Once again violence has flared across Belfast and other parts of the north as protests continue around the flags issue. The latest disturbances come as Stormont Assembly leaders, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness meet to discuss another wave of street protests, and their concerns about the damaging effect it is having on the economy leading up to the busiest shopping period of the calendar. But as each issued a separate statement calling for protests to come to an end, loyalist gangs flexed their muscles, blocking off streets and hijacking cars.
This recent wave of trouble kicked off several weeks ago following a vote taken by Belfast City Council to fly the union flag outside city hall on designated days only, instead of 365 days of the year. This was supposedly as a result of an earlier 'equality impact assessment' carried out on Belfast City Council. Minutes after the motion was passed, loyalist reaction to the decision was one of anger. As tension spilled out on to the streets several hundred union flag waving protesters laid siege to the building in scenes not witnessed here since the 1980's. As crowds were later dispersed, nearby nationalist homes and a catholic church bore the brunt of the mob's anger.
In the days that followed it's believed that loyalist paramilitaries from both the UVF and UDA influenced events on the ground further by hijacking and burning cars, hospitalising 30 PSNI members, issuing death threats to politicians, and attacking and burning a number of their homes and offices. All this happened as international 'guardian of peace' Hillary Clinton dropped into Stormont for tea with Peter and Martin - presumably for her final update on how the 'peace process' was coming along as part of a host of 'final engagements'.
Weeks prior the initial flag vote taking place, the scene was set as 40,000 leaflets were distributed across South and East Belfast deepening an already fraught situation further. The leaflets themselves were part of a joint operation, said to have been carried out by Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party activists, castigating the local Alliance party whose representatives hold the balance of power within Belfast City Council, not to mention electoral seats in east Belfast.
Ever happy to beat the sectarian war drums, unionist politicians claimed that the flags motion at City Hall represented the tip of the iceberg of yet another attack on their Britishness and cultural identity by republicans. Surprisingly enough, in successive interviews not one unionist politician could remember who agreed to issue such a leaflet that ratcheted up sectarian tensions even further. Amongst all the usual tit-for-tat allegations that took place, former first minister David Trimble accused the DUP of “cynically” stoking up tensions. However that in itself speaks more of the crisis within Ulster unionism at present.
So is this simply down to the issue of flags and identity or is it something happening much deeper than that?
When examining the issues from within working class loyalist communities many will reveal that they have for years 'been sold a pup'. Used as foot soldiers, canon-fodder, pulled on to the streets at the beat of a drum every time their politicians claim that the sky was falling. Loyalists and the organisations they represent will imply that their communities feel abandoned by the politicians they voted for, effectively isolated and left to the ravages of capitalism as can clearly be seen. But the answers to the problems they continue to face - from high levels of social deprivation, lack of job and educational opportunities to housing - won't be found within loyalism whose only answer is drawing up even more sectarian battle lines.
As the violence plays out on the streets our class must be mindful of the fact that sectarianism is used in the six counties like a water tap. Used to divide and rule, as and when those in power see fit to unleash it, from the halls of Westminster to the halls of Stormont. Capitalism has used it time and time again, just as those who represent it have used fascism, racism and repression to assist and prop up their positions of power, dominance and control.
For anarchists, it's our belief that the events played out in Belfast City Hall back on December 3rd and on the streets ever since, is yet another sectarian diversionary tactic by the politicians. Beating of the war drums over flags in the middle of an ever deepening economic crisis, just as working class communities across the north are being crushed under the weight of it, shows us just where their true interests lie. In the continuation and protection of their own sectarian positions and privileges up in Stormont. It is therefore vital that we continue to demand working class unity in the streets and in the workplace. Our class must not allow those in Stormont to deflect us from the struggle at hand. Creating a unified fight across the sectarian divide against the cuts in jobs and welfare, in health and education as the crisis of capitalism continues is the task that faces us.
Read more at http://www.wsm.ie/loyalism