Dublin demonstration against the racist referendum – make-believe unity cuts no ice
31st May 2004
Kevin Keating & John McAnulty
Saturday May 29th saw a colourful demonstration of 200 people march from the Central bank in Dame Street, Dublin to the GPO. The demonstration, organised by the Campaign against the Racist Referendum (CARR) was held in advance of the forthcoming referendum aimed at preventing those born in Ireland to non-Irish parents from gaining automatic citizenship. Meetings were held both before and after the match and the activists were addressed by a wide range of the organisations calling for a No vote in the referendum as well as by a number of prominent individuals. At the end of the demonstration there were announcements about a future meeting, a fundraiser and other activities.
At first sight a standard demonstration. It is only on reflection that one does a double take. The referendum is days away. Opinion polls show that around 50% of the population are prepared to vote Yes to a racist deformation of the constitution and that less that a third have decided to vote No. The size of the demonstration shows that CARR has failed to mobilise even the forces of the left. Yet there is little sign of concern or urgency. It was as if the demonstration and the campaign stood in a virtual bubble, detached from the looming threat to the whole of the Irish working class.
And in a number of important ways the demonstration represents a virtual campaign, lacking in substance. It lacks political coherence, having from the first meeting agreed to disagree about everything but the simple No vote. The result is a real babble, with a soft focus – Labour calling for a No vote because of a lack of facts and figures and therefore by implication suggesting that with more facts and figures a Yes would be OK! Sinn Fein arguing that we need an immigration policy urgently but one based more on human rights and ignoring the fact that the only arguments for an immigration policy are racist! A number of other arguments suggest that we can defeat a racist referendum by supporting a sectarian Good Friday Agreement. The Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party put stronger arguments based on workers rights but have never made these policies issues within the campaign.
In one other important way the campaign lacked substance. The demonstration was made up of representatives of organisations rather than the organisations themselves. If all the organisations who claim to support the campaign had mobilised the demonstration would have been in the tens of thousands – if even the left had mobilised there would have been several thousand militants on the march. In reality many of the organisations were busy canvassing for the council and Euro elections and clearly prioritise the faint possibility of the election a small number of lefts to the councils or to a toothless Europarliament over a global attack on workers rights.
One of the ironies of the CARR campaign is that a strategy meant to promote unity is unable to question the token support offered and ends up as a comfort zone that disguises a real lack of unity and willingness to face up to the central threats to the working class.
Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein’s Eurocandidate, gave the game away. “If we had more time we could win this one”.
The obituaries are being written before the campaign is over. In the political landscape of Dublin the campaign posters are interspersed with demands from Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats that we vote Yes to the racist referendum. The odd Labour poster calls plaintively for facts and figures. Beyond that there is no evidence of a left counterattack. The truth is that there is no such counterblast and it is the lack of a working-class political opposition that boosts the polls predicting success for the racists.
The fight to build that opposition will be just as urgent on the day following the referendum as on the day before. Make-believe unity simply obscures the tasks that face us.