On behalf of the Workers’ Party, The Ard Comhairle would like to extend New Year’s greetings to all Party members and their families and to our, friends and supporters both at home and abroad.
We would like also to take this opportunity to offer our condolences and sympathies to the families and friends of Comrades who died in the year gone by, as well as to all our Comrades and friends who lost loved ones.
As always, this is a time both to reflect on events and occurrences of the year gone by and to anticipate the year that lies ahead. This year has been unprecedented, the pandemic has caused great difficulties and hardships for workers and their families not just relating to their health but to their economic situation. Our valiant health care workers and essential workers have kept the country going during this incredibly difficult time. We believe that our workers deserve more than claps or hollow gestures as they fight against poor conditions, low wages, creeping privatisation and the governments contempt for them both north and south.
Unfortunately, due to the circumstances we were unable to meet in person and hold our Ard Fheis this year. However, we have begun making plans, guidelines allowing, to have our Ard Fheis in June 2021 and we urge all members and branches to begin the task of engaging in planning for this, discussing and considering motions for the Clár and their nominations for the Ard Comhairle to ensure that we have robust and inclusive debates and a successful Ard Fheis.
There is still a huge amount that needs to be done and the year that lies ahead will bring with it even greater challenges to the Party as it seeks to give guidance and clear leadership to the ordinary working people, the very ones who have suffered the most hardship under the reign of the current Fine Gael-Fianna Fail-Green coalition government in the Republic and the complete failure of both Sinn Fein and the DUP to offer anything in the way of either credible government or credible policies in the north. The sectarian politics of Stormont during the pandemic has been laid bare during the pandemic for all to see and as a result all workers have suffered.
This year, for the first time in many years, the Workers’ Party began to once again develop and recruit new members in the North. Party members began to organise activity delivering leaflets, organising online events and commemorations, issuing statements to the media, having a strong presence on social media and engaging with their communities. As a result membership has increased and a plan of activity for the new year is now in place. In the south we have continued to work in our communities on campaigns particularly relating to housing. We have developed robust policies on an all-island approach to Covid-19 and hate speech legislation and in the coming year we plan to develop more detailed policies including an updated housing policy for both north and south.
Internationally we continue to work with and engage fully with our comrades abroad. Our International Secretary, Gavin Mendel-Gleason has attended meetings of the Communist Initiative and met with several socialist and communist parties worldwide in efforts to strengthen fraternal relationships. We have continued to show our support to the Cuban people during the pandemic, who have provided medical aid across the world in a show of socialist solidarity, supporting their nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. We have also continued to show and provide support to the people of Palestine who are on the cusp of being subjected to yet another annexation of their land and we have been outspoken in our opposition to the extradition of Julian Assange.
Our members have responded to the Covid-19 crisis in their communities by providing vital protective equipment to frontline staff, shown solidarity with care home staff, donated to food banks and local charities with both food and clothes. In addition to this we have continued to keep our local campaigns going relating to issues of concern for residents in Dublin Mid-West, North and West Belfast and elsewhere.
We have registered our concern regarding the backdoor privatisation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, we have been outspoken in our condemnation of the treatment of hospital staff who have had their cars clamped while working 12-hour shifts, we have shown support and solidarity to the Debenhams workers in the appalling way they have been treated, we have begun a campaign against unscrupulous landlords and letting agents relating to their overpriced rent and the needless bureaucracy involved in renting a home and we will continue to fight against this in the new year.
The leading parties have turned a blind eye to slum landlordism, austerity and benefits cuts. We continue to see our essential services head towards privatisation as they endure continued cuts at the hands of the governments. Our heath and social care services, education services and workers continue to be ground down; factory workers continue to be put at risk during the pandemic by their unscrupulous employers who put profit before the welfare of the working class. We must continue to fight against this relentlessly, and the Party must play a leading role in that resistance.
The gap between rich and poor has widened during the pandemic. Poverty and inequality are deeply imbedded in our society both north and south. The number of people and families reliant on food banks has increased, homelessness has increased, families struggling to pay excessively high rents has increased, these are all the direct consequence of the deep structural factors that are part and parcel of a system that privileges private capital over the public good.
The advent of Brexit will prove incapable of solving the problems affecting workers, irrespective of their being unionist or nationalist, British or Irish. For Brexit was conducted on a capitalist basis, that is, what is good for the British ruling class. The concerns of workers do not figure in their calculations.
If the EU was institutionalised co-operation of the capitalist states, British withdrawal does not signal any shift to the left whatsoever, and may well entail a form of hyper-capitalism. It does, however, destabilise the constitutional status of the United Kingdom, not only in the already apparent fissures in the 1998 settlement vis-á-vis Northern Ireland but with regard to Scotland’s status within the union. This has the potential to unravel the entirety of the United Kingdom in the coming years.
As a revolutionary republican party, the weakening of the very capitalist British state is to be welcomed. However it is essential that the virus of sectarianism is tackled head on so that the situation does not spiral down into an intra-working class fight on ethnic lines. Our longstanding strategy of fighting for the unity of our class across ethnic and religious lines remains, therefore, a critical focus of our political orientation.
But we will only be capable of fighting for the working class in an effective way by re-doubling our efforts on the ground amongst the people we represent and seek to lead. And we will only be effective when we do that in a coordinated, collective and unified fashion.
We have the policies, the vision, and the ideology. But, making no bones about it, we are constrained by our very limited resources. What we now need to do is to direct those energies and those resources in a singular, concentrated and disciplined collective fashion to maximise our impact. It will only be through united and disciplined collective actions that we will be successful. This will take a sincere commitment from all members to play their part in building the Party over the next year.
The year that lies ahead then will, undoubtedly, be an important one both for the Party and for the people we represent. We must re-double our efforts to present a real and radical alternative view to workers both north and south.
Our central and historically defined task remains as it always was – to lead a unified Irish working class to victory in the class struggle.
Let us recommit to that task, Comrades.