With two MLAs and a Councillor, People Before Profit look set to be the flag-bearers for a new politics. We asked Niall Coleman, Gown Editor and PBP Activist, to report on the recent People Before Profit rally on the anniversary of Connolly’s execution.
May 12th marked the 100th anniversary of the death of James Connolly. In this year of centenary celebrations, we have all heard the name in some shape or form. From train stations, to public buildings, from flute bands to special edition 1916 chocolate bars, the name of Connolly is one which continues to ring in the ears of many political shades across Ireland. A lack of discussion and practice of Connolly’s ideas is what has allowed his name to be claimed by so many, and understood by so few.
Why James Connolly is understood by so few, however, is that the ruling class would rather brush his ideals under the carpet of history. Connolly’s face is to be remembered, his ideas not. Often remembered and celebrated for his role in inciting rebellion against British imperialism in Easter 1916, the life and work of Connolly is hastily forgotten in the red-faced embarrassment of the political establishment who dare to claim him as their own. It was Connolly’s role as a self-educated political agitator, a committed Marxist and a revolutionary socialist which produces this uncomfortable truth to the status-quo across the 32 counties of Ireland. As the rebel leader once said, “Our demands are most moderate – we only want the earth”. In 2016, this continues to be pursued, much to the discomfort of the establishment parties. Following the recent Assembly Election results, it could be argued that we are witnessing a revival of that demand.
Indeed, the possibilities of the future appeared to be vast for People Before Profit, who gathered in West Belfast’s Devenish complex last week as some faces familiar, more faces new filled the venue to celebrate a tremendous breakthrough in last week’s Assembly elections. Gerry Carroll secured a seat as an MLA by a comfortable margin with a poll-smashing 8,299 votes, ranking as the second highest poll-topper in the North under the DUP’s First Minister Arlene Foster. Veteran civil rights campaigner, writer and socialist activist Eamonn McCann was to take a seat in his native Foyle constituency. Two seats for socialists in Stormont was undoubtedly a historic victory for a party who have seemingly ‘outflanked’ their political opponents on the left , but the victory didn’t end there; 1300 votes for People Before Profit’s Fiona Ferguson was to firmly stamp the party’s debut in North Belfast – testament to the growing thirst for principled working-class politics in one of the most hotly contested and divided constituencies in the North.
This thirst was clear to see last week. Young people, inspired by the message that this country can change, queued to put their names down to join this new Irish left. Brian Kelly was to introduce the panel of Gerry Carroll MLA, Fiona Ferguson, Bernadette McAlliskey and Brid Smith TD. The blend of faces old and new, North and South were to encapsulate the view of People Before Profit – a 32 county movement vocal of struggles past and present. Southern TD Brid Smith told last night’s supporters that “there is nothing new about our politics”. Whilst the young faces of Gerry Carroll and Fiona Ferguson represent a new dawn, the presence of veteran socialist Bernadette McAlliskey and the victory of Eamonn McCann are reminders that PBP activists have committed themselves to protest old and new, from the campaigns of the civil rights movement and the barbarity of the H-Blocks, to the solidarity with Mountpellier workers and the right to water South of the Border.
Despite the rapturous applause and cheers across the room, the feelings of confidence were marked with the challenges of the future. As People Before Profit have secured a tremendous breakthrough, Brian Kelly reminded supporters that “our work has only just begun”. “To the marginalised, to those who feel they have no voice, to those fed up with the status quo, to those who want to make the change. We will help you. Set up a branch in your area, and we will stand with you”. Kelly’s comments were to set the tone of optimism of this evening, in which People Before Profit were to set its sights towards expansion, growth and future victory. “And to the DUP, we have a message. We are coming for your vote. We will continue to fight for the rights of workers across this sectarian divide – we are coming for your vote”.
The oratorical skills of Brid Smyth are well known in the Dail, and on the streets. Bernadette McAlliskey is also recognised as a political force to be reckoned with, a recognisable face of the civil rights battle and the fight for justice in Ireland. However, it was a speech by North Belfast’s Fiona Ferguson which was to strike a chord with many of the young activists that filled the Devenish. Reflective of the words of American LGBT activist Harvey Milk, Fiona was to open her speech with “My name is Fiona Ferguson, and I would like to recruit you. Not just as a member of People Before Profit, but as a recruit to an idea that we can build something new from the mess of politics which has been created here”. Indeed, People Before Profit do not argue that a vote for them will bring the change so many hunger for. “This is the unique thing about People Before Profit. We don’t believe a vote for us will bring the change that we need. But it will give us the platform we need to expose injustice and corruption, and to raise people’s confidence that we can fight back ourselves”.
It is perhaps the principled integrity and the youthful energy of People Before Profit that puts so much wind in its sails. To any person of the left believing of the idea of a fresh kind of politics organised across the 32 counties of Ireland, which fights for the interests of the 99% in society, which calls for the equality of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and the women’s right to chose, which stands as a voice to the marginalised, the historic breakthrough of People Before Profit should be embraced as a welcome development. Our comrades on the left, however, should not grow complacent in victory. As James Connolly once said, “The election of a Socialist to any public body at present is only valuable in so far as it is the return of a disturber of the political peace”. It is this basic idea People Before Profit pledges to stand by as it offers an alternative to the stale, tribal austerity politics offered by the establishment.
As a People Before Profit activist, I would encourage all socialists across the manufactured divide to join this movement, and to become part of the voice which will dismantle it. Join your nearest branch, and become part of the changing conversation in the politics of this island. Stormont is a failed institution, which will not bring about the drastic overhaul of society we so desperately need. But People Before Profit pledge to use this failed institution as a viable platform to shout for the interests of the working-class, the marginalised, and the forgotten.