This week saw the start of the new power sharing administration in the North of Ireland when both Paisley and McGuiness preside equally over an administration dedicated to running British rule in the north in a "fair and equal manner" while slavishly following the economic policies of the pro-capitalist Labour government in Britain.
While the great and good gathered at Stormont to pay homage to Blair and Ahearn, the Chief executive of the government-owned company running the Water industry announced workforce reductions of 500 jobs as part of a three-year cost-cutting initiative.
The Transport and General Workers Union claimed they were given no warning before the direct rule ministers left their posts. Albert Mills of the Union said, "It seems they will all be compulsory and they're all going to hit the industrial workforce…The infrastructure, as they keep telling us, is falling down around our ears, but these jobs will go to the private sector and contractors."
And that in a nutshell sums up what the economic policies of the new administration will be. Over the next few years more and more publicly owned assets will be sold off to the private sector in the name of efficiency but with the undeclared aims of enriching the pockets of the owners of industry. There is no serious opposition to what is now going to go on in Stormont. All the so-called mainstream parties now share the same basic economic outlook. Power is their priority, not change.
Lest anyone is in doubt that the leadership of Sinn Fein (Provisional) is totally committed to the pursuit of power without ideological encumbrances then one has only to look at the shift in their position on corporation tax in the South.
Gone is the proposal to raise corporation tax to 17.5%. Gone is the proposal to have a new tax band of 50% for incomes over €100,000. No commitment to lowering the tax rates from 20% to 18% or the higher rate from 41% to 40%. Sinn Fein now want to reduce corporation tax in the North to the level in the South – so the same tax rate can apply on an all-Ireland basis. Sinn Fein would oppose changes in stamp duty but would increase mortgage relief. Sinn Fein would oppose the use of taxpayer's money to fund private hospitals.
None of these changes pose a challenge to capitalism. On the contrary they are part of moves by the Sinn Fein leadership to move themselves into negotiating positions in the event of a hung Dail. Fianna Fail's big objection to coalition with the Shinners was the rise in corporation tax. That is now gone. No doubt already the backroom boys in both FF and SFP are already talking a deal after the election.
These political shenanigans take place against an escalating situation with the dispute in the Southern health service. Further two-hour work stoppages are planned at facilities in Cavan, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kildare and Kilkenny as the nurses' dispute continues. The Health Service Executive has written to unions confirming it would deduct 13% from nurses' salaries if the work-to-rule was not called off by tomorrow evening.
A special delegate conference will take place of the Irish Nurses' Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses' Association w and three-hour work stoppages have already been planned for Friday.
No republican or socialist can afford to ignore the growing unrest in the industrial field. Workers are increasingly frustrated by the rise in the cost of living, the huge cost in home buying, the lack of affordable social housing and the low wages and exploitation of the increasing migrant population in all of Ireland.
The IRSP has always said that the class and national question cannot be separated. That is the position we will take to the coming conference called by concerned republicans in Derry.
Of course we do want to build bridges with other republicans and have positive proposals to put forward to build bridges. We in the spirit of the broad front policy first advocated by our founder Seamus Costello will work with progressive forces on working class issues.
But we are very clear that republicanism has suffered a defeat. The war is over and those who have any lingering thoughts on re-commencing with a view to victory are deluded. Class struggle is the only option. Those who ignore the class question and stand alone on their "republican principles" stand condemned to remain in splendid isolation. The armed struggle is over. We now live in different times and the old certainties now no longer hold. We all on the left need to forget our petty differences and become relevant to the lives of the working classes in Ireland while keeping alive our vision of socialism.
That and that alone is the way forward for progressives from the labour, socialist and republican traditions.
[Originally published as the Editorial statement in The Plough, Vol. 4- No 13, Wednesday 9th May 2007, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Web site http://www.theplough.netfirms.com/]