June 2013        

Connolly Commemoration, 2013

Oration by Eoghan O’Neill at the graveside of James Connolly, Arbour Hill, Dublin, Sunday 12 May 2013

Comrades and friends, welcome to this, the Communist Party of Ireland’s annual commemoration of James Connolly, the greatest Irish Marxist and working-class hero of this small island.
     It is a great honour and privilege for me personally to be asked to give the oration at such a historic landmark. To think that only ten years ago the name of James Connolly would not have meant as much for me as it does today is credit to the political education that I have received from being part of the CYM and the Communist Party and the personal relationships that one builds up over time. So, on a personal level, I would like to thank the party for the invitation to speak.
     “Where, oh, where is our James Connolly?” is the title of a song written by the late poet Patrick Galvin. Where indeed is that gallant fighting man? We are standing in this cemetery among the graves of the brave leaders of 1916, a place in which our mere mortality is laid bare. This is the place where his body remains, but his spirit has never remained stationary, still, and at peace; for there can be no peace while a great injustice is brought on those whom James Connolly fought with and for and for whom he made the ultimate sacrifice: the Irish working class.
     His spirit has lived on through the generations of Irish men and women that have read and studied his writings, those who understood his struggle for socialism and the freedom of Ireland, for the ending of poverty and exploitation, for the equality of men and women, for social justice, and to carve a brighter future for our children.
     This year we are also commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Dublin lock-out of 1913. It was in this period that Connolly really excelled himself as a trade union leader, organiser, and revolutionary thinker. The great class struggle that was breaking out on the shop floors and on the streets was being influenced and was influencing Connolly. His articles in the workers’ and union papers of Forward and the Irish Worker of the time sharpened the minds of the Dublin workers to unite for the betterment of their class. He writes:
     “The Dublin fight is more than a trade union fight; it is a great class struggle, and recognised as such by all sides. We in Ireland feel that to doubt our victory would be to lose faith in the destiny of our class.”
     That more than twenty thousand workers refused to give in to the demands of William Martin Murphy, forbidding them to join the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, demonstrated that a class-consciousness among the working class was now being forged. Connolly urged workers to challenge the employers and to stand in solidarity with the strikers.
     This was not a man theorising or developing his strategies from the sidelines or from a quiet office in some university, far removed from the industrial battlefield, the apex of the class struggle: no, he was immersed in it, involved in the daily struggle of the union workers. Through his knowledge and application of Marxism, with the class struggle unfolding before him, Connolly was on a course that would make him into a great leader of the working class.
     So, as we stand here today in 2013, we might well ask, Where is our James Connolly? Where you have a situation in which the Labour Party has been fully complicit in the transfer of wealth from working people to the capitalist class, in the form of the Irish debt, with its destruction through austerity, emigration, unemployment, and privatisation, you will not find Connolly.
     Where you have willing governments and parties implementing policies that over the last four years have now left us with over 300,000 people emigrating, with nearly 450,000 people unemployed and even more underemployed, you will not find Connolly.
     Youth unemployment stands at 31 per cent. It is also the youth of the country that are leaving in their thousands each week. It is our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, friends and relatives, leaving this country, not those of the William Martin Murphys of this world!
     As every day passes, new assaults are being directed at working people and their families. The working terms and conditions of labour are systematically being dismantled, while the workers as a class are left disarrayed, disjointed, and pretty soon dispossessed.
     The war being waged by the ownership class can no longer be concealed, nor should it be. It is being waged in the work-place, in the media, at every level of society, against us, the working people.
     It is the might and organisation of capital that has allowed it to pass on its debts to ordinary citizens, while the hard-fought gains of labour over the past decades are being eroded.
     The class issue can no longer be avoided, especially by our unions. As the class struggle intensified in Connolly’s time, he warned of the need for working-class solidarity, something that is just as important now as it was then. In 1914 he writes:
     “The letter of industrial concentration is now accepted by all trade union officials, but the spirit of working-class solidarity is woefully absent. Each union and each branch of each union desires above all things to show a good balance sheet, and that that might be done every nerve is strained to keep their members at work, and in a condition to pay subscriptions. Hence the pitiful dodges to avoid taking sympathetic action in support of other unions, and hence also the constant victories of the master class upon the industrial field.”
     The time of “social partnership” is gone. Those unions and groups that don’t adapt to this reality will find themselves redundant to the plight of the working class. The unions that do adapt and develop strategies based on the class interest will need to reach out and build that solidarity. It is only by uniting on a common platform, forming a defence against the attacks on labour, building solidarity and rejecting sectarianism, that the class-consciousness of the workers will be evoked.
     It is the organisation of labour that spreads fear in the hearts of the capitalist class, and this is where you will find James Connolly.
     Rather than a time of disillusionment, now is the time to come together and strengthen the power of the unions; for the progressive elements to unite and take the initiative on the industrial battlefield, with its leadership reflecting the demands of its members. To unite and organise industrially, in defence of the working class, should be an immediate task for those unions. This would be a progressive move forward and a very realisable goal for the short term. But in the long term, workers will have to organise politically.
     This is where parties like the Communist Party, which emphasises the class nature of the system and the crisis, which calls for the repudiation of the odious debt heaped on our people, which highlights the fact that austerity is working, working for those who designed it, the ruling class, puts forward the idea that an alternative society is possible, that it is for socialism! It is this type of political action and organisation that is needed in order to maintain and advance the position of the working people in our society.
     Comrades, it is with this, the people engaged in the great class struggle, who organise and fight on the side of the working class—this is where you will find James Connolly.

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