From Socialist Voice, November 2010

When is a demo not a demo?

When it’s called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions

On 29 September the European Trade Union Confederation called on all its affiliates to organise demonstrations and protests as part of their joint efforts against each of their ruling classes’ attempts to make the workers and poor pay for austerity measures.
     The trade union movement was asked to protest against the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, wage cuts, diminishing pensions, and cuts to social welfare. So, throughout Europe, hundreds of thousands of workers and their families took to the streets—100,000 in Brussels alone.
     The ICTU hierarchy took up the challenge and organised a demonstration. Well, not really a demonstration—not really a protest but a “gathering” at lunchtime, or even, as it was later called by David Begg, a “photo opportunity.”
     In case the Government and the elite thought that Congress were being too bolshie, the ICTU sent a recommendation to each union to limit their participants: for example, SIPTU were to supply eighty members, the CWU twenty-five, etc. They were furthermore told not to bring trade union banners!
     The ICTU centres were asked to come and supply a restricted crowd, as someone had to carry the Congress flags (without slogans, of course).
     As it was, community groups responded with their usual colour and imagination. In fact many local communities, such as Dublin 12, in addition organised their CE workers onto the streets in colourful and vocal gatherings.
     If the action of Congress was disheartening, the actions of the ultra-left were pathetic. Although the demo was in answer to a call by the ETUC, the Socialist Party issued posters asking for support for the ICTU day but stating that it was “sponsored by Joe Higgins.”
     Presumably in fear of being contaminated, the ultra-left marched off ten minutes after the main march.
     In addition, to show their independence they organised a disruption of Jack O’Connor’s speech. With loudhailers going full blast, we were encouraged to shout “Organise a general strike!” and “Join the revolution.”
     Unfortunately we were not given the ballot papers for the general strike (as workers must vote for such an action), nor were we given the date, time and location of the imminent revolution.
     Musing on such deficiencies, as we mortals left the end of proceedings there was the indomitable Joe Higgins starting a Socialist Party meeting, while fifty yards down the road the equally indomitable Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit (or was it the Socialist Workers’ Party?) launched his own.
     Whether by divine intervention or not, they must have come together, as Indymedia shows them side by side.
     The hero of the day was the bankrupt builder who left his “toxic bank” cement-mixer at the gates of the Dáil.
     So, in spite of the tameness of Congress (although different in the North) and the infantilism of the ultra-left, the work has to be dome to change the tiny minority of workers who understand the need for political and social change into a coherent majority. That work does involve going on the street, as well as painstaking education and organisation.
     The walls, unfortunately, did not come tumbling down, despite the slogans and loudhailers.

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