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Major setbacks for the Irish socialist movement 

Where do we go from here?

The programme of the coalition government - a plea for European help with the promissory note, has collapsed. They implemented a second bailout, with no choice but to try to escape the humiliation by pretending that it isn't happening - that really we are being helped by a mortgage. By 2054 the €64 billion will seem like nothing! There are serious divisions in the Labour party, with many members suspecting that they have committed electoral suicide. The leading sections of the trade union bureaucracy have been flushed from cover, standing beside the government and bosses in a plan to slash another billion from public service pay and having signed off on mass privatization and the decay of public services. 


This should represent a major opportunity for the socialist movement in Ireland. In fact it is unable to take advantage of the possibilities for advance because of major setbacks which in turn reflect big policy weaknesses. 

The ULA has fragmented and largely collapsed as a movement. CAHWT - the campaign against household changes, was easily the most active opposition movement. But it also has fragmented. A strategy based solely on non-payment proved unviable. No-one has looked back at this failure and the movement has now switched to a strategy of civil disobedience that, on its own, is also unviable. 


The fact is that the Socialist movement, faced by an all-out offensive and with labour and trade union leaders supporting austerity, did not advance a socialist programme. Instead they concentrated on electoral politics and stood as a loyal oppo-sition to ICTU and its policy of Keynesian reform while ICTU itself used platitudes about investing for jobs as cover for its support for austerity and alliance with the coalition government. 

The February 9th demonstration was a classical example of this. The Union opposition to the budget was really a lobbying call for minor elements of a wealth tax. They openly supported the €3.1 billion cuts that could only be borne by the working class. They followed with a “lift the burden” demonstration that was all too clearly making a common cause with government and bosses for mercy from Europe. The socialists ignore reality, convincing themselves that any demonstration will do, whatever its leadership or aims. Even when Croke Park II is unveiled a routine no vote campaign is organised, in the face of statements that a no vote will be overridden and a much wider movement is needed. 

Yet there is still a burning desire to fight back in sections of the working class. Not only did many stand up to the state in refusing to pay the household charge, they had a very clear understanding of the extent to which they had been solid out by Labour and ICTU bosses. So clearly did they express popular opinion that the union bosses collaborated with the Garda to kettle them on the last Dublin demonstration. There was however no need to kettle the socialist groups! 

Basic demands 

We urgently need a new movement that can popularise basic demands of resistance and build a renewed action campaign. 

A mass campaign to force Labour out of government would open up existing divisions among our opponents and has the potential to pull the plug on the government. 

Mobilising against Social Partnership and Croke Park II must not be restricted to voting or to public service workers. Implementation of the new deal will drive wages down across the board and eat away the social wage we expect in the form of public services. A broad campaign would open the possibility of independent workers organization and action and weaken the grip of the union bureaucracy. 


It is possible that the new United Left group could provide the beginnings of resistance. It would have to make a sharp turn away from the Dail and electoralism in favour of organisation on the streets and a political break from a call for a gentler capitalism towards implementing the left’s initial policy of repudiating the debt and intransigent opposition to all aspects of austerity. The regional anti-austerity campaigns associated with the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes are much more militant, but lack a developed political position and have been set back by the concentration on a single non-payment tactic that has clearly failed. 

The basic problem is that it is much easier to organise on a community basis rather than inside ossified union structures, but any community movement, to succeed, has to turn to the working class and organise on a class basis. 

It will be a struggle to slow or stop the offensive. The starting point is a movement that starts with the needs of the workers, rather than electoral concerns and organises in action to bring together union activists and community activists in new structures that assert the class independence of the workers. 

We should be organising an national convention now to remobilise the movement.



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