John McAnulty reports on the wave of working class opposition to Danny McColgan’s killing

On the rare occasions that the Irish trade union leadership organise a demonstration against sectarianism in the North the standard left-wing leaflet calls for it to be the beginning of a new movement. Yet the lessons of the last thirty years is that the role of the trade union leadership is to make sure that such demonstrations bring closure to any nascent movement that might give an independent voice to the working class.

Working class opposition to UDA murder

So it proved following the murder of postal worker, Danny McColgan. A movement that began with strike action to proclaim working class opposition to sectarian murder by the UDA, ended with a series of rallies that no longer involved strike action and, indeed, were no longer in the hands of the working class. By working flat-out in a whole series of secret meetings the trade union bureaucracy had managed to construct a unity with the British government and the local employers.

There was of course a price to be paid for such unity – a price most clearly seen at the Belfast demonstration.

The demonstration was to be non-political – that is, only politics that maintained the status quo would be presented. There was no longer any room for workers on the platform. Postal workers, teachers, representatives of the nationalist community in North Belfast – all under threats of death from the UDA – they were to be represented by the bureaucracy. The new unity had to respect the sensitivities of the unionist employers – so it became impossible to mention the Red Hand Defenders, the Ulster Freedom Fighters or even the Ulster Defence Association itself – the source of the murder campaign and the fake organisations supposed to disguise its involvement.

Not only could the platform not mention the UDA – it had to balance the silent, implied criticism with a trawl through history to condemn sectarian murders by the IRA. In doing so it changed the presentation of Danny McColgan’s murder from a purely sectarian killing to a ‘titfor- tat’ killing. This tendency to condemn sectarianism in general rather than the carefully planned and orchestrated campaign in front of them was, unfortunately, a tendency shared by some of the left organisations at the rally. Even though the bureaucracy’s attempt to present the killing as ‘tit-for-tat’ in practice offered a partial condoning of the murder, it was necessary because it led to the required solution – support for the British state and for the RUC/PSNI.

There are all sorts of difficulty with this position but the bureaucracy was able to resolve them – it thanked the workers forcoming and sent them home. If the workers had remained they may have asked some awkward questions.


What does tit-for-tat mean after years of IRA ceasefire? Aren’t the bureaucracy providing cover for the loyalist killers? Should the trade unions support the RUC/PSNI? Their clear-up rate for sectarian killings since the IRA ceasefire began is 2%. In case after case they are charged with collusion.

Should the trade unions support the British state? Secretary of State, John Reid, has spent two years covering for the UDA and claiming the loyalist ceasefire held as they waged systematic sectarian war. No arrests were made despite the British having heavily penetrated the UDA – in fact they initially set it up and their agents ran major sections of the death squads. The day before the Trade Union rally Reid again claimed that a ‘minority’ of the UDA were involved in the attacks. His response to the intimidation of schoolchildren at Holy Cross Primary School was to announce that the government would listen to loyalist pain.

In fact a lot of these questions were answered by Peter Bunting of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in an interview following the rally. The bureaucracy, he said, were actively involved with social partners in the government and employers’ bodies in a strategy to resolve the issue. They were involved in negotiations and what the trade unions had to offer was training in negotiation skills and conflict resolution processes. So the trade unions are to support the British and employers in a strategy, not to face down and defeat sectarian hatred and bigotry, but help to incorporate it into state structures and to give the UDA a stronger voice! It is hardly accidental that the UDA shortly afterwards announced they were forming a new political research body to smash the Good Friday Agreement from the right. At the same time a new group emerged in North Belfast with renewed death threats against Catholic teachers. The Loyalist Reaction Force is yet another cover for the UDA and yet another sign that placating reaction will not end sectarian killings.

Social partnership equals social servitude

Perhaps the strangest thing that Peter Bunting said was his reference to social partners. The bureaucracy can at least claim to have social partners in the 26 county state where they have a written agreement with employers and the government. No such agreement exists in the North. Social Partnership,where the employers and government agree to nothing and the trade unions agree to everything could more simply be called social servitude.

The sectarian murder of Danny McColgan led to working class mobilisation. That mobilisation was shortlived.

It was defeated by the social servitude of the trade union bureaucracy. All the same, the bureaucracy should beware of having to tell workers too often that supporting British appeasement of Loyalist sectarianism is a proper role for the movement founded by Connolly and Larkin.

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