Monday, March 30, 2009

View from Workers Power on the political situation

30 March 2009
League for the Fifth international

The Day of Action called by the Irish Congress of Trade Union' (ICTU) of or Monday 30 March has been called off without the slightest act of consultation. Rank and file militants from every sector of the trade union movement are furious with the gross act of sabotage by their `leaders'. Their excuse – the Irish Business and Employers' Federation (IBEC) and Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen have offered to resume talks with the ICTU. So cheaply are these people bought!
Have they even been promised any concessions? Not a bit of it! Absolutely nothing. Quite the opposite; IBEC have said it is hard to envisage any pay rises before 2011 and the Government's 7 April Budget will see further cuts to the tune of 4 billion euros. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan suggests this new attack will include the non-replacement of 3,000 public sector workers jobs every year.

The 120,000 strong ICTU demonstration in Dublin last month against the government's plans to impose a pension levy and renege on pay awards forced the cowardly union leaders to call ballots for action. But even then this action was limited to compelling bosses to abide by the Social Partnership agreement to award workers 3½% pay rises.It was not designed to reject the pension levy.

Nevertheless the Day of Action would have seen mass strikes all over Ireland. All four teacher unions gave their backing. Nurses were coming out. UNITE had served notice on a number of employers for strike action as had the craft union TEEU which had called on 45,000 members to strike. IMPACT the largest public sector union voted 65 per cent for strike, one per cent less than the required (and undemocratic) two-thirds majority, But the union had given protection to those not wishing to cross picket lines. Low paid civil servants have already struck and mounted several lunch time pickets on government buildings. It was always clear that a one- day stoppage would not have beaten back the government but it could have been a launching pad for further action up to an including am all out general strike.

An important feature of the situation is that not a single party in the Dáil (the lower house of parliament), including Labour and Sinn Fein, supported the proposed day of action. This despite the tact that the rising tide of struggle has had the effect of boosting Labour in the opinion polls. Indeed Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the proposed strikes. This shows that workers urgently need to their own political representation: a fighting socialist and anti-imperialist party.

It is plain ICTU leaders have no stomach for a fight. They cynically wound up their members only to get themselves back around the table with the bosses and the government. They have no real objection to the government unloading the costs of the crisis onto their members' shoulders. They just wanted to be consulted. They were just angry with the government trying to dispense with their services as the messenger boy. After all they have been involved in the Social Partnership swindle for years, even giving advice to the government on where to make cuts.

They say they want everyone to bear the pain equally, the rich and poor. Hundreds of thousands of workers see things differently: why they should bear the cost of a recession which they did not cause? Besides it is plain the bankers and businessmen will certainly not be bearing the pain. Indeed they saved from it by huge handouts from the government; some 5.5 billion to recapitalise the banks. The bill for this will will be paid in increased pension contributions and by with taxpayers for years to come, especially hitting workers and small farmers. It will be the pretext for billions of euros worth of cuts in social spending.

Workers' palpable anger at the ICTU's sell out must not be allowed to evaporate in impotent rage. There have been calls for ICTU chief David Begg to resign for overturning so many ballots for action. He should. When we want to take action there is a ponderous rigmarole of balloting that has be gone through, but a sell-out can be arranged overnight. The fact that our leaders can do this should wake everybody up. What we need is power to return to the grass roots of the unions . We need to take control of our own struggles.

In the face of the present and planned cuts there will be more explosions of rage, street protests and union action. Ordinary union members must take control of these struggles by electing local committees at mass meetings. They should consist of delegates, recallable by these meetings if they do not follow the members' wishes. In France such general assemblies, and committees called co-ordinations, are routine in all major struggles. That is why the French workers have managed to reject so many of their bosses and governments plans over the past five years. This is the language we need to speak to our arrogant bosses and our weak-kneed union leaders.

We also need to start the job of creating a network of rank and file militants in every union and across the unions that can hold the spineless leaders to account, either forcing them to call action or make way for those who will. SIPTU workers at Dublin Airport have already given notice to strike next Thursday over pay which their leaders have not sanctioned. They are right. We say: With the officials where possible, without them where necessary!

Let's hold mass meetings in every workplace to build an unstoppable movement of strike action from below

No to the Pension Levy! No to Wage Cuts!
Tax the Rich!
For an indefinite General Strike against the cuts and job losses!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Strike off but struggle continues

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has called off the national strike planned for March 30 despite massive support. ICTU has instead decided to accept the invitation of taoiseach Brian Cowen to re-enter talks with government and employers for a ‘programme of national recovery’.

General secretary David Begg is no doubt relieved that his proposals for talks have finally been accepted. He had been pressing the government to adopt his ‘10-point programme’ since the strike was announced on February 21 following tremendous pressure from below and a massive 120,000-strong demonstration in Dublin. ICTU knew it had to act to show opposition to the deeply unpopular pension levy.

However, from the beginning it was clear that the plan was to use working class militancy as a lever back into negotiations. It was a stick to beat the government for causing the previous talks to break down. Equally, that the government did back down shows that it felt aware of the intensity of anger among the working class. Cowen feared not only the prospect of the entire country, including airports, closing down, but that of yet more thousands taking to the streets. Begg has now admitted that talks to avoid all this were actually taking place behind the scenes.

Once the strike was announced, we were all in the dark as to what the plans were for the day. The ICTU website was completely devoid of any information regarding March 30. Nobody knew what was going on - except, of course, those involved in backroom discussion. You would not be criticised for thinking that the ICTU leadership never actually meant the action to go ahead.

Despite this and the absence of any mobilisation campaign, the ballots on the whole were very solidly for industrial action. The Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union, the largest craft union, voted 80% in favour, while the main teachers’ union, INTO, voted by 79% for action. This kind of response was reflected throughout the unionised workforce. Impact, the country’s largest public sector union, was just 1% short of the 66% required for a strike under its undemocratic two-thirds majority rule. There were in fact reports that not all members had been balloted. Despite all of the confusion and pressure, however, it was clear that Impact members would not want to cross picket lines. March 30 - or M30, as it became known - promised a very strong showing of working class opposition, something the government did not want. And their loyal allies in the trade union bureaucracy helped them to avoid that reality.

But the crisis is by no means over. A draconian budget aimed at raising at least €4.5 billion is to be announced on April 7. This will include front-line cuts in the already badly stretched health service. Taxation will be introduced for those on low incomes, and welfare benefits are also due to be cut. ICTU says it wants to be in on discussions so as to protect ‘the most vulnerable’. But Begg and other union leaders also tell us that the working class, including the most vulnerable, will have to accept their share of the pain.

The response of workers to the March 25 announcement that the strike is off will be interesting. Many will feel sold out. A place around the table to agree cuts and levies is not much help to those struggling to make ends meet, with the new pension levy already in place. There may be some unofficial action or lunchtime protests. Workers are well aware that the need for struggle has not gone away.

Indefinite strike action by bus workers in Dublin is to begin on March 30. They had also been to the labour court for talks with employers, but these broke down. The government cannot provide any succour for those looking for less pain. Irish capitalism is in big trouble.

The media over recent weeks shifted attention from ‘fat cats’ in the banking sector to those selfish workers intending to strike. Tremendous pressure has been applied for everyone to pull together in the national interest. Waterford Glass workers, lacking support from ICTU, reached a deal this week and, having been forced to compromise, will see the plant close.

This episode has shown a clear need for unity from below. The trade union bureaucracy cannot be given sole responsibility for conducting the struggle. They are bound to sell out, particularly as they are so desperate to get back into social partnership. We need to create a rank and file within the unions that can coordinate action. One of the problems is that there are far too many different unions, especially in the public service.

We also need to struggle for democracy within them, for all discussions between ICTU and government to be fully reported, for ballots to be won and lost on a simple majority, not prohibitive quotas. We also need to look to coordinate action locally and involve non-unionised workers.

But, most of all, we on the left need to look to ourselves as communists and socialists, and begin serious discussions now aimed at the building of a single revolutionary party. The situation is crying out for a genuine working class alternative and we must not waste this opportunity to demonstrate that only Marxism can provide real answers.

No party represented in the Dáil supported the March 30 strike. The working class needs its own political voice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Economic situation and the tasks for the left

See attached link for an interview with Hillel Ticktin, marxist economist, on the situation for capitalism today and the need for the left to take initiative as marxists.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sinn Fein backs police over killings

The political and media response to the recent shootings in the north of Ireland has been predictable.
The Guardian devoted its front page to the response on March 11 with the headline, “Ireland unites to condemn killers”. Politicians north and south of the border, church and trade union leaders have been vociferous in their denunciations. They have been at one in seeking to unite the population against the attacks.
Sinn Féin was initially slow to respond - there was a delay of 14 hours before it produced a statement. This was framed in cautionary terms and warned the Real IRA and Continuity IRA against undermining the peace process. It seemed to be more of an appeal than a denunciation. But pressure mounted for Sinn Féin to come out with a harder line. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness began to mirror Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party in their abhorrence of the people who carried out the shootings.
McGuinness stood alongside Robinson and chief constable Hugh Orde outside Stormont and pledged his party’s commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice. He called them “traitors to the entire island of Ireland”, while Adams made an appeal for republicans to give full cooperation to the police in the massive manhunt underway.
There have been national protests against the attacks. David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Trade Union Congress, fronted calls for mass demonstrations. Protests took place in Belfast, Newry, Downpatrick and Derry - the March 11 event in Belfast organised by Unite attracted over 10,000 people.
One of the reasons given for the call for national unity is the spectre of a return to the violence of the republican struggle. But, as Robinson, Orde and southern politicians well know, there is little chance of these shootings provoking such an upsurge. Orde himself condemned the groups as tiny, disparate and completely infiltrated.
He knows that they are splinter groups who have no mass base among Catholics in the north.
These are very different times compared to the late 1960s and 70s. Today Sinn Féin is supposedly in charge of policing, along with the DUP. It helps to run the state. Indeed, as McGuinness has said, by targeting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, CIRA is targeting Sinn Féin itself. He asserted that if he had any personal knowledge of the killers he would immediately pass it on to the police.
Unlike the Provisional IRA, CIRA and RIRA do not have the mass support of working class communities in the north of Ireland. But now the Sinn Féin representatives of the Provisionals are sitting in government. Just like Fianna Fáil in 1921, they have gone from freedom fighters to constitutional nationalists. Their war is over.
But, contrary to what media and bourgeois politicians would have us believe, the north of Ireland was not some haven of harmony and prosperity shattered by these shootings. The ‘peace dividend’ has not been nearly enough and the recession is also hitting hard. There is still tremendous poverty, affecting both republicans and loyalists.
The Good Friday agreement has not brought together Protestants and Catholics. In fact divisions have worsened and tensions deepened, and new ‘peace’ walls have gone up ensuring communities are kept apart. Northern Ireland remains an extremely fractured society.
The PSNI is largely seen as the discredited Royal Ulster Constabulary in a different uniform and many republican parts of Belfast remain ‘no go’ areas - Craigavon being a good example. Disaffected republican youth are often targeted by the police. Raids on homes as part of the recent clampdown on republican dissidents have been strongly criticised by Sinn Féin. It is possible that some of these disaffected youth have been attracted to join breakaway republican groups. That a 17-year-old was arrested in connection with the shooting of the PSNI officer is perhaps testimony to that.
Today Sinn Féin stands fully behind the PSNI. These recent shootings have pushed it into an even stronger and more open identification with Stormont and all it stands for. Its days as freedom fighters are over. It will deal with these splinter groups just as harshly as its colleagues in the DUP.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Green Party's sickening performance at conference

Watching the Green Party conference last weekend leaves no doubt about the bankruptcy of their political programme. Leader John Gormley condemned the opposition for not being more supportive of the government's cuts and bail-outs. Unlike the Greens who are deeply committed to the survival of the government. There were strong hints that they wanted a national government of national unity - "We in the Green Party are willing to work together with other parties to achieve a national consensus on these issues" (

Difficult times call for tough measures - "We will do whatever is necessary – even if it means losing some power – because right now the needs of the country are greater than the needs of any political party." The party is committed to the survival of Irish capitalism no matter what.

Their actions contrast with their supposed commitment to equality and social rights as set out in their many policy statements.

But despite Gormley's best efforts to boost morale the tensions are evident. The glory of being in government has turned sour for many ordinary members. They did not envisage themselves hatcheting services, imposing levys and cutting jobs. In particular the planned education cuts could be that step too far....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

SWP day school on the crisis

I went to a day school today here in Cork addressed by Kieran Allen, leading SWP member. The first part was on the crisis and the solution to that crisis. His view was that we should expect mass activity over the next period - similar to that in Iceland and Latvia. He argued that there was a need for a socialist solution but this would not be created by 'waving a book by Marx on a street corner'. Socialists should be the best activists and should engage in the struggle to defend people in the present period as well as argue for socialism.
This is all fair enough but what about the need for a political party? I raised this question and got a lot of support from people present. Kieran Allen did not dispute the need but said they had tried to get electoral unity with the Socialist Party with no success. Therefore they had gone on to launch People before Profit.
The problem is though he was again talking about unity around reformist demands, not socialist unity. He made some very good points about the kind of work the left should be involved with - defending people against evictions, supporting workers who have been made redundant etc. But he ended his talk by calling for eveyone to join the SWP.
While I have no problem with him building his organisation, it really does not deal with the need for political representation.

I left the meeting thinking that the SWP are actually unsure how to deal with current challenges. It is a time of rapid change and we do not know what will happen. But the working class are militant and this is good. They are looking for answers. Nearly every political radio and tv show is dominated by debate on what the solution is. The 'sharing pain' consensus dominates but this is unpalatable to many given the behaviour of bankers and government ministers, all caught with their snouts in the trough.

I would say however that the meeting was a comradely one and people were thinking rather than trotting out lines. A good idea would be setting up forums now to discuss and work together. These could include all the left as well as trade unionists and others who want to be politically involved. I would be interested to know what people think.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Irish working class moves into action

The recent change in Irish society from `get rich quick' to working
class struggle has been unprecedented. The economy is sinking fast
and the predictions are that things can only get worse. European
Commission president José Manuel Barroso has made the point that
Ireland would be in the same situation as Iceland if it were not in
the euro zone. But maybe even this cannot save the country from
plunging into bankruptcy, as banks and businesses collapse and
unemployment soars.

There is a great deal of fear within the working class, but there is
also a new defiance and militancy. Fresh cuts in education, health
and benefit provision are announced daily and there are many
thousands facing the repossession of their homes. It is obvious for
all to see that capitalism has completely and utterly failed.

The demonstration on February 21 was the largest in 30 years. Over
120,000 union members and others marched together in a protest that
sent out a clear message of opposition to the government. Other
marches were held across the country and protests are continuing as I
write - the Garda Representative Association came out in force
against the pension levy along with other workers on February 25.
Strike action among public sector workers was due to begin on
February 26, although bus workers have suspended an indefinite strike
called for this weekend. Significantly the Irish Congress of Trade
Unions (ICTU) has announced a one-day national strike on March 30.

The presence of the working class on the streets in such numbers has
made the government jittery. It is at pains to express its
understanding and sympathy for those affected by the recession, but
determined to push through cuts. Desperate to salvage what it can
from the erstwhile Celtic tiger, it is turning on our class with a
vengeance. Whether it does so with a smile or a snarl does not
matter. We should not accept any agenda of sharing pain, of bailing
out capitalism.

The recent pronouncements of David Begg, general secretary of ICTU,
are particularly dangerous in the present circumstances. He is
calling for a "fairer sharing of pain". ICTU has put forward a 10-
point plan which it calls on the government to adopt. In a recent
radio interview Begg pointed to measures taken by the Swedish
government in the 1990s to turn its economy around. These were
apparently acceptable because, as well as cuts in welfare and wages,
top executives and government ministers also had their salaries
pegged back.

The March 30 strike is intended to mobilise support for the 10-point
plan. Begg wants to be back in social partnership helping to manage
capitalism. He does not mind about the impact of the crisis on the
working class so long as everybody has their share of pain. He wants
to channel workers' militancy behind a programme of rightwing social
democracy. This must obviously be challenged.

Looking at the left and its various action programmes on last week's
demonstrations, it is clear that we need a revolution in our own
thinking and organisation. The Socialist Party call was for a "one-
day public sector strike". This "would be a major blow to the
government" (The Socialist February 2009). Well, obviously not if it
is to be on the basis of ITUC's 10-point plan. The government has
already indicated its willingness to discuss Begg's proposals and
called for the working class to be reasonable so we can all work

The Socialist Workers Party front, People Before Profit, has
organised meetings to discuss the economic programme it is
advocating - "strong, practical solutions based on an economic
programme that can be popularised on a large scale" (www.people- Other groups like Workers Power have called for
all-out, indefinite strike action.

The problem with all of these action programmes is that they are
extremely limited. People Before Profit, of course, advocates a
reformist platform that the SWP thinks is a great basis for winning
populist support. Yet another opportunist short cut that will result
in a dead end. What is needed is not tailing this or that strike or
debating the merits of indefinite as against limited action. Much
more important are questions of programme and party - based on
revolutionary, not reformist, principles.

There is a glaring need for a real political alternative. All the
bourgeois parties, from Fianna Fáil to the Greens, from Labour to
Sinn Féin, have shown that they are of absolutely no use to the
working class. They want some kind of `fairer' capitalism - and are
prepared to do whatever is needed to retain the present system. The
working class needs to look to itself and aim to take hold of the
reins of society.

The February issue of The Socialist made a call for a mass working
class party based on socialism. Obviously the SP's concept of
socialism is limited, to say the least, but the call, if it is a
serious one, is to be welcomed. I contacted the national office to
find out if there were any concrete plans for a unity initiative to
launch a campaign for such a party, but was informed that there are
none at present. It is, for the moment then, just a slogan.

This is obviously a great shame, to put it mildly. For all those who
call themselves Marxists or socialists the question of unity and the
formation of a working class party based on those politics must be
paramount. The bourgeoisie is currently discussing the need for a
national government of unity to save capitalism. It they can do it,
why can't the left?