Return to Trade Union/Social Partnership menu
Report on the Belfast May Day Demonstration

Sandy Row is Sandy Row
- and the Belfast trade union bureaucracy is the Belfast trade union bureaucracy!

John McAnulty

1st May 2004

The decaying hulk of the trade union bureaucracy shambled to life in Belfast today.  The impetus that sparked it to life was the annual May Day demonstration, with the focus on racism.

That spark had sizzled out in Dublin as soon as it formed.  ICTU had called off the demo for fear of embarrassing the Fianna Fail coalition, with whom they are linked through social partnership, and who were hosting a party to celebrate the expansion of capitalist Europe.  It is these partners who are currently leading the racist offensive in Ireland around a constitutional amendment aimed at denying rights to émigré workers.

Anyone familiar with local codes would quickly have discovered that the focus of the Belfast demonstration was ‘Opposition to racism – not!’  The NICTU speaker denounced racists, Nazis and the BNP.  There is no Nazi party in the North and the BNP are more or less nonexistent.  What we do have is very large loyalist organisations – the UDA and UVF – who publicly organise racist and sectarian intimidation on a mass scale, having recently ethnically cleansed the Donegall Pass area of Chinese families and, two evenings before May day, held anti-Catholic demonstrations outside flats in the city centre under the slogan ‘Sandy Row is Sandy Row’ (that is, no Catholics allowed).

NICTU’s anti-racism would make a horse laugh – an anti-racist movement afraid to name the racist organisations or mention the incidents of mass intimidation in which they are involved, one that expresses ‘disappointment’ that the RUC/PSNI have yet to secure a single conviction for these very public crimes . The comedy was far from over.  The next speaker was an Islamist – the equivalent of getting a Catholic priest to lecture on anti-sectarianism. The show rounded off with a Belfast trades council speaker calling for the return of Stormont – so that it could represent the interests of the working class! 

The press release issued before the demonstration said that the rally would express solidarity with teachers and civil servants involved on industrial action.  In fact the issues were ignored. This may have been because the majority of the bureaucracy never turned up.  Rank and file members suggested that they may have been partying with the bosses at the Europe bash in Dublin.

The tragedy of Belfast’s May Day is that there is a trade union movement and an anti-racist current that can be mobilised. The rally of less than 300 grew to over 1000 on the march as people joined in to express their opposition to racism.  The civil servants’ and teachers’ rank and file are showing a great deal of militancy around a major issue that marks the beginning of attempts to introduce a lower regional pay band in the six counties. 

The role of the bureaucracy is to suffocate these movements and replace them with pantomime – and that’s no laughing matter.  Sandy Row is Sandy Row, the trade union bureaucracy is the trade union bureaucracy. The workers need to displace the latter to successfully fight the former.



Return to top of page