In Belfast and across the North we are still mending the wounds of division. Sectarianism has been a part of life for many in our branch and has left a profound impact on our outlook of the world, I know it has with me. Even within the confines of comrades, our troubled pasts have resurfaced and with it the seeds of division that were sown into us as children.
Recently within the branch, a dispute developed between two comrades when ‘Seán’ raised that ‘Emily’ had years previously, along with her friends, unleashed a barrage of sectarian abuse onto one of Seán’s friends, ‘Aoife’, who was degraded as a ‘fenian c**t’ amongst the volley of reactionary insults. It is the role of the branch to act as the resolution centre, the space within which division and ill feeling is replaced with unity, strength and camaraderie.
Emily was born and raised on the Shankill Road, adjacent to the Falls Road, it is the loyalist heart of Belfast. Emily talks about how this moulded her outlook.
“On the Shankill you have no experience being around anything but loyalists, you assume that with celebrations such as the Twelfth that being Protestant must be superior and that’s the mindset you grow up with unfortunately.”
“Sectarian language was used casually to describe anyone or anything that didn’t fit (my family’s) loyalist view, they praised the UVF and UDA around kids as did all my friend’s parents. We didn’t question it because you trust adults to be telling you the right information when you’re that young and we didn’t see a reason to question it.”
“I don’t actually remember having Catholic friends at that time either, so I was shut off in that sense. When the arguing came up with Seán’s friend I did use sectarian slurs because I knew she was ‘Irish’. It had been used so casually around me my whole life that I didn’t know it had the power to upset people. I haven’t used the word against anyone since and acknowledge that it did and can offend.”
Unfortunately, many young people in the North are raised instilled with an irrational fear and suspicion of their fellow workers. The youth of the North are the catalyst which will break the shackles of reaction to struggle for an anti-sectarian Ireland and an anti-sectarian labour movement. This is displayed in the branch being the mediator in all disputes, the tool we use to dismantle and analyse the society around us and rebuild it, in the name of class solidarity.
The situation was de-escalated, and the role of the Officer or mediator is to allow each side to voice their grievances without fear of backlash or retaliation and within the privacy of those involved in the dispute and the officer or mediator. Comrades are then able to agree to a solution through active participation and work towards it with enthusiasm. Emily apologised to the branch, Seán and Aoife, who have all since marched and celebrated May Day together proving that not the cause of Catholic nor Protestant can outweigh the cause or the strength of the united iron fist of labour under the red flag. – Belfast Branch
“Let it be heard and understood that Labour in Ireland stands for the unity of Ireland – an Ireland united in the name of progress, and who shall separate us?” – James Connolly