Thursday, November 21, 2019

Labour Party member stands in Northern Ireland

Reprinted from Left Horizons UK

By Mick Craig, Labour Party Northern Ireland
November 18, 2019

I went to the launch of Caroline Wheeler's election campaign in Enniskillen on Saturday.  Caroline, an executive member of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, is standing as an independent for the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency in the forthcoming General Election.

The first thing readers will ask is, 'why is a member of the Labour Party standing as an independent?' I hope this will become clear as you read on.

The speakers on the panel at the launch meeting included Boyd Black, Secretary of LPNI, Padraig Murphy of Save Our Services, Donal O'Cofaigh, Cross-community Labour-Alternative local councillor and Carmel Gates, Deputy General Secretary of NIPSA, the largest public sector union in Northern Ireland.

That Caroline's campaign is supported by Labour's Norther Ireland executive and the largest trade union is significant. Caroline is an executive member of Unite Ireland, which also endorses her candidacy. No other candidate in this election in Northern Ireland has the support of leading trade unions. There are other socialist candidates standing here but none have this degree of support from workers' organisations, and importantly, they do not belong to a party which has the potential to form the Government in Westminster.

One CLP exists, instead of eighteen

Boyd Black spoke on the issue of Labour being prevented from standing candidates in elections here. He explained that because of a court case back in 2003 we were allowed to organise as part of the UK Labour Party, and due to a further case 5 years later, we were allowed to form a single Constituency Labour Party, although there should be 18 as there are 18 constituencies here.

Both of these cases were based on the fact that in legal terms, the population of Northern Ireland has a unique ethnic identity. Since this identity is recognised in law, the UK labour Party was found to have discriminated against the electorate of Northern Ireland. It follows then that the UK Labour Party continues to break the law by preventing us from having a CLP in every constituency and from standing candidates in elections. Boyd went on to declare that the LPNI fully endorsed Caroline as candidate and dismissed UK Labour's stance as racist and illegal.

The Labour hierarchy argue that for the party to organise here would be taking sides in a divided society. We point out that we recognise that a large section of this society identifies as being 'Irish' and that their aspiration is for the unity of Ireland under one jurisdiction and the ending of British influence.

The reality is however that Northern Ireland is part of the UK and while we continue to elect parties whose only remit is to unite Ireland we are denying ourselves a say in how we are currently governed – we are disenfranchising ourselves. While UK Labour continues to dictate that we can't stand candidates it is illegally endorsing this disenfranchisement.

The immediate problems of austerity and privatisation which have brought misery to the lives of many here are not going to be solved by moving the border to the Irish Sea. Since partition southern Ireland has been ruled by successive governments which have been, and remain, just as conservative as the UK Tories. The Republic of Ireland does not have a health service free at the point of need and has one of the worst housing problems in Europe. The levels of inequality and corruption in Southern Ireland beggar belief and we believe that these problems need to be tackled within that state before there would any move to unite it with Northern Ireland.

Read the Left Horizons Editorial on this issue

History of non-sectarian labour activity
Carmel Gates pointed out that the people of this constituency have a history of Labour and trade union activity which cut across the sectarian divide, and that Fermanagh Trades Union Council had just celebrated its centenary. She welcomed the news that the RCN had voted overwhelmingly for strike action in a recent ballot, this being the first such action in that Union's history.

Padraig Murphy and Caroline both pointed out that their Save Our Services had been very successful and received a lot of public support. The campaign managed to save the essential stroke services, among others in the local area.

Donal O'Cofaigh, who was elected to the local council in May this year listed all of campaigns in which Caroline had been involved over the years, which all began when she fought for better support for carers of disabled children, being a carer of a disabled son herself.

In her speech, Caroline Wheeler pledged to fight 'For The Many Not The Few' whether elected or not. She strongly supports getting rid of all traces of privatisation of the NHS and bringing all major services and industries back into public ownership, and scrapping Universal Credit as well as bogus medical testing for ESA and PIP. She called for the immediate implementation of a £10 minimum wage and an end to zero-hour employment contracts.

The meeting was well attended, especially for such a remote rural area with a widely dispersed population. Many of those present are members of the cross-community Labour Alternative, who set out to begin canvassing when the meeting ended. Not only is this campaign anti-sectarian in the Northern Ireland sense but it also cuts across any divisions in left politics.

Caroline Wheeler is an independent standing on a Labour Manifesto and if elected has committed to take the Labour whip in Parliament. We could transform politics here if we had a candidate like her in all 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland.

Since this campaign isn't being funded by centrally by the Labour Party, I appeal to all comrades to contribute financially to its fighting fund. This is a link to PayPal for this purpose. Any donation is welcome no matter how small.

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