Harland and Wolff
Bitter blow for Belfast
"WE'RE SHATTERED. It's an absolutely devastating blow." That was how one worker at Harland and Wolff in Belfast reacted to the threatened closure of the shipyard. Harland and Wolff bosses handed their 1,785 workforce 90 day redundancy notices last week. Workers could be thrown on the dole this June and the yard shut completely by September.
Another 2,000 jobs could be hit if the yard closes. Tony Blair claims the government could do nothing. "It's a decision by a commercial company," he said last week. He is prepared to abandon workers in Northern Ireland to the mercy of the free market and private bosses. That means a future of insecurity. Most newly created jobs are low paid and non - unionised. Northern Ireland already has lower wages, poorer housing and higher poverty than Britain. The jobs massacre shows more than ever the need for class politics in Northern Ireland which can begin to unite both Protestant and Catholic workers. Harland and Wolff once symbolised the dominance of Unionism and the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. At its height in the 1950s the yard employed 35,000 workers. They were mainly Protestant workers. Unionist bosses tried to buy the loyalty of Protestant workers with the promise of a job for life. In 1974 workers at Harland and Wolff played a key role in the Loyalist strikes which brought down a power - sharing agreement. Outraged
Today the Unionists have absolutely nothing to offer Protestant workers. "At the end of the day it is a commercial transaction," said Unionist MP Reg Emprey last week. "Both Protestants and Catholics across Belfast are outraged by the threatened closure," says Colm Bryce of Socialist Worker's sister paper in Belfast. "Some of the media have argued that Catholics in West Belfast are saying the shipyard is getting what it deserves. That is rubbish. We've been petitioning in both Protestant and Catholic areas and got a similar angry reaction to the closure."