Return to Trade Unions/Social Partnership menu
May Day and Irish workers

John McAnulty

15 May 2007

May day is always useful in taking the temperature of the working class. Any regroupment or new mobilisation is bound to be reflected in the traditional demonstrations. The evidence of this year is that there may be slight stirrings amongst the left, but the class itself has still to remobilise.

There were two bits of evidence to support this conclusion.  The first is that the rallies were slightly larger.  The second was that they were more numerous. Besides the traditional Belfast and Dublin demonstrations there were meetings in Cork and Sligo.

The Dublin rally was slightly larger, but the working class were absent.  There was little to attract them, given that the immediate issue, the Nurses strike, was hardly mentioned and the underlying issue, the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and social partnership, completely missing.  The left’s capitulation on social partnership was matched by their growing electoralism.  Token representatives turned up, while the majority were away on the election trail.

The Belfast march was the biggest for some time, in part because of an influx from the Dublin unions and to some degree because the union movement has not been smothered to the same extent by the bonds of formal partnership.  However the bureaucracy were not long in showing that they were just as firmly bound by the informal alliances with government and bosses that exist in the North. The formal focus – a celebration of Jim Larkin and the battle of Belfast transport workers – rang hollow when we reflect that major bus routes were privatised recently without protest and the loss of 500 water workers jobs in the drive to privatisation there had just been announced.

By far the most interesting aspect of the demonstrations was the presence of workers, especially as many had come to protest – against the trade union movement! 
Former ATGWU airport workers protested the sellout of their struggle.  Former ITGWU workers protested being forced to work, and many die, with deadly asbestos and the subsequent cover-up of the case by SIPTU.  Republican activists protested the lack of support for Bobby Sands, who anniversary it was that day.

It all seemed to hint at the future.  When the workers do remobilise it will not be to join meekly on at the back of the march.  They will demand an accounting – one that the Irish trade union leadership will find it hard to supply.


Return to top of page