Boris Johnson was hounded by protesting Harland and Wolff shipyard workers during his visit to Northern Ireland on Wednesday.
Workers protested outside the Northern Ireland Stormont parliament building. Unite union regional officer Susan Fitzgerald said, “I am calling on Boris Johnson to come out to meet the workforce who have shown such commitment to saving their own workplace.”
The famous Belfast yard is days from falling into administration. Unions are calling for action to save jobs and workers chanted, “Renationalise now.”
The Harland and Wolff workers were joined by protesters demanding Irish language recognition rights in a bi-lingual protest.
Other protesters at Stormont included people representing those killed in the Loyalist paramilitary bombing of McGurks Bar in Belfast in 1971 and those killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy the same year.
Harland and Wolff Unite rep Joe Passmore said workers had decided to come to Johnson, given he had declined an invite to visit the shipyard on Wednesday morning. “What we are asking Boris is to nationalise our yard,” he said.
“We want him to help us keep this place open long enough so that eventually the orders can start flowing and we can stand on our own two feet.”
Workers have been protesting at and occupying the shipyard since Monday.
Joe said workers took control of the yard after attempts to find an agreement with management failed. “We’ve pleaded with politicians from all parties to come down and support us to either get us money or renationalise us,” he said.
“They just seem unable to help us. They hide behind civil servants, they hide behind Stormont and they just seem to be sitting on their hands.
“We had to go back to tell our workforce there’s no future and we’re closing on Wednesday night and we’re all unemployed. They were furious, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.”
Administrators were due to swoop in on Wednesday, but that has now been postponed until next Monday. At least one vulture fund is standing in the wings ready to asset strip the company.
Its iconic shipyard cranes have overlooked a history of sectarianism and important outbreaks of class solidarity.
There has been a long term decline—from a peak of 35,000 workers at the yard there are now 130 workers fighting to save their jobs.
Paul, a GMB union member who has worked at Harland and Wolff since 1981, explained to the Irish socialist website Rebel News why action had to be taken. “The company was put on sale on 23 December,” he said.
“Since then some politicians have been lobbying and senior managers have been negotiating. We have been waiting and waiting, bearing no fruit. Time is critical, we had to take action otherwise we’d lose our jobs.”
Many Northern Ireland politicians see Harland and Wolff jobs as a propaganda bargaining chip with the British government, which has declared the closure a “commercial matter”.
In contrast, People Before Profit Northern Ireland assembly member Gerry Carroll joined workers at the occupation.
He said this was a fight that everyone should get behind. “There are highly skilled jobs at risk here,” he said. “We need urgent action to save them. No matter what side of the community you come from, we are all bearing the brunt of decades of austerity and failure by politicians.
“And these workers are no different.
“Everyone should get behind these workers. An injury to one is an injury to all. People power and class solidarity is the only way.”