Northern Ireland labour movement activists launch “agenda for change”

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Belfast Labour activist Leonie Hannan, who we interviewed in Clarion issue 2, writes: “In Northern Ireland, the Renewable Heat Initiative scandal recently engulfed the Assembly Executive and elections had to be called. Northern Irish people will go to the polls on 2 March of this year after what will be a short but bitter campaign between the main ethno-sectarian parties. This latest debacle comes after a series of other scandals that have tarnished the politicians with accusations of financial mismanagement and, even, outright corruption. In that context labour movement activists in Northern Ireland are discussing ways to push forward a non-sectarian, working-class agenda.”

We publish here a set of demands being promoted by Northern Irish labour movement activists, including the Labour Party of Northern Ireland and the Socialist Party. To find out more email leonie.hannan@yahoo.co.uk

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RE-THINK: A Labour Movement Agenda for Change

Introduction, by Phil Kelly, LPNI

Politics across the globe is rupturing as old illusions disappear. Here in Northern Ireland, a corrupt system and institutionalised sectarianism have prevented social progress. As inequality and social division increases, people’s trust in politics is eroded by a political class who profit from the failing status quo. The Re-Think principles represent both a call to political arms but also a challenge to the electorate. If the current system has created crisis and stalled progress, surely it is time to re-think the principles upon which parties campaign but also on what the electorate votes for. The principles were forged by individuals and trade union representatives as the first seed of a growing, broad front, a coalition of progressives who, across party lines, will fight for key shared principles that can re-shape what the democratic process stands for.

AN AGENDA FOR CHANGE
WE BELIEVE A BETTER, ALTERNATIVE FUTURE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND IS POSSIBLE

That will require principled, political representation rooted in the labour movement and working class communities. The parties of sectarianism and austerity that dominate our political institutions represent a dead-end for our society, offering only continued paralysis and stagnation.

Leading figures from the trade union and students’ movements have issued a five-point policy document and are calling on groups and candidates contesting the upcoming Assembly election to sign up to it as a platform for a real break from the dead-end politics that dominate at Stormont.

We are calling for a new alternative for Northern Ireland through the election of political representatives of the labour movement that seek to serve ordinary people, not capitalism.

• Opposing austerity in deeds, not just words

We reject the logic that ordinary people must pay the price for the mistakes of the bosses and bankers. While some of the main parties may posture as opposing austerity, in reality they are all united in implementing policies that are destroying jobs and services. All our main parties support a cut in corporation tax.

Instead, we demand public investment in society. Our candidates will never vote for austerity in any form and will build campaigns to defend jobs and services.

• Demanding a real living wage and dignity in work and education

Poverty pay, precarious work and poor conditions are increasingly becoming the norm. The so-called ‘living wage’ falls far short of what is required to make ends meet, while young people are denied even this. Meanwhile, our education system is being corporatised and students shackled with huge debts.

Our candidates support the trade union movement’s demand for a £10/hour minimum wage regardless of age, as well as the abolition of zero-hour contracts. We will campaign for the scrapping of anti-union laws, allowing workers to organise to defend their rights. We support access to free, public education for all and a living grant for students in further and higher education.

• Fighting for equality and the right to choose

We demand the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. Women here have been denied equality and, in particular, their basic reproductive rights for far too long. This injustice is completely unacceptable.

Likewise, we demand equality for all, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender, physical or mental ability, age, class or sexual orientation. We will continue the fight for full marriage equality and will stand against all forms of hate crime and intolerance. All our main political leaders have denied basic rights to the people of Northern Ireland, while ordinary people are increasingly rejecting backward attitudes on LGBT and women’s rights. This must change.

• Challenging the dead-end of Orange and Green politics

We believe that ordinary people in Northern Ireland have more that unites us than divides us. We face the same day-to-day struggles. The labour and trade union movement has a proud record of resisting sectarianism and providing an alternative to the divide-and-rule politics of Orange and Green. Our candidates stand in this tradition. We aim to unite working class communities around our common interests while advocating compromise and mutual respect on parading, flags and the other issues which have traditionally divided us.

• Workers’ representatives on a worker’s wage

We need elected representatives who understand and share the experiences of working class people and will fight to provide a better life for all. We do not need representatives who vote for their own salary to increase whilst denying teachers and other workers any pay rise at all.

If successful, our candidates will only take the average industrial wage and will donate the rest to labour and progressive causes.

For a leaflet being distributed with these proposals, click here.

The sponsors of the document will be seeking further endorsements from across the labour, trade union and students’ movements in the coming days.

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Some comments on the demands

Prominent trade union leader Carmel Gates said:

“The Orange and Green parties want to frame this election around the divisive issues and reduce it to just another sectarian headcount. That will deliver nothing for working class and young people except for more division, poverty and inequality. We know that a huge number of people here – including those who did not vote last May – want a real break from the dead-end politics that currently dominate at Stormont. We believe this policy platform lays the basis for the real change that ordinary people are thirsting for. We need a coherent alternative that seeks to unite people from all communities around their common interests while advocating compromise and mutual respect.”

Chair of ICTU’s Northern Ireland Committee* Maria Morgan added:

“We can see through the pantomime politics taking place between the main parties in recent weeks. They are hoping to distract from the reality that they are fundamentally united on implementing austerity which is deepening poverty in working class communities while giving handouts to big business. While hundreds of millions could be lost through the RHI debacle – for which the entire Stormont establishment bears responsibility – benefits are being cut, jobs are being slashed and teachers are being told there is no money for a pay-rise. Now is the time for change.”

Louise Meek – President of Belfast Met Students’ Union – said:

“People my age are totally turned off by the divisive, backward and self-interested status quo. It offers nothing for us and we are in danger of becoming a lost generation if we don’t fight for a different future. Our education system is being undermined and students are being shackled with huge debts with little hope of a decent job. Meanwhile, we are now fifty years behind Britain in terms of abortion rights and women continue to be criminalised for exercising control over their own bodies, something which all the main parties support. We need voices for our generation who will fight to change this.”

Chair of Unite the Union’s Irish Youth Committee Neil Moore concluded:

“Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of young people not in education, employment or training in the UK as a result of the pro-cuts policies of the Tories and the Stormont politicians. For those of us who can find work, low pay, zero-hour contracts and precarious conditions are increasingly the norm. We want representatives who will fight alongside the trade union movement for a real living wage for all workers and the scrapping of anti-union laws. We need representatives who will fight in the interests of ordinary people, not to line their own pockets or further sectarian agendas.”

* Speaking in a personal capacity

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