reply to Gary re N. Ireland - from Tom O'L

Einde O'Callaghan einde.ocallaghan at
Sun Feb 2 07:09:10 MST 2003

Tom O'Lincoln wrote:
> Gary
> I know little of Northern Ireland, but my thoughts are these:
> 1. A labour aristocracy is not the same as a settler population.  It would
> be interesting to discuss whether the standard of living of Jewish
> Israelis is in fact artificially propped up by imperialism. But it is a
> separate question.

I don't have time to go into it at the moment due to political and work
commitments, but I do think there is an essential difference of quality
between Israel and Northern Ireland.

> 2. if you can prove empirically that the Protestant *working class*
> specifically benefits from imperialism, perhaps you could present the
> evidence. Actually I was under the impression that many Protestant
> workers in the north are not terribly well off compared to the rest of the
> British state, which would suggest that they only THINK  they benefit
> from imperialism.

I think Eamonn McCann aptly described the relationship between
Protestant and Catholic as "tuppence ha'penny looking down on tuppence",
by which he meant that the privileges were relative and very small -
traditionally Protestants had the skilled jobs and Catholics the
unskilled jobs, unemployment was low in Protestant areas (about 4% in
the 1960s IIRC - comparable with Britain at the time) and very high in
Catholic areas (20%*+ in the same period, in at least one small town
male unemployment was over 80%).

But the split in the working class had meant that Protestant workers in
NI had lower wages than in Britain although the cost of living was
slightly higher. This was the reverse of the situation before partition
when engineering workers in Belfast (overwhelmingly Protestant) were
among the best-paid in the UK. By the 1960s they were by far the
worst-paid in this industry.

This was a result of the "carnival of reaction" predicted by Connolly
when partition was first mooted. Partition was accompanied not only by
what we now call ethnic cleansing of Catholics from majority-Protestant
areas (in those days it was called a pogrom), but also by a purge of
militant Protestant trade unionists from the shipyards and engineering
factories (including all the leaders of the 1919 general strike) for
being "bad Protestants".

Geoff Bell (at that time a member of the IMG, the British section of teh
USFI), himself from a Protestant working-class background, wrote a very
interesting and suggestive study called "The Protestants of Ulster".

All these facts are from memory, so there may be some inaccuracies. As I
mentioned I don't really have time to search out the sources - indeed I
didn't even intend to write this much. Other good books on the question
are Eamonn McCann "War and an Irish Town" (still available AFAIK from
Bookmarks) and Michael Farrell "Northern Ireland - The Orange State".

There are also episodic periods of working class unity and solidarity -
something that IMO tends to negate the idea that the "privileges" are of
such a nature as to bind Protestant workers irrevocably to the Orange

Einde O'Callaghan

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