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County Cavan: Ireland in microcosm?

Eddie McLaughlin

7 August 2012

The recent activities of the Quinn phenomenon has focused attention on the workers in his industries, but not in any flattering way.  Sinn Fein, and the petit bourgeoisie in general, wobble all over the place trying to judge which way the wind is blowing and no sincere attempt to give leadership to the workers emanates from Liberty hall.  Beyond a doubt, if the ruling Gombeen class thought that by crucifying Sean Quinn as a scapegoat they could solve their image problem then without a blink they would do it. They would sacrifice willingly the capitalist that moved a mountain in Ballyconnell to provide the cement for their speculative building frenzy, fed and facilitated by easy money and the neo liberal capitalist ideology that justified it.

Arguments are consistently made for Sean Quinn that he kept his interests local and provided employment for Ballyconnell but the same could be said for any major industry, Adria did it in Strabane, Nestle did it in Omagh, Aer Lingus in Dublin, Waterford Crystal, the shipyard in Belfast, and all of them did their best to convince their employees, with varying degrees of success, that they had their best interests at heart. Wrights in Ballymena do it today and Sainsbury’s, M&S and all major corporations play a similar game, they attempt to impose their corporate identity on their employees. This has always been the case and the struggle for a class based consciousness had to be fought for by real people, fighting trade unionists, who could see through the bull and organise workers to fight for their own independent interests. The corporate identity that has been imposed on the people of Cavan, abandoned by a government that failed to present any semblance of a plan for industrial or even agricultural development, is no different to that of other corporations. It is just that the neglect of their county has made the imposition of the Quinn corporate identity all the easier. 

While local workers demonstrate in support of Quinn because it seems the state is willing to scapegoat him Quinn is still a multi-millionaire with at least €32 million squirreled away that we know about and his family receive handsome remuneration from Russian investments. He will defend his own interests first as he has always done, through a string of financial manoeuvres, and will cut and run when it suits him. For the workers of Cavan and Fermanagh, campaigning on Quinn’s behalf does not represent the actions of an independent working class and it will not serve them well. It represents instead a slavish dependency on a local capitalist enterprise, a microcosm of the national dependence on global corporations. Is this a surprise? 

For those who demonstrated in favour of Quinn there is the excuse that there were ties of community and historically established cross class affiliations such as the GAA which have traditionally glued over the cracks in class stratification in Irish rural society. It could also be said that they have no developed trade union consciousness, but are we to blame the workers for a lack of socialist consciousness? Who really is to blame, the people who were potential recruits or the well paid organisers that failed to develop class conscious self-interest among the work force? Our ‘fighting’ trade unions that know better yet still crawl on their knees to their political ‘masters’ to plead for more time to pay for their economic crimes are the real villains in this scene, it is their failure which means this weakness in a small dependent rural community is actually representative of the whole country.  There simply is no fight in them, they act not as the leadership of the working class but as their management, telling us when we have no other option but to accept redundancies, but they will ‘fight’ for our proper severance money and a proper pension payment, hurrah! They manage the decline in industries by a charade of pseudo negotiation followed by inaction which allows a creeping acceptance of the reality of their master’s power to permeate the consciousness of their membership and finally they cave in with a couple of minor concessions, granted to cover their shame.

Where is the fighting leadership that could have said to the workers of Cavan why wait for Sean Quinn’s go ahead, occupy the cement and glass plants and, take control of them and we will call for similar action in all threatened or already closed industries. Where is the inspirational leadership given to Irish workers that formed the labour movement from 1913 to 1919? Why don’t they take action and then see where Sean and all the vociferous layers of the Irish petit bourgeoisie stand then. Is this thinking beyond the pale for Ireland’s working class leadership? It is a tragedy to see a dependent powerless working class rally in support of the capitalist class, but that tragedy did not drop from the sky. Years of betrayal and neglect have left us with a trade union leadership that is little more than a paper tiger, they blame the workers for every defeat and they sit back and sneer at this sad spectacle, heaping their condescension on the betrayed workers of Cavan and Fermanagh. The Irish working class has been betrayed by these misleaders and the rally in Cavan is a manifestation of that betrayal. Only honest and determined union leadership can provide a beacon for abandoned and powerless workers, but will this emanate from ICTU, the signatories of the Croke Park betrayal and many more before it? They skulk silently in the shadows while the corporate multi millionaire Sean Quinn usurps their role as a workers’ leader because he has more of a claim on those workers than they have, shame on ICTU! But is it such a surprise?


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