Michael Kidron

 

A united workers’ republic:
The only way to stop Ireland bleeding

(SW, 21 August 1969)

 

The impression created by the press – and ours is no exception – is that Northern Ireland couldn’t exist without British support and the British handout. It’s true that the Stormont government couldn’t exist without British troops, British arms and British subsidies.

But the government is not Northern Ireland. As far as the people of Northern Ireland are concerned the real subsidies, the flow of resources, are all in the other direction.

The kinds of fact needed to show the drain in detail go unrecorded because there is no check on the flow of funds between the two components of the United Kingdom.

There’s no way of knowing, for example, what part of the land-and-water-rents collected for the Earl of Shaftesbury or of Newcastle, or any of the other big landowners is spent in Northern Ireland, and what part is spent in Britain. Most of it probably comes here.

 

Shipped over to Britain

The same goes for Industrial profits – most is almost certainly shipped across to head offices in Britain. And so for finance collections made in Northern Ireland in the form of bank deposits or Ulster Savings Certificates or life insurance premiums or share purchases can so easily and most probably do, find their way to Britain as bank advances, investments or placements on the London stock exchange.

One day we’ll know of course, because one day we’ll open the books. But for the moment there’s only the most indirect evidence to go on.

The best single clue is contained in the trade figures. Northern Ireland has always run a trade surplus with Britain, exporting some 28 million a year, more on average (8.8 per cent)than she imported over the past dozen years. With the rest of the world she has a consistent trade deficit sufficiently large to pit her whole trading account into substantial deficit. [1]

The figures are not particularly reliable even though they are official. Nor are they altogether foolproof as an indication of the drain or “economic tribute” as it used to be called, but they do carry tie right message: consistently more is taken out of Northern Ireland and shipped to Britain than ever comes back; and over the years the sum tends to get larger, reaching a high of 45 million in 1967, the last year for which figures are available.

Neither the existence of an economic drain nor its increasing size is accidental. The first reflects Northern Ireland’s colonial status – the fact that the real ruling class in Ulster is English; English capitalists, English landowners and English bureaucrats resident here but operating there through a colon apparatus of declining effectiveness.

The second reflects the imperative need felt by that same English ruling class to concentrate its resources into really big units in the fastest growing industries in order to survive. And that leaves out Ulster.

The English ruling class is not peculiar in this. Ever. since American capital wrenched open their home markets a decade or so ago, the smaller capitalisms throughout the West have been submitting themselves to an orgy of mergers and takeovers.

 

 

Small-time buccaneers

It’s still going on. But even the biggest takeover buccaneers have a long way to go still: Stokes of British Leyland still runs only fourth is size in the European car-making stakes; and Weinstock of GEC-AEI is no more than third or fourth in the European electrical equipment manufacturers’ leagues.

They’re big, but they need to be bigger. And in order to do that as cheaply as possible, they close their small units and expand their big ones, they build near the largest labour markets, near the centres of technical and managerial skills, and within easy reach of government – the real government, that is, not the jumped-up police headquarters at Stormont. In a word, they drain the economic periphery of the country to feed the centre (as they have done in Wallonia, Mezzogiorno, West and North West France).

There’s little Stormont can do to counteract the economic pull of the southern half of England. They proudly advertise to British businessmen that Northern Ireland enjoys “a higher level of unemployment than anywhere else in the United Kingdom” and add in the next sertence and in italics – “But this is a situation which you can use to your advantage”. [2]

 

Lush investment grants

But their minute “towns” – Coleraine, tenth in size, counts only 14,000 people – can only offer an unemployed labour reserve measured in hundreds, rather than the thousands or ten thousands that are needed.

They offer industrial derating of 75 per cent, the lushest investment grants in the United Kingdom, special Industrial Development Grants fuel subsidies, grants for engaging business consultants, for shifting key workers, besides the normal incentives for development areas and still the capital flows out rather than in and the number of jobs falls – 6,000 down to 179,000 in civil manufacturing between 1949 and 1964, 34,000 down to 68,000 in agriculture. And there’s more to come in both. [3]

Meanwhile the working population is rising – by 120,000 in that period; and the flow of workers to Britain is lessening as unemployment goes up here – from 9,000 a year on average up to 1964 to 6,500 now; and the press for jobs gets relentless – and violent. And political.

From British capital’s point of view Northern Ireland is becoming expensive. The cost of persuading potential investors that the province could be profitable has always been high – public investment has been running at 46 per head compared with under 40 in the rest of the United Kingdom. [4]

After what has been happening, the cost of persuading them that Northern Ireland is safe is going to be higher. To actually make it both profitable and safe is unthinkable. The Civil Rights movement has seen to that.

The movement has done more. It has forced British capitalism to begin to think about doing the sums of continued occupation; how much it is prepared to spend before it pulls out politically; when to do so; how to disentangle itself from its frenzied colons.

If the movement can resist the temptation to interpret the Relief of Bogside as a political relief, it can do even more: it can build up the pressure and the cost until political withdrawal is a fact and the colons thoroughly isolated.

For that to come about British troops must be made to withdraw; British arms must be spiked; and British subsidies stopped.

 

To stop the drain

Even then the movement will not have finished its work. An independent Ulster will continue to be bled of jobs and men by British capital. Even a united capitalist Ireland will be bled – as Eire is today.

To stop the drain once and for all time the struggle for civil rights in the north will need to be transformed into a successful struggle for a United Workers’ Republic of Ireland.

 

Notes

1. From Government of Northern Ireland, Economic Section, Digest of Statistics No.31, March 1969, Belfast HMSO, Table 103, p.68.

2. Ulster Office handout called Northern Ireland – the Most Profitable Area for Industrial Expansion. p.9.

3. Government of Northern Ireland, Economic Development in Northern Ireland, including the Report of the Economic Consultant Professor Thomas Wilson, Belfast: HMSO. Cmd.479, 1965. pp.23. 31, 38.

4. Government of Northern Ireland, Economic Section. Northern Ireland Economic Report on 1968. Belfast: HMSO. 1989, p.9.

 


Last updated on 7.3.2002