‘Big House’ attitude scorns the workers

By Staff Reporter

The different approach of nationalists and unionists to the public service workers’ strike yesterday reveals that the political divisions in our land go way beyond Orange and Green.

In fact, the attitude of unionist MLAs who swanned past striking workers isn’t unlike that of the industrial overlords of Belfast who, 100 years ago, would similarly have frowned upon the mill and shipyard hands protesting for a better deal.

The Big House unionist mindset then and now is unchanged: master knows what’s best for the working man and woman.

Conversely, nationalist politicians have been at one in respecting the dignity of the strikers and refusing point-blank to breach the picket lines.

The dichotomy between nationalist and unionist on the rights of workers may not have been surprising a century ago. After all, back then, Big House unionism did have (or at least thought that it had) privilege to defend.

Today, however, what exactly are the representatives of East Belfast or the Shankill – who declared it should be business as usual at Stormont despite the strike action – defending?

The last time we looked, there were as many people on the dole in Tiger’s Bay as in Twinbrook. Ditto the levels of poverty, ill-health and economic inactivity.

In short, the unionist MLAs who join British Secretary of State Owen Patterson in chiding strikers at the gates of Stormont are most certainly not acting in the interests of their constituents.

As with their absurd stance in favour of academic selection at age 11 – a policy which has made educational wastelands of inner-city loyalist neighbourhods – the politicians who represent unionist communities don’t in fact represent them at all.

Over recent years, we have had regular reports of unionists seeking out the advice centres of Sinn Féin and the SDLP for assistance with bread-and-butter issues.

The hope must be that the spectacle of unionist politicians opposing the striking public service workers will push more unionists to vote across community lines as well.

Perhaps then we will have the integration of our communities which Peter Robinson of the DUP talked about at the weekend – only it will involve unionists plumping for nationalist parties rather than the other way round.

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