Boris Johnson has sent his sympathies to Harland & Wolff workers over the threat to the shipyard but has said that ultimately its future rests upon a “commercial decision”. With mealy-mouthed words, he says he wants to develop industry, but he and other capitalist ideologues cannot – or dare not – conceive of an economic model which is driven by anything other than profits for a tiny elite.
The history of Northern Ireland is often present as simply being of two traditions – nationalism and unionism – in conflict with each other. Almost everything is painted as belonging to one or the other, including the shipyard. It is also true that most things do have a history tainted by sectarianism. But there is also another history, one which we see in the shipyards, across Belfast and across Northern Ireland – that is the labour tradition, where working-class people have stood together to fight in their common interests.
The supposed economic recovery and growing wealth inequality have made workers in all sectors more confident in demanding ‘their share’. International movements on issues of oppression, such as the #MeToo movement, have also given workers confidence to speak out against widespread sexual harassment, such as those leading the historic strike in McDonald’s in the US on the issue.
After the highly publicised victory for Boojum workers on tips, the branch is bringing together hospitality workers from across Northern Ireland who are sick of precarity, insecurity and low pay. The success of other precarious workers taking action is a model for the branch, and inspiration for all young workers who are seeing the real power of the organised working class for the first time.
Young people today have grown up in a period when the trade union movement has been in retreat. It has been the unions’ decline from militancy to conservatism that has caused young people to no longer consider them vehicles for change and why they have been struggling to understand their relevance in a world of global social upheaval. This has meant that trade union membership has fallen to its lowest since 1995. But material conditions are driving small groups of young workers to organise and fight back.
Young and precarious workers across Britain and Ireland are standing up and saying, ‘enough is enough’. Small but successful campaigns, such as the McStrike and the #BetterThanZero initiative, have rebuilt confidence and have proved that, by joining a union and actively organising, we can win. Northern Ireland has not been left behind in this international rise in trade union consciousness. Workers here too, are organising. Following a successful launch of the Unite Hospitality NI campaign, young people from a wide range of workplaces are getting together and planning how they are going to fight for a better life and a better future.
In a show of cross-community, working-class unity, leisure centre workers from the Shankill Road and Falls Road, trade unionists and people from across Belfast came together to protest the declining working conditions and plans which threaten forty-nine jobs that have arisen since the takeover of Belfast’s leisure centres by Greenwich Leisure Limited.
Young and precarious workers across Britain and Ireland are getting organised. Small but successful campaigns – such as the McDonald’s strike, #Betterthanzero in Scotland and Unite the Union’s Fair Hospitality initiative – have begun to rebuild a fighting trade union consciousness among young people which had been lost by decades of inaction by the majority of union leaderships.