March 2014        

Creating a shared future

Winning the Shankill?

Recent issues of Socialist Voice have been discussing the sectarian divisions in the Six Counties and the problems in building forms of class and political unity, particularly among working people.
     I would like to continue this discussion in response to the article by a comrade, RMC, in the last issue, where he describes himself as coming from a Protestant working-class background. “Like many people of Belfast Protestant heritage, I grew up believing I was British.” The comrade feels frustrated about how the Protestant working class can be engaged in a real debate about a shared future. Indeed we all are; but out of this frustration he draws some pessimistic and over-conciliatory positions. He says: “To establish a peaceful and socialist shared future in Ireland we need to bring about working-class unity. This can only be achieved by fostering a sense of class-consciousness within loyalist communities. So how can we do this?
     “If we begin by explicitly campaigning for a united Ireland, we will fail. Sectarian mistrust is too deeply ingrained, and it would be all too easy for the usual suspects within unionism to attack: it is their modus operandi after all. Where they are on less firm footing is on individual social issues . . .”

     As a practical person he identifies the need for a new movement “to provide a voice for socialism within these working-class estates: a coalition of trade unionists and left-wing thinkers who could campaign along social issues and nothing else.”
     But the issue is not immediately “campaigning for a united Ireland.” The Six Counties is a deeply sectarian and undemocratic state; and the extent to which it is challenged will also determine the pace at which we advance towards social change and eventually socialism. British imperial interests still dominate its affairs and prevent genuine devolution; housing and education maintain working-class divisions; the legacy of repression from the conflict is still viewed by the nationalist communities as being uneven.
     But above all this and cementing all this is the fact that unionism and loyalism, in all its forms, resists any substantial move towards an open, pluralist and democratic society. It is the cancer in the body of the “shared society.” The particular problem for the left is that this is more deeply ingrained in deprived Protestant working-class estates. Historically, the ruling class used every means at its disposal to ensure that religious hatred overcame natural class solidarity.
     To break this cycle of hundreds of years will be no easy task, and one suspects that, for the foreseeable future, there will be a residue for a right-wing EDL or Golden Dawn.
     So we do not solve the problems by ignoring the root political causes. Yes, we build all forms of campaigns, inter-community co-operation at the grass-roots level, the women’s movement, sports and culture, with the trade union movement as the vanguard; but we still need persistent initiatives based on widening the political debate.
     We all need to think about how this can be done in practical terms, and RMC should be thanked for his contribution.

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