The Blanket

Pipedream Peace

Joe Graham

Sean Smyth raises several important points pertinent to the left in Ireland, among them its approach to and analysis of sectarianism. I agree with him fully on the sad and embarrassing factionalism which characterises the hard left here, albeit a number of those groups have many admirable well-meaning individuals of considerable ability within their tiny ranks. However I am also among those who feel disillusioned by the failure over the trade union leadership to address the issues here with any coherent analysis still less strategy for replacement/alleviation based upon popular mass action.

As we know, the political structures which we have in the north simply won’t facilitate expression to be given to an alternative to sectarianism and the GFA has institutionalised the politics of identity. In such circumstances surely therefore there is an even greater responsibility for the union movement here to provide leadership to the feelings of its members on areas of common interest. Jobs, housing, education, health, transport are all now (as ever) part of the zero sum politics of the north, a zero sum game to which Sinn Fein have taken like green ducks to Tory blue water. The TU movement has missed enormous opportunities to challenge this “we win, you lose” deception through leadership and the popular mobilisation of its members. Platitudes, press releases and polite appeals for calm galore, but placards and angry pickets? Afraid not. Too controversial, that. Imagine the bother we’d have on the streets with workplace colleagues - catholic, protestant, dissenter, whatever - standing shoulder to shoulder to demand safe places to live, job protection, better wages, an end to exploitation of young people through slave wages and casual employment – frightening stuff, eh Sean? Wouldn’t want overseas shareholders getting jumpy about the likes of employee welfare, would we? Don’t want to upset the churches, the cops, the nice ministers at the NIO, do we? Old fashioned approach, this direct action stuff. Forget substance when symbolism will do - down with activism, up with lethargy. Can’t buck the system, take what you’re given. Be grateful and don’t ask for more. Controversial, you see.

You tell us that the current TU suits work “quietly behind the screams of the victims of sectarianism” and meet with leading sectarians to ask nicely whether they wouldn’t mind awfully desisting from this rather untidy and un-PC business of broken lives, bruises, blood and bodies. TU members have a right to know what was discussed with these people, what decisions were taken, what mandate extended to the TU to undertake such a project. Does Sean know? Does he care?

It is the absence of an organised, radical alternative willing and able to mobilise and take action against the reactionaries which perpetuates the myths on which sectarianism thrives and violence the ultimate expression. I have no problem with gradualism and reform Sean, we have to start somewhere. However unless such a package ultimately points toward an eventual replacement of the type of society we have at the moment we will continue to be blighted by the problems of sectarianism and the inequality, barbarity and poverty it gives rise to. You can’t remove the causes of sectarianism by sharing cappuccinos with sectarians, snuggling up to secureaucrats, blowing bubbles of niceness to bosses, Sean. That process can begin when the TU leadership here, in the Free State, Britain and far beyond pursue an agenda of direct and active intervention in issues of common interest to members and their families– precisely the issues to which you refer – not simply
against ‘all violence’ but for free education, for protection of jobs, for a better health service, for human rights and equality before the law, for freedom of choice for women. These debates can muster support by rational argument and publicity but they cannot be won by it. Force of numbers, strategic deployment of member numbers and direct action (call it ‘struggle’ if you want, the terminology’s irrelevant) can. And already have. All over the world. This isn’t pipedream stuff Sean, we might be talking Portadown Sit-in rather than Prague Spring in terms of scale but change can happen through organisation.

As for us all being ‘guilty of having been sectarian’, speak for yourself Sean. Those of us with an alternative analysis which actively challenges sectarian structures and forces (and its root causes) aren’t sectarian, those who wish to tinker around with the existing divisions and crisis manage them a little better in collaboration with right wing politicians, clergy and globalised industrialists without fundamentally providing an alternative to them possibly are.

Relative to where the working class in this state has come from decent homes and decent jobs with basic safety and security, equal access to quality healthcare and free education would represent a breakthrough within itself. But these are rights Sean, not fantasies. They are entitlements, not examples of greed or unreasonableness. To do that we need an agenda which is constructed around fairness, equality and human rights for all and does not deviate from it – where else other than from within the trade union movement is this going to be found? But such a breakthrough won’t be secured by sectarian politicians nor by a lazy, compliant trade union leadership. And it can’t be just talked, it needs to be walked. It needs to begin at the beginning and acknowledge that we have a state which was constructed around a sectarian headcount and which has been glued together for 80 years by varying degrees of low level and high intensity intimidation, structural
inequality and repression which adversely impacted the catholic working class people by exploiting protestant workers. Unless and until we can all accept the imperfections with which we live and the mistakes inherited from the past then we can’t agree on a basis for a solution. It is only when people can identify a reason to come together for progress, for economic reasons, social reasons, rights issues, that such a platform can be built. But it must be constructed by mobilisation, not blether and press releases and platitudes and chummy chats with the forces of the right.

The choice is therefore not as Sean suggests between a flawed peace process and, by implication, a return to war but rather between the contradictions we live with now and a future built on solid determined collaboration on everyday needs and rights in which working people identify shared interests and an appetite for direct action to end socio-economic injustice. The infrastructure is there, the membership is there and, I’d suggest, the will is there on an issue to issue basis – where is the leadership?







Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives





We must dare to think 'unthinkable' thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about 'unthinkable things' because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless.
-James W. Fulbright

Index: Current Articles

22 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Pipedream Peace
Joe Graham


Can The Course of Labour Afford to Wait?
Billy Mitchell


Easily Annoyed
Peter Urban


Academics on Independence, Part 1

Paul Fitzsimmons


Sabra & Shatila

Anthony McIntyre


Palestine & Iraq
Brendan Hughes


Not In Our Name
Davy Carlin


Death Fasts and Oppression Continue in Turkey


19 September 2002


Belfast's "Poor White Trash" and the Dead Dogmas of the Past
Brian Kelly


Top Cat

Anthony McIntyre


Lower Than The Lowest of the Low
Liam O Ruairc


Civil Rights Vets Launch Status Campaign
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Peace Rather than Pipedreams
Sean Smyth


Bush War
Anthony McIntyre




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices