In the north of Ireland the picture appears similar to past elections. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein remain the largest parties and will continue to lead the Executive in pursuing the austerity dictated from Westminster. However the DUP vote was down 0.8 per cent and Sinn Fein was down 2.9 per cent. The smaller UUP, SDLP and Alliance parties also saw their share of first preference votes slightly decline. Most encouragingly though was the election of two candidates from the anti-austerity People before Profit (PbP), a campaign front initiated by the Socialist Workers Party.
The election of Gerry Carroll and Eamonn McCann at the expense of Sinn Fein and the SDLP was a remarkable statement of opposition to the austerity measures emanating from Stormont. Gerry Carroll topped the share of first preference votes with 23 per cent in West Belfast. It matched the rise of Anti-Austerity Alliance/People before Profit in earlier elections this year in the Republic of Ireland, which won 3.9 per cent of the vote and increased its number of TDs (parliamentary deputies) from four to six.
In line with movements against austerity across Europe and the rise of Corbyn in Britain, PbP capitalised on a mood of revulsion against the cuts and the hypocrisy of established parties and leaders. This was not across the board, as only three PbP candidates stood. Also the Socialist Party’s Labour Alternative stood on an anti-austerity ticket, receiving only 2.4, 1.7 and 1.4 per cent in other areas.
While welcoming the PbP results, the Socialist Party point out the PbP is “largely based in and orientated to Catholic working class communities which is often reflected in its language and positions it takes on contentious issues like parades”. Well, it is to be welcomed that the PbP has taken a stand against Orange sectarian marches in Catholic areas.
It is important that socialists in the north, be they in the SP or the SWP, do not ignore the fight against British imperialism at home. It is obvious that socialists should fight on an anti-sectarian basis, but maybe not so obvious to see the source of that sectarianism in the British created northern state itself.
PbP should now use the platform they have won to help build a mass movement of workers to fight the cutbacks. A militant campaign within the communities and unions, focusing on strikes, mass demonstrations and direct action, is needed. Clearly the battle won't be won in Stormont and maximum pressure needs to be exerted on the trade union leaders for indefinite strikes to stop the Executive ripping up our services.
If the PbP is to lead a concerted struggle against the northern state on austerity, it will not be able to avoid the fight against repression emanating from Britain’s sectarian state and its occupation of the north. A new workers party that is both anti-austerity and anti-imperialist, armed with a programme for a Workers’ Republic, is still a burning necessity.