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The Meeting

Davy Carlin

16th September 2002

On August 29th 2002 a representative meeting took place in central Belfast. Within the twenty five persons in attendance sat members of the leadership of the Irish Congress Of Trade Unions (ICTU) and persons of its Northern Committee, leading figures of the North's most infuential and active socialist organizations, leading members of differing left republican organizations and groups, leading community activists within both loyalist and republican areas, well known trade union and left wing activists from 'both communities' amongst others. It was in that particular context an unprecedented meeting in relation to our recent conflict. The meeting itself was open and fraternal with an attempt of understanding of various shades of opinion.

As the meeting progressed it became increasingly apparent that although we had ideological differences there was both a feeling of wanting something to come out of the meeting and a consensus for further development. I raised initially the prospect of practical collectiveness combined with discussion in part to develop understanding of differences and also the need to attempt to facilitate debate on important political questions. While listening to the speakers, firstly from the loyalist community, then from the republican community you would at times have been hard pressed to find a difference in their words. The discussion over Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and Public Private Partnership (PPP) the coming water charges, housing, health, education and the centre-right agenda of the four main parties, from the DUP to Sinn Fein embracing, endorsing and implementing anti-working class policies, found agreement and acknowledgement of the assembley's centre right direction. A consensus was formed on a number of issues with a second meeting - allowing time for the formulation of a document.

Although similar initiatives may in the past have been tried, this meeting though comes against the back-drop of strikes against low pay and walkouts against sectarianism in recent times with no doubt more to come. It also comes against the back-drop of wider developments within the trade unions in Britain and political developments internationally including the formation of the Social Forums. What was most interesting for myself was the common bond of wanting to both fight for working class issues and against anti-working class legislation, with an understanding of collectivity giving us strength. Each of us had and do see similar problems faced in our own communities such as lack of resources, housing, facilities with continual socio-economic deprivation, all of course combined with privatization and the neo-liberal agenda pushed by the centre-right assembly. This meeting was an initial understanding and exploration which had both unanimity and consensus that it be developed.

Many of the issues raised reminded me of my first visit for political reasons into a loyalist area while canvassing for the Socialist Environmental alliance (SEA), my first real experience of talking and engaging with 'this tradition' which helped me develop an initial hands on practical understanding of the perception held by some of such communities. Below I will reprint an article I wrote in the Irish News reflecting on my experience at the time as such similar thoughts were raised at the meeting:

'As a person born into a working class republican estate, I recently had the opportunity of canvassing for the elections in working class loyalist estates. There I witnessed immense socio-economic deprivation in estates such as Annadale, similar to the Twinbrook estate in which I lived for a number of years. It differed only by the flags, murals and curbstone colour, with many feeling the same sense of alienation from society as could be found in many other such estates whatever the 'tradition'. It was not the flag issue in many cases which was the burning question in the daily lives of the community but issues of such gravity as putting a regular dinner on the table or clothes on their kids' backs, with other points such as education, health and unemployment being voiced - in fact all such issues raised in any such working class estate. It became evident that although we are constantly told huge divisions exist through religion an ever growing divide is becoming more apparent, that between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' where little notice has been taken or wanted to be acknowledged by some leaders of their 'said traditions'. These are the same leaders within both communities who raise flags for self worth or use tradition to try and subdue alienation. But this does little for the daily grinding poverty and destitution or the ever present vicious circle of debt and danger. As a booklet written by North and West Belfast women against poverty stated 'poverty does not recognize religious or identity related boundaries'. While our politicians talk of representing both communities and equality based agendas, it is important that this equality should not only be politically or representatively addressed but should also not recognize religious or identity related boundaries in relation to social and economic conditions which have existed and need to be challenged, with monies channeled to such areas of need. The coming years should see our elected politicians address such issues as housing, health and education where the implementation should not be at the call of big business and profit, but fully funded public concerns with the interest on people's need. Poverty like the whole history of political, social and economic discrimination is becoming concretized, with superiority and 'illusions of' - once vastly afforded to one section of our community through priority jobs and housing becoming ever more visible. As traditional manufacturing and the old yards go into decline, the attempt to keep reality hidden as likened with 'differing traditions estates' through increased bunting, flags, murals and endless marching seemed quite at odds with itself as I stood on the doorsteps of Annadale flats. Some who I spoke to had a firm understanding of their situation and agreed that many of the main politicians had for years talked their talk but it was time that not 'both traditions' but one working class tradition should make our voice heard and campaign on the real issues and for real equality'.

I found at that meeting key activists who for many years have been working within their particular parties, organizations, unions and campaigns for the betterment of their areas and fields of work in relation to working people. Yet as how I finished that article in the Irish News - which was one of the first articles I ever wrote - that rather than two traditions we are in fact one. It is though when we have the collectiveness of that one tradition, that of the working class in which we can begin to effect change for our own peoples. Those who sat at the meeting may not agree ideologically with each other but through dialogue we may initially begin to understand each other better. But as importantly we found common threads of practical collectiveness, so while through discussion on political questions such a group could begin to bring about pressure and mobilizations against the neo liberal, anti working class, centre right governance of the Assembly. For lest we forget the DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP and the SDLP may be in disagreement about flags and emblems, but by hell they are in regimental uniformity when it comes to legislative and implimentative attacks on both working class people their communities and their services. Is it not time that we had such practical collectiveness of opposition?

Response from Socialist Democracy

John McAnulty

30th September 2002

I must say that I was astonished by Dave Carlin’s letter proclaiming ‘worker’s unity’ between loyalist and republican groups.  What was astonishing was not the existence of the clandestine meeting he reports, but the dangerous, fatuous drivel by someone who has been in the socialist movement for some time and should know a great deal better.

Dave says that he was in the room listening to people putting forward political positions and that he was unable to tell the Loyalists from the Republicans!  Surely this supremely naive remark tells us more about Dave Carlin and his political positions than it does about the other groups!

If it is of any help Dave, the Loyalists are the semi-fascist elements at present running the murderous sectarian campaign against Catholic workers.  The PUP members who were present at your meeting are front voices for the UVF, deeply involved in sectarian attacks in North and East Belfast and in the news at the moment for attempting to import massive amount of explosives.  The only use this group has ever had for explosives is for mass sectarian murder. If their sectarian campaign did not serve to distinguish loyalist from republican it may be because no-one at the meeting was impolite enough to mention it.

What this tells us is that the meeting was a sham.  A handful of pale-pink lefties closing their eyes and ears and trying to persuade themselves that a few garbled slogans about Private Finance Initiative from the more confused (or the most cynical) elements in the PUP outweighs the reality on the streets.  They achieve nothing but to yet again bring shame and discredit on the socialist movement.

Dave Carlin’s political discrimination is only matched by his memory.  The main thrust of his letter is that this is a unique historical moment, a new beginning for working people.  What nonsense!  In the early days of the Good Friday Agreement the Socialist Party attempted a similar exercise.  Then the meeting was public, hundreds attended and the leadership of the PUP were on the platform.  It came to nothing, but it didn’t stop some of the people involved setting up a labour party firmly committed to Stormont and partition.  It should have been a magnet for the ‘socialists’ in the loyalist organisations, but none of them came within a million miles of it and it fell apart.  The most recent meeting is the tail end of a discredited and immoral strategy, not a new beginning.

To add insult to injury Dave Carlin was at a meeting against sectarianism hosted by Fourthwrite magazine at the beginning of September. At this meeting were many victims of the loyalist attacks and a number of socialists from a Protestant background, opponents of the loyalists.  They reported very clearly that, to the very limited extent that there had been any swing towards politics in the PUP, let alone socialism, that process was very firmly on the ebb.  The Loyalists attempted later to murder Mark Langhammer, one of the speakers at the meeting.  The point here is that the so-called socialists who embrace the loyalists automatically cut themselves off from the victims and opponents of loyalism who would be the real constituency for socialism.  It wasn’t so long ago that Dave Carlin was calling for the establishment of an anti-nazi league – now he sits down with the loyalists.

But perhaps I have misinterpreted the meeting.  There is a very simple test to judge its seriousness.  Why doesn’t Dave ‘out’ the others attending the meeting.  Better still, let the participants come forward themselves.  Would the PUP like to confess that they are closet socialists?  Would individual members care to step forward?  Maybe there is a member of the trade union leadership who would care to openly advocate an alliance with the UVF?

The truth is that Dave isn’t even willing to out himself.  He is a senior member of the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation that up until recently would have held a very different position in relation to loyalism.  Will they now step forward?  Is there really any prospect of any of the participants defending the indefensible?




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