The Red Plough
1/Denying the needs, Frustrating the rights
2/ Who said Boycott is dead?
denying the needs, frustrating the right
A recent article by Gary Mulcahy in the July August edition of "The "Socialist" dealt with the emergence of residents groups in North Belfast. The article was in line with the narrative that the Socialist Party espouses. That narrative is along the following lines- republicans are sectarian- residents groups are sectarian-demands for housing in North Belfast are sectarian- the Orange Order is sectarian but has a right to March and the only way forward is the building of a new mass party of the working class under the leadership of the trade union movement. Until such time as a mass labour Party is established meanwhile join the Socialist Party and fight against Capitalism sectarianism etc.
Cde Mulcahy specifically writes
“There have been several attempts in recent years by republicans in North Belfast to mobilise on the theme of civil rights -highlighting the lack of housing in Catholic areas-a sectarian position which divides rather than unites working class people”
This is an odious position for a socialist to take.
Perhaps Cde Mulcahy missed this
"The Committee is concerned about the chronic shortage of housing, in particular social housing, for the most disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, such as... Catholic families in Northern Belfast, in spite of the financial resources provided, and other measures taken, by the State party in this regard."
Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, May 2009A leading trade unionist and former activist in the civil rights movement in the late 1960’s was the late Inez McCormick.
In May 2012 Inez wrote
"Any decision on housing in North Belfast has to evidence how it will concretely address the inequality experienced, in this case, by the Catholic community. Attempting to build good relations on the basis of denying the needs, frustrating the rights, and silencing the voices of the poorest is wrong in itself as it is destructive to the goal of building a shared future." (My emphasis).Inez McCormack (PPR Founder, May 2012)
Was her activity both in the sixties and prior to her death -sectarian? Did she in either period take a sectarian position? To even ask such a question shows the utter absurdity of Cde. Mulcahy’s position.
The PPR launched a report on housing in north Belfast as recently as August 22rd 2013 called Equality CannotWait This report points out that
“The Catholic community in North Belfast has long been impacted by religious inequality in housing. PPR has worked on housing issues with people on the ground in North Belfast over the last seven years. Our work is showing that Catholics in North Belfast in need of housing have been repeatedly disadvantaged. This includes the failure of the £133 million North Belfast Housing Strategy to tackle inequality; the engineering of a Belfast City Centre ‘shared space’ being prioritised over addressing existing Catholic housing need; and the removal of protections which ‘ring-fenced’ new social homes for areas impacted by religious inequality.”
Currently on the web site of the PPR is the following
Yesterday (19th September 2013) five north Belfast residents hand delivered letters and evidence to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive of their continuing dire housing circumstances.
Hugh McAuley lives on the 12 floor of Finn House, one of the Seven Towers high rise flats in north Belfast, with his four children. Hugh posted all five residents’ testimonies to the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland MLA this morning (20th September 2013), including photographic and medical evidence of the impact of living in unacceptable housing conditions on each resident and their families.The residents’ testimonies detail how they, and other families, are being forced to live in cold and damp high rise accommodation, with little or no accessibility or space for children’s play and development.They detail how families have been forced to go without heat or hot water for over a month with no remedy.They detail how families have waited for years in ‘temporary’ hostels in cramped conditions and environments with their children.They detail how each resident’s health and wellbeing is affected in very different ways by the failure of the Department for Social Development and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to recognise and address the chronic problem of Catholic inequality in housing impacting north Belfast.”
There is enough evidence to show that neither the Housing Executive nor the Power Sharing Executive want, or desire, to tackle the housing problems of North Belfast. By labelling efforts to highlight the plight of the homeless in North Belfast the Socialist Party are in effect providing political cover for both those organisations
Sectarianism is institutionalised in the Northern State. All of the Government institutions and agencies were geared for over fifty years to maintaining Unionist control of the state. They did this by maginalising the nationalist population, confining them to ghettoes, depriving them of well paid jobs and harassing those who objected to their second class status with the full force of the RUC and the B specials. Tho’ there have been changes since the fall of the old Stormont the institutions have not yet eradicated their institutional bias.
For example after 22 years from the fall of Stormont,
" The under representation of middle class catholics within the upper reaches of the occupational hierarchy has inevitably served to ensure that northern nationalists have remained marginal to the operation of the Northern Irish economy. The lack of strategic economy power possessed by Catholic professionals was graphically illustrated in a recent survey conducted by a local firm of management consultants. The agency concerned compiled a list of those figures considered to exercise "control or influence" over the economic life of the province.Of the one thousand individuals identified only 85 came from the catholic community"(from Irish Journal of Sociology Vol 4 1994 p 1-26 Class Ethnicity and Political Identity in Northern Ireland -Colin Coulter)
Of course there can be little doubt that the position of the catholic middle classes has improved since then. Once the Provisional Sinn Fein leadership decided to ditch their socialist cover, shed most of their republicanism and embrace northern nationalism then the way was cleared for the catholic middle classes to embrace the new “Northern Ireland” and rise up the economic ladder.
That in itself produced an inevitable reaction. As many of us in the radical left predicted back in 1969 the granting of equality within the unionist state would lead to the alienation of the Protestant working class who would lose material benefits under capitalism.
Sadly that has now come to pass. And yet some sections of that class have fallen victim to the same old sectarian games played by their political leaders aided and abetted by those academics who have pushed the Northern Ireland Office Line that the conflict here is in essence a cultural conflict.
Hence the nonsense about “flegs” and denial of cultural rights. So called “British Culture” is not under threat. However it suits political unionism to pretend it is in order to keep working classes at each others throats. The recent outburst by the first Minister, Peter Robinson, in Stormont against the TUV’s Jim Allister shows the true face of Northern Unionism -“never sell property to catholics”. That has always been the way that unionism has kept control- keep the taigs out. That is why in North Belfast there is a red line that catholics can not cross to be housed.
Within the lower Oldpark in North Belfast decent houses lie empty within a so called ‘Protestant’ area while Catholics wait years for decent homes. Sadly both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have bought into this approach in order to maintain what little remains of the Good Friday Agreement..
We warned then in 1998 that a vote for the GFA was a vote to continue to sectarianise the northern statelet but the Socialist Party in its wisdom called for and voted yes for that Agreement. They did this despite recognising that the Good Friday Agreement
And their reasons for calling for a yes vote do not stand up.
““no” vote would have strengthened the camp of sectarian reaction and would have put the peace process in jeopardy.”
They failed to distinguish between peace and “the peace process.” The peace process was a clear strategy by the British to halt, hinder and destroy the continuing republican resistance to British rule in Ireland. By endorsing the peace process they endorse that strategy.Denying the existence of reality is not the way for a socialist organisation to behave. Rather than oppose sectarianism they have in effect reached an accommodation with it . They pay lip service to the national question but never have actually engaged in any activity that could be identified with issues arising from the national question. Rather they have settled for James Connolly in words and William Walker in deeds!
It needs to be spelt out clearly that sectarianism has a real material basis.
"Sectarianism is not a superstructural phenomenon floating free of an abstract economic base which in turn is divided into classes. In Northern Ireland sectarian divisions is a material reality which has been constituted and re-constituted throughout the history of capital accumulation and class struggle as a whole. It is not merely an overlay on class divisions to be to be seen as something which is either more or less important than class. Asa material reality it has a history embedded in colonisation industrial revolution and the emergence of new class forms under capitalism.
Note especially the phrase “embedded in colonisation, industrial revolution and the emergence of new class forms under capitalism.”
It is this that the passive left chooses to ignore rather that admit the reality.
But reality must not be allowed to dictate the narrative of the passive left. Such a description is a reasonably accurate portrayal of those leftist organisations that suck up to the trade union bureaucrats pass resolutions at sparsely attended union branches and then claim to have campaigned against repression and the state. Bollocks! These same leftists would not be seen dead on an actual serious protest against repression of republicans or indeed anyone who poses a threat to the state.
What was it Lenin said?
“Social-Democracy leads the struggle of the working class, not only for better terms for the sale of labour-power, but for the abolition of the social system that compels the propertyless to sell themselves to the rich. Social-Democracy represents the working class, not in its relation to a given group of employers alone, but in its relation to all classes of modern society and to the state as an organised political force. Hence, it follows that not only must Social-Democrats not confine themselves exclusively to the economic struggle, but that they must not allow the organisation of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities. We must take up actively the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness.”(What is to be done)Yes, take up the political education of the working class. How can you take up that task if you consistently distort reality. Homeless North Belfast Catholics are discriminated against when it comes to housing. To call campaigns against that “sectarian” is to pander to the lowest level of loyalism. It also alienates catholic workers from these self confessed socialists. That is no way for “leninists” to behave.
Lenin was very clear as to what the political education of the working class was to be.
It is not enough to explain to the workers that they are politically oppressed (any more than it is to explain to them that their interests are antagonistic to the interests of the employers). Agitation must be conducted with regard to every concrete example of this oppression (as we have begun to carry on agitation round concrete examples of economic oppression). Inasmuch as this oppression affects the most diverse classes of society, inasmuch as it manifests itself in the most varied spheres of life and activity — vocational, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific, etc., etc. — is it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling our task of developing the political consciousness of the workers if we do not undertake the organisation of the political exposure of the autocracy in all its aspects?
Furthermore he was very specific,
In a word, every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct “the economic struggle against the employers and the government”. It cannot be too strongly maintained that this is still not Social-Democracy, that the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.
Can this be any clearer? The issue of housing has been sectarianised by those who run the state. To highlight that issue and to campaign against it is in the real traditions of the revolutionaries who have gone before us. You can not fool the working class by pretending that there is no discrimination taking place.
Nor can you win people to the banner of socialism if you call efforts to highlight discrimination 'sectarian'.
WHO SAID BOYCOTT IS DEAD?
Ireland , it is often said, was a far different place in the 19th century than it is today in the 21st . This observation with the slightest examination can be seen not to be strictly the case. It is true that fashions in the current era and architecture are far different than those back in the 19th century but principally in everyday life in many aspects nothing has changed.
Poverty despite all the technological advancements still exists and the fear of homelessness is as prevalent today as it was in the days of Charles Stewart Parnell. It may be true to say that in twenty six of Ireland's thirty two counties the British army are no longer on the streets and laws are passed in Westminster no more for this part of the island of Ireland. In this respect it would be argued for apologists for the status quo things are different.
In these modern times we have Irish bailiffs and sheriffs backed up by Irish Policemen and soldiers, equipped with an Irish courts warrant to come and throw us out of our homes, pretty similar to what occurred regularly in the 19th century.
Back in the 19th century evictions of people from their homes, particularly though not exclusively, in rural Ireland were common place.People were evicted from their farms regularly and the landowners knew that there were plenty of others who would bid for the unfortunate victims farm and home. Charles Stewart Parnell back in 1880 addressed a meeting in Ennis, County Clare, and reached a point in his speech on the question of what to do with a man who bids for a farm from which people had been evicted?
Somebody from the crowd shouted out “shoot him!” to which Parnell replied
“I think I heard somebody say shot him! But I wish to point out to you a very much better way—a more Christian, and more charitable way, which will give the lost sinner an opportunity of repenting. When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must show him on the roadside, when you meet him, you must show him in the streets of the town, you must show him in the fair and the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him severely alone—putting him in a kind of moral! Coventry, isolating him from his kind like the leper of old—you must show him your detestation of the crime he has committed”. (The History Of The Irish Working Class Peter Berresford Ellis P. 158-59)
In this oration Parnell gave expression and application to the Greek word “ostracism”, an idea also adopted by the English trade union movement. The method of “ostracism” had been mentioned and mulled over quite regularly in those days among the leaders of the Land League and three days after Parnell’s speech at Ennis the Irish gave their own word for “ostracism” in English, the word was boycott.
A petty landowner called Charles S. Boycott who was also the land agent of the Earl of Erne. He managed the Earls large estate in Co. Mayo. The Earl himself lived on a large 31,000 acre estate in Fermanagh and had not been in the vicinity of Mayo for years. He left the day to day running of his estate to Boycott. On September 22 1880 Boycott sent his bailiff in to evict his tenants, this brave man and his accomplices’ were guarded by police in case they met anything like equal opposition. The tenants attacked the bailiff and drove him to seek shelter in Lough Musk House. On September 24th 1880 all of Boycotts servants left his employ with all the estates farm labourers. In the village of Ballinrobe all the shopkeepers, the laundress, blacksmith and other day to day service providers refused to serve Boycott. In desperation the good Captain wrote to the London Times appealing for help to save his crops.
His prayers were answered, or so he thought, on November 11th when fifty Orangemen from the province of Ulster arrived led by six Ulster landowners to work Boycotts land. With them came ten servants, what today would be termed “scabs”. This motley band were accompanied by 200 troops of the 76th regiment and another 400 from the 84th regiment; 200 troops of the 19th Hussars, two companies of the army service corps, ambulances etc. The people “shunned” the procession and even though they saved Boycotts crops worth £300 the total cost of the operation was £3,000. This kind of expenditure was unsustainable and Boycott left for England within a few days, the people had won.
|19th century orangemen.|
Let us now leap forward 133 years to 2013 where similar occurrences are still happening. On Wednesday 25th September 2013 on pages 6-7 of the Irish Daily Mirror the headlines read “WE’LL FIGHT ALL THE WAY” referring to a man and his family been ordered to vacate their home.
‘Martin O’Sullivan has been ordered to leave the house he shares with his wife Clare and three young kids. The family who have a loan with Start Mortgages were told to vacate their semi-detached property by September 16th but anti-eviction protesters flocked to support them yesterday’.
The newspaper article continues ‘a 30 strong protest group called Independent Resistance came from across the country and created a protective ring around the house in Kanturk, Co. Cork, so the sheriff could not evict the family’.
The article describing Mr O’Sullivan’s plight finishes with a statement from one of the groups legal advisors, Mr Noel Walsh ; ‘We have a family here who are trying to pay their mortgage but are being thrown out instead. We can’t allow this to happen to families across the country’. The similarities between this case in Co. Cork and those which occurred in the 19th century, which the boycott instance is but one, are there for all but the willingly blind to see. Once again people power is proving its worth as it did in the case of Captain Boycott.
Of course any such victories laudable and encouraging as they are only represent short term gains within the system of capitalism.This is NOT to say don’t participate in such demonstrations because it is essential people DO take part and show support as I’m sure Mr O’Sullivan will testify. The next time you hear some TD crying crocodile tears about the poor Irish suffering under the tyrannical landlords in the 19th century, probably citing their own ancestors as victims, but refuse to lift a finger to change the plight of 21st century equivalents then, as Parnell advised, “SHUN THEM”