From Socialist Voice, December 2010

We as a people fought an empire and brought it to its knees

Have faith in the people to rally and resist!

The mass mobilisation in Dublin in late November, despite the inclement weather on the day, saw 100,000 people travelling from all over the the country to take part in the demonstration called by the ICTU against the cuts and the budget.
     It was a great display by working people in solidarity with each other and with those suffering as a result of the cuts and the policies inflected upon hundreds of thousands of working people.
     Nearly every union made an effort to mobilise their members, and many in the crowd carried their own personal message to the Government. The turn-out demonstrated that if the trade union movement really wants to challenge the Government it has the power, the backing and the numbers to do so.
     What the demonstration showed was that throughout the country our people are looking for leadership, and none has been forthcoming up until now. The ICTU have promised and delivered little: cancelling days of action when they came under pressure from the mass media or the Government’s holding out a hope that maybe they will be allowed back inside the tent. All they have succeed in doing has been to sow confusion, demoralisation, frustration and anger against themselves.
     The mentality of not rocking the boat and hankering after some new “social partnership,” with the promise that they can manage workers’ discontent, is indicative of some people at the top of the ICTU, particularly within the public-sector unions. They cling desperately to the Croke Park agreement in the vain hope that it will deliver and thereby protect them.
     “Social partnership” and the various deals over the decades have deadened the movement. They have tied the movement structurally and politically to the various Governments down the decades.
     Structurally, the latest version has seen the ICTU even more structurally tied in, with “partnership” committees in the Taoiseach’s office and senior trade union people, both current and retired, on or controlling state boards and companies, such as FÁS. Whole structures within the trade union movement have been built up that are totally dependent on money from the Government under “partnership.” At the first signs of trouble, all the funding is pulled. Education programmes controlled and managed their expectations and bogged them down in what is or is not possible under the law. They were never about empowering rank-and-file trade unionism and strengthening trade union organisation at the shop-floor level.
     Ideologically it has resulted over the decades in the trade union movement ceasing to think independently of the state and the dominant political and economic forces and seeing itself as an equal partner—to the point where, when Bertie Ahern, addressing the biennial delegate conference of the ICTU in 2007, condemned people “sitting on the sidelines, moaning and cribbing about the economy,” and said, “I don't know how people who engage in that don't commit suicide,” they all laughed and sniggered, because everything was going so well in the land of the Tiger.
     One demonstration will not change Government policy, nor will it frighten the EU or the IMF. Nor will waiting and hoping that when the Labour Party gets into Government they will do something different.
     There is a clear need for a sustained campaign of civil disobedience by working people against the imposed policies of the EU and IMF, which are supported by the three main establishment parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Labour Party.
     Resistance to the budget must only be the start. The trade unions have no choice but to break with the paralysis of “partnership” and find strength in its own demands and in loyal and traditional working-class militancy. They need to regain the confidence of their members.
     We as a people fought an empire and brought it to its knees. We must have faith in the people to rally and resist. We have 100,000 reasons to intensify the struggle. There are thousands more looking for leadership.
     As James Connolly put it, “Our demands most moderate are: We only want the earth!”

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