Largest non-sectarian demonstration since anti-war movement
Thousands of workers took to the streets of Belfast on 23 October, in what was probably the largest non-sectarian demonstration in Northern Ireland since the anti-war movement. They marched in opposition to the £4 billion cuts to public spending in Northern Ireland which were contained in the Comprehensive Spending Review. These cuts will have a devastating impact on an economy heavily reliant upon the public sector, which directly employs a third of the workforce and props up the private sector. Researchers have suggested 40,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, although this could turn out to be a conservative figure.
There was an angry and determined mood among the workers who joined the protest. The chants taken up by the crowd were, ‘No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts’ and ‘They say cut back- we say fight back!’ Ironically, some of the local politicians who say we have to cut back had the gall to join the march, including SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie and the Minister of Education, Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane. All the main parties have been implementing cuts and privatisation since the Assembly Executive was established. In reality, they accept the logic that workers and young people must pay the price for the bankers’ economic crisis, and they admit they will enforce further cuts.
Unfortunately, these politicians were given credence by representatives from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Speaker after speaker appealed for ‘our’ politicians to unite against cuts, despite their track record. This clearly was not the mood of workers on the demonstration, who replied with boos and jeers. Instead of sewing illusions in the sectarian parties, the trade unions should be preparing their members for a fight-back against the cuts the Executive will soon be introducing, including moving to establish a new, anti-sectarian party of the working-class. The Socialist Party raised this demand among workers on the march, as well as calling for a one-day public sector strike as the beginning of a campaign of industrial action to smash the cuts.