Polls Apart

The winners in last week’s elections were our own local nationalisms – British and Irish. The already tight grip they collectively hold on political power was strengthened even further by an overwhelming majority of voters.

Well over 50% of first preference votes went to either Sinn Fein or the DUP. Smaller nationalist parties like the TUV and Aontu were also endorsed by the electorate.

The losers are anybody and everybody who wants an end to sectarian division, segregated education, segregated housing and tribal politics. Anybody and everybody who wants secure well-paid employment, an end to the culture of zero hours contracts, a low wage economy and an absence of affordable, flexible childcare.

In fact, anybody and everyone who wants a progressive, caring and supportive society can say goodbye to the possibility of movement on any of those fronts.

Class Politics

Nationalism, British or Irish, is not about any of these things. It is about division, difference, belligerence and tribalism. It is also about capitalist economics. That is why we are a Workers Party, that is why our politics and our programme are class based. That is why we refuse to roll over and submerge ourselves in sectarian populism.

Make no mistake, nationalism, both British and Irish, is a political poison that stands in the way of uniting working people here, just as it divides workers across the globe.

 Nationalism is not only a backward political philosophy: it is a toxic one. It seeks to divide and exploit difference. It is a political cancer that deliberately subverts working class unity and the struggle for socialism. We must strive at every turn to combat this toxic ideology, and never give an inch in our relentless struggle against it. We have seen time and again where it leads.

Trade Unions

It is hard to reconcile the actions of the thousands of trade unionists, workers, their families and friends who have taken to the picket lines, marches and rallies in recent months in defence of public services, jobs, better conditions, better pay and a better society, with the outcome of the local elections.

The left urgently needs to re-analyse and re-orientate itself to face down this growing political cancer and its consequences.

The trade union movement needs to ask itself if it is a vehicle for protest or a vehicle for change. We all need to ask how the power, the dynamism and the class consciousness of working people, so clearly demonstrated in recent times, can become a catalyst for positive change and a bulwark against the most reactionary and divisive elements of our society.

It is not a task that can wait.

Jamboree Politics

Workers Party President Cllr Ted Tynan has re-iterated his earlier warnings about the ‘Ireland’s Future’ group and its rally in Dublin at the weekend.

“Nothing I have seen, heard or read has cast the ‘Ireland’s Future’ rally in a positive light”, he said.

“The mood music and the rhetoric of ‘historic destinies’ and a ‘new Ireland’ belie the character, track record and intentions of the key players.

This was the worst of Irish politics, not the best”, Cllr Tynan added.

“Dress it up with celebrity and add bells and whistles and the conclusion remains the same. Saturday’s event, and the motivation behind it, was little more than jamboree politics deliberately devoid of detail, heavy on nationalist rhetoric and meaningless for the lives of working people”.

“When the circus packs up its tent and reality returns, the unity of the working class and the fundamental transformation of our social, political and economic system must remain the absolute and non-negotiable prelude to the creation of a single unitary state”. Cllr Tynan concluded.

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.

This is what nationalism looks like

If you ever wondered what nationalism looks like then you’ll find the answer in this week’s Bogside bonfire and in the mirror image bonfires built by loyalists.

As a political philosophy, nationalism – British and Irish – is inward looking, narrow, unimaginative and toxic.

No matter the protests from the people who embrace it, no matter the claims that their nationalism is a legitimate expression and nothing to do with the annual displays of raw tribalism.

Many nationalists may feel uncomfortable about these displays, they may even distance themselves for them, but events like these are the outworking and public display of nationalism’s core philosophy.

Nationalism, Irish or British, is not only a backward political philosophy: it is a toxic one. It seeks to divide and exploit difference. It blames others and otherness. It is a political cancer that deliberately subverts progressive politics and invariably is home to the worst examples of native gombeen men and women. At its worst it can become a hate fest.

If bonfire builders anywhere in Northern Ireland want to channel their energies towards building a different and better society, and that’s a very big ‘If’, then they should commit themselves to the struggle to defend public services, fund education, secure the NHS, champion the rights of women, eradicate sectarianism, racism, homophobia and misogyny, stand up for worker’s rights, oppose zero hours contracts or campaign for a real living wage.

Obviously, they find compounding and sustaining community division much more to their taste.

‘Nationalism – a political poison’ warning

Theobald Wolfe Tone

The Party’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, held this year under current Covid guidelines, was addressed by Workers Party and Central Executive Committee member Gerry Lynch (Dublin).

Highlighting the toxicity of all forms of nationalism and the damage it can cause to class based politics. Gerry said,

“Nationalism – both British and Irish – is a political poison that stands in the way of uniting Irish workers, just as it divides workers across the globe. It is something that we must strive at every turn to combat, and we must never give an inch in our struggle against it.

We have seen time and again where that path leads. For us the lessons of Tone and the United Irishmen lies in internationalism and social progress”. 

Read the Wolfe Tone commemoration speech in full:

Read more about Wolfe Tone:


Bad moon rising?

The warning signs are already clear, the well-rehearsed arguments are converging and the battle lines have been drawn. We are facing a very difficult, and potentially very dangerous 12 month period.

Politics in Northern Ireland are dominated and divided by nationalism: pro-British and pro-Irish versions: both are toxic and both are destructive

In recent days we have seen protocols, polls and policing, used to fuel claim and counter claim, building on existing division and further polarising and dividing the community.

The pro-British nationalism of the DUP, and others, using ill thought out, but confrontational, strategies to hype up the threat to the union, and the appalling, unapologetic arrogance and contempt of Sinn Fein, have set the ground rules for the coming months and for the run in to next year’s Assembly elections.

We are now beginning to see the outworking of those strategies taking shape in the form of  riots and street violence. The fear must be that worse is yet to come.

In the face of the basest forms of tribal politics, and the potential threat they pose, the need for a united, coherent and focussed working class response has never been more urgent.

In a little over twelve months’ time there will be an Assembly election. Much of the recent tribalism, political posturing and grandstanding is aimed at laying the groundwork for that election campaign. When that spills over into the streets in the form of riots, disturbances and attacks, as we are already witnessing, it will not be by accident but by deliberate design.

The nationalism of the DUP, Sinn Fein and others demands that the tribal stakes are constantly raised and raised again. If that means some teenagers and young people from working class communities end up in prison, injured or worse then so be it. Of course, both parties will be the first to condemn the violence, the bloodshed and the community strife, while in the same breath calculating how much they had gained from it and how much further they need to go.

The only response to this deadly and downward nationalist spiral is the collective voice and action of a united working class, committed to and focused on a political and social agenda which will drive a progressive wedge into the heart of political life here.

That measure must involve trade unionists, working people, progressive and anti-sectarian elements, principled parties of the left and, importantly, forward thinking members of the media and other professions. It is not too late to openly reject the politics and consequences of nationalism. Nor is it too late to call them out. However, the day for howling at the moon has long gone.