Political impasse, government attacks, unions and elections…
The ‘peace process’ remains at an impasse. It is now three years since the local power-sharing government Assembly collapsed, two years since it was “re-elected”, and the government is still unable to trigger serious talks about restoring it.
The IRA statement that it is “going out of business” has had little impact. Their war against the state has been over for some time. Instead, there is an ongoing sectarian territorial “war”, which has left the two communities more polarised than ever.
While the violence has died down in intensity the polarisation is as great, if not greater, than ever. The riots which swept Protestant working class communities in September showed how quickly things could re-escalate and potentially spin out of control.
No Assembly means ongoing direct rule from London. At the moment we have New Labour direct rule ministers brutally setting about the implementation of a Blairite agenda of privatisation, cuts and increased charges for services, including planned water taxes.
Secretary of State, Peter Hain, has gone about this with the strutting arrogance of a colonial overlord and has provoked huge anger and resentment among working class people, Catholic and Protestant.
New Labour’s policies, and the crude way in which they are being introduced, is stirring opposition among the working class and there is the possibility of struggles developing that can unite workers across the sectarian divide.
The Socialist Party campaigns on many fronts – youth campaigns, trade union work, local election campaigns and the mass ‘We Wont Pay’ Campaign we are building against the water charges.
This work has led to new members, particularly youth. More comrades taking on new responsibilities and the number of SP branches will soon increase.
The youth work we did in Enniskillen, in Country Fermanagh, during the local government election, in May 2005, allowed us to start plans for a party branch in the town. We have also stepped up party work in the Coleraine town area, in North Antrim
Socialist Youth remains the key to party growth. The youth comrades have launched a ‘Fightback’ campaign to take up the issues of low pay and rights of young workers. Weekly stalls are organised in Belfast and the work is started in other areas. Pickets of employers are planned and we are able to work with the Communications Workers Union in attempting to unionise workers in some call-centres.
Many of the young people who joined Socialist Youth in the last two to three years are now playing a leading role in the party and are the driving force behind the increase in party activities, such as regular door to door paper sales and weekly workplace sales.
We have a very active Socialist Society in Queens University, Belfast, and we plan to soon set up a society at the New University of Ulster (NUU), at Jordanstown. We were the only left force at the NUU freshers’ fayre at the Coleraine campus.
Trade union work
The party has a good position in the unions. During 2005, SP member Carmel Gates finished her term as NIPSA (public sector union) President but we ran another SP comrade, Billy Lynn, and won the position again. We also have SP comrades who hold the Chair positions of the two main constituent executives of NIPSA, the Civil Service and the Public Officers’ Group.
SP members also hold the key leadership positions in the FBU (fire fighters’ union) and we also hold leading positions in the INTO (a teachers’ union) and the CWU (Communications Workers Union).
A national trade union school was organised in November 2005.
SP members in the unions played a leading role in a number of industrial disputes. Our members in education were to the forefront of a movement against cuts, which led to a one-day education strike, in April.
Civil service members of N IPSA are currently carrying out a consultative exercise on whether to call an all out-strike over pay in the New Year. SP members have spoken at quite a number of NIPSA meetings on the issue and report a strong mood for action, with votes of over 90% in favour, in many areas, and even members of management voting for all out action.
We stood in four areas in the local government elections in May 2005, in Enniskillen (County Fermanagh), Cookstown (Mid Ulster) and two seats in Belfast, one in the south and one in the east of the city. We raised our vote in all the areas, and in South and East Belfast we more than trebled our percentage vote compared to the Assembly elections, just over a year earlier.
In Enniskillen (Fermanagh) we polled very well (over 4.7%) and would have only needed another 100 or so votes to have taken the seat.
The election canvasses confirmed that the party is well known in the areas we stood and there was a warm response for the work we are doing, especially our campaign against the water charges.
The ‘We Won’t Pay Campaign’ is now the largest and most active campaign against water charges. There is massive opposition to the proposed charge and huge support for our call for mass non-payment.
The charge was supposed to come in during April 2006 but the government was forced to put this back one year, to April 2007. This gives us more time to get round the communities and set up We Won’t Pay groups. At the moment, the key task is to set up groups of activists in each area. We are discussing organising a demonstration in 2006 to give a boost to the campaign.