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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland’s hidden history

(October 1997)

From The Socialist [UK], 10 October 1997.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

For centuries, Ireland was ruled directly by British imperialism, subjecting the fate of Ireland’s people to the hands of firstly British landlords and later British capitalism.

But even while Britain ruled Ireland, the Irish revolutionary socialist James Connolly stressed that the fight for national liberation could not be separated from the battle for social liberation. They were not fighting for the “rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; nor the sweating profit-grinding capitalist” but for the “Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared”.

Despite the monster of sectarianism created by the British ruling class to divide and rule Ireland. Protestant and Catholic workers have united in common action on many occasions both before and after the partition of Ireland. PETER HADDEN explains:

There have been times in the past when the sectarian division has been over-powering in Northern Ireland and class issues have been pushed to the background.

However the instinct to unity has never been extinguished and has ultimately reasserted itself. The history of Northern Ireland we hear about is of Catholics and Protestants always fighting each other. The real history is much richer and contains memorable occasions when the working class have risen together in struggle and pushed sectarianism to the background. Here are some examples of this history:

Even during the more recent “troubles” there have been innumerable strikes involving virtually every section of the working class at some point. Almost all have united Catholics and Protestants in common battle. And not a single one has been broken by sectarianism.

The most recent example was at Montupet in Belfast this year. For ten weeks the Montupet strikers, Catholic and Protestant, stood shoulder to shoulder against the company. They did so despite the hostility of their union officials who, disgustingly, used sectarianism, spreading lies such as that the strike was run by Sinn Fein, to try to discredit them.

The Montupet strike took place at a time of polarisation and sectarian tension. Yet on the picket line to the end were workers with quite hard-line loyalist or hard- line republican views who consciously understood that these political differences had to be put to the side because defeating the company was the most important thing.

That instinctive feeling for working class unity in the workplace is the rock on which a politically united class movement can and must be built.

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Last updated: 19 July 2015