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Thousands demonstrate in Dublin in ICTU demonstration

Joe Carter

7 November 2009

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions call for demonstrations against government policy received a big response across the Irish State on Friday when ICTU estimated that 150,000 took part in demonstrations in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Tullamore, Sligo, Dundalk and Dublin.  The Garda estimated that 30,000 turned up in Dublin but ICTU’s estimate of 70,000 was perhaps more accurate.

This was less than the 130,000 that had demonstrated in Dublin in February but the latest demonstrations included protests in these other cities and towns across the State.  In general it would be correct to say that fewer people marched this time but it is equally clear that a large section of working people are deeply opposed to their being scapegoated for the economic crisis and angry that they are being compelled to pay while the bankers are bailed out.

The Dublin demonstration was dominated by public sector workers and it was noticeable that unlike February there were few apparently unorganised workers taking part.  This was much more a trade union demonstration while that in February had more of the flavour of a working class demonstration that had managed to touch a chord with wider layers of the population.

There has been a vicious campaign to divide private and public sector workers with one Green Minister talking about ‘civil war’ between them and there is no doubt that this has had some success.  This campaign has sought to exploit the existing weakness of trade unionism among private sector workers and has also exposed the worthless character of ICTU’s ‘opposition.’


Thus, while the demonstrations were very big, and the anger of workers against the government and bankers palpable and bitter, the militant sounding speeches at the end of the demonstrations signalled no change to the fundamentals of ICTU’s policy; and this policy is a betrayal of the workers who marched in February and who marched again on Friday.  This opposition comes down to one thing only – drawing out the time in which cuts in workers living standards are implemented.  It is based on the pious hope that an economic upturn will make some of the cuts unnecessary.

Thus contrary to journalists’ ramblings in ‘The Irish Times’ that ‘the Government and unions are on a collision course over their diametrically opposed economic strategies’, there is no such opposition.  There is no opposition to NAMA, no opposition to the need for cuts and no intention of walking away from existing talks with the Government which have as their agenda where and how these cuts will be implemented.

Many demonstrators held up posters calling for ICTU’s ‘better and fairer way’ which means accepting that workers should bear the pain as long as the rich do also.  There is never ever any statement about just what this fair share should be because this would immediately bring two things to the fore.  One – that ICTU cannot say what this is, and two – that workers’ fair share should be zero since they did nothing to bring this crisis about.  The current slogan allows ICTU to stick to social partnership and the policy of talking to Government which derailed workers’ action earlier in the year while still retaining credibility with their members


Further action endorsed by trade union leaders is to take place with public sector strikes planned for the 24 November.  These actions should be supported and built for but their impact, just like that of the demonstrations, will be determined not just by their success in mobilising large numbers but by their being part of a bigger strategy.  Unfortunately statement after statement out of the union leadership reveals that not only is there no deeper or wider strategy or confidence of success there is open acceptance of defeat.  Both McLoone of the IMPACT trade union and Blair Horan of the PSEU have made statements that reveal that workers leaders have already accepted the cuts and simply seek to modify them.  No wonder the Government and the media can claim so confidently that policy will not change.

‘The Irish Times’ was able to proclaim in its editorial after Friday’s demonstrations that ICTU’s policy of accepting redundancies in the public sector and cuts in services but not cuts in pay was ‘both selfish and corrosive’ because it ‘reduces services to the public’ and ‘increases job losses.’  It should be obvious that a policy has to be really rotten if it allows those who favour the most brutal cuts to get on their high horse to condemn ICTU for supporting a policy of job losses and service cuts.  Unfortunately, despite all the union leaders words about defending jobs, the ‘Times’ description of ICTU policy is correct.’

‘The Irish Times’ editorial unfortunately is also therefore correct to ask – ‘where is the concept of workers’ solidarity in that (ICTU’s) approach?’  This approach means not defending either jobs or services but attempting to surrender both to defend pay levels.  It will not work even to achieve this.  Instead it nourishes the Government’s and bosses attempts to divide workers into two opposed camps of private and public sector.

It is absolutely true to say, as every trade unionist knows – including ICTU - that cutting public sector pay is a means of undermining wages in the private sector but it is also true that private sector workers will not be encouraged to defend public sector workers if these workers do not also make defence of the services that both sets of workers use a non-negotiable principle of their actions.  Tomorrow we will see the unemployed pitched against those working class people in a job and again ICTU’s policy of accepting redundancies will play right into the hands of those who seek one means after another to divide the working class.


There was therefore an ‘amorphous’ (‘The Irish Times’ 07/11/09) character to Friday’s demonstration that betrayed the anger held by those demonstrating.  ‘A better, fairer’ way will not save workers living standards and conditions.  It is a fig leaf that allows ICTU to pose as an opposition while negotiating betrayal.  A real strategy would signal complete opposition to all cuts over any time horizon; involve a policy of getting the unemployed back to work through workers controlled enterprises funded by the State; opposition to NAMA and a workers take over of the banks; seizure of speculators assets if they cannot pay back their loans and winding up of the banks if they are insolvent; creation of a new workers owned bank to fund the ending of unemployment and taxing the rich through income and wealth taxes to fund the defence of public services.

A strategy of actions – demonstrations, pickets and more effective and extensive rank and file action could be implemented to build to a general strike to impose these policies.  Of course they will not be implemented by Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael and the Labour Party have expressed support for the cuts.  This means that building a new working class party must be a priority for all workers who want to fight to defend their wages, jobs and services.  The crisis is such that only radical solutions are adequate but it is currently clear that this is not widely understood.  It therefore falls to the small socialist movement to explain and agitate for these solutions.

The demonstration gave some small sign that the socialist organisations have moved left under pressure from the crisis.  Where they ignored or failed to realise the treacherous role of ICTU and the union leadership in February they warned protestors of their actions in leaflets this time.  The Socialist Party made the treacherous role of ICTU a central message of their leaflet to the demonstration even if they did not mention replacing them.  Even the Socialist Workers Party warned against the union leadership although it did not call for a new leadership and appeared to think that we have not already seen the first signs of a sell-out by ICTU.  Unfortunately their call for a party ‘to the left of the Labour Party’ and one ‘that stands 100 percent with the unions’ is one that would be consistent with the current ICTU leadership.  The scale of the crisis has not therefore found in this organisation anywhere near an adequate response.


The mood of the demonstrators in Dublin on Friday was less variable than that in February.  It was more sober and more serious, and all the better for it.  But the ‘amorphous’ nature of the demonstration was revealed in the presence of Blair Horan, who has already accepted the principle of cuts, and the Labour Party which has made clear its agreement with them.  Members of the PSEU and the Labour Party need to challenge and replace their leaders if they are to take part in such demonstrations without being charged with hypocrisy, and other demonstrators must be ready to level this charge against them on future protests.

When the Government sees demonstrations such as Friday’s armed with a real programme of opposition then we can be confident that we will defeat their attacks.  The task for all militants is to join together to build the rank and file working class movement that can replace ICTU and lead workers to victory over the Government and bosses.


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