Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Working class resentment and fury

Anger is sweeping across Ireland in response to the sheer scale of attacks.
Every section of the working class is being affected by the vicious budget announced on April 7. Income levies have been doubled and new ‘health levies’ introduced. This is on top of previous levies and existing taxation. Child benefits have been slashed and mortgage relief axed. Young people under 20 have had their social welfare halved from €200 to €100 a week. Public service workers are already shouldering a crippling pension levy. Disposable incomes of many families are now down by almost 20%.
In the face of this onslaught, the depth of rage is palpable. The February 21 demonstration of 120,000 people struck panic into the heart of government. Fear of the masses reverberated through the corridors of power as talk of the possible collapse of society dominated the media. Now many want to take to the streets again.
Unofficial strikes have begun, with the walk out this week of Dublin bus workers in defiance of an agreement negotiated between the union leaderships and employers. This led to physical confrontations on picket lines and a major offensive by the media against the bus workers.
It is no wonder that workers are taking things into their own hands. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) ignored the wishes of more than 70% of their members who had voted overwhelmingly for industrial action and called off the national strike due on March 30. They did so in order to insinuate themselves back into social partnership talks with government and employers. The threatened strike was simply a lever to allow them back in. David Begg, general secretary, promised their input would ensure a more just and equitable ‘sharing of pain’ in the April 9 budget. That the subsequent budget was so vicious has exposed his claims and undermines arguments for social partnership. Workers across the country are not in any mood for social peace.
Many are now tremendously frustrated and disillusioned with the union leadership. The ICTU is comfortable within the cosy confines of social partnership and is apparently oblivious of the depth of hardship and antagonism outside. Begg has in fact complained that his aim of preventing industrial unrest is being hampered by continual announcements of cuts from government departments. He needs to be properly briefed if he is to be relied on to keep a lid on things.
In such an environment rank and file groups like the Bus Workers Action Group in Dublin are coming to the fore. It was this group rather than the union leadership that actually negotiated the temporary return to work of bus workers on 28 April.
Joining the fray on 28 April were Dublin taxi drivers. A protest organised by Taxi Drivers for Change demanded that there be a stop to the issuing of new taxi licenses. As unemployment hits, there is a glut of taxis in Dublin – more even than Manhattan. Taxi drivers have to work a 90 hour week to make ends meet.
Other local strikes are breaking out despite the social partnership talks. Small disputes in local areas have escalated into furious confrontations. Shop workers in Cork are currently on all out strike action over attempts by management to reverse their terms and conditions of employment.
Teachers’ conferences held over Easter voted for industrial action and also for a one day general strike. The minister for education, Batt O’Keeffe, who attended the events, was met with hostility and walk-outs.
Obviously worried that the same fate would befall him, the minister of defence Dermot Ahern failed to show up at the conference of the Garda Representative Association this week. He had been invited specifically to account for massive wage cuts. Gardai are among the most severely affected of public service workers, with many down by more than €500 a month in their wage packets.
One of the most interesting aspects of the present crisis is the response of the armed forces. Members of the Gardai took part in the February 21 demonstration. They then held their own protest of over 3,000 on February 25. The army has said it will not scab in the event of a general strike. Such protests are unprecedented in the history of the state.
Meanwhile unemployment soars, with a hike of 15,800 to 388,600 in April – in a population of 4 million. Economic and Social Research Institute has forecast that 300,000 more jobs will be lost before the end of next year. The future of Irish capitalism is bleak.
My involvement with a local campaign to prevent the closure of a community centre over the last two weeks has brought home to me the depth of feeling. Meetings and demonstrations of hundreds of angry people have pushed the local council into taking emergency measures. The centre, like public-private partnerships throughout the country, is in crisis. The private management company has bailed out, complaining of lack of profit. But people are adamant that a facility that is needed should not fall victim to the laws of capitalism. The struggle has been combative and intense. It is a microcosm of the contradictions and problems at the heart of Irish society today. It also points to the glaring need for a working class party.
There have been initiatives from the left to unite to organise strike action. But all the groups are again standing separately in the June local elections. The working class is becoming increasingly radicalised. If a united party was to be launched with a revolutionary programme, it would surely make tremendous headway. There is a vacuum at the heart of society. It needs to be filled urgently by a mass communist party.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Economic crisis fuels anger

The Irish economy remains in an extremely precarious situation. The ailing Celtic Tiger has just lost its prized AAA credit rating. And there are warnings of further downgrades, along with calls for ‘fresh faces in government’ from the international ratings agency, Standards and Poor.

The national budget deficit is currently €16 billion, with a prediction by Standards and Poor that it will take €20 billion to rescue the banks. The government continues to borrow €50 million a day. With the property market in meltdown, there are few VAT receipts to call on. And with almost 400,000 unemployed (out of a population of four million), income tax is massively reduced. The slide towards economic collapse seems inexorable.

The pressure on those below is causing tremendous personal difficulties. An income levy of 1%-2% of wages was imposed on all workers in January. This was followed by a pension levy on public sector workers. The loss for those affected by both levies is about €80 a week. An emergency budget is to be unveiled on April 7 which will almost certainly introduce another tax levy, as well as major cuts in public services.

And this is for those lucky enough to have jobs. The unemployed face cuts in their benefit. At least one charity in Dublin has started handing out food parcels to the newly jobless. I remember being shocked to hear of soup kitchens being set up in Iceland to feed those in a similar situation. Now it seems it is Ireland’s turn. All this is apart from housing repossessions.

There is, of course, tremendous anger and frustration among ordinary people. And the government’s hopes of social stability and national unity with the re-entry of unions into social partnership talks seem unlikely to materialise. Workers will not simply accept what is being thrown at them and many are furious with union leaders for cancelling the national strike organised for March 30. There is also deep cynicism at the ability of these talks to produce anything other than delay and sell-out.

On April 1 lunchtime protests were held throughout the country by members of Civil and Public Service Union. An RTE interviewer spoke to these government workers as, one after another, they voiced their disappointment - often bitterness and anger - that March 30 was off and they had been denied their opportunity to take to the streets and make their feelings known. They echoed the sentiment expressed by other sections that the only way forward was through mass action.

The CPSU will hold its delegate conference this week and its website promises that the decision to defer strike action will be revisited. General secretary Blair Horan has been reluctantly pushed to the left by the militancy of his members. Similarly members of Siptu, the technical union, at Dublin Cork and Shannon airports announced last week that they were pressing ahead with a strike on April 2 despite the return to social partnership. This provoked an outcry from the Siptu bureaucracy, which lost no time in denouncing and disowning any industrial action. Aviation workers finally agreed to go to conciliation, but the crisis is far from over.

Meanwhile thousands of taxi drivers staged a 24-hour stoppage on March 30 to call for an end to the issuing of new hackney licences. There are now more taxis in Dublin than on the streets of Manhattan, as redundant and low-paid workers tout for fares.

The local and European elections on June 5 will almost inevitably bring major losses for the Fianna Fáil government. A poll carried out by the Sunday Business Post last week showed that 66% of voters did not trust the government to deal with the crisis. But 40% thought neither Fine Gael nor Labour would do any better, while another 30% had no opinion on the merits of any party.

In the absence of a working class alternative, some may turn to Labour despite the polls. But most people remember Labour in office, when it loyally supported successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael administrations. And, while leader Eamon Gilmore is now talking left, he has left the door open to a coalition with Fianna Fáil if there is a general election.

The Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s current coalition partner, is truly discredited. It has failed to even fight for its own policies outside of superficial environmental concessions.

In this political void there is an urgent need for the left to fill the vacuum. All of the main parties are associated with the Celtic Tiger. All have had their snouts in the trough of capitalism and are hungry for more.

For the working class the answer must be a single Marxist party. Capitalism has shown its true colours and is incapable of doing anything but cause more pain and exploitation. Once again the point must be made - we need a party of our class. We need to take the lead.

Hands off the People of Iran Dublin Meeting 23 April

Hands off People of Iran presents:

Iranian Revolution – the hidden history

23 April Teachers Club, Parnell Square 8pm

The Iranian revolution is often portrayed as an uprising led by Islamic fundamentalists. This completely denies the reality of this immense social movement. The roots of 1979 lay in the mass democratic and secular struggle against the deeply discredited Shah. Women’s organisations, workers and students all took part in an uprising for freedom and democracy. This was a progressive movement that was hijacked by the Ayatollah and his supporters.

Torab Saleh took part in the movement of 1979. He will speak of his personal experiences of that time and the challenges it presented to him and others on the left. He will focus on the many exciting events of that year, including the coming together of a vibrant and confident women’s movement and the energy and determination of the working class.

Torab has written extensively on the subject and his articles can be found at

Come along to listen and take part in an important discussion about one of the most exciting events of the 20th century.

Contact Anne at or on 0862343238