Only a short while ago it seemed very unlikely that the new coalition government in Northern Ireland would be set up. Now the question is, can it survive? Pressure from the British state, backed by the European Union and the USA, and also from below, from a majority desiring peace has been strong enough to get it this far.
David Trimble had to give a pledge to the Ulster Unionist Council that he will resign in February if Provisional IRA decommissioning has not started.
If the IRA does not decommission - and that remains a serious possibility - then Trimble may lose so much Protestant support that the Unionist pillar of the Good Friday Agreement will collapse and the Executive will be unable to continue. But if the IRA does make sufficient gestures of "decommissioning" by February, and the coalition holds, then conditions for working-class politics in Northern Ireland are potentially much better than in the midst of a bombs-and-bullets Orange-Green war - so long as socialists can keep firmly in mind the central facts about the coalition government and the Good Friday Agreement under which it has been set up.
If working-class politics revives, it will not be through the coalition government, but in class struggle on the whole range of social and political issues against it and against the bourgeois parties which sustain it - Orange and Green, and Sinn Fein as much as Trimble's Unionists.
Appeals, in the name of peace and communal compromise, not to trouble or embarrass the power-sharing government will be used to suppress class politics.
The new political structures in which everything is weighed and measured in communal terms will exert great pressure on workers not to break from "their own" political tribe and thereby give "the others" an advantage.
Pressure against cross-community class unity is a major consequence of the way that the Northern Ireland politics is structured under the Agreement. The advocacy of workers'-unity politics by socialists is more important than ever.
Working-class activity on social issues can generate working-class politics capable of reshaping society only if it is tied to a program of consistent democracy on the national and communal questions around which Catholic and Protestant workers can unite, each recognising the others' rights. The Good Friday Agreement flatly contradicts the democratic program of working-class socialists for Ireland - full individual rights, the maximum of self-determination for each community compatible with the rights of the others, a federal united Ireland with regional autonomy for the Protestants, a confederal link with Britain.
The Agreement tries to bury the basic question of two conflicting identities under a structure of balanced and weighted bureaucratic sectarianism, coupled with a highly explosive long-term pledge. It proposes to decide the question of a united Ireland by majority vote within Northern Ireland. This proviso leaves the Northern Ireland Catholic minority entrapped for now; and it cancels out the right to autonomy of the Protestants when demographic change makes them a minority in the Six Counties, as nationalist and Republican politicians expect it will. When that happens, the issues that the bourgeois politicians now hope to have buried will come back to disabuse them.
Only if working-class socialists maintain their political independence, and the clear counterposition of their program to all the bourgeois alternatives on offer, can working-class unity be built on such peace as we may hope for from the power-sharing deal.
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