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Belfast May Day: retreat by bureaucracy 

Time for Socialists to step forward.

20 May 2014

In the early 1970's the Irish Congress of Trade Unions played their part in defending the working class. In the face of mass protest and military repression they cancelled the Belfast May Day demonstrations over a period of years.

This was the a statement by the union bureaucracy, supported by the Communist Party, of an idea that is now central to the  current settlement: that the loyalist counter-revolution supported by the British, was simply an expression of culture and that the working class role was to be neutral.

It is true that 2014 May Day demonstrations were held. However, like the smile of the Cheshire cat, the Union leadership was largely invisible. 

The main concern of the organisers, expressed over and over again, was to get the meeting over and gallop it around the town before loyalist "fleg" protesters gathered at the city hall. The ancient reflex of making themselves invisible in the face of loyalist reaction was to the fore. 

The most unusual aspect of the demonstration was the empty platform. Over the past years the May Day stage has been packed with bureaucrats, many fleeing Dublin demonstrations where it had become dangerous to appear in public. Their absence is partly due to electoral activity in support of the Labour component of the austerity government in Dublin, partly due to the absence of any programme that is anything more than an endorsement of the status quo.

Such is their commitment to capitalism that the demonstrations are sponsored by state grants. There is no such thing as a free lunch, so the price of the grant is that an anniversary commemorating the self-organization of the working class is transformed into "a family friendly day out." The focus this year was a circus in Custom house square. It was titled "festival of fools," proving that the clowns who run the union bureaucracy lack any sense of irony.

In the middle of farce there is some opportunity. In the absence of the Union bosses less senior members of the trade union movement took a more radical line. A member of ICTU's youth committee, speaking in Belfast called, to loud applause, for the overthrow of capitalism. 

In Derry one speaker spewed out the party line: Sinn Fein and the DUP should "set aside their differences" to look after the workers. On the other hand the UNISON speaker called for self organization of the workers and an end to cosy deals that left employers free to ride roughshod over the rights of their employees.

In the 1970s our predecessor organization, People's Democracy, took over the organization of May Day in Belfast. Unfortunately we did nor undertake the political work needed to rebuild May Day on a different basis and we were easily displaced when ICTU felt it safe to return to the streets.

Trade union and activists have a year to organize. In May 2015, rather than tail behind the "festival of fools," we could join together to advance a programme for the workers - a programme for revolution.


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