Labour Aristocracy in Northern Ireland

michael pearn neprimerimye at
Sun Feb 2 10:35:24 MST 2003

It's certainly true as Tom O'Lincoln writes that
social democratic, in the bourgeois sense, politics is
embodied today in the SDLP and SF but their was, once
upon a time, a party that represented the
Protestant/Loyalist Labour Aristocrats and the
nationalist community! That party was the Northern
Ireland Labour Party.

It was a curious party as it only developed, properly
speaking, after Northern Ireland had become a distinct
entity, in 1924. Politically too it represented the
working class in NI in a fashion very little different
to the Labour Party in Britain. That is to say it was
a reformist workers party. But in NI things were a
little different of course.

Nonetheless in some respects it was a decent
organisation and tried to appeal to both religious
groups/communities. yet it could not avoid the issue
of the border and lost most anti-partition members in
1947/8 but despite its Uniuonist stance made pro-Civil
Rights noisers in the 1960's. In fact it even picked
up a revolutionary fringe near the end of its life and
many leaders of the Civil Rights movement and the
later far left groups were found in its ranks. But
thats for another day I fancy. The NILP was destroyed
by the border issue when it returned to the centre of
Irish politics after 1968 and pretty much lost all its
supporters to the SDLP on the one hand and to Unionism
on the other. 

the point being that the class base of this party was
the organised wrking class which in terms of Northern
Ireland in the relevent period was to be found in the
shipyards and in the mills. In the main then a working
class Protestant and loyalist in its sympathies. A
working class that could reach out to other sections
of its class when there was something approaching full
employment in the 1960's and thus indorporate elemtns
of the working class Catholic and nationalist in their
sympathies. But every time there was an economic
crisis the sectarian divisions reasserted themselves
finally destroying the NILP.

Today the economic base of NI is very different with
no mills and a much reduced shipyard. It is no
coincidence that, despite the dreams of the Taafeites,
there is no Labour Party in NI and no material base
for one, at least in the 6 Counties alone. I make
reference to the changed economic base in NI because
it was the shipyards and mills that created a working
class which in turn developed a Labour Party and trade
unions and not super profits from Imperialism. And it
was because it was the Protestant workers composed the
core of that working class that it was the core of
that workers movement. 

Privileges the Protestant/loyalist community had but
they sprang from a higher level of employment, in the
shipyards, and petty benefits such as the allocation
of council housing on a sectarian basis. But, and
heres the rub, the Protestant workers at all times
were paid less than workers doing compoarable work in
Britain and the social wage too remained lower. 

There is no provable connection between reformism,
even if one includes parties such as the SDLP/SF in
this category, a labour aristocracy and super profits
from imperialism in NI. Both sections of the working
class were more impoverished than the norm in
comparable countries. due to imperialist sponsored and
created divisions but that is very different to being
the source of largesse.

Finally I have to wonder if super profits are the
material basis of reformism how and why mass reformist
parties have develped in countries such as Chile and
Argentina. Aren't these countries, in this schema, the
very head springs of super profits?

For Communism 

Mike Pearn

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