Ireland North: Build the fight against sectarianism

FIGHTING BROKE out at last weekend’s annual Orange Order parade at Drumcree. Demonstrators threw missiles at police, resulting in 24 injured as well as two civilians. However, Drumcree is not the issue it was. The Portadown Orangemen have been forced into a sullen acceptance that they cannot force their way through the metal barriers, razor wire and trenches. Nevertheless, a relative easing of the situation in Portadown does not mean that there is likely to be a peaceful summer.

Other news from Belfast – Support the sacked airport workers

Build the fight against sectarianism

IN PLACE of Drumcree there is more widespread and sustained conflict than ever: disputes over other parade routes, sectarian attacks and fighting at ’interface’ areas.

What happened in May and June in East Belfast, where at one point there was hand-to-hand fighting involving up to 1,000 people from the Short Strand and the surrounding Protestant districts, is a warning that, left unchecked, the situation could spiral out of anyone’s control.

It is not in the interests of either Protestant or Catholic workers that the situation continues.

The only people who stand to benefit are those hard-line sectarian intransigents who use violence to corral people behind their point of view and in this way maintain effective control over working-class communities.

The real roots of what is happening lie in the social and economic problems endured by those living in working-class areas and in the failure of the ’peace process’ to do anything to overcome the sectarian divisions on the ground.

In fact the peace process has been a process of increasing division. The sectarian parties, while they have entered into a fragile agreement at the top, have constantly whipped up their own sectarian agendas to keep "their" communities on side.

Unable to see any alternative, the uncertainty felt in working-class communities has translated into growing sectarian tension fuelled over the years by issues like parades. The Troubles have continued in the form of a long drawn-out war of attrition over territory.

For working-class people there has been no peace dividend. The pro-business agenda of all the major parties in the Assembly has meant that in the working-class areas it has been at best more of the same: low pay, services sold off to profiteers and the ever-worsening housing problem. The shortage of housing intensifies conflict with communities fighting for every inch of space.

Working-class communities face a quite stark choice. A sectarian conflict can continue inch by inch over territory leading to a slow and painful repartition. Or workers can stand together to stop the attacks and in a class movement for jobs, homes, decent services and proper facilities for all.

This means a campaign on the streets. It also means a political campaign to challenge the right-wing and sectarian parties and to build an alternative; a mass Socialist Party based on the unions and genuine community organisations to challenge their influence at the polls.



Support the sacked airport workers

TRADE UNIONISTS across Northern Ireland are determined to show their support for the 24 security workers who were sacked at Belfast international airport for daring to go on strike demanding a wage rise.

This support was shown at the demonstration called by the airport workers on 6 July and workers will support the 72-hour strike starting on 10 July until their employer, ICTS, backs down.

ICTS pays rock bottom wages. The basic wage for the hundred or so staff they employ in the airport is £5.20 an hour. There is no overtime and no sickness benefit.

This company boasts of its high-tech security. But there is nothing high-tech or secure about workers forced to work long and exhausting shifts for poverty wages.

When workers took strike action on 14 May ICTS claimed the action was illegal and sacked just over half of those taking part. To no one’s surprise the shop stewards and former shop stewards were among those dismissed.

With the union organisers out of the picture ICTS, backed by the airport, have been trying to intimidate those left behind to accept a paltry 18p pay offer. They have also increased the working hours.

The claim that the action was illegal was because, having secured 87% support in a strike ballot, the workers agreed to suspend the action to allow negotiations to take place. When the negotiations got nowhere they reinstated the strike.

They were assured by the TGWU official handling the dispute that their action was legal and the strike was official. Yet 24 hours after sanctioning the strike the same official wrote a letter repudiating it and stating that the company would be within its rights in sacking them!

Worse, the shop stewards were not told of their right to submit an Interim Relief Certificate which would have forced ICTS to continue paying them until an Unfair Dismissal case was heard.

An understandably angry delegation of sacked workers lobbied the delegates to the TGWU Regional Conference and managed to force a meeting with an embarrassed Bill Morris, TGWU General Secretary. Morris promised to make the dispute official and to provide legal backing.

Meanwhile management have interfered in the pay ballot that was conducted among the rest of the workforce. A new ballot on pay and on reinstatement of all the sacked workers should be held and the TGWU and other unions should make it clear that they will stand fully behind these workers in a strike.

ICTS thought that this issue was done with when they sacked the 24. Unions must back the sacked workers and let ICTS know that the dispute is only beginning.

* Workers must put a trade union ban on the airport until all 24 are reinstated. Appeal for a passenger boycott and force the freight companies to use other routes. If these measures are put in place this dispute can be won and won quickly. TRADE UNIONISTS across Northern Ireland are determined to show their support for the 24 security workers who were sacked at Belfast international airport for daring to go on strike demanding a wage rise.

Peter Hadden, Belfast Socialist Party

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July 2002