January 2013        

Make 2013 the year of resistance!

The old year is gone and the new one presents us all with both old and new challenges. The old order is still firmly in control, imposing massive cuts in services, wages, pensions, and welfare payments.
     Cuts are are not only coming through the budget but are announced almost weekly, as the government believes it can do what it needs to do with impunity. At the same time we have to endure the sickening sight of the EU elite speeding through the streets of Dublin in their BMWs and being wined and dined in Dublin Castle. Marie-Antoinette would have nothing on this gang of vultures who have begun to colonise our streets.
     They are imposing a diet of cuts and survival on the majority of working people while the rich can still go out to their fancy restaurants, avail of the yachts moored in the Mediterranean, and go shopping in Paris or Milan, while the number of second-hand clothes shops and soup kitchens continues to expand throughout the country.
     The chairperson of the Labour Party, Colm Keaveney, voting against the government on aspects of the budget, thereby losing the Labour Party whip, was a welcome development. This brings to four the number of Labour Party TDs who are now on the margins of the party, though for very different reasons.
     Those inside the Labour Party campaigning for “real labour policies” need to move beyond a mere collection of demands and to look at the crisis of the system itself and the limited possibilities of change within it.
     The same can be said of Sinn Féin, with its appeal to popular sentiment, arguing for a better, fairer capitalism rather than for a mobilisation of the people. It is becoming more and more apparent that electoral considerations and opportunism dominate both Sinn Féin and leading elements of the United Left Alliance and not only some of those Labour Party TDs who recently jumped ship.
     What is missing from the political debate is any sense of a possible alternative direction or way forward. None have articulated any alternative vision of Ireland that the Irish people could feel is possible or that they can grasp and struggle for. All appear to be striving for the politics of the lowest common denominator, allowing the establishment media to determine what is or is not acceptable, allowing the Irish Times to write their political manifestos.
     The mobilisation called by the ICTU on the handing over of the €3.1 billion to bond-holders on 31 March, while welcome, does not go far enough. Elements of the ICTU leadership have stated that the mobilisation is aimed at supporting the government’s negotiating position with the EU on the promissory notes, while the mountain of debt grows daily.
     One has to ask what the government’s negotiating position is, as they have never clearly defined what they are looking for, while they have constantly stated that they will pay the debt and are only looking for a longer period for paying it.
     The ICTU leadership appear to be using the debt as some sort of bargaining chip in the opening gambit as negotiations begin for Croke Park II. This is more of the “social partnership” mentality: if you don’t hit us too hard in Croke Park II we can deliver our members, and we will do little or nothing about the debt burden.
     It is an attempt by leading elements of the ICTU to pull the whole of the trade union movement into line behind the Labour Party in government.
     This is the road to disaster. It is their job to serve and defend their members and their families, not to prop up the rotting corpse of the Labour Party. The demand by two leading trade unions for repudiation of the debt is simply the only way forward. The mobilisation on 9 February must be the beginning of a sustained campaign.
     This year sees the centenary of a great class battle in Dublin, the 1913 Lock-Out, when the Dublin employers, backed up by the might of the British empire, locked out thousands of workers and attempted to starve the Dublin workers into submission. Thousands of workers resisted, members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, led by Connolly and Larkin.
     We can’t allow this decisive moment in the history of the Irish working class to be reduced to a trip down memory lane, with fossilised, soulless meetings and re-enactments.
     There are many lessons that we can learn from 1913. It was the first major independent action by a fledging Irish workers’ movement. Then, as now, the Irish working class faced naked aggression from the ruling elite, backed up by a foreign power. They stood up and resisted, despite all the odds. They remained unbowed and unbroken and went on to play an important role in the struggle for national independence.
     What history and the experience of 1913 shows is that militant class struggle and international solidarity were and are central components in building the people’s resistance. What is needed today from this generation of trade union leaders is the same leadership and courage, to raise the confidence and the spirit of working people, as was done in 1913.
     History will judge them not on how colourful and fancy their centenary publications or events are but how well they have defended and will defend and mobilise their members and their families against the growing assault upon them by both the internal and the external troika.

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