doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
Governance and the Working Class
A basic analysis of wider governance can in part be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable citizen. So I believe - post Good Friday negotiations - such an interim analysis can be drawn from our political representatives and their representations within the assembly.
Firstly as the agreement was a negotiation of this society’s distinct politics i.e. Catholic and Protestant so came then the endorsement of the orange-green community consensus of the assembly majority which therefore concretised the assembly institutions publicly on the basis of division as one against the other, thus initially to agree to fundamentally disagree on many relevant issues. So then in doing so each tends to fight their own community’s corner with calls of sectarianism when allocation of scarce resources goes against them which is ironic as the assembly’s formation had already developed that foundation to move to selected concrete sectarianism within the said institutions. So such calls will not be of much surprise.
Despite this much of the calls are still of tokenism and symbolism which is constantly used to exploit any given situation so to avert the unity of consensus. But interestingly and of vital importance majority unity though has been found on an economic basis which has brought ever progressing continuance of a greater division between rhetorical voiced concerns of all embracing social inclusion and backdoor legislation and legitimisation of poverty induced social exclusion. So now ever growing those who 'have' and those who continue to eke out or struggle on our still top table westernized impoverishment.
The recent facts and findings are an interesting barometer as over the past few years crime has rocketed, the poverty gap has widened, racism is on the rise, sectarianism is worsening and social deprivation is still flourishing, This will further deepen if not challenged or addressed in an active and robust way. The peace dividend has delivered much inward investment with the opening of new luxury apartments and office blocks which grace central Belfast to much acclaim and attention, yet little attention is given to the closing and lack of funding of essential community, social and educational amenities rapidly deteriorating in many of our deprived areas. As the tape was cut at a recently opened modern call centre no such tape was cut at the influx of the new modernized pawn shops all strategically positioned at working class entrances of the Falls and Shankill, north and east. Within their windows many stories of poverty hang with their TV or wedding rings pawned - many in desperation - so stands more central pawn shops as has been seen in decades.Why?
Well as one employee stated 'we are providing a vital and expanding service of need and business is great'. This is a continuing story as I found doing recent research for a forthcoming book where initial interviewees from 'both sides' agreed as with myself with the need of this limited peace but many of them stated their lives had changed little. Material concerns for some they believe had been to the detriment of community support and spirit. But a lick of paint, a new wall a holiday or such had did little to ward off the social deprivation and continued alienation although interestingly some felt that alienation of community within community had progressed from alienation from community from wider society which has been a growing historical pretext for many in many post conflict situations.
When I listen and recollect myself a decade past in my late teens I also see some material change in such areas of need - bigger windows, higher walls, more cars in the street yet prospects in such areas remain mainly the mindset of ‘I hope my kids' or 'I hope my grandkids see better'. And not of the foreseeable future for many. Some say it will take timefor change. Yes it will - but change on whose terms and for whose benefit? It will not be, I believe, for the benefit of the needy and vulnerable with the assembly's ever progressing centre right majority consensus. The assembly's endorsement and implementation of privatization from finance, health, environment to education, despite what they say, is not for the benefit of the needy as it is a process of selling our public services off to those whose only interest in running them is to make profit at any cost especially at the cost of the needy. Will the needs be met in the most socially deprived areas by the cutting of funds to community and voluntary organizations that care for those needy? Will it be met by the closing of educational, recreational or shopping facilities in such areas? I think not.
All this needs to change but in working against such a powerful 'middle Northern Ireland' majority consensus small steps for small gains is important in moving the equality agenda forward. May it be the gains of the Belfast bus workers or keeping someone from eviction it all plays a particular part. While I believe the assembly holds genuine persons with genuine concerns for the needy their silence speaks volumes while their inactions should send alarm bells to all sections of society whose stance is with the exploited and vulnerable. The poverty gap is widening. Funding and resources are being and will continue to be cut. Alienation and youth disaffection continues to grow. Social and economic discrimination deepens, leading ultimately to recent statistics which show that suicides among the young rocket, crime mushrooms, poverty rises. And so once again another brick in the wall to give rise to our newest statistic - sectarianism on the rise.
Looking objectively, for the poorest sadly little has changed therefore persons will continue with their own initiatives to attempt in that initial small way to bring about a fairer, just and more equal society. I hear often from persons that things can't change or people aren't interested yet I will cite just three small examples of initiatives, as a Belfast SWP member, that we have took in the past year to show that such small initiatives can bring small gains thus raising wider understanding of alternative perspectives.
Firstly the campaign against selection launched by SWP teachers working with many others have and continue to campaign against the discriminative 11plus selection system. It has and continues to raise much awareness in wider society and has had a unified march through Belfast with eight national trade union banners. The importance of this was not only to raise much awareness but also significantly the last time the 11 plus issue was raised such marches and rallies in Belfast were called by unionist supporters to keep the 11 plus.
Secondly the awareness campaign against multinational corporations. Again despite the 'people aren't interested brigade' Belfast has seen an unprecedented anti capitalist demonstration where several hundred persons took to Belfast Central on May Day and not only directed their anger at several corporations of child exploitation but raised much awareness which resulted in several thousand pounds being donated by the Belfast public within two weeks to send thirty Belfast activists to the Genoa demonstrations. Thirdly the stance against Clinton’s visit which despite the overwhelming consensus of the media and political parties Belfast saw the first ever occupation of the American consul by 150 activists protesting for Palestinian and Cuban rights, with others standing up and verbally challenging him over the issue. The result lead to a wider media and society debate over US foreign policy and also partly laid the ground for the again unprecedented rally of 250 activists outside the City Hall against the bombing of Afghanistan and US foreign policy just a few days after the first bomb was dropped.
So these and other very recent small trade union and community victories that we have been involved in or initiated show that such small initiatives on most occasions against the 'it hasn't, can't or won't brigade' will succeed. The reason being is simple - no matter what is said or done if even one person maintains that revolutionary belief and tradition the spark will always be fanned. And as with this Assembly such persons will continue the struggle in their initial small way so eventually all resources can be worked increasingly in the interest of the bottom up rather than from the top down. yet only collectively, patiently but determinedly may such a reality ultimately prevail to cherish all of our peoples equally.
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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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