The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Money Talks
Mick Hall • 9.12.03

There have recently been questions asked by socialists and republicans about the morality of taking the British State's coinage to finance community projects within the north of Ireland. Such projects range from facilities for ex-republican prisoners, across the board to activities for retired people, (a wag might say the two are one and the same, no matter I jest). Funding for this work comes in the main either directly from the British State via the N.I.O. or the European Union's Peace and Reconciliation Fund. The latter whilst legally independent of the UK government, in reality if the funding tap is to be turned on or off, it will be the UK government's or the government in the south’s hand upon it. Whether one agrees with taking the English State's or indirectly European Union money or not, there can be little doubt that the north of Ireland and some of the counties that border upon it in the south are awash with projects funded in the aforementioned manner. Indeed they must be one of the main employers in the north for former Republican and Loyalist prisoners and activists, plus Community activists from both communities, (so long as they are in the 'loop' that is.)

The one certain thing about the English State, is due to its longevity there is little it does that it has not done before, either at home or in some far-flung corner of its former Empire. So if it starts handing out large sums of money, directly or indirectly to people it has previously oppressed it is well worth looking for the precedent and analysing its purpose, In this case one does not have to look far back in time to stumble across something very similar to the current funding of these 'Peace and Reconciliation Community Projects'. In the early 1980s the Thatcher government had intentions to totally change the nature of the British economy and industrial relations within it. To do this they needed to bring into practice legislation that severely restricted the right of Trade Unions to represent their members in the work place and if negotiations between trade unions and management fail, to take their members out on industrial action. Secondary picketing and the right to strike without a lawful ballot were to be outlawed. The end result being that the United Kingdom would have some of the most draconian and repressive anti-Trade Union legislation in the western world. The problem they faced was how was this to be done without major social upheavals within society.

Thatcher's government decided on a policy of the carrot and the stick, the stick would be deliberately creating mass unemployment and at a time of their choosing a head-on confrontation with the country's most militant Trade Union, which they intended to defeat no matter what the social, political or financial cost and by so doing they would send a message to the rest of the Trade Union and Labour Movement, which would cower them into submission for a generation and more. The carrot would be generous funding for community groups to set up schemes called Community Programmes, which would 'employ' under government financed schemes the newly unemployed. These programmes were set up under the auspices of the Manpower Services Commission (M.S.C.) an arm of the Department of Employment. Lord Young, a recently ennobled arch Thatcherite right wing businessman, headed the M.S.C. Amazing as it now seems they were targeted at amongst others not only the local churches, women’s groups, but also very cleverly the Trade Unions, especially at a local level and were sold as a means to alleviate the hardships caused by mass unemployment.

One of the ways to do this was to create Unemployed Workers Centres to which newly unemployed workers could go, if for whatever reason their benefits had failed to materialise. They were also seen by many Trade Union activists as a means to build the type of movement that existed in the 1930s to fight mass unemployment via political campaigns, demonstrations, marches, etc. The advantages to the State were two fold. Firstly it would take pressure off the state benefit agency, as instead of turning up on their doorstep, workers whose benefits had been cocked up, would go to the Centres for the Unemployed who would then co-ordinate with the various benefit offices to correct the mistakes. But there was a second more important advantage to the State, which was priceless. The most militant and experienced Labour Movement activists ended up staffing these Centres for the Unemployed as co-ordinators and welfare rights advisors, the reason being that the majority of the Centres had originated within the TUC Trades Councils network, to which most activists belonged back then. Thus experienced political and trade union activists spent their time making sure the unemployed received the benefits to which they were entitled. Or as far as Thatcher was concerned she had succeeded in making sure that, "the devil did not find work for idle hands". As important as it was to make sure people received their entitlements as far as benefits were concerned, it was hardly what these activists were best at, which were organising workers in Struggle.

Thatcher intended and indeed did finance the Centres for the Unemployed along with the Welfare Benefits the unemployed who visited them received, out of Britain's oil reserves, the revenue from which was increasingly coming on line. Most of those people who lived within the UK would have regarded her doing so as a criminal waste, the more so as much of the unemployment was unnecessary and had been deliberately created by Thatcher's neo-liberal economic policies. But for Thatcher and her ilk, to make the British economy once again fit for multinational corporate raiders to plunder, without opposition from trade unions and legislation protecting the consumer was priceless. She was prepared to pay what ever it took.

As with the vast majority of Peace and Reconciliation projects in the north of Ireland today, there were stringent rules about the funding of the Community Programmes. In the main these revolved around political activity being forbidden within the centres and by those employed by them. Not only was it strictly forbidden, but the threat of funding being immediately stopped if politics so much as raised its ugly head hung over these centres like the sword of Damocles. In practice this meant that demonstrations, pickets and occupations against unemployment were put on the back burner to be carried out if at all surreptitiously. The Centres instead concentrating on giving out advice on Welfare Benefits and organising social activities like football teams for the unemployed, or handicrafts etc. This was hardly the type of work those militants who first organised the centres envisaged them doing. To receive funding a committee was needed, which usually consisted of the likes of the local vicar/priest/imam, Local Councillors of more than one political Party, plus the mini great and good of the area. In other words in the main no matter what their personal politics, a bunch of conservative individuals who when push comes to shove are unlikely to go out on a limb against the State.

There was another factor, which at the time was hardly seemed important; none of these Unemployed Workers Centres owned the property from which they operated. At the time this did not seem to matter as the local authority were often willing to provide premises. But on looking back this was a major flaw, for if the funding tap was turned off; the Centre would close even if it could arrange alternative funding, as the State through the local Council would evict it from its premises. So there was added pressure to stick to the no politics ruling. Of course there were attempts to get around this ruling but with time activists found it increasingly difficult, as the basis of campaigning is publicity so the powers that be soon got to hear about it. Most of the more political activists drifted away, some stayed on believing that by giving Benefits advice they were at least helping their class in difficult times. Even before the defeat of the Great Miners strike of the mid 1980s a majority of centres had had there funding stopped and been closed down. With the defeat of the N.U.M. Thatcher had no need of the rest; she was now publicly to proclaim, "There is no such thing as society".

So as far as I can judge this is the British States benchmark for these types of programmes. If a community group is going to go down this road to gain State/EU funding be aware of the pitfalls. Try and get a grant to purchase a property to house the project in, or at least obtain a long-term lease. Aim to get long term funding; short term funding gives the funding body the means to pull the rug if you are engaged in activities they disapprove of. Make sure your organising committee has a majority of solid reliable people, who will not take flight if Authority shakes the tree. Do not employ too many full time workers, under a handful is best, more than that and too many families depend on the project for the bread on their table. In reality this means that people will compromise their beliefs just to keep it going not wishing to put people out onto the stones. Finally if the above is not possible, consider any project that gets up and running as being short term, act accordingly and take the funding bodies for what you can and with the cash have some fun pointing out the defects of the political and economic system you live under by campaigning against it. You'll soon have those conservative creatures who inhabit the world of grant giving pulling their hair out, for fear of being blamed for funding your project in the first place. Believe me this is a sight to see.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

13 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association


8 December 2003


Electing to Disagree
Brendan O'Neill


The GFA Revisited

Gerry Ruddy


The Problem With the Kurds
Pedram Moallemian


Even Northern Ireland Has Global Responsibilties
Anthony McIntyre


Rafah Today: The Tent
Mohammed Omer




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