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Remembering Derry 1968 – ‘This is not a riot. It is an outburst of rage’

This article is over 5 years, 7 months old
The week after the Derry events Socialist Worker ran a front page story by Eamonn McCann. We reproduce an abridged version below
Issue 2624
Eamonn McCann (centre) on the protest in Derry
Eamonn McCann (centre) on the protest in Derry

Derry is a city under siege. Riot police patrol the fringes of the Catholic ghetto area in armoured cars. Barricades have been erected and Molotov cocktails, bricks and other improvised weapons are being used by the people.

Police are making sporadic sorties into the area. At 3am this morning an armoured car smashed a barricade on the Lecky Road and established their first foothold in the city.

This is the third day of violence in Derry. On Saturday police stopped a peaceful civil rights march with unbelievable brutality.

Men were beaten in the testicles. Water cannons drove demonstrators from the area, back into the police lines. In Duke Street, two double lines of police with drawn batons boxed in a thousand people and started a systematic and sickening bludgeoning.

An 18 year old reporter, Martin Cowley, vainly displaying his press credentials, was repeatedly beaten to the ground by District Inspector Ross McGimpsie and left lying in a bloody mess. One middle aged man was seized by two policemen and flung over a wall.

Fighting spread to the centre of the city during the evening as police beat the people back into the Catholic ghetto.

Houses were turned into casualty centres as the injured were carried from the barricades.

This is not a riot. It is an uprising. It is an elemental outburst of rage by a class that has been denied jobs, homes and fundamental human rights by a regime that is as near fascism as makes no difference.

Derry has a male unemployment rate of 21 percent. The City Corporation, controlled by the Unionist Party because of a gerrymandered electoral system has built 15 houses in three years.

It has allocated them to its Protestant supporters while Catholic working class families (who are the majority in Derry) live in conditions which would turn the stomach of an Islington slum-dweller.


A unique voting system in municipal elections gives the rich extra votes. Sir Basil McFarlane, for example, has 26 votes in a municipal election. I am a 28 year old worker. I have none. The Northern Ireland Special Powers Act gives the police the right to arrest without warrant and intern without trial.

Such discrimination inevitably produced a sectarian consciousness among the Catholic working class. They saw the state as being biased against them as Catholics.

The beginning of a new phase was marked by the formation of the Derry Housing Action Committee in February. It is a self-appointed body comprising Republicans, leading members of the Labour Party and a number of unattached radicals.

It began a campaign of civil disobedience. It disrupted corporation meetings and organised rent strikes. In June it blocked a main bus route for 48 hours with the caravan home of a family of four. Landlords’ homes were picketed, official ceremonies broken up.

The local Labour Party joined with the Action Committee in an informal united front on the housing issue.

The Derry Republican Club (an illegal organisation) came into the open and proclaimed its existence with banners at housing demonstrations.

The result was a decisive realignment in which, for the first time in Derry, a militant, if ill-defined, political campaign got off the ground without arousing any sectarian feeling.

The most vital and significant fact is that there has been no Catholic-Protestant confrontation. It is this that frightens the Unionist authorities.

They have always been content to see workers tearing each other to pieces.

The politicians are happy in the knowledge that worker-against-worker warfare shored up the state by obscuring the class basis of religious discrimination.

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