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-
before-profit.org). 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?


No comments:

Post a Comment