Austerity vote: Where now for the resistance?
The vote on the financial stability pact was an undisguised class struggle. This underlying pattern was present in the vote. Middle class areas were strongly pro-austerity. The fact is that the class war outside Ireland is reflected inside. Even in the depth of the crisis Irish capitalism has failed to tax itself and the upper layers of the middle classes and working classes live very comfortable lives. The richer the area, the bigger the yes vote. Only in working class areas were there majority no votes.
The capitalists mobilized all their forces: The major parties, including the Labour party, big business, the media and the big farmers. In contrast only minor forces organized on the side of the workers and this led to demoralisation and a low working class turnout.
The hidden story of the campaign was an historic betrayal by the trade union bureaucracy. Through the Croke Park agreement they collaborated with and implemented the austerity programme. They claimed that this was simply an agreement to protect public sector pay by freezing it. Their programme was for a "better fairer way" based on extra state expenditure to create jobs.
If this had been true then there would have been a mass mobilization by the union leaders against a pact that outlaws the Keynesian measures they claim to support. Instead they began to speak in tongues. The ICTU secretary, David Begg, denounced the pact but concluded that there was no choice but to accept it. ICTU agreed to disagree and individual unions ranged from full-blooded support to an opposition that never went beyond a press statement. In no sense did the union leaderships split. They agreed to disagree and avoided any confrontation within their ranks. With the campaign over they unite again behind Begg and company.
The absence of a campaign of opposition shows that the effective policy of the trade union leadership was collaboration with austerity in the hope that capitalism would recover. The left bureaucracy was content with a brief period of verbal opposition.
So the tasks for socialists are quite clear-cut. We need a mass movement of the working class and a party to put forward an alternative working class programme.
These are urgent tasks. The austerity offensive has not reached its limit with the vote. In the absence of a working class voice Sinn Fein, oozing hypocrisy from every pore, stand ready to proclaim themselves the tribune of the workers.
Unfortunately the majority of Irish socialists turned away from any confrontation with the bureaucracy. In the absence of that confrontation the battle was fought on the ground of electoralism rather than any strategy of class struggle or any suggestion that the rejection of the stability pact implied a working-class challenge to capitalism and an advance towards socialism.
The capitalist argument was simple. Anything less than absolute capitulation to the European powers risked economic failure. If we resisted they would refuse to bail out Irish banks again and the Irish economy would collapse absolutely.
The majority of socialist spokespeople avoided a direct confrontation and reassured workers that a no vote did not represent any fundamental challenge to capitalism, that imperialism would immediately forgive us and bail out the Irish banks if required and that a no vote would unlock an alternative growth strategy within capitalism. In the most extreme cases the campaigns degenerated into attempts to build constituency bases for the next Dail elections.
There are two activist organizations with the potential to become the base for a working class regroupment. One is the United Left Alliance (ULA). The other is the household charge campaign.
The ULA held a conference at the start of the campaign and there was an attempt to democratize its structure, with positions on the steering committee for two directly elected delegates. There was little discussion of policy and no acknowledgement that the alliance had retreated from initial revolutionary and socialist policies towards reformism.
The household charge campaign had been built, at the insistence of the socialist party, on a no politics basis. During the campaign it held a conference where it was necessary to confront the anarchist wing of the campaign in order to launch a more general anti-austerity campaign able to participate in a call for a no vote,
Both these steps were small advances, but they will be built on sand if the political issues are not taken up. The capitalist bail-out is failing. The trade unions “better fairer way” is illusion masking betrayal,
Who will argue the socialist case if the socialists do not?