Sunningdale, The UWC Strike and their legacies. 23rd May 2014, PRONI.

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The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland
Friday, 23 May 2014 9am – 4pm
The 40th anniversary of the establishment of the first power-sharing executive is an opportunity to reflect on the nature of democratic practice in Northern Ireland. This one-day conference is open to the public and aims to explore not only the reasons for the sudden demise of the ‘Sunningdale Assembly’ during the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike but also the divided legacies that that demise bestowed on Northern Irish politics.

The questions that surround the Sunningdale power-sharing experiment continue to resonate within Northern Ireland today:
- Democracy has widened, but to what extent has it deepened?
- In what ways and in what areas are people’s voices not being heard?
- How can political disenchantment, apathy and differing views on democratic legitimacy be managed?
- What do we, as a society, do about groups who feel alienated from mainstream politics?
- What are the reasons behind the resilience of violent factions?
This unique event will bring together historians, journalists, commentators, eyewitnesses to the executive, archivists and political scientists to address these and other issues relating to the long struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland. It aims to assess the lessons of the Sunningdale failure and asks how they apply to contemporary Northern Ireland.
Speakers include Professor Arthur Aughey;  Dr Sarah Campbell; Dr Jude Collins; Dr Anthony Craig; Dr Aaron Edwards; Dr Gordon Gillespie; Professor Thomas Hennessey; Mr David Huddleston; Mr Alex Kane; Dr Brendan Lynn; and Dr Malachi O’Doherty.
Hosted and sponsored by:
The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland
The Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, University of Ulster
The Political Studies Association, Irish Specialist Group
All members of the public are very welcome to attend.
Admission is FREE, but booking is essential.
Please contact PRONI to reserve your place. E: proni@dcalni.gov.uk Tel: 02890 534800

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  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    I could have sworn from memory of the time it was this day[14th May] the strike began. Incredibly we were able to work through the first week before the site I was on as an apprentice in Ballymena had to close. It became the Dunclug estate.

  • Harry Flashman

    “- How can political disenchantment, apathy and differing views on democratic legitimacy be managed?
    - What do we, as a society, do about groups who feel alienated from mainstream politics?”

    Leaving aside the paramilitary intimidation (and I do appreciate that is ignoring an 800lb gorilla on the sofa) wasn’t the downfall of Sunningdale a victory for democracy?

    The “groups alienated from mainstream polictics” in 1974 were the governments in London and Dublin and the men sitting in Stormont who were largely alienated from what the people actually wanted.

  • carl marks

    Harry Flashman
    “Leaving aside the paramilitary intimidation (and I do appreciate that is ignoring an 800lb gorilla on the sofa) wasn’t the downfall of Sunningdale a victory for democracy?”
    Like you say ignoring the paramilitary input is hard indeed I would say it was impossible, and Harry I (no matter how hard I try) I can’t see the downfall of Sunningdale as a victory for democracy.
    How does massive intimidation, road blocks, and forced closure of workplaces, be claimed as a victory for democracy.
    This was a example of the traditional unionist reflex of bringing thugs onto the streets to get what they want.
    It was the tactic used to form this failed state , in 1969 it was used against the civil rights march we seen it attempted at Drumcree and more recently Holy Cross, and OO marches’ with it latest manifestation being the Fleggers.
    How can Bully Boy tactics be a victory for anything else but Bully Boys!

  • Mc Slaggart

    I am left with the impression this was a “Samson” moment in which Unionism was left with impression that destroying there own place made them stronger. A cultural Dysmorphic Disorder has meant that every so often they destroy a little more that which they love.

  • Greenflag

    “wasn’t the downfall of Sunningdale a victory for democracy?’

    Harry Flashman

    In retro the downfall of Sunningdale has turned out to have been a victory for Irish Republicanism quite the opposite of what the UWC and their political backers at the time intended .

    Had Sunningdle survived the SDLP would have retained the votes of most Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland and would have remained in voluntary coalition with the Brian Faulkner’s Unionist Party .

    There would have been no hunger strikers and SF as a political party would not have achieved the political importance it has .

    The political and moral decline as well as longer term viabiliity of political unionism in Northern Ireland can be seen to have originated in modern times anyway (post 1920) with the failure of Sunningdale .Subsequent suspensions of Stormont and the generation long political wilderness years of Molyneux’s failed integration strategy just added to the failing credibility of political unionism to be seen as anything other than a backward reactionary anti democratic ideology .

    The attempts by small unionist side groups such as NI21 and the AP to stem the decline have as yet had little impact on reversing the decline . The coming local and European election will be interesting as a gauge to monitor the changing demographics impact on voting .

    A low turnout which seems likely will just muddy the waters for another few years until the next General Election when the changes should be seen ore clearly at least in their impact on the Assembly .

    Where is the UWC in 2014 ? Where are the industries ? Where is the Protestant working and middle class ?

    On Twaddel Avenue playing with flags ?

  • Mike the First

    Greenflag

    I’m struggling to discern any real meaning in your last two paragraphs. Are you suggesting for example that the Protestant Middle class has disappeared?

    Also, could you elaborate on why you think the survival of Sunningdale would have prevented the hunger strikes?

  • Harry Flashman

    Carl, the violence and intimidation associated with the strike was exactly comparable to the sort of violence and intimidation associated with industrial disputes in Britain in the 1970s, indeed for the previous century or more. Try going to work in a Welsh coal village in the 1970s during a strike and see what happened to you and your home later.

    The opponents of Sunningdale clearly had an overwhelming democratic mandate, the UUUC swept the board in the February 1974 election, winning 11 out of 12 seats thus proving that whatever else they might have been the men sitting in Stormont did not represent the democratic wishes of the majority of people of Northern Ireland.

    Now you and I, as nice middle-class liberals who know so much better how to govern society than the peasants, might tut-tut this but that ain’t how democracy works and as many a government before has discovered, when you ignore the will of the people and continue to try to impose a system of government rejected by the people, the people take to the streets.

    It ain’t pretty, but that’s the way it works.

  • aquifer

    The British government failed to face down the protestant paramilitaries so Sinn Fein are in government.

    Sinn Fein needs mindless reactionary unionism to prosper.

  • carl marks

    Harry Flashman

    Carl, the violence and intimidation associated with the strike was exactly comparable to the sort of violence and intimidation associated with industrial disputes in Britain in the 1970s, indeed for the previous century or more. Try going to work in a Welsh coal village in the 1970s during a strike and see what happened to you and your home later.
    So the miners’ union run death squads ,burnt people of their homes, had thugs closing down workplaces, and
    built barricades across main roads, would love to see the proof of that one.
    There is no comparison between the UWC lock out (since tens of thousands of people, myself included were not on strike but stopped getting to our work by masked thugs) and industrial disputes if memory serves the parties who tried to work Sunningdale were elected in open elections, who elected the UDA,UVF, and Vanguard.

  • Greenflag

    ‘@ M First,

    “Are you suggesting for example that the Protestant Middle class has disappeared”

    No the reference was to their current political situation .The NI Protestant ‘middle class’ just like it’s NI Catholic or British or USA or Irish Republic or German/Scottish /French /Italian equivalent is subject to the same worldwide economic forces-ditto for the working class .

    The ‘disappearance ‘ of the German middle class in the 1930′s helped bring about the rise of national socialism .The ‘success ‘ of the Russian Tsars in preventing /reducing the political emergence of the then Russian middle class led to the Communist Revolution . Both totalitarianism’s arose because of the ‘failure ‘ of the ‘establishments ‘ in both countries and their competitor neighbouring countries to resolve then financial and social crises in their countries .

    Not unlike today in the UK, USA , and other major and minor countries where the rich get richer while the middle is squeezed to political impotence and the have nots are either jailed , ignored or forgotten .

    . .When the banks are too big to fail and too big to jail then logic would dictate that responsible political leaders of any and ALL political parties never mind Governments in power would propose to break them up into smaller less big institutions to ensure that they cannot drive what’s left of western democracy to right or left wing totalitarian extremes .

    The German centre establishment had no credibility in the 1930′s which is one reason the Germans ended up with the nazis to both their own and the world’s cost in the loss of 55 million lives .

    The current loss of credibility of the establishment in the west is leading to a rise in alternatives whether it be UKIP in the UK or SF in Ireland or Alternative Deutschland or the rise of fascism and racism in parts of eastern europe etc.

    What we call capitalism had more of a social conscience when Communist parties were getting 30 to 40 % of votes in Italy and France and when Berlin was surrounded by the DDR .

    Or so it seems in retro .Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere for those who believed history was at an end when the former USSR imploded ?

  • Greenflag

    @ aquifer ,

    ‘Sinn Fein needs mindless reactionary unionism to prosper.’

    Not any more . SF needed mindless reactionary unionism plus obdurate Thatcherism to get off the ground and become a major political force in NI . Whether it achieves a similar status in the Republic is now less problematical than it would have been a decade ago .

    To further prosper in NI it requires only ‘mindless ‘ unionism of which there is no dearth in supply be it from political party or paramilitary or institutional sources e.g the OO in it’s less sane utterings from ‘spokesperons ‘ :(

    To further prosper in the Republic it needs FF and FG to coalesce following the decapitation of the Irish Labour Party at the next general election . .

  • Greenflag

    M the First

    ‘could you elaborate on why you think the survival of Sunningdale would have prevented the hunger strikes?’

    By 1974 the worst of the violence was over or people were ready for politics to be given a chance . Sunningdale was that chance and had it survived SF would never have gained the political traction they did following what was seen as SDLP ‘impotence ‘ in the face of both Unionist reactionary politics and the later Thatcherite ‘indifference ‘ and unthinking response to the hunger strikes.

    Anyway it’s now Sunningdale for slow learners or as it’s better known ‘ mandatory power sharing ‘ for all .

    I’m reminded of an old Soviet era joke re revolutions which I’ve no time to relate just now -will do so later .

  • Harry Flashman

    To assist you in your rose-tinted view of British strikes Carl I have provided a few links to events that involved mass violence, intimidation and murder of workers who tried to break strikes or like you simply wanted to go about their business, were I interested enough I dare say I could find a lot more.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/23/newsid_2943000/2943084.stm

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/margaret-thatcher/10608896/The-Battle-of-Orgreave-how-events-unfolded.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_David_Wilkie

    https://sites.google.com/site/saltleygate/images-of-saltley-gate

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grunwick_dispute

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/15/newsid_3455000/3455083.stm

    The February 1974 election showed the democratic will of the people regarding the Sunningdale Agreement.

    You don’t like democracy, I get that.

  • carl marks

    Harry
    Don’t know about the rose tinted view thing, more a sense of proportion.
    A series of isolated events with no evidence of coordination (beyond the odd hysterical right wing claim)with perhaps a few ultra-lefties plotting if that, compared to bringing thousands or masked paramilitary’s onto the streets in an organised manner, resulting in deaths ,house burning ,mass intimidation cutting of power supplies, stopping people from shopping, stopping food and fuel from reaching retailers and in general bring the state to a standstill, are two different things as I said its called having a sense of proportion.
    Now regardless of the results of the next election, setting out to overthrow a government that has been elected into power is called rebellion, or at least it is when the Irish do it.
    Maybe it’s called something else when unionists do it.
    Interesting that none of PUL posters seem to be interested in commenting on this, could that be something to do their discomfort at those politicians who they voted to lead them for many years after (wasn’t the leadership and future leadership of the DUP there) were some of the ones who along with terrorists plotted to overthrow the state and brought all this to pass. Sort of clashes with the whole holier than thou thing that comes out when they bring up the shinners past.

  • carl marks

    Harry
    This bit was funny.
    “You don’t like democracy, I get that.”
    So I suggest you go on to Google enter democracy and you will get a lot hits they will have the words, election, votes, representatives (MP’s, MEP’s, MLA’s etc.) other things like ballot boxes and polling booths.
    IT WILL NOT have words like Balaclavas, murder, intimidation etc. these in most of the world are considered undemocratic in a state which has free and fair elections ,which this place had by then!
    I like democracy fine but seem to have some very strange ideas of what it actually means.

  • carl marks

    sorry the last line should of course be.

    I like democracy fine but you seem to have some very strange ideas of what it actually means.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Here’s part of my story and I wonder how typical it is.
    Day 1: Getting ready for work and at around 7:30 the doorbell rings. I open the door to a stranger who says “We’ve got intelligence (yes, really) that a gang of armed IRA men have just left Ballymurphy and are on the way here to shoot up our estate and “we” need all able bodied men down to the estate entrances to stop them. I lived in a housing executive estate in Bangor. I asked him how we were going to stop them and he said not to worry about that. I left the estate to go to work about 8:15 and there were a half dozen or so men hanging around the exit, none of whom I knew.
    I happened to be working in the area supervising a squad of labourers, about 10 men and when I arrived at the outdoor site, all of them were working away (they started at 8:00).

    Day2: Now around a dozen strangers at the estate entrance. I was stopped and asked where I was going. When I said to work, a show was made of taking my car number plate but I was allowed to leave. Men still working away. At about 3:30, the foreman approached and said that while I was away (I had other jobs to supervise) a car with 4 men had arrived and “advised” the men not to work any more. I called all of the workers together and told them what I had heard and that I had indoor work for them the next day and told them where to report.

    Day 3: Most of the men turned up at the indoor site and worked all day.

    Day 4: Men still working away indoor. After lunch, voices, mainly female, started shouting from outside that “We know you are in there, Davy, Sammy, etc and we know where you live”. The foreman said that the men wanted a meeting. I told them that those who were afraid could not come the next day and, although they would not get paid, there would be no other consequences.

    Day 5: Only the foreman and one other man turned up for work and I found meaningful work for them. They continued to report until the “strike” ended.

  • Harry Flashman

    Carl, read a little about the history of trade union militancy in Britain in the century or so prior to 1990, you will read countless stories of intimidation, physical violence, road blocks, people forbidden by well-organized gangs from going about their daily work, threats, murder, property damage, power cuts etc. etc. The terms “scab” and “blackleg” were not terms of endearment and the families and property of such people didn’t last long in a mining village.

    Even better read about coal strikes in the US and discover the wondrous world of the Molly Maguires (themselves from our native land) and how they organized strikes, makes for painful reading. Look at strikes and industrial disputes in Europe and around the world and you will see worse, much worse violence and intimidation.

    Norn Iron really isn’t the exceptionally evil place you perceive it to be, and the threats and intimidation in 1974 whilst disgusting were no worse than the threats and intimidation (with accompanying power cuts) in the 1973 miners’ strike on which the Labour Party rode to victory over Edward Heath.

    As regards democracy, I say again the people gave their very clear and unequivocal opinion of the Sunningdale Agreement in the February 1974 election, if you have evidence that the opponents of Sunningdale were an irrelevant minority and that the vast majority of Northern Ireland voters were behind the Sunningdale Agreement, feel free to post it.

  • carl marks

    HF

    Firstly you are the only one here who thinks I am unaware of the history of the trade union movement; I refer you again to the phrase I used which was “A Sense of proportion”
    Secondly I have no evidence of the type you ask for! But you see when (in a democracy) the majority of people do not support a government they have a weapon called an election, as you pointed out there was one not long after the lockout with the results you referred to (among unionists at least) but the UWC action was undemocratic .
    Terror tactics and civil disorder are never democratic, in places like the old South Africa where the state used widespread violence and terror nor did they allow a free vote then perhaps violence is the only way to change thing that need changing, but while NI was far from perfect by 1974 the ballot box was and is still the device democrats use to change things.
    Now this not about your dislike of the trade union movement and I don’t see how it is relevant.

  • mjh

    In a country, or a part of a country, which has freedom of speech; secret ballots; and regular, free and fairly conducted elections, any attempt to bring down the government by any means other than in an election is ALWAYS anti-democratic. Full stop. No “ifs”. No “buts”.

    By that standard the UWC strike would have been an anti-democratic action even if there had been no fear, intimidation, physical force or violence.

    The February 1973 Westminster Election did not give a mandate to the UWC to subvert democracy. The subsequent Stormont Election was the only legitimate democratic vehicle for removing the Northern Ireland Government. In choosing not to take that course the UWC leadership, and those politicians who backed them, showed very clearly what they thought of democracy, and the contempt they held for the democratic process.

  • Harry Flashman

    Such sanctimonious claptrap!

    Who knew there were so many Daily Mail readers on this thread?

    Violent protest action on the streets has a long and well-established position in democratic societies when governments refuse to listen to the people.

    From the Battle of Cable Street to the Battle of the Bogside, from Notting Hill to Brixton, from the Miners’ Strike to the Poll Tax riots, the British have always reserved the right to kick back when they feel their wishes are being over-ridden by the government.

    The threat of the people taking to the streets is what keeps democratic societies democratic, it’s what marks democracies apart from dictatorships where the people are cowed by the government’s forces.

    Indeed those who wished to ignore the will of the people where those who called on the Labour Party to break the strike at the point of British Army bayonets. Harold Wilson was no fool however, he knew that once you gave the British Army the taste for breaking politically motivated strikes they might get a fondness for it and try it out a bit closer to home next time.

    The riots against corruption and austerity in the Ukraine, Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, Greece and half a dozen other countries are conducted in democracies with free presses, the rioters wear balaclavas, does that make them some sort of fascists? Or does that kind of insult only apply when the Prods get uppity and demand the government respect their democratic wishes?

    You can polish the Sunningdale turd up any which way you like but the people of Northern Ireland through a free and fair ballot overwhelmingly rejected a deal that they had no say in drawing up.

    Democracy doesn’t stop being democracy just because you don’t like the way the plebs vote.

  • mjh

    If you don’t agree with what I wrote try skipping the insults and concentrate on contesting the argument. In what way was it faulty?

    In a democracy, you cannot call yourself a democrat and at the same time support the attempted overthrow of the government by any means other than the vote. Just as you cannot call yourself a vegetarian and eat meat, or a teetotaller and drink whisky. It’s simply self-contradictory.

    Of course it is not anti-democratic to hold demonstrations and protests. Indeed demonstrations are a healthy part of a democracy. Even riots – for all that they may be destructive and against the law – are not normally anti-democratic since they are rarely a serious attempt to remove an elected government.

    What is anti-democratic is to set out to force a democratically elected government out of office by preventing society from functioning.

    Few of the examples you gave fall into that category. Thailand, yes – where a royal court and a privileged elite have conspired with certain opposition politicians to stop the government from functioning and to subvert an election they did not have sufficient votes to win. Those anti-democrats hate a government which is improving the living standards of the poorest parts of the country. They may yet precipitate a civil war.

    The other was the Ukraine. Going well that one isn’t it? Shows what happens when one group of people assume the right to forgo the electoral route to government change. You open the door to any other group which feels they too have no need to play by the democratic rules.

    Must go now. The Daily Mail beckons and then I have some turd polishing which I can put off no longer.

  • Kevsterino

    Making an exception for political violence when those so engaged agree with you and condemning it when those so engaged disagree with you isn’t democracy as I understand it, Harry.

    I’m not going to use harsh words to describe it. But the circumstances of that strike illustrated to the outside world just how superficial the Ulster people’s commitment to democracy actually was.

    A more contemporary example of the same phenomenon can be observed on Twaddel Avenue.

  • Harry Flashman

    The power-sharing administration based on the Sunningdale agreement had no democratic mandate, as, unlike the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the deal was never put before the people to vote on.

    So there goes your so-called democratic government out the window on its first attempt.

    However when there was a vote, the February 1974 general election, the parties who opposed the deal swept the boards, as they did again in the second election of 1974 after the UWC strike.

    Now I’m desperately scratching my head to see how imposing a form of government on a people who vehemently reject it counts as democracy but, no, hey I just can’t see it. Usually in democracies election results are respected and unpopular governments are removed.

    So, what do you do when the government rejects the democratic will of the people? Well apparently in any other society taking to the streets to overthrow the undemocratic, imposed government is regarded as a good thing. You know like when nationalists took extra-parliamentary action, often violent, to change the “democratically elected” system of government of Northern Ireland prior to 1972.

    But those rules don’t apply to the Prods, they don’t count, if London and Dublin want to impose an unwanted form of government on them that’s just tough titty and if they go on to the streets and strike to remove the unwanted government, they’re fascists.

    Coz Prods are the big baddies, normal rules don’t apply to them.

  • mjh

    Harry

    My first paragraph read “In a country, or a part of a country, which has freedom of speech; secret ballots; and regular, free and fairly conducted elections, any attempt to bring down the government by any means other than in an election is ALWAYS anti-democratic. Full stop. No “ifs”. No “buts”.”

    I don’t think I could put my point more plainly.

    So where your three paragraphs about supposed different standards for nationalist violence and for “Prods” who “don’t count” and to whom “normal rules don’t apply” is completely beyond me.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Carl
    I’m very happy to comment on it. This was not one of unionism proudest moments. I was a lad of 15 when the strike took place and probably supported it. Looking back on it as a middle aged man, I can say that I am totally embarrassed by it. The people who organised and participated in it should hang their heads in shame.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Aquifier[6.43] Isn’t it fascinating that this week is the 40th anniversary of that great victory for the UDA/Unionism but not only are the unionist parties shy of celebrating their defeat of British govt attempts to get them to share power with the SDLP, but the BBC and UTV are also unwilling to remind their viewers of the blackmail of 1974 by unionists of their own government. Loyalty is a poor currency for unionism. Norn Iron has a broadcast media in 2014 which is truly cowardly.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    Harry,

    A couple of observations. One person’s democratic state(let) is another person’s gerrymandered place with the intent of ensuring one section of a divided population had a permanent majority. Look at how well that turned out. As Mallon (?) said, the GFA was Sunningdale for slow learners.
    The second observation is about Ukraine. There, street demonstrations and the threat of violence led to the downfall of a democratically elected, though allegedly corrupt, government. How well has that turned out? Like Ireland before it, Ukraine is likely to end up as a partitioned state.

  • Kevsterino

    Here’s the democratic part: “However when there was a vote, the February 1974 general election, the parties who opposed the deal swept the boards, as they did again in the second election of 1974 after the UWC strike.”

    The strike was not necessary to eliminate Sunningdale. The violence was not necessary to eliminate Sunningdale. The strike and the violence achieved nothing that would not have happened without them, in the same time frame, too. It was as if the UDA and other leaders were afraid it might work or something.

    So it goes…

  • Greenflag

    ‘It was as if the UDA and other leaders were afraid it might work or something.’

    Well said Kevsterino – Alas that element still exists within the TUV and others who would rather not have the GFA .What they would replace it with is anybody’s nightmare :(

    @ Alan /Ards ,

    ‘ Looking back on it as a middle aged man, I can say that I am totally embarrassed by it.”

    Back then it was par for the course – Official and paramilitary ‘unionism ‘ felt confident and arrogant enough to deal with Irish people /nationalists /republicans or non political catholics or protestants any way they wanted to and knew they would not be touched by the powers that were .

    Things have changed since then .

    ‘The people who organised and participated in it should hang their heads in shame’

    Hang their heads in ‘stupidity ‘ would be more like it . They ended up with the political result they were least likely to desire i.e a mandatory power sharing NI with SF instead of the SDLP

    Karma again ? What will it bring next ?