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Peter Hadden

Trade unions can overcome
sectarian murders

(June 1976)

From Militant [London], Issue 308, 11 June 1976, p. 5.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

In the short space of five bloody days 16 people in Northern Ireland have lost their lives as a result of the troubles. On Thursday 13th May a young Protestant walking home from a pub in East Belfast was shot dead. By the following Tuesday morning a further 10 civilians and 5 policeman had been killed.

With these deaths the familiar cycle of tit for tat revenge killing has been re-established. Particularly this is the case in that part of Tyrone – Armagh, which has become registered in people’s minds as the “murder triangle”. On Saturday 15th May a no-warning bomb killed three Catholics in Clancy’s bar in the tiny village of Charlemont in this area.

The following night an RUC reserve constable was shot dead at his home in the neighbouring village of Benburb. And on the Monday morning two Protestant brothers, both local businessmen in the nearby village of Moy, were singled out at work and each killed by a single shot fired through the head.

So it has continued. Murders of Catholics answered by murders of Protestants and vice versa. In this immediate area the “score” so far in this bath of blood letting is three deaths on each side. In Belfast also there have been vicious sectarian attacks. Following one such incident, an explosion which killed two people in a bar near the Catholic Unity Walk complex, sectarian rioting broke out between crowds of Catholics from this area and Protestants from the adjoining Shankill Road.

If nothing else these incidents serve to continually explode the myth that the British ruling-class with its so-called “security forces” can even begin to tackle the problem of assassination and intimidation.

The British army has been an agency of repression. It is not an instrument of defence for working class people. The last of the 16 deaths already mentioned was that of James Gallagher who died sitting on a bus in Derry. The bus was fired on by a soldier as it passed the Fort George Army Camp in the Strand Road. One other passenger and a pedestrian were also injured.

This one incident illustrates the only role the army are capable of playing – that of holding down, by use of whatever brutal tactics are at their disposal, the people of the working class areas.


In recent weeks there had been a comparative slackening in the intensity of the killings. Merlyn Rees responded by pulling out 1,000 troops and by seizing the opportunity to stress the increasing security role of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The strategy of the ruling class has been to attempt to weave themselves free of their military commitment in Northern Ireland and to “Ulsterise” the security forces.

Rees’ statements and his troop “redeployments”, as they were called, have been met with a renewed round of killings. In this is neatly summed up the hopeless dilemma of the ruling class. On the one hand they recognise that they cannot impose a military solution and that their military tactics are merely a “holding operation”. On the other hand the situation itself holds them like a vice because any attempt to pull out would provoke a bloodbath which would plunge North, South and Britain into turmoil.

The attempts to re-introduce the RUC into Catholic areas has been a calculated attempt to test the attitude of the minority population towards the RUC. Five policemen have died and about 13 others have been injured in five days. The thermometer has registered boiling point and they have had to be withdrawn.

Rees has stated that the re-introduction of the police is a “long-term objective” and that the army will remain in “sufficient strength” to meet any situation which may arise. The RUC are known, have been known and will continue to be known as the arm of a sectarian state. “Reforms of the police” will not erase their past role from the consciousness of thousands of Catholic workers.

The killing of the policeman has been admitted by the Provisionals. This organisation has promised a “long, hot summer” for the RUC if any attempt is made to bring them into the front line of the security situation.

In reply the Ulster Defence Association, the largest of the Protestant paramilitary groups, have stated that further attacks on RUC personnel will mean a “long, hot summer” not only for the Provisionals, but for the Catholic community as a whole.

The RUC, as with any police force, are a part of the apparatus of the capitalist state. But what is to be gained by the working class from a campaign of assassinations aimed at individual policemen? The only effect will be the heaping of further military repression on the Catholic areas and the inevitable stepping up of sectarian attacks on Catholic bars, clubs etc.

In January, mass demonstrations of workers gave the killers their answer. A major responsibility to involve workers in their areas rests with the trades councils. These bodies should prepare to counter every sectarian attack with new mass demonstrations of workers and also with workplace meetings held to discuss the role the trade union movement can play in protecting the lives of workers.

Such demonstrations would give ordinary workers the opportunity to show clearly their disgust at the activities of the paramilitaries and also of the army. They could take the first step towards the establishment of a defence force based on the trade union movement which could protect working class areas and working class lives.

It has already been shown that it is only the trade union movement which can draw Catholic and Protestant workers together in defence of their own interests. This is the only organisation which has a strong basis of support in both Catholic and Protestant areas. The first demand of the trade union Better Life for All Campaign is the right to live. It is up to the trade union leaders to begin the mobilisation of the entire movement to make this “right” a reality.


The latest killings must be taken by the trade unions as a spur to their campaign. A co-ordinated programme of rallies and demonstrations and shop floor meetings held to discuss the implementation of the demands of the Better Life for All Campaign, could be followed by a special rank and file trade union conference in which these issues could be thrashed out.

This conference could give a lead to the entire labour movement in Northern Ireland by thrashing out a programme to defeat the twin evils of sectarianism and poverty. It should discuss the establishment of trade union controlled defence forces so that the protection of workers’ lives can be undertaken by the organisations of the working class.

It could also hammer out a socialist programme to tackle unemployment, poor housing and poverty. Also it could begin the process of establishment of a mass party of Labour based on the trade unions to fight for the implementation of these policies.

The working class could make it, to use their own words, “a long, hot summer” for all those who by word or in action are purveyors of sectarianism.

  1. Withdraw the troops!
  2. Disband the RUC and UDR!
  3. Establish a Trade Union Defence Force!
  4. For the building of a mass party of Labour, based on the trade unions!
  5. For socialist policies!

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Last updated: 19 February 2016