The question of when a right should be defended and fought for should surely depend upon whether that right is in the interests of the majority of the people -the working class -- or whether it serves the interests of the ruling capitalist class who exploit and oppress that majority.
The demand of the Orange Order in the north of Ireland to be allowed to exercise its traditional right to march, even in nationalist neighbourhoods, should be considered in this context. Who's interest does this demand serve?
It is clearly not in the interests of peace since street violence has erupted in a number of places, carried out by loyalists using the parades issue and the Drumcree stand-off to undermine the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. This has had the effect of bringing more British soldiers into the north of Ireland and onto the streets.
Nor is it in the interests of the majority of the people who just a few weeks ago voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Agreement and who want the peace process to succeed.
The class interests are less obvious because many loyalists and supporters of the Orange Order are themselves members of the working class and, like the nationalist community, are exploited by British imperialism.
It is a measure and a legacy of the guile and cynicism of British colonial rule over the years that Ireland as a country and the working class In the occupied north have been so successfully divided for so long.
As in other parts of the world where British colonial rule held sway, the people were subjected to a divide-and-rule policy -- in the case of Ireland the colonialists used religion for this purpose.
From the colonialist's point of view, differences in themselves are not enough -- the division of the working class also requires unequal treatment. In the north of Ireland inequality and injustice have flourished. The Catholic minority in the occupied north of Ireland were, and still are, the unfavoured community -- the second class citizens.
No one would argue that Protestant workers in the north of Ireland are well-off -- they are after all victims of capitalist exploitation too. But there are still sharp economic differences between the two communities. For instance the level of unemployment is considerably higher among the Catholic community and social provision is poorer. There is clear anti-Catholic discrimination in the society of the occupied territory.
For years the Protestant community has dominated the police force. For years the electoral system was unjust to nationalist voters.
The loyalty of Loyalism to the British Crown and the Union is rooted in this history of inequality and a belief that maintaining the union with Britain also ensures that the butter continues to be put on the loyalist's bread.
In all capitalist countries such ideas exist. The working class is encouraged to falsely believe that the slice of the cake allocated to sustaining them and their families is all there is and that misfortunes like unemployment, low wages, poor housing and so on are the fault of some other section of workers believed to be cutting into their share.
And while working people glare at each other across the communities -- or in the case of the Orange Order hoping to parade their sectarianism and what they see as their historic victories through the streets of a nationalist community -- Britain can continue to occupy part of Ireland and the capitalist class can sit back and count their profits.
In the context of the current situation in the north of Ireland the sectarian demands for traditional rights are in reality calls for traditional wrongs to be continued.
The spirit of the peace process, though it cannot in itself end British rule, confronts sectarian bigotry and sets itself against the inequality that prevents working class unity. It is a step forward.
The massed swelling ranks of the Orange Order are encamped. British troops -- provocatively drawn from Scottish regiments as well as paras -- have been sent in to reinforce the huge military emplacement to block the Orange march from going down Garvaghy Road.
Breandan MacCionnaith said the Orange Order is carrying out "a very deliberate plan", and today, he expected the final stage to be unleashed.
The Orange Order would like to write-off the Northern Ireland Assembly before it has even formally opened its doors. And if they get the backing of the British Labour government to march through nationalist Catholic communities, the government will jeopardise all that has so far been gained.
Of course, the talk is that if the government does not support the Orange Order and upholds the Parades Commission decision to re-route the Orange march away from Garvaghy Road in Portadown, then that will also lead to the end of the last few years of progress.
Though he has denied it so far, that could be precipitated by the resignation of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) David Trimble as First Minister of the Assembly. And with the delicate balance of forces in the Assembly, more pro-Agreement Unionists could join the anti-Agreement bloc to scupper the process.
But it is not a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP. said in west Belfast last Tuesday that for the residents of Garvaghy Road "there could be no backing down in the face of pressure and threats from the massed ranks of Orangeism".
Above all, he said, given that only one per cent of the 3,000 odd marches actually cause nationalist upset, the Orange Order should negotiate with the residents because "this is not an issue of conflicting rights, it is an issue of equality, an issue of civil rights."
Residents are now virtually prisoners in their own homes and locality.
The Parade Commission's underhand tactic of playing one volatile flashpoint against another is creating unnecessary and dangerous divisions: at Drumcree, the decision is, so far, to stop the Orange Order marching through the nationalist Garvaghy Road of Portadown; in Belfast, the decision is the reverse -- the Orange Order, to the fearful dismay of nationalist residents, can march down the Lower Ormeau Road.
The "force of law" is to be exercised in all cases. But the application of armed might to defend one just Parades decision while protecting its unjust opposite conclusion in similar circumstances, is a path of capitulation to the Orange Order.
There is no balance of fairness in such criteria, even though it is true that some decisions do recognise nationalist concerns and some Orange marches are to be re-routed. But that rights a long running wrong. So recognition of nationalist communities' concerns is itself subject to expediency. Where does that end?
It is worth noting that the full Parades Commission decision on the Garvaghy Road issue, for extent and depth of coverage and consultation, far outweighs any other decision on Orange marches. Clearly, it was carefully worked out. If the same approach was applied in all other cases, it should have arrived at similar decisions.
But if it is reversed from on high, the question will be asked: Why was that painstaking process undergone, to what purpose?
At a critical point in the search for a permanent solution of the northern Ireland conflict and the creation of a new structure of power, the Orange Order is therefore surely strengthened in its resolve to flout the Drumcree decision, and others, that have gone against their demands.
This weekend, unless there is a formula worked out with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair reasserting consistency in Parade rulings, through which nationalist communities rightfully expect to be fully recognised, a state of fear and high tension will persist and likely explode, sending the peace process into a tail-spin.
For what, in anycase, would its worth be if the very essence of what it is expected to represent -- the rights of communities to decide what they stand for in a new Ireland -- is sacrificed by a failure to deal decisively with the very first reality of Irish history under ceasefire, agreement and assembly conditions?
But come what may, the communities of Garvaghy Road and Lower Ormeau Road and many others beside, have no choice but to proclaim their right to exist as their social and cultural traditions dictate.
British occupation, after all, has long reinforced conditions
of social segregation, economic decline and ghettoisation, together with
harassment and terror of Catholic and nationalist people.
So how such Commissions perform is the first real measure of what the Assembly promises for the future. If they fail at the behest of buckling British government resolve, all sectarian hell could be let loose.
But as Gerry Adams noted, the comment by hardline Orange leader Joel Patton that "they have given us an issue around which unionists can rally" is an admission that Unionism is battling with itself.
The Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition are very wary that at any moment the Parades Commission decision on Drumcree may be reversed by rapid dead-of-night British Army/Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) manoeuvres to whisk the Orange marchers through the heart of the nationalist community.
Already, at least nine Catholic churches have been attacked in the north. Nationalist and Catholic homes, families and youth are under increasing attack from loyalists in a number of key northern towns, as Protestant reaction to the blocking of Orange marchers at Drumcree led to running battles with the RUC.
A massive convergence of Orange forces is expected at Drumcree. British Army reinforcements are underway. The Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition (GRRC) have become the frontline defending the principles the Assembly is charged to represent. That is fast becoming an international issue, and not just because President Clinton has expressed concern.
They have sent out an urgent appeal "to the world for phone calls and faxes" to British and Irish government officials "to strongly urge them to uphold the decision of the Parades Commission" to re-route the Orange Order Drumcree march.
It declares that: "The residents are in need of immediate international support should their safety be in danger". As the massed ranks of Orangemen dig in, faced by one of the most elaborate and extensive military operations in recent times, the danger is clearly very great.
FAX: 10 Downing Street: 0171 839 9044; Dr Mo Mowlem, Northern Ireland Office (NIO): 44 1232 528 201;
TELEPHONE: Tony Blair: 0171 701 1234; Dr Mo Mowlem: 01232 520700.
For confirmation of Downing Street picket, contact Fuascailt: 0181 442 8776.
This deal could cost taxpayers £l billion because University College Hospital London has agreed to an inflation-linked repayment scheme of up to £30 million a year for the next 30 years.
It will also leave all the ancillary staff-- cleaners, porters and laundry workers -- employed by the private finance company instead of the NHS, probably at considerably reduced pay and conditions.
PFI deals mean private finance companies put up money to build or repair hospitals, schools or other public facilities.
The company then owns them and rents them back to the NHS or education authority for the length of the contract which can be anything from 20 to 60 years.
At the end the company still owns the asset. It is a back door form of privatisation.
In the case of hospitals, the clinical staff are still employed by the NHS but all other staff are employed by the finance company.
The British Medical Association at its recent conference called for a halt to all further PFI deals because of the enormous long Lerm expense which could bankrupt the NHS in time.
But the govenment favours PFI deals -- invented by the Tories -- because they keep down short-term capital expenditure costs. These deals are essential for the government to comply with the Single European Currency criteria as well as being a means of satisfying the demands of the wealthy few for keeping top rates of income tax at the present low levels.
The Single European Currency is due to come into operation on 1 January 1999 to replace the separate currencies of the individual currencies of the European Union.
This process is known as European Monetary Union and for different currencies to enter its first wave they have to meet tight financial "convergence criteria".
These criteria say that inflation must be kept low, under three percent; public debt must be less than 60 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that government borrowing must be less than three per cent of the GDP.
Britain will not be among the first wave of countries to join EMU. There has to be a referendum first.
But the need to meet these criteria in time for Britain to be in the second wave is the hidden agenda in all Chancellor Gordan Brown's policies and his determination to keep to the same public spending limits as his Tory predecessors.
This is why there is no public money for capital building programmes for hospitals and schools -- and why the government is mortgaging future generations to pay endless rents to the private sector for what are currently our publicly owned treasures.
Using PFI money pushes up costs astronomically. The Swindon and Marlborough Trust is preparing for a PFI deal for a building scheme that began as a £45 million scheme. Today it is costed at over £148 million.
Now the trust has been forced to introduce a £4 million cuts package, involving redundancies and job reductions. Some £900,000 will be cut from the nursing budget, including £275,000 to be gained by downgrading posts. Another £200,000 is to be cut from other medical staffing.
Also £590,000 is to be cut from non-clinical services which includes £260,000 from catering services.
One of the existing hospitals run by the trust will have to close in-patient beds and a further £2.7 million will need to be cut before the new site can be fully opened.
The Swindon NHS Defence Campaign warns that the new hospital could end up with fewer than the 483 beds planned -- a quota that has already been cut from the original scheme.
The laws passed to make PFI work -- by this government and by the Tories -- say that the finance companies will have first claim on the NHS trust's revenue budget for the next 30 years.
This means that any future cash problems will have to lead to cuts in jobs and patient care.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson last week gave the go ahead -- after five years of uncertainty -- to a £93 million PFI deal to redevelop the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Greenwich. This started as a £28 million publicly financed scheme.
The PFl companies will dictate how many beds the hospitals will have and how many staff will be employed and at what terms.
Ancilliary workers whose jobs are transferred to PFI companies will have their terms and conditions protected for 12 months but new staff will be taken on at lower rates of pay and worse conditions.
Where new hospitals are being built, or old ones closed down for the duration of the building works, of course all the ancilliary workers will be taken on as new staff.
Staff will not be able to transfer NHS pension rights.
One health analyst has calculated that every £200 million spent on PFI deals will result in a knock-on 1,000 job cuts among doctors and nurses.
The PFI deal at University College means that the finance company will get the nurses' accommodation for redevelopment as part of the deal.
The nurses will be thrown out while the developers build luxury flats on the lucrative West End site.
Candy Udwin is a University College Hospital nurse who faces disciplinary action for openly campaigning against PFI whet the hospital was recently visited by Frank Dobson.
She says she is not worried: "They can't sack us all".
Angry crowds battled with police and security forces in Lagos, last Tuesday following the news of the sudden death of the country's leading political prisoner, Chief Moshood Abiola, during a meeting with an American envoy.
Chief Abiola, under house arrest for the past four years, was talking to US Under Secretary of State (deputy foreign minister) Thomas Pickering when he collapsed from a heart attack.
But his relatives and the millions of supporters who fought for his release suspect foul play, even though the 60-year old Chief had a record of ill-health.
Fair means or foul the death of the man who symbolised the opposition to Nigeria's almost perpetual military regime comes at a very convenient time for the country's new dictator, General Abdulsalam Abubakar.
Gen Abubakar has only been in the saddle for a month, taking over after the death of Gen Sani Abacha -- who also died suddenly from "heart failure". Gen Abacha imprisoned Chief Abiola after 1993 presidential elections, supervised by the Army, were overwhelmingly won by Abiola. In house arrest Abiola was denied access to radio or newspapers and his health undoubtedly suffered.
The new military government was under increasing international pressure to release the opposition leader and allow him to stand in new, free elections. The American delegation was over in Lagos, it is believed, to broker the terms of Abiola's release.
Now they have joined the Army in stressing that the Chiefs death was entirely natural and the Army government has agreed to an autopsy.
But the Labour government doesn't see things that way. They are backing the Essex County Combined Fire Authority (CFA) budget cuts which will lead to 16 job losses through "natural wastage", removal of an aerial ladder platform from Chelmsford with various other equipment and service reductions -- totalling over £l million.
The Home Secretary Jack Straw announced in Parliament his bricking for the cuts, while Home Office minister George Howarth explained: "Fire services must be subject to the same financial disciplines as all other local authority services. Strike action usually imposes an additional burden of costs on a fire authority and resulting savings have to be made to pay the costs of emergency fire cover."
Music, no doubt, to Labour councillor CFA chair Tony Wright's ears, but George Howarth's view that the firefighters' action "just does not make sense" is at odds with what he would have understood from attending the recent Fire Brigades Union's 75th annual conference.
He declared then that he was the fist Home Office minister to do so in 20 years -- and delegates made it quite clear why a properly funded fire service was essential.
What does not make sense is a Labour government endorsing a county administration subjecting firefighters and their families to a test of wills in order to force through a reduction in services that depletes effectiveness and endangers lives.
But Tony Wright has received a bit of a blow from his own Castle Point Labour Party. They overwhelmingly are demanding that the eight Labour members of the 25-member CFA act to prevent the imminent cuts and exert pressure to lift the sacking threat against striking firefighters.
And just in case anyone thought the Tories could act out the holier-than-thou opposition in this situation, John Redwood MP, visiting Southend with local MPs Sir Teddy Taylor and David Amess, dispelled any such illusions.
The Tories registered just how in touch they were too. Redwood hadn't bothered to find out what the strike was about when he criticised the firefighters for going back to the "bad old days", according to the Southend Yellow Advertiser.
"It's money related," he said, "they don't think the budget is adequate and I think we're going to see that [public sector] pay becomes a bigger issue over the next two or three years."
So it should, firefighters aside.
Firefighters have been running stalls, collecting a mountain of petition signatures -- many people having to queue up, and they've been foot slogging through busy shopping centres and down main streets.
Around 150 firefighters with their families marched through Southend last weekend, to keep spirits high despite the loss so far of around 70-80 hours of pay. Answer enough to Redwood.
As yet, no meeting is expected between the FBU and CFA, so today's
strike will go ahead for 19 hours and on Sunday for 14 hours.