Created on Saturday, 18 August 2012 16:33 Written by Tony Healy
As unemployment rises once more in the North and in the aftermath of the marching season, it is clear that none of the social and economic issues have been solved.
Unemployment rates in the North have risen once more, over the last quarter, to 66,000 people, which represents 7.6% of the working population. Against a figure of 14.8% in the twenty six counties the figure seems quite low. But the figure hides the fact that during the same period in 2008 unemployment in the North was only 4.2%. In 2008 Department for Education and Learning statistics indicated that there were 100,000 deemed to be economically inactive because of sickness or disability. According to the latest figures released by the Department for Enterprise Trade and Industry; 27% of the 555,000 “Economically Inactive” were sick or disabled. This equates to 149,500 an increase of 49,500.
So unemployment has almost doubled and there has been a 49.5% increase in the numbers reported as sick or disabled and not working. This is a clear indication that the economic situation in the North has deteriorated. Among the youth the situation is far worse, with 22.3% unemployed, thousands of young people have been thrown onto the scrapheap. According to the same Department, there were 12.3% of the working population in Manufacturing. This represents 97,000 people. So there are 50% more people in the North registered as being on the sick than there are making things in factories. For every 3 workers in industry, there are 2 on the dole. The economic heart of the North has been ripped out over the last few decades.
British Imperialism considered the North to be a strategically important industrial centre in the past. Now the Northern Economy is dominated by the Service Sector and by the Public Sector. For a period of time, the impact of the world economic crisis was dampened down in the North because of the size of the public sector, but this is being undermined by the Con Dem Government’s austerity. The cuts in the North are estimated to result over time in 48,000 job losses. No surprise then that the opposition to the austerity has been solid in the North among the public sector workers.
The prospects for the Northern Economy are grim. The Tories will make sure of that. But the role of the Sinn Féin and the DUP has been merely to carry out the wishes of the London Treasury. There were SF banners on the big demonstrations against cuts in Public Sector pensions. We have explained on a number of occasions that the Stormont Assembly is politically a dead end. The Legislative Assembly has no power to solve any of the problems in the North. It only serves to permanently entrench sectarian divisions. But the main parties in the Assembly will come under increasing pressure to solve the economic problems faced by working people in both communities.
The social and political impasse in the North over the 14 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed resulted in SF and the DUP gaining support at the cost of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists. But the North does not exist in a vacuum. The crisis in the European and world economy is driving the austerity programme. Across the whole of Europe the austerity programmes have undermined each of the existing governments. Neither the SF leadership nor the DUP have any solutions to the crisis. The austerity measures will only make the situation more difficult for the dominant parties over time.
None of the contradictions within the North have been overcome. If anything they have grown. The PSNI is little different to the RUC and the Sinn Féin leadership have compromised themselves over the visit of the British Queen. The sectarian carnival of the Orange Parades continues to generate fierce opposition from the Catholic youth. Combined with mass unemployment this can only erode support for SF in particular. No wonder then that SF are so anxious to attack any political opposition within the working class catholic areas, as witnessed by the recent events in Ardoyne.
The Catholic youth are still most badly affected by the unemployment. Without a way out of the crisis it is most likely that individuals will be drawn toward the newly merged republican armed groups. The experience of the last 40 years however, is that the armed struggle will not succeed. As such the appeal of the armed groups will be limited. It is more likely that internal divisions within Sinn Féin will develop. There is a big division between what SF claims to stand for and what it delivers. Already there has been a trickle of defections to éirígí.
For Marxists there are no short cuts. The only solution to the problems of the North lies in the struggle of the working class against austerity and capitalism. The task of Marxism must be to build a militant socialist alternative within the trade union movement and among the youth. As Connolly explained the national liberation of Ireland cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism.