Belfast Telegraph poll shows Northern Ireland needs a change in politics


The recent Belfast Telegraph poll may have revealed cracks in the zero sum sectarian politics that dominates the political landscape in Northern Ireland but if there is anything that cannot be white washed away is the relevance of class.  While we see a reoccurring positive pattern of more liberal attitudes towards issues such as gay marriage and abortion rights as well as growing younger population tuned off by orange/green style of politics, religion still remains the main factor in voting for political parties, while the constitutional question is settled for a generation. (1)

However, the most important distinction in the North and in any capitalist society-namely those that pertain to class are written out of existence which suits the high and mighty in our society. By class I don’t just mean a monolithic identity of blue collar workers in factories, but instead it includes all of us who are forced to sell our labour power to survive. This includes people who are in paid employment, whether in a factory, office, café, unpaid house work or retail store etc. It also includes those who are unable to find paid employment, or have chosen to refuse the drudgery of paid work in order to attempt to live on the meagre benefits supplied by the state, and who provide a vast potential pool of labour that enables the ruling class to further keep wages down.

Anyone who watched the recent programme concerning the tragic quest for justice by families whose loved ones were disappeared by the IRA only served to highlight that the conflict over the last 30 years and its continuing legacy today is largely a blue collar working class experience with areas such as the Malone Road and ‘gold coast’ largely unscathed. Inhabitants in blue collar working class districts of North and West Belfast endured greater levels of political violence than any other part of the six counties. These same areas today still continue to experience intergenerational trauma, unemployment, state violence and the blight of paramilitaries.

While ethno national identity continues to occupy media attention and utilised by politicians for their own selfish and strategic interests, the reality is social class today determines every aspect of our life from quality of housing, educational attainment, life expectancy and employment than whether you are a unionist or nationalist. Recent statistics bear this out as the North still has the highest level of deprivation and lowest average wage in the across these islands. According to recent data produced by the Department of Social Development(DSD) ‘Across the population as a whole there were 422,000 (24%) considered to be in absolute poverty, up from 232,000 in 2010/11. This included 79,000 pensioners and 109,000 children.’ (2)

The problems of capitalism cannot be solved within the system and the limited horizons of nationalism and unionism. The latest stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP over an 80 million fund to tackle poverty in which working class communities have not received a penny of it apart from 400,000 going to consultants reveals an ugly Stormont snobbery that has neither the ability nor indeed the intention of creating a just and progressive society on this island. (3)  

Radical social change is the ultimate collective instrument which we need to utilise as working people against the hierarchal and exploitative social and economic structure under which we are forced to live. Compromise with capitalism and collaboration with the state through the empty parliamentary process serves only to institionalise misery, injustice and violence in its broadest sense. In answer to the cycle of 'zero sum' game, the need for class politics is as relevant as ever.



Words: Sean Matthews