Tuesday, 29 March 2016

James Connolly statue and the trade unions

Caral Ni Chuilin, Brian Campfield, Terry O'Sullivan, Patricia McKeown & Brian Connolly Heron
An Phoblacht (Saturday 26 March 2016) carried a report of the unveiling of a James Connolly statue in front of Falls Community Council in West Belfast.

The headline over the short report was 'Irish and US trade union leaders unveil new statue to James Connolly in Belfast.'

The first paragraph of the report set the statue and the unveiling in context: 'A new statue of James Connolly was unveiled on Belfast's Falls road on Good Friday 25 March as part of Belfast's programme of events marking the centenary of the Easter Rising.  So it is clear that the statue and the unveiling were commemorative of James Connolly's role in the republican 1916 Easter insurrection in Dublin.

An Phoblacht also reported that: 'The unveiling was carried out by James Connolly Heron (great-grandson of James Connolly), Sinn Fein Arts & Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, US trade union leader Terry O'Sullivan (General President of LINUA, the Laborers' International Union of North America, which represents half a million workers in the USA and Canada) and senior Irish trade union figures Patricia McKeown and Brian Campfield.'

The unveiling was chaired by Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh and in the course of a short youtube clip of the event he can be heard describing Patricia McKeown as 'head of Unison here in the North'.  In fact she is the Regional Secretary of Unison and clearly she took part in that capacity.  The introduction by Councillor Jim McVeigh and the wording of the An Phoblacht report both confirm that Patricia McKeown was there as a senior trade unionist and a senior figure in Unison.

Now Unison claims to have 40,000 members in Northern Ireland, and like most trade unions in Northern Ireland its membership will include both unionists and nationalists.  Yet Patricia McKeown is confident enough of her position to represent the union at an event which was part of an Easter rising programme.  What regard or respect does that show for trade union members who are not Irish nationalists or republicans?

The other 'senior Irish trade union figure' was Brian Campfield, who is now president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.  He was formerly General Secretary of NIPSA from 2010 to 2015 and is reported to be a leading member of the Communist Party of Ireland.

The participation of Brian Campfield and Patricia McKeown in this element of Belfast's Easter Rising centenary programme illustrates the dominant political ethos within the trade union movement.

Of course we shouldn't be surprised.  Fifty years ago the secretary of the Belfast Trades Council, Betty Sinclair, who was also a Moscow-trained Communist, took part in an Easter Rising parade up the Falls Road.

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