Return to bulletin menu

Unions, workers and resistance
Socialists see history as unending class struggle. Even in times of capitalist victory and working class retreat that struggle continues. However as the workers retreat the forms of resistance become weaker - at one stage the main critique of Thatcherism in Britain came from the established church.

In the same way the trade unions have survived decades of reaction, not because they have vehemently defended the workers, but because they have been weak and ineffectual. 

The bureaucrats have collaborated with the austerity, pleading for fairness and wringing their hands when it is not forthcoming. They capitulated to laws that limit industrial action and then use the laws to argue that resistance is impossible.

Strikes are almost unknown. When they do occur they have a completely different dynamic to the industrial    actions of the past. Once they would have threatened a more general challenge to government and bosses. Today they are one day wonders, used to add emphasis to what are essentially lobbying campaigns.

Workers support

The strange corollary of union ineffectiveness is that workers cling to them more tightly than ever in the absence of any alternative. Strike action calls out a disciplined response from workers. Union demonstrations bring out tens of thousands.

However this is a process in decay. Workers cannot avoid noticing that there is no let up in austerity or that union leaders become more deeply mired in partnership with government and employers.

A countervailing tendency appears - spontaneous popular mobilizations. These have a great deal more energy because they are not under the control of the union bureaucracy, but are cut off from the workplace and often lack clear structures and policies.

Water charges 

The current struggle against water charges has seen the emergence of spontaneous movement headed by the left of the trade union bureaucracy. This indicates that the trade unions continue to have considerable authority. However a recent interview with an unnamed leader of right2water, combined with the way in which the campaign has been conducted and their willingness to condemn activists being harried by Garda and the even more recent retreat from broad mobilizations show how uncomfortable the left bureaucrats are with the size of the mass activity.

In the interview with the Irish Examiner the right2water spokesperson indicated that they "hadn't gone away," had been lobbying politicians and were discussing setting up a new political party. In other words retreating from mobilization towards more constitutional forms of action as Irish water becomes more firmly established and water charging is implemented.


How can we go beyond the current impasse? 

The trade unions should be part of the resistance, but this can best be done by mounting a challenge to a reformist leadership that constantly demobilises struggle.

The base for that struggle is the working class communities who are the most militant combatants.

There should be a democratic national movement, established by an open conference. "Steering committees" are all too easily used to set up deals behind the backs of the activists.

There should be a simple common policy to close down Irish water. Blather about human rights leaves too much wriggle room for the fainthearted.

The workers need a party

Trade unionism and mass community action are not enough. The workers need a party.  But what sort of party? Will it be an Irish SYRIZA or PODEMOS focused on  parliament and negotiations with imperialism? Or will it be a party of revolution focused on the streets and workplaces and aiming to build an alternative socialist society?

It would be wrong to say that the trade union left are suppressing the revolutionary impulses of the workers. It is very likely that many share the reformist illusions of bureaucrats. What is happening is that reformist leadership constricts the self-organization of the workers and that is through that self-organization and independent action that workers can gain confidence and act in their own behalf.

That's why a democratic national movement with a representative leadership and a clear action programme is so essential. 


Return to top of page