Right2Water is reborn
The mobilization is there, now where’s
26 September 2016
The 50,000+ Right2Water demonstration
in Dublin on the 17th of September was a strong indication of the continuing
levels of opposition to austerity among Irish workers and can only add
to the fragility of the minority Fine Gael government. It also saw changes
in composition of the mobilisation. The AAA/PBP alliance, which had failed
to follow instructions and transfer votes to Sinn Fein in the general election,
were demoted, although Paul Murphy was able to speak in support of defendants
in the Jobstown trials, who are facing a criminalization offensive by the
state. Sinn Fein itself, for the first time, committed a large number of
members, an indication that they intend to pump up their left credentials
in alliance with the Right2Water union leaders. The republican group
eirigi led a large anti-imperialist front. While their platform did not
go beyond calls for further mass lobbying, it holds out the possibility
of a pole of mobilization outside the grip of the union bureaucracy.
However, in common with other areas of
Europe, the political weakness of the movement is evident, with populism
and nationalism winning out over class consciousness.
The march called for the ending of water
charging, but as charges are currently suspended this is hardly a clearly
In fact the movement is in the hands of
the left of the trade union bureaucracy and allies in self-appointed community
groups. The timing of the march could only serve to reinforce the Irish
Congress of Trade Union's submission to government - a routine sub-Keynesian
programme of investment for growth, wealth taxes and action to solve the
The inevitable rejection of their plan
will not upset the union leaders. Plan B is plan A all over again - continue
to lobby capitalism for reform.
In fact this strategy has led to division.
The majority of the union bureaucracy used the Labour party element of
the last coalition government to justify collaboration and were reduced
to calling for the return of the austerity government as the least worst
The left began to look for an electoral
alternative. They wound up the Right2Water mobilization and converted it
into the "Right2Change" electoral machine, built around a jumble of nationalist
demands. A failed attempt was made to co-opt the socialist groups into
a new left party built around Sinn Fein, despite that party's implementation
of austerity in the North and faithfulness to the "fiscal space" in the
budget allowed by the Troika.
Despite their failure the left bureaucracy
were able to make a 180° turn and reanimate Right2Water.
The fact that they were able to do this
illustrates something very significant. The lobbying strategy of the union
bureaucracy is not in contradiction to popular consciousness.
This consciousness, and its limitations,
is reflected in the voting pattern in the election. Voters hammered the
government parties but fragmented when it came to an alternative. Sinn
Fein's attempt to supplant the populist Fianna Fail was unsuccessful and
the strongest trend was towards localism and non-party candidates.
The weakness of this position, founded
on a long history of clientelism, was shown when the Independent Alliance
banded together and sold their votes to return Fine Gael to power and continue
the austerity programme as before, with water charges suspended and the issue kicked
into the long grass.
At the moment the left trade union leaders
have absolute authority. Reformism, the lack of democratic structures and
the lack of a programme and strategy to fight austerity overall are a tremendous
At the moment an unprecedented show trial
is taking place in the children's court. The former leader of the Labour
party is the chief accuser of a teenager. The case is that a protest, where
the Labour leader's car was hemmed in, was a major criminal conspiracy
involving kidnap/unlawful imprisonment with the potential for long jail
sentences. In stark contrast to this show trial the Anglo banker
‘Seanie’ Fitzpatrick is provided with a sham trial whereby jurors who might
have been affected by the banks or who are against the austerity resulting
from the bank collapse are barred from sitting on the jury under threat
of heavy penalties if they fail to declare their opinions.
The union bureaucracy, still half in bed
with Labour, have stayed away from the trial, underlining the reality that
a movement unwilling to defend itself is unlikely to succeed.
The broader issue is that Irish economic
"recovery" is based on increased exploitation of workers and there are
a whole series of sharp battles on wages, services, privatisation and housing
that cannot be contained within the Right2Water structures.
The union bureaucracies' use of mass lobbying
is akin to threatening your opponent with a stick of dynamite. On the one
hand both unions and government know there is no detonator. On the other
hand each new demonstration holds out the possibility of accident and an