My review of “Struggle or Starve, Working Class Unity in Belfast’s 1932 Outdoor Relief Riots” by Sean Mitchell

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“Struggle or Starve” could be an epithet for  UK in 2017  as the government pursues its policy of persecuting the poor. In this new book Sean Mitchell, socialist and founder of Ireland’s People before Profit Party,   reminds us  of an important part of Belfast history when Protestants and Catholics united to oppose a draconian Poor Law. It’s more than just a history book,  as  Sean shows  us that the conditions of the poor in Belfast in the 1930s had a direct relationship with the creation of the  Northern Ireland state in 1920,  and its continued existence today.

Northern Ireland was created as a one party state to enshrine  Protestant hegemony. But as the economic depression took hold after 1929 the position of both Catholics and Protestant workers reached a catastrophic condition of  poverty and hunger. Unlike in  Britain and over the border in the south of Ireland,  the 1834 Poor Law was never repealed in Northern Ireland. Unemployment reached 40% in 1932:  tens of thousands faced starvation. The Poor Law system failed to address the scale of the crisis, while  the Protestant government did not care.

Out of this crisis a small group of communists called the Revolutionary Communist Group seized the moment. Mitchell vividly brings to life this fantastic story of how individuals such as Tommy Geehan led a campaign of mass demonstrations, sit-ins in workhouse,  and strikes,  culminating in two days of rioting in 1932. The motto of the campaign was; “No surrender to poverty, misery and destitution.”

out-door-relief-2 march

Outdoor Relief Workers March

Geehan and his comrades had also to combat  prejudice between Protestant and Catholic workers. But he was able to  show  that these workers had more in common with each other than the Protestant upper classes who ran the statelet.

After two days of rioting the government gave in and doubled the rate of poor relief and modified the Means Test. The lessons of 1932 went o nto to influence other workers such as railway workers, mainly Protestant,  who sought solidarity with their southern Catholic  comrades in a strike in 1933.

Struggle or Starve is not just a book about a very important struggle of 1932. Mitchell demonstrates  how the rottenness of the Northern Ireland state dominates workers’ lives and futures on the island of Ireland in 2017. This well-written and captivating history of 1932 is an important step in showing people that people in Northern Ireland have more to gain from a united class struggle than sectarianism.

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. I am a member of the Manchester and Salford National Union of Journalists.If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, human rights, Ireland, labour history, North of Ireland, Uncategorized, working class history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My review of “Struggle or Starve, Working Class Unity in Belfast’s 1932 Outdoor Relief Riots” by Sean Mitchell

  1. Eleanor keenan says:

    My grandfather was william boyd from sailortown who was arrested for being one of the leaders ut was the day my mother was born

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