Loyalty misplaced

Loyalty misplaced:

Short strand riots and the protestant working class
The disgraceful attacks on the Short Strand during the past week have highlighted the stark divide between the aspirations of the protestant working class and the ambitions of their political representatives. The attacks themselves were part of a cheap attempt by the UVF to abate the impending criminal charges against them through a display of intimidation. However the root problem goes beyond the thugs who orchestrated the sectarian orgy of violence. They stand as an example of a community without political direction, holding firm to an ideology which does not serve their class interests.

Since the signing of the GFA loyalism has been left in something of a quandary. They have no real role to play in this new political arrangement at Stormont. Unionist politicians regarded the UVF and the UDA as a useful bargaining tool during the troubles. They whipped up sectarian tension before distancing themselves from the perpetrators. This led to recriminations within loyalism and the formation of the PUP who attempted to formulate a mixture of populism and loyalism which ultimately imploded under the weight of its own contradictions. This ultimately left both the loyalist working class and the paramilitaries directionless beyond their traditional sectarian grievances. These were exploited whilst they still had use as a bargaining chip but by now have been discarded by the now “respectable” DUP. Within the paramilitaries there has been the usual round of feuding, criminality and power struggles. With each of these struggles comes the need for the new faction to promote itself. This usually means pipe bombs in Catholic schools, attacks on GAA grounds or the removal of immigrants through racist attacks.

Unlike on the Republican side these groups have no logical political explanation for rejecting the GFA. Viewed through a Unionist perspective the GFA has delivered all of the main demands of their ideology. They cannot however offer any explanation to their communities as to why they remain deprived and why they have gained nothing.
The socialist analysis which would allow class consciousness to develop is impeded by the allegiance to an imperialist and reactionary political ideology. This prevents any progressive political movement emerging from the loyalist ghettos because it can only go so far as addressing the immediate needs of the protestant working class before reverting to the bigoted discourse that loyalism has imbued itself with. It suit’s the interest of the mainstream unionist parties to maintain this. This is why we have been treated to the site of Peter Robinson meeting with the leadership of the UVF. No doubt they will have been thrown a few more scraps from the table to keep them quiet.

The reaction of the PSNI/RUC to the riots is also telling. The most revealing element of their action or inaction is that the loyalists were allowed to assemble in the first place. As anyone who has ever witnessed the handling of a republican demonstration can attest to they have no tolerance for letting groups gather outside of their immediate control. Yet over 100 armed and masked men were capable of drilling and gathering before launching their attack. This cannot be explained. If the situation had been reversed and 100 suspected “dissidents” had gathered in balaclavas with baseball bats the TSG teams would have been sent in with machine guns! Likewise the reaction to the riots was qualitatively different to that in Ardoyne. Baton rounds and water cannons were used sparingly, in Ardoyne they were used with abandon. Over 400 baton rounds were fired during the riots in Ardoyne last July. 66 were used during last week’s disturbances. Dozens of arrests were made in the wake of the riots in Ardoyne. So far the only notable arrests made have been of republicans suspected of defending the short strand!

Given the fact that the UVF have been facilitated it is no stretch of the imagination to presume that the PSNI/RUC have been instructed to deal with the loyalist rioters with kids gloves. This will be another attempt to soothe the ruffled feathers of loyalists. However they will not address the serious social problems in working class protestant communities. Neither will unionism, it is within their interests to preserve an underclass that can be used as a tool to attack the republican working class.

The approach republicans must take is to promote the analysis of Connolly at every possible occasion. Any opportunity to engage with the loyalist community must be under the auspices of highlighting the class interests of a unified working class through the removal of imperialism and capitalism in Ireland.

What is also essential to take as a lesson from these past few days is the danger of being pulled once again into a sectarian war with loyalist paramilitaries. To date no armed group has struck at the loyalist groups nor have intimated that it is a route they wish to go down. It is important that all republicans maintain this stance and discourage any activity likely to present them with an excuse for their sectarian agenda. The route to a workers republic is through showing them where their true class interests lie, not through Stormont.

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