November 2011        

Occupy Dame Stret

The left must become involved

The late minister for finance Brian Lenihan liked to talk of the “green shoots of recovery” for the global capitalist system. This, of course, was a lie, designed to trick people into believing that austerity and bank bail-outs were in their interest. People have woken up to this lie, and instead we are now seeing genuine green shoots of resistance, both in Ireland and globally.
     New shoots have sprung up rapidly in two thousand cities. including Dublin, Cork and Galway. This is the Occupy Movement, whereby protesters set up camps beside banks and stock exchanges to demonstrate against corporate greed, political corruption, inequality, and bank bail-outs.
     There is loose co-operation between the Occupy Movements around the world; and, understandably, the Occupy Dublin group has its own set of Irish peculiarities. The fact that the resistance camp has been set up outside the Central Bank and not the Dáil proves that the people involved understand that political and economic power now rests with unelected technocrats rather than politicians.
     The protesters have also shown magnificent determination in continuing the camp through difficult weather and occasional intimidation. Their desire to change the political and economic situation is not in doubt.
     Their strategy, however, is less than adequate. The traditional left must try to work with the Occupy Movement and provide experience. Occupy Dame Street must become a centre of education, discussion, and debate, and the left can play a crucial part in facilitating this.
     However, there are barriers to Occupy Dame Street becoming a broad resistance movement. Many of those in the camp are new to protest. They are rightly angry at the failure of capitalist parliaments to represent the people against vested corporate interests. However, some have drawn the conclusion that all politics and political parties are toxic. Some even claim they are “non-political” while simultaneously demanding the redistribution of wealth!
     This analysis leads to a suspicion that all political activists are part of the establishment and have sinister motives for wanting to become involved. Many in the Occupy Movement also have no understanding of trade unionism; the unions are not seen as representatives of the people but rather as protectors of the top earners in the public sector.
     In many ways the unions must share the blame for this, for not reaching out to the unemployed and many parts of the private sector. Rightly or wrongly, many occupiers don’t consider the unions capable of or willing to lead the anti-austerity movement.
     The Occupy Movement is a positive force and brings a new layer of people into the resistance movement that would not normally join a political party or trade union. However, they need to become part of the broad left movement to oppose austerity or else become a mere footnote in history.
     The left and the unions must approach these people in the most humble way, become involved, and prove that our loyalty is to low and middle-income people. We must help the movement go beyond sloganeering and identify the way forward.
     It’s not enough just to be angry and say we oppose cuts: we must stop the robbery of the Irish people to pay off the bond-holders and other gamblers who lost.
     The way forward is a mass movement of people, including trade unions, community groups, the unemployed, students, and socialist political parties. We must articulate clear political demands for an end to the bond-holder bail-out and austerity. We need to show the necessity for an economic system based on public ownership and democracy, where the economy is run by the people for the people.

■ This article is a contribution from an activist in Occupy Dame Street. The opinions reflect his and other people’s experiences and how they see and understand what is happening within our society.

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