1 May 2012     

Avante! Belfast rallies to the call

By Lynda Walker

The ICTU May Day Rally in Belfast was its usual success this year, with reports of over 5,000 workers, members of community groups and students present. The rally was blessed with great weather, putting people in high spirits.
     Speakers at the rally emphasised the need to increase the action in order to force the Con-Dems out of office. Paddy Mackle, president of the Belfast Trades Council, called for support for the forthcoming strike on Thursday 10 May in the public sector in defence of jobs and services. He took to folk culture when he sang a line from the song “Which side are you on?”
     The president of the ICTU, Eugene McGlone, told the rally: “We need to keep our options open in terms of what we can do. Civil disobedience, whether it is occupying buildings or engaging in protests, is something that we need to look at very seriously.”
     Prior to the rally the chairperson of the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU, Pamela Dooley, sent her support to the community workers, civil servants, lone parents and migrant workers who picketed Belfast’s main Jobcentre on Tuesday 1 May to oppose the regressive Welfare Reform Bill and the attacks on social services and jobs.
     “The Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU understands and supports the aims of the community activists who engaged in a peaceful protest against planned changes to the welfare system which will further impoverish working-class families and will disproportionately affect women.
     “These and other measures amount to mean-spirited cuts for the most vulnerable in our society and an attack on low-paid workers, especially women.”
     The Belfast May Day march and rally remains one of the most vibrant in the islands of Ireland and Britain, with many people travelling from other parts of Ireland and from England, Scotland and Wales. Bob Crow of the RMT Union was amongst the marchers again this year, and a delegation of Danish trade unionists joined the march for the first time.
     In a city that has in the past faced massive amounts of civil disobedience during the civil rights era, the call to return to such actions shows the desperation of the community and trade union movement at large. It shows that people feel they have no control over politics—a situation echoed in the low turn-out in the local government elections in Britain. It is a situation where people have to make the unfair laws unworkable. It is a situation where we need to build need unity of the people in that struggle.
     The question of debt and poverty was emphasised again, with reports of over 10,000 people in Northern Ireland declaring themselves bankrupt since 2007, 796 of these in the first three months of this year. Since 2007, 1,342 companies went bust; 111 firms went in the first three months of this year. The ripple effect regarding the number of families touched by these bankruptcies will be enormous, but will they become revolutionaries?—not very likely. In fact people who are isolated and in depression are the least likely to take action.
     Therefore, it is up trade unionists and community organisations to fight back; it is up to you me and our comrades to take the lead. Avante!

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