Socialists Must Stand Up

Workers Party President, Cllr Ted Tynan has called for ‘socialists, trade unionists and anti-sectarian forces’ to challenge and oppose what he described as the “on going and ill-conceived clamour for a Border Poll”.

His remarks come ahead of this weekend’s ‘Ireland’s Future’ conference in Dublin.

“It is important” he said, “that the nature and intent of this campaign is exposed for the shallow, sectarian scam that it is, and that Ireland’s progressive forces continue to build the basis of working-class unity as the only secure foundation for the people of this island and beyond”

Mood music and rhetoric

Cllr Tynan said, “the mood music and the rhetoric about ‘historic destinies’ and a ‘new Ireland’ belie the character, track record and intentions of the key players. History repeats itself.  We’ve been here before and so have many other countries. We’re not as special as some would have us believe. The nationalist middle classes, north and south, are wrapped confidently in the green flag and have their sights sets on a bespoke future, that holds little for working people and their families”.

“Calls for a Border Poll are divisive and unnecessary. Increasingly, almost every issue in this country is viewed myopically through sectarian glasses with orange and green lenses.

Manufactured urgency

“So it is with the growing clamour for a Border Poll, driven largely by Sinn Fein, and now supported by a number of new organisations, some academics, a variety of media commentators and other nationalist parties, north and south, desperate not to be left behind this wave of manufactured urgency.

“The Ireland’s Future’ camp is no place for socialists or for those claiming to be on the left. Some, however, attempt to justify their involvement. Whatever the political contortions required to clear their consciences some basic and distasteful realities remain. 

Cultural identity politics

The campaign for a Border Poll is premised on little more than a religious headcount with the implicit assumption that ‘catholic equals united Ireland’ and ‘protestant equals union with Britain’.

This is the worst form of cultural identity politics and ultimately it is built on foundations of sand. Worse still, the dangers of pressing a divisive nationalist agenda in a community which is already deeply divided risks being characterised as a sectarian crusade.”, said Cllr Tynan

“Ireland is not Scotland”, Cllr. Tynan said. “In the absence of working-class unity there is a real risk and potential for sectarian violence in the lead up to and in the aftermath of a Border Poll – irrespective of the outcome”.

Working class unity

“The Workers Party has always pursued and remains committed to the objective of a unitary socialist state on this island. We have long recognised that is a long term and onerous project and it can only be built on working class unity rather than the territorial unity of a united capitalist Ireland which offers no solution to the urgent problems facing working people, north and south.

 “It is a project constantly frustrated by those who see their privileged positions threatened by that outcome, but it is also thwarted by those who happily and arrogantly dismiss and disregard the million people on this island who don’t want to be forced into a “united” Ireland against their wishes”, Cllr. Tynan said.

Absolute and non-negotiable

The unity of the working class and a fundamental transformation of our social, political and economic system remain an absolute and non-negotiable prelude to the creation of a single unitary state. Simply, hoisting the green flag will not end the misery, exploitation and oppression of workers and their families in Dublin or in Belfast”, Cllr Tynan concluded.

Enough is Enough

Workers Party members, headed by Party President Cllr. Ted Tynan joined the protest organised by the ‘Cost of Living Coalition’ in Dublin at the weekend.

Several thousand people took part in the protest in support of controlling energy costs, affordable housing and investment in public services

Cllr Ted Tynan condemned the “…shameful government inaction which allows continued obscene profiteering by energy companies on the back of the young and old alike – all of whom are facing the eat or heat dilemma this winter”.

“Nationalisation of energy companies is urgently needed”, he said, “in order to restore control of these essential assets and secure the welfare of households”.

Another demonstration against rising prices, soaring energy bills and the escalating cost of living will be held in Belfast next Saturday,1st October.

Organised by the Cost of Living Coalition campaign the protest will take the form of a rally at Belfast City Hall at 1pm

Bankers’ Bonuses, Tax Breaks for the Wealthy and Token Gestures for the Rest of Us

The undisguised arrogance towards working people and the difficulties they are facing is the main feature of today’s Tory mini-budget.

Tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy, bonuses for bankers, a harsher benefit regime and derisory token gestures for working class people already struggling to heat and eat, signal the clear intent of this government – not that it was ever in any doubt.

The refusal to increase taxes on the big energy companies, and the derisory sums being offered to households to mitigate extortionate and rising bills, make this a budget for business but not for working people.

Public utilities are not luxuries – they are essential services. Gas, electric, water, fuel and broadband services must be taken into public ownership. This will help address avaricious energy prices, alleviate fuel poverty and assist in the battle against climate change. Public ownership would also ensure protection for the jobs of thousands of workers in the energy sector.

That is not a demand that we’ll hear from either the Government or the Opposition benches at Westminster – and it won’t be made by any of the Executive parties at Stormont either.

Announcements like today’s mini-budget make us think that all the Tories live in London, but we have our own home-grown free marketeers at Stormont. Beyond their rhetoric, they are all economic blood brothers. Their record tells the story: low wage economy, zero hours contracts and run-down public services.

Only a socialist economy can deliver for working people and their families.

Media Census Shame

The manner in which Census details have been reported by the mainstream media here has been described as ‘shameful, irresponsible and unprofessional’ by the Workers Party.

All the main media outlets have focussed, almost exclusively, on the reported religious breakdown of the community, variously describing the figures as ‘hugely significant‘, ‘historic‘ and ‘seismic‘. One went as far as to say that, of the 60 questions on the Census form, ‘…only one was going to grab the headlines’.

Headlines, of course, don’t make themselves, they are selected and written by journalists. In this case, without exception, those journalists, many of them building up the ‘story’ from the day before, chose to reinforce and underline the sectarian, orange and green, narrative that infests Northern Ireland politics by using religious backgrounds as surrogates for voting intentions and dismissing the real political determinants in society.

In their shameful, irresponsible and unprofessional frenzy to headline ‘headcount politics’, the local media have, very successfully, delivered and reinforced the tribal agendas of the major parties and the local sectarian cheerleaders. This has not been their finest hour.

Same Old (S)Tories

The first major policy announcement of the new Truss government has, unsurprisingly, all the hallmarks of right-wing, conservative economics and a blatant disregard for the lives and difficulties being faced by working people.

Despite overwhelming support for the nationalisation of energy companies – recent polls suggest that over 70% of people are in favour – the response of the Truss administration is to bail out the companies already making billions of pounds profit through government borrowing, which tax payers will be repaying for years to come. It’s the same old Tories and the same old story.

When working people are looking for an answer to the current energy and cost of living crisis they need to look beyond the Conservatives and also beyond the Labour Party. Liz Truss won’t take energy companies into public ownership and neither will Labour’s Keir Starmer. He says he’s ‘not in favour’ of it – despite Labour’s election manifesto promises.

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%.

Taking our utilities into public ownership could, at a stroke, alleviate the human misery and suffering currently being experienced by young and old alike.

The cost of taking the ‘Big 5’ energy companies into public ownership is estimated to be around £2.8 billion. That’s a lot of money, until you realise that since June last year the government has spent £2.7billion bailing out 28 failing energy companies.

The solution to the cost of utilities crisis is not in vote catching gestures but in bringing gas, electricity, broadband services and fuel into public ownership and public control. Neither the Tories, nor Labour, are going to do that.

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.

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