No Deal Doesn’t Mean a Clean Break
Last Saturday, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), brought a stark message about Brexit to the crowded Factory Room in Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre – the MAC.
‘No deal doesn’t mean a clean break. It’s not as if it’s going to be a short, sharp shock. The fall-out will poison our political life for years to come. We’ve seen what the neofascists are capable of – in Britain, the memory of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox is still raw. ’
She went on to pay tribute to the late Lyra McKee, VIEWdigital subscriber and friend.
‘We know from the murder of our NUJ sister Lyra McKee; peace should never be taken for granted. We’ve known from the outset that a hard Brexit means a hard border. ’
The meeting – a conference on Labour and the Foundation and Development of NI - was part of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions’ contribution to the Decade of Centenaries.
Also speaking to the crowded room were leading historians Emmet O’Connor, Henry Patterson, Theresa Moriarty, Christopher Loughlin and Eliza McKee, with reflections on the present state of the trade union movement from ICTU’s Owen Reidy and organised by the distinguished labour historian Padraig Yeates.
Frances O’Grady brought solidarity from the TUC – especially to those workers fighting for their jobs, livelihoods and communities.
‘We are a movement of, and for, working people. And workers need us like never before. Trades unionism is the greatest force for social and economic justice I know and nowhere more so than here on the island of Ireland.
‘Last month the TUC was proud to welcome workers from Harland & Wolff to our Congress.
‘An iconic firm with a proud workforce – they refused to give up and let their yard die.
That’s the difference trades unionism makes. Those trade unionists have not sat on their laurels and basked in the glory.
‘Instead, they have brought support to the workforce at Wrightbus in Ballymena - a viable manufacturing business, with a union determined to save that site too.’
‘It’s a little ironic that the Prime Minister likes to project himself as such a fan of public transport and the buses…he once described himself as a bus nut. Well, he’s half right.’
In the morning, Chris Loughlin spoke of ‘gendered assumptions about class politics’, pointing out that domestic arrangements are still very gendered. Theresa Moriarty agreed, signaling the process by which women are chosen to stand for election as an example.
Emeritus Professor Henry Patterson made the point that since around 2008, class is beginning to be mentioned again.
Ms O’Grady agreed, saying,
‘New Labour didn’t mention the working class, just working people’, while another participant spoke of the emergence of ‘radical empathy’, citing how socialism has re-entered the discourse in the US.
Frances O’Grady applauded the change, laughing as she replied to the final question of the day from a member of the audience who wanted to know if Jeremy Corbyn would make a good PM.
Saying, ‘I’ve been a constituent of his for many years’, she agreed that Corbyn would not only be an excellent Prime Minister, but in addition, ‘he would be the next Prime Minister.’