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ICTU: Belfast’s January march shows new depths of capitulation

John McAnulty

10 February 2014

The ICTU Belfast demonstration of January 31st had one major purpose: to return ICTU to the streets after months hiding from the Loyalist mobilizations around the flag and Orange Order demonstrations.

The aim of the bureaucracy was, having re-established themselves as a political voice, to immediately bury themselves again. For that reason the demonstration was called for Friday lunchtime and mainly advertised among the unions themselves. The result was a demonstration of 200, mostly made up of the bureaucrats themselves, with a leavening of committeemen and women.

The modesty of the union’s physical demonstration was more than matched by the modesty of their political programme.

Rather than be so bold as to make any demands, the unions set out a number of issues they had “witnessed”. They did not demand jobs for all, but simply observed "stubbornly high unemployment."

Some observations were quite forced. Where others had observed Orange sectarian reaction mobilized on the streets, ICTU observed "a rise in community tension.'' This stands in line with a long tradition where the unions, rather than oppose sectarianism, balance between the bigots and their victims. Yet again they banned political banners in a desperate bid to avoid giving offense.

Given that level of unstinting capitulation to the sectarian state, the central demand of the unions; that the parties at the centre of the sectarian carve-up of society, parties dedicated to capitalist rule, was that they reach "accommodation based on community interest".

In the kow-tow of submission the bureaucrats view is limited and there are certain observations they are unable to make. They fail to witness proposals to collapse the Housing Executive and privatise and sectarianise social housing. They are blind to major cuts in the pension rights of public sector workers.

The union bureaucracy is forced to be blind. The parties they call on to meet community interests passed the new pension regulations days after their demonstration.  DUP proposals on the Housing Executive are being pushed forward with the silent acquiescence of Sinn Fein.

That wilful blindness lays bare the ICTU agenda. The last mass trade union demonstration in Belfast around public sector pensions mobilized 40,000 workers, yet rather than build on that mobilization they abandon workers rights to avoid confrontation with the local administration.  Rather than asserting the needs of the working class they are tacking themselves onto the tail end of the Haass process, where saving the peace process involves scrabbling for something that unionism will sign up to and where the needs of the working class are to be met by lobbying in comic-opera committees run by reactionary clients of imperialism.

The tragedy of all this is that the working class is facing into a mass austerity offensive. Loyalist reaction is mobilising. There is a growing discontent with the settlement designed by imperialism. ICTU are telling us, not for the first time, that a new resistance will have to be built in the teeth of their betrayal and collaboration.


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