Crisis of Unionism: Reckoning with the betrayal of Britain



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The world bore witness to historic defeats for Unionism in the latest Assembly and Council elections which propelled Sinn Féin to the biggest party on both occasions. This situation is hurling the DUP and Unionism into an ever deepening quagmire. Many Unionist workers and youth feel abandoned by the DUP due to the ever increasing economic hardship and decline of the Northern state while politically bankrupt elites reap immense rewards at their expense.

The cost-of-living crisis is biting down on workers and young people, driving many into further poverty. The DUP, meanwhile, continue to paralyse the Northern Ireland Assembly, in a vain attempt to bend Westminster to its will. Unionism is finding itself at a dead end with nothing on offer for the working class and young people across the statelet but mere sectarian spectacles. 


The Northern Executive in cahoots with Westminster have been lining the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of workers and young people. Inequality is stark with the bottom 30% of households accounting for 14% of total income, while the top 10% of households alone receive 24% of all income. The North of Ireland has higher levels of multiple deprivation than anywhere else in the rest of the UK with over one third of the population living on or below the breadline.

Class anger is seething. In loyalist communities too, anger has built up towards the Unionist and British ruling class. Confidence in the Northern institutions has reached an historic low with recent polling revealing that just 17% have trust in the Northern Ireland Executive while 52% actively distrust it. Amongst Unionists, confidence in Westminster doesn’t fare much better with only 38% having trust in the UK government and 42% actively distrusting it. There’s a feeling that despite decades of loyalty to the British state, the British state has abandoned them to their fate. A further 76% think the wealthy don’t contribute their fair share of taxes.

The crisis of capitalism is driving a race to the bottom for the working class in the North. Its political representatives in Stormont have been united for decades in carrying out the dictates of the market to the detriment of the majority. But decades of austerity and crisis have caused a profound crisis of Unionism. The relative privileges that have been on offer to Protestants have been shorn away. Though inequality amongst Catholics and Protestants in employment, housing etc. still exists, all workers can feel their conditions sinking, and this has undermined that cross-class unity that was once the strength of Unionism.


Working class Unionists are being forced to reckon with the fact that British imperialism has no use for them anymore. Despite all the fine words about the future of the Union, the British ruling class demonstrated in the Windsor Agreement that they’re much more concerned about their future trading relationship with the EU. Inequality, collapsing public services, political corruption and party in-fighting is sowing deep discontent towards political Unionism. As one Shankill youth put this disgust at ‘their’ representatives in a comment to a journalist: “I’ve seen people in Shankill Road going to Sinn Féin for housing problems, because at least they’re working, and they seem to resolve the problems”. Abandoned by Britain and political Unionism alike, this raises the obvious question – what does it now mean to be a ‘Unionist’ and what are the benefits?

Martin Luther King in speaking about racism in the US stated: “it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow”

Herein lies the essence of the policy of today’s Unionist politicians – like Jim Crow, all they have left to offer Protestant workers is sectarian fear-mongering; which is used to divide the working class in the interests of the capitalists in Ireland. The struggling Protestant worker is fed sectarian demagogy rather than subsistence wages. This was exemplified during July 12th when DUP MP Sammy Wilson tabled a parliamentary motion to congratulate the people of Craigyhill in constructing the ‘world’s tallest’ bonfire describing this act of sectarianism as a “demonstration of how positive engagement in our history and culture can bring people together”, meanwhile Stormont is preparing for a further £800 million in cuts.

Unionist workers are left holding onto the Union and the Crown because they have nothing left to hold. In order to convince Unionist workers to loosen their grip on these worn out symbols of the British Empire, it is necessary to give them something positive in its place. Only socialism can offer that. Only by uniting the working class North and South in the fight to overthrow capitalism through socialist revolution can the capitalist tool of sectarianism be vanquished.