Tory party exists to do, will be to govern in favour of the large financial institutions, the multi-national corporations and the stock market speculators.

The next leader of the Tory party will, without question, lower the rate of corporation tax for big businesses, underinvest in our public services, continue to privatise the profitable parts of the NHS, continue the deregulation of industries and services placing short term profit ahead of health and safety.

He or she will further erode workers and trade union rights, it will be made more difficult to go on strike or support those who are. Wages and benefits will not keep pace with inflation, public housing programmes will be cut and only those with the financial means will be able to access further education.

The next Boris Johnson will continue to support NATO and its aggressive and confrontational policies, will follow, unquestioningly, United States foreign policy and will continue to prop up, and trade with, despotic and corrupt governments around the world. That is the Tory party, that is right wing political conservatism.

Home Grown Tories

Of course, we don’t need to go to Westminster in search of conservative politics. Several local parties are openly in favour of cutting corporation taxes, some are opposed to the Living Wage for workers, most are happy to see nurses and other workers on picket lines rather than improve their pay and conditions and very few will support enhanced workers’ rights.

At Westminster and Stormont, the world will continue to be made safe for capitalism at the expense of working-class people. The name, the party, the gender or the ethnic back ground of the Prime Minister, First Minister or Deputy First Minister are irrelevant. Our lives are determined by politics-class politics.

That is a reality that many, including some who claim to be on the Left, choose to ignore.

Childcare Scandal

Two years ago the then Executive parties signed up to the New Decade New Approach initiative. One of the commitments was to produce a Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Two years later on and we are still waiting. We have no strategy and we have no Executive.

Currently parents in England, Scotland and Wales can benefit from 30 hours of free childcare, for thirty-nine weeks each year. Not in Northern Ireland though. Neither it, nor any similar scheme, has ever been introduced by the Assembly.

The Assembly’s lack of urgency and action demonstrates the value the main parties here place on the contribution of working parents and on the development of society’s greatest asset: its children.

Early childhood is a key period for brain development. During the early years of life, and especially in the first 1000 days, a child’s brain develops rapidly. What happens in the early years, matters for a lifetime.

Now, the Westminster government is proposing to reduce the ratio of childcare workers to children from 1:4 to 1:5. Although this currently will apply only in England, it is nonetheless a dangerous and retrograde step that others might find attractive to include in their long overdue childcare strategy.

Just like health, education and housing, childcare is viewed and treated as a commodity which can be successfully exploited and profited from.

Northern Ireland has some of the lowest levels of childcare provision in these islands, and many of our near neighbours could make significant improvements in their provision.

Compared to many other European countries we are light years behind, in our funding, our services and our understanding of the significance universal, flexible, accessible and affordable childcare services can have for a child’s early and future development, for parents and for the economy.

If and when the Assembly ever gets around to progressing a Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland, it could do worse than to look at the Cuban model. In its recent report on ‘Early Childhood Development in CubaUNICEF praised its world class approach and noted that 99.5% of Cuban youngsters had a nursery placement.

In the meantime, yet another generation of children here will go without the benefits, the opportunities and the enhanced development that progressive childcare brings.

Only Major Reform Can Deliver a Working Government

For the second time in five years the Northern Ireland Assembly has no Executive. Sinn Fein collapsed it with a walk out in 2017 and now the DUP have refused to walk in and allow a new Executive to be formed: people, public services and any prospect of progress are being held to ransom.

Both parties are allowed to perform in this reckless manner by the original provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Agreement provides that the largest unionist and the largest nationalist party must nominate a First and Deputy First Minister before an Executive can be formed.

 If either or both refuses to do so then no Executive can be formed and the Assembly can’t operate.

Whatever merit those arrangements might have had when the Agreement was signed in 1998, it no longer makes practical or political sense in 2022. They are no longer fit for purpose and now stand in the way of effective devolved government.

The route to a working Executive is root and branch reform of the Assembly’s structures.

The starting point has to be:

  • getting rid of the sectarian and inoperable structures that the two main parties in particular continue to use, abuse and hide behind.
  • a move from mandatory to voluntary coalition,
  • abolition of the Community Designation requirements
  • reform of the Petition of Concern to ensure that it can never again be used to veto social or equality legislation.

We cannot endure another five years of stop / start government. Immediate and far reaching reform is the only way in which a new Assembly can function effectively.

Secure Well-Paid Jobs the Answer to Poverty and Hunger

There are now over 60 formal Food Banks operating throughout Northern Ireland: more than twice the number of McDonald’s Restaurants.

They have become a lifeline for thousands of people many of them in employment, but unable to keep up with the cost of living on low hourly wages and part time and zero hours contracts.

In many areas of Northern Ireland between 8 and 9 % of people went hungry in the last month but were unable to afford or access food for themselves or their families.

As demand on the Food Banks increases, contributions are falling as the cost of fuel, energy prices and everyday essentials continue to rise.

Food banks are providing vital and, in many cases, life saving support.

But, the answer to hunger and poverty is not more food banks or even more donations. The answers lie in investment in public services, major reform of the benefits system, secure well-paid employment, access to flexible and affordable childcare.

Only a socialist society can guarantee and deliver on those priorities.

Locations of Food Banks across Northern Ireland:

Economic Violence Against Women and Girls also needs to be addressed

Nicola Grant, Workers Party constituency representative in Newry & Armagh represented the Party at yesterday’s all-party discussions at Stormont as part of the development of a strategy to end violence against women and girls.

Nicola also attended the conference later in the afternoon addressed by leading author and academic Dr Jackson Katz.

The Workers Party made a formal submission to the strategy consultation process earlier in the year in which it argued for a broader understanding of violence to include the impact which poverty has, particularly on women.

Speaking after her meeting at Stormont, Nicola said,

“Today’s meeting and conference represented a welcome and very necessary further step along the road to developing and adopting a robust approach to the problems of violence against women and girls.

“It was important the Workers Party were at the top table to voice the concerns of working-class women and girls and the lasting effects which economic violence can have on them”

“Of course, we must take every initiative and every opportunity to counter physical and psychological assaults on women and girls, but we must never lose sight of the violent effects which low pay, zero hours contracts, benefit cuts, inaccessible and unaffordable child care and a lack of affordable public housing can have on individuals and families”, she said.

“That is a message that must be heard and it is must be as central an issue in the final strategy as all other approaches”, Nicola concluded.