By Bernie McAdam
At the end of July, 130 workers at Harland and Wolff in Belfast occupied the shipyard after the company was put into administration. Whilst the administrators are now seeking a possible rescue package, the workers have quite rightly demanded the government nationalise the yard.
In this they have the support of their unions, UNITE and GMB, and Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who spoke directly to the workers expressing his solidarity.
As the occupation enters its fourth week, it is crucial that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and in particular UNITE and GMB turn any verbal support into active solidarity for the workers. Action on the streets and in the workplaces is vital to show the government they mean business.
Workers may well feel inspired by the Scottish government’s recent move to nationalise Clyde’s Ferguson shipyard although this is conditional on no commercial buyer being found within the next four weeks. Harland and Wolff workers are clear that nationalisation must not be a temporary measure.
UNITE have argued for the yard to be saved ‘in the strategic defence interests of the UK’ and to fit out Royal Navy aircraft carriers, build frigates, etc. This is not what the yard is involved in at the moment, it is used for carrying out wind energy and marine engineering projects. UNITE should be more interested in socially useful plans like developing renewable energy rather than lending its backing for destructive imperial adventures.
Harland and Wolff in its heyday had a workforce of over 30,000. It has had a long and chequered history, notorious for the sectarian expulsion of Catholic workers right up to the 1970s. The remnants of the present workforce would be Protestant and it should be made absolutely clear that any plans for redeveloping and extending the shipyard would have affirmative action for recruitment of Catholic workers.
It is imperative that any call for nationalisation is linked to workers’ control over the production process and with no compensation to the owners. Socialists should also support the development of coordinated plans for renewable energy on an all Ireland basis, tapping the vast coastline resources of the whole island for the benefit of all.