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“Defending” Clery’s workers – a moralistic circus 

1 July 2015

Recently we wrote about the Clery's scandal, where Irish speculators, in conjunction with US vulture capitalism, managed to slice and dice the assets of the Dublin store so that the property stayed with them and the liabilities, including workers wages and pensions, leaseholder's capital and stock, went into a liquidation process.  

We suggested that the only weapons available to the workers were the occupation of the property and solidarity action by other workers.

The unions adopted a completely different process. Solidarity becomes an online petition saying how upset and sad you are. The aim is a call to the speculators to meet the workers. What they have done is completely legal but perhaps, if they meet the workers, they will see how immoral their behaviour is.

The second string in their bow is an appeal to the state to legislate and ban this sort of behaviour. The Fine Gael majority in the government have already indicated that the laws are fine as they are. The labour minority have doubted the possibility of regulating property speculation, given that it is main activity of the Irish gombeen capitalist, but hope to legislate for some compensation for workers and state-sponsored negotiating rights for the unions.

The problem is that this combination of moralism and appeals to the capitalists for a fairer way was the mechanism used by the unions to collaborate in the plundering of the Irish workforce throughout the austerity. The fact that all the opposition groups have given unqualified support to the union campaign means that they are proceeding down a road of empty reformism, leading nowhere.

The circus reached Dublin council on June 29th.  An amalgam of Labour, Sinn Fein, Greens, the socialist groups and independents extended a planning rule requiring a retail development at Clery's site. It is not clear if this will represent a problem for developers.

Councillors Brid Smyth of People before Profit / Socialist Workers Party then said that any planning permission should be dependent on the developers meeting the workers. She was contradicted immediately by the City manager, who said that planning decisions could only be made on planning criteria.

It cannot have been a surprise to Brid that local democracy in Ireland does not control economic and planning  decisions - all overseen by unelected City and County managers who go on to control the endless quangos at state level. It is only a few months ago that she suggested that the council re-examine its contract with Greyhound waste disposal because of their appalling treatment of workers. She was sharply corrected by the city manager then and told the decision was above the councillors' pay grade.

So what does it mean when the SWP say the main task is for the developers to meet the workers and propose an imaginary mechanism for forcing that meeting?

It means that they, and the majority of the left, are charlatans. They have no proposals to defend the workers and are simply hanging around the moralistic circus being staged by the union bureaucracy, shouting: "me too".

It is not impossible, though unlikely, that a determined enough publicity campaign might win a limited compensation for the workers. Both the developers and the state would like to see the back of the issue. However both are aware that property speculation and predation are so common that giving the workers any support might increase levels of hope and therefore resistance.

What is not on offer is any possibility of an defence of working class interest – a plan to push back the predators.  That would mean advancing the interests of the working class as a whole rather than unity of union bureaucrats and capitalism on the one hand and a sectarian concentration on electoral advantage on the other.

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