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UNITE activist speaks out on “Fresh Start”

We have obtained this letter sent to Jimmy Kelly on 10th December 2015 by UNITE activist Ciarán Ó Maolchallann.  As far as we are aware there has been no formal reply.  We welcome comment from UNITE members and other trade union activists. (Editor, SD)

Dear Comrade,

Re: Unite in the Community

I refer to the above and the recent demonstrations headed by Unite Community branches throughout the North of Ireland in response to the shambolic so-called ‘Fresh Start’ agreement.

I am proud to say as a Unite member that I joined my fellow workers on both the Shankill and Falls Roads of Belfast on Saturday 28th November 2015 after calls were rightfully made by local community branch members via community organiser Albert Hewitt.

There is no doubt that the Provisional Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party duopoly has done very little to improve the vast inequality, hardship of the masses, or sectarianism in this part of Ireland. The most vulnerable within our society continue to suffer at the hands of the self-serving elite in the interest of the “peace” process.

I would like to refer you to a talk I attended at St Mary’s University College several years ago as part of the Féile an Phobail celebrations, whereby ICTU President John Doughlas openly acknowledged the failures of the trade union movement over recent generations throughout our Island. He accepted that our trade unions did not build a viable labour movement, a political alternative or educate and train activists at the workplace. These omissions are truly unforgivable and contributable to the credibility lost by trade unionism throughout Britain and Ireland.

We are now enduring austerity as a result of the extreme corruption of capitalist bankers and their neoliberal cronies. I do not intent to cite authorities; however you will be familiar with the vast amount of facts and figures in relation to same.

Despite the elements and the likelihood of demonization within our communities from the authoritarian SF/DUP supporters and media allies a great diverse crowd attended to highlight their disgusted with the draconian Tory lead cuts to public services, welfare reform and the hypocrisy of slashing corporation tax under the guise of a ‘Fresh Start’ agreement – a document filled with constructive ambiguity and conformity to an ultra right wing conservative agenda. 

These cross-community, branch-led protests were wildly reported in the media and it must be said represented a new viable alternative to the toxic and corrupt status quo. There was a momentum that could be felt at these demonstrations. There were trade union activists, members of opposing political parties, workers, pensioners and unemployed, that all decided to take an honourable stand in the common interests of justice and humanity.

As expected attacks soon followed in the form of unfounded, fabricated and defamatory accusations by Sinn Féin Councillor, and ironically SIPTU member Jim McVeigh, whereby he attempting to incite hatred and division within Unite with sectarian black propaganda statements on social media platforms. This was also reciprocated by his Unionist counterparts which gives a true insight into their feelings of an alternative being expressed.

The media made every effort to assist the political establishment and shallow sectarian driven attacks were made against Unite in the Community member, Ciaran Cunningham, on the BBC Nolan Show and the Belfast Telegraph. This was clearly an attempt to deflect the issues of Austerity and derail the debate that was being highlighted, thus undermining the integrity and unity of the demonstrations. 

I was deeply upset and I am extremely frustrated that our Union clearly retreated on our community members and issued a generic short statement. We are the biggest union in the Country made up of some of the most intelligent and articulated workers and this was the best we could come up with?

I am also concerned that ICTU has shied away from this agreement which is of imperative importance to our society and will have a huge adverse impact upon the workers and the most vulnerable. This should be considered in its totality when last year ICTU was prepared to take out a full-page advert in the Irish News against the proposed Stormont House Agreement – an agreement one might say was less ruthless than the tyrannical ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement. However on this occasion we are met with silence.

I would like to know why you were not available and/or willing to take a stand in solidarity and reiterate the position of Unite on the ‘Fresh Start’ agreement and the sectarian, failing status quo?

I would also seek clarification on ICTU’s present position on the ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement. The lack of a meaningful response from the trade-union movement on this matter has been nothing short of appalling.

We have a real opportunity here to build a united and credible alternative to the dysfunctional political parties that continue to fail our workers. The trade-union movement, particularly that of Unite offers a viable platform to attract worker from right across the traditional divide here and contribute to building a radical left vanguard movement.

Yours in comradeship and solidarity,

Ciarán Ó Maolchallann

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