Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Internment, parading and the politics of class

The eruption of conflict and intense rioting in Belfast over the last couple of months is a clear illustration that, no matter what lengths Stormont and the media circus go to to disguise the ugly reality of the ‘peace process’, the scars of the past and frequent eruption of sectarian conflict refuse to go away as political parties play the sectarian card to get one over on their rivals.

With over 300 police officers apparently injured so far this year, the honeymoon period following a 'successful' G8 conference has long passed - lifting the veil from a colonial sectarian settlement that has delivered a few crumbs to our class while the rich get richer. While at the same time our rulers in Stormont are busy stuffing themselves with £250,000 subsidised food expenses in 2012.
Wining and dining Orange leaders and paramilitaries at a secret conference in Cardiff earlier this year to hammer out a deal that would keep the Orange marches peaceful has clearly not paid off. Sinn Fein’s move to further accommodate some marches based on the ‘Derry model’ (which accommodates the annual Apprecentice Boys march in the city centre during August) was too little too late for some and is part of the Orange State being replaced by a sectarian carve-up.
 
However, unlike the Drumcree seige of the Garvaghy Road in the mid 1990s, the loyal orders and their supporters have yet to mobilise the same level of enormous rallies.  Nor have we seen the regular sectarian murders by loyalist paramilitaries of that period.
 
This is perhaps an indication that far from one monolithic unionist identity, as republicans often like to portray, unionism is fractured but unites when percieved to be under external threat. We need to exacerbate these internal contradictions by building a clear alternative based on class interests and opposition to fascistic loyalism rather than pandering to it as sections of the left seek to do.
 
In the midst of recent disturbances, the reality of living under rule from Westminster enforced by their junior partners at Stormont cannot be glossed over. Selective internment is one weapon utilised by the British state and the 26 counties under special Diplock courts to remove any activists it considers a threat to national security. Marion Price may have been released but Martin Corey and Stephen Murney still continue to be held by a Sinn Fein backed Justice system.
 
Since partition, both states have utilised all means of repression to maintain ‘stability’. This has taken many forms including mass internment. Today this is utilised in the form of internment on remand where people are denied bail or given stringent bail conditions which basically amount to home imprisonment. Éirígí member Stephen Murney continues to be held on the most flimsy of charges. The revoking of parole licences on the grounds of ‘national security’ by an unelected British secretary is really a method of selective internment that could be used against all opposition including anarchists.
 
Serious concerns have also been expressed by Justice Watch Ireland regarding the conviction of the Craigavon Two. In May last year Lurgan man Brendan McConville (41) was jailed for a minimum of 25 years for PSNI Constable Carroll’s murder, and John Paul Wootton (22) received a minimum 14 year term. Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6 from Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO) stated: ‘“We don’t just jump into bed with anyone because they say they are innocent....The evidence in this case is very flimsy and very dodgy and I see this happening all the time…. It’s not about politics, it’s about one thing and one thing only justice, innocence or guilt. If I read the papers and thought they were guilty I would go to the jail and tell them why I thought they were guilty.”
 
Recently a couple of thousand people from across Ireland and beyond took to the streets of Belfast to protest against internment and other injustices. Organised mainly by republicans and human rights activists, the march was violently opposed by loyalists who were removed by the PSNI. The irony is that hundreds of loyalists were also interned by the British state since the 1970s, including the defendants in the ongoing UVF supergrass trial. While loyalists blocked the parade from going through Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre, republicans were egged as they marched past the edge of the lower Shankill.  I couldn’t help noticing from the footage the smug and crass sectarianism from some participants as they watched loyalists being hemmed in by the PSNI - seeing it as some form of hollow victory over the other side.
 
Yet again we witnessed running battles on the streets of Belfast, a shift from its relative containment in working class areas to the heart of Belfast city centre to the shock and horror of the tourist industry and local ruling class.  As PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot described the scenes as ‘anarchy’, working class communities were once again left to pick up the pieces.
 
It is worth remembering that the only ‘anarchy’ our political rulers continue to dish out is  class robbery in the form of increasing unemployment, poverty and welfare cuts with state violence as a frontline response.
 
The latest rioting comes on the back of the blocking of this year’s 12th of July sectarian parade through the contentious Ardoyne/Woodvale interface after years of opposition from Ardoyne residents, serving to highlight that violent resistance and mass mobilisation does pay off . Therefore no one should be surprised that the returning march ended in violence after being blocked by the PSNI.
 
Sinn Fein have long since lost any credibility and leadership in their traditional heartlands such as Ardoyne while reactionary loyalism is getting pulled in all directions by misplaced fear and anxiety, being utilised by big house unionism.
 
The cries of ‘defending our Orange culture and heritage’ from various shades of loyalism is not that different from EDL coat trailing exercises.  They hide the fact that bigotry, alienation and underlying socio/economic problems are affecting all working class communities.  These are issues which cannot be addressed by Stormont who are part of the problem rather than the solution.
 
Nationalism of all stripes is no solution and the only place where national flags belong is in the dustbin of history. The sad reality is that if the same level of struggle in terms of mass parades, blockades and rioting backed up by industrial action was directed against opposing the savage cuts to jobs, housing and welfare reform we might be in a completely different scenario.   As one comrade noted, ‘If you are going to riot, do it over cuts to jobs and housing etc.’ 
 
At the end of the day we can engage in wishful thinking and 'abstract' calls for workers' unity until our heart is content but the sectarian and colonial context in the North means there are no easy answers. This poses a real challenge to those of us who believe in uprooting the real parasites and common enemies of our class, by building a society that offers real freedom and social equality to all. Struggles around women's right to choose, opposition to welfare cuts and workplace struggles provide small steps in breaking down sectarian barriers and building the type of unity and confidence that can empower us to take control of our lives, commuities and workplaces for our benefit.  
 
WORDS: Sean Matthews