No Wash protest ends - Hunger strike Begins! (1981)


A second Hunger Strike has begun, with Bobby Sands, who is serving 14 years for possession of a gun, refusing food on Sunday, March 1st. He will be joined later by others, including it is thought, 2 of the previous women hunger strikers from Armagh.
On March 2nd the 460 blanket men and 28 women in Armagh announced the end of the no-wash protest. so as to concentrate all energies on the basic demands of no prison uniform, no prison work and free association.

The no wash protest in Long Kesh began when the men were humiliated and often beaten on their way to the toilet and washroom. They refused to leave the cells and emptied the pots out of the window and under the door. But when the windows were boarded up and the urine swept back into the cells, protestors wiped their human waste onto the walls.

The women in Armagh were forced onto a similar protest last year when their cells were wrecked by male screws and the toilets locked up for a week.

Now that the prisoners have abandoned the tactic, they will presumably face the same conditions of harassment, which forced them onto it. But they say this will be risked in order to highlight the hunger strike for their 5 demands.

On the outside the action groups have regrouped but with reduced membership, which is explained by the confused ending of the last hunger strike. Then the prisoners were given only a verbal promise a victory march was held within days of this before the consequences could be known.

There was also the famous document, which said very little in concrete terms and few people in the action groups have been able to get a copy

Despite the slow start, there were about 5,000 on the march up the Falls Road on the same day as Sands began his hunger strike despite the cold, rainy day, people who show solidarity are well seasoned and not easily put down.

While there is determination and a general agreement that this campaign will be different there are few signs of what that implies. Obviously peaceful mass demonstrations were not enough but the only alternatives seem to be rioting or political action.

For the former to succeed there would have to be more coordination than before in order to stretch the RUC. The political action planned seems limited to the establishment political parties interpretations. Thus a call to make the North ungovernable at a mass delegate meeting in Dublin has been reduced by the National H Block Committee to forcing SDLP councillors to withdraw from chambers!

For the Hunger strike campaign to succeed against such a determined government its main chances would seem to lie with broadening in scope its objectives. The threat of unemployed people eg: beginning to emulate the courage and tenacity of the hunger strikers and protestors outside, would not only force the government to make a move but might create the sprit and example of generalised protest against conditions of exploitation, authority and sectarianism which produce such hell holes as Long Kesh and Armagh.

This article is from the Belfast anarchist paper 'Outta Control' - issue 13 March 1981.