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22nd March -Thousands march again in Dublin against War but where stands the Left?
24th March 2003
Around 10,000 to 15,000 people attended the Dublin anti-war protest on 22nd March. Starting from the Central Bank in Dame Street the demonstration ended in front of Government Buildings which contain Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s offices, having passed the Dail on the way. Banners could be seen from the Labour Party, Green Party, the campaign groups sponsoring the demonstration including the Anti-War Movement, Socialist Party (SP) and others with a colourful contingent from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) taking up the rear. There were only a couple of trade union banners and the numbers behind them were meagre, and while Sinn Fein support for the march could also be seen they had clearly not fully mobilised their members or supporters.
The attendance was thus well down on the minimum of 100,000 that attended the demonstration on 15th February. This is only partially explained by it not being a ‘national’ demonstration, as was the one in February, as there were large demonstrations in Cork, Galway, Sligo and other towns on the same day. Even added together the numbers protesting were clearly down. This cannot be put down to the force of reactionary patriotic sentiment of ‘getting behind our troops’ that might explain similar reduced numbers protesting in Britain.
Undoubtedly the international propaganda offensive that has been mounted across the world has had its effect in Ireland but the government’s unpopular decision to openly support the war without a second UN resolution by allowing overflights and facilities at Shannon airport can only have intensified anger at the war. So also should the horrific scenes of the bombing of Baghdad that were presented on television screens across the world.
Possibly the major reason is rather obvious. The demonstrations across the world on 15th February were called to prevent the war. Their patent failure to do so will have been a demoralising experience for many, particularly those newest to political engagement. Some will have thought that their protest, any protest, is in vain and that they will not be listened to. They will wonder whether, if they cannot stop the war before it starts, how protest action can stop the war now that it has started.
To a large extent this problem is outside the control of the anti-war movement but it is incumbent on the movement to explain how, having explained that the war could be prevented by protest demonstrations, it has started when the demonstrations of 15th February far exceeded expectations. This is not a historical question. It is one that any sensible person protesting against the war will want answered – how do we stop this war? Involved in this is a question of strategy, a question that unfortunately the anti-war movement shows no indication of addressing.
Another national demonstration is now organised for next Saturday but while it is already clear that demonstrations on their own will not be enough it is not clear what further action these demonstrations are designed to promote. The chairperson of the Anti-War Movement and SWP member Richard Boyd Barrett called for ‘peaceful civil disobedience’ but there was no sign that the failure of the 10 minute stoppage called for after the start of war has been recognised never mind addressed. The exemplary action of school children who left classes to demonstrate, especially in the north, has partially covered up the overall failure of workers to take the action that some on the left had confidently predicted.
Socialist Democracy gave out almost 2,000 copies of its Anti-War Bulletin (see copy on this web site) addressing these questions. In general protestors were eager to take leaflets and some could be seen keenly reading our Bulletin. While some marchers refused saying that they were there simply to call for ‘peace’ there was no sign of discarded leaflets.
In our Bulletin Socialist Democracy argued the importance of building real democratic structures of the Anti-War Movement to draw on and involve the thousands of people who have been brought onto demonstrations. It is these people who have the potential to become the activists that can turn the movement into one able to achieve its objectives. Every effort and every opportunity must therefore be taken to encourage them to take on this role and to bring their energy and imagination into organisation of the movement. This was not done on the 22nd.
While a meeting of the campaign had been organised for the next day, on Sunday, there was no leaflet given out on the demonstration encouraging attendance. This and the lack of direction given on the platform are symptomatic of a political failure on the part of those in the leadership of the campaign.
This missed opportunity to build the movement was doubly disappointing. Only around 50 people attended the Sunday meeting, composed mainly of SP and SWP members with a smattering of independents. Supporters of the movement also missed the opportunity to hear a powerful speech from a member of the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group representing the families of victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre, who made known their opposition to the war.
A third reason for disappointment was the result of a discussion on a proposed lobby of the special delegate conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which is to take place on Wednesday 25th in Dublin. This conference is scheduled to discuss acceptance or rejection of the latest social partnership deal between the trade unions, employers and government. One participant in the meeting proposed a lobby of the conference to call on delegates and ICTU to support the anti-war campaign, support next Saturdays national demonstration and organise real strike action against the war.
Amazingly this was opposed and voted down by the overwhelming majority in the room. Instead they proposed asking ICTU for a speaker to address the conference. The difference between the two approaches is not minor. While the first is a political challenge to ICTU and appeal to the delegates the latter is a supplication to the bureaucratic leaders of ICTU. The organisers of the Sunday meeting attempted to cover for this bureaucracy and their responsibility to organise and lead the action by claiming that such action has to be organised from the bottom up by passing resolutions at branch level.
Readers of this web site will recall that this is precisely the argument put by the SWP’s Eamonn McCann at a public meeting in Belfast and which we had thought the SWP had rejected through his call for ICTU to organise strike action at the February 15th demonstration in Belfast. It is now clear that a diplomatic alliance exists between the left organisations and the ICTU bureaucracy which allows the latter to maintain the pretence that it is opposed to the war while doing little in its power to take real action that might actually stop Irish collaboration with it.
The proposer of the lobby pointed out that she had passed a resolution at her branch but that when it came to taking strike action on the day after the war broke out fellow teachers wanted to see the notice on the board displaying the support and backing of their union. This is what ICTU has failed to provide and it is this failure which needs to be challenged. She said it was a disgrace that the trade union movement should be partners with an Irish government who are partners with those dropping bombs on Baghdad.
But now it is worse. The Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party are now partners with the trade union bureaucrats who are partners with the government supporting this imperialist war. Members and supporters of these organisations must end the diplomatic alliance that now exists between their organisations and ICTU and begin a real discussion of the strategy and action necessary to end Irish collaboration with this war.