The Blanket

Bastards and Traitors!

Billy Mitchell

So my two friends and colleagues - Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine - are bastards and traitors. That is not a statement emanating from the anti-agreement unionist or dissident loyalist camp (who no doubt agree with the statement) it comes from my friend and trade union colleague Sean Smyth. According to Sean, because Billy and David dared to seek a mandate from the unionist working class - and worse still, actually got elected as MLA’s - they are “bastards and traitors who betrayed the working class over a prawn sandwich and a glass of chardonnay”. Poor Hutchie, since he doesn’t drink alcoholic beverages his reward for selling out his working class constituency was a mere prawn sandwich - and I am not even sure if he likes prawn sandwiches.

I am not an MLA but, like Billy and David, I belong to one of the local political parties which Sean singles out for criticism and, since “all local parties” have, according Sean, given full support to the neo-liberal capitalist agenda of the British and Irish governments, I too must be a bastard and a traitor - and I hate both prawns and chardonnay. Poor me - no reward at all for selling out my class.

Seriously. Much of what Sean says about the N.I. Assembly is absolutely spot on. It had done absolutely nothing for the working and workless classes except further disempower them. The four parties represented on the Northern Ireland Executive did nothing to address the chronic social and economic issues facing working class communities and, if we add up the numbers of MLA’s representing those four parties, it could be said that the Assembly itself was as guilty as the Executive. But that does not mean that every member of the Assembly concurred in the sell-out to neo-liberal capitalism.

Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine certainly did not concur and they have consistently supported PUP constituency associations on a number of social and economic issues, including:-

  1. The PUP is the only party at Stormont to oppose all forms of privatisation and to endorse Unison’s “Positively Public” campaign.
  2. The PUP has been consistent in its call for a Living Wage rather than a minimum wage and at our party conference in October there was unanimous support for a motion that the minimum wage be increased to £7.50 per hour - at least £2.50 an hour above what other parties in the Assembly have reluctantly called for.
  3. The PUP is the only Assembly party to call for a minimum income guarantee for all those in retirement of £150 per week, and for the restoration of the earnings link to the basic state pension and up-rating to the level it would have been if the link had not been broken.
  4. The PUP has demanded a revision and a strengthening of the Social & Economic Rights section of the draft Human Rights Bill because, in our opinion, poverty is a violation of basic human rights.
  5. The party has pressed for a definite anti-poverty strategy (with ministers accountable for it) to be incorporated into the Programme for Government.
  6. The PUP was they only Assembly Party to support the Fire Brigade Union’s demand for £30,000 per year with no conditions attached.
  7. The party actively supported the term-time workers in their struggle with the Department of Education over pay and conditions and Billy Hutchinson is supporting former Richardson’s workers in their struggle with their former employers over redundancy pay and pensions.
  8. The party has been consistent in its opposition to the 11 plus and all forms of academic selection. In North Belfast the only MLA to organise a public cross-community debate on the Burn’s Report was Billy Hutchinson. This debate, which was boycotted by other local MLA’s, involved educators from both the Catholic Maintained sector and the State sector as well as representatives from the community education sector and pupils from both the Catholic maintained and state sectors.
  9. The PUP opposed the budget for the Executive’s Programme for Government and has been consistent in opposing the lobby to lower corporation tax.
  10. Internationally, to my knowledge David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson are the only two MLA’s to oppose “Plan Colombia”, and the PUP is the only Assembly party to publicly endorse the work of the European Social Forum in challenging global economic systems.

Outnumbered 106 to 2 in the Assembly Billy Hutchinson and David Ervine have, when not blocked by the “big four” Executive parties, fought their corner on behalf of their working class constituents. It is significant that those who have whinged and girned for generations about non-representation in the corridors of power are some of the people who are now guilty of trying to silence the PUP at Stormont and elsewhere. Billy Hutchison and David Ervine may be a lot of things, but they are certainly not the bastards and traitors whom Sean Smyth claims are wining and dining with the patrons of neo-liberal capitalism.

For the first time since the inception of the state the unionist working classes have representatives who are prepared to represent their interests, and for the first time in generations, working class unionists are beginning to look to themselves for answers to their social and economic problems. That is something that ought to be encouraged, not knocked.

Sean’s concern about sectarianism needs to be heeded. The Assembly is structured on sectarian lines because both the SDLP and Sinn Fein demanded a system of local government that included them in Executive positions as of right. They were so damned anxious to help administer British rule in Ireland that they insisted on being in government as of right. Yes, Sean. Those who campaigned for so long against sectarian politics were the very ones that demanded a sectarian head count at Stormont. But sectarianism comes in many forms, and the broader socialist movement has as many ‘sects’ as any other sector. Which socialist party would Sean encourage working class unionists to vote for - Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Community Party, Workers Party, IRSP, Social Democracy! If, by chance, one of these parties were successful in having two members returned to Stormont (or any other Assembly) would they be any more successful than Billy or David in effecting change?

Finally, the PUP is by definition a “unionist” party and it is a fact that the vast majority of working class Protestants (if we must use religious terminology) support the union with Great Britain. They have a right to be pro-union and they have a right to have their pro-union aspirations validated. None of the socialist parties which I have mentioned are willing to acknowledge the right of working class Protestants to be “unionists” and cannot therefore truly represent their interests. As Sean knows, members the PUP have been actively seeking to hold out the hand of friendship to members of these socialist groups, and a number of groups have responded favourably. The whole debate about the merits and demerits of the Belfast Agreement and working class politics needs to be debated and some of us are doing just that, but it does nothing for working class unity for Sean to lump Billy and David ( and others like myself, by association) along with the “bastards and traitors” who oppose working class interests.



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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

28 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blanket Special

3 Part Series

Capo de tuti Capo?: The Three Families

Part Two: Danny McBearty's Story
Anthony McIntyre


The Price of Peace Is In The Pocket
Davy Carlin


Bastards and Traitors!
Billy Mitchell


Dr. Ruth Inexpert On Sexy "Irish State" Controversy

Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters page has been updated.


24 November 2002


Blanket Special

3 Part Series
Capo de tuti Capo?:
The Three Families

Part One: Bridie McCloskey's Story
Anthony McIntyre


A Wilderness of Mirrors
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Revenge of a Child
Uri Avnery


Political Violence's Victims

Paul A. Fitzsimmons




The Blanket




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Index: Current Articles
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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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