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Dublin riots

ICTU support state capitulation to racism, new police powers

02 December 2023

ICTU organised rally at GPO.

The working class have an important role in the growth of fascist and racist forces. They can either mobilise to stop the growing movement in its tracks or retreat in disorder.  From this perspective the Irish Congress of Trades union demonstration in Dublin was a massive betrayal of the workers movement.

In February much lower levels of anti-migrant protest led to 50,000 marching in Dublin with the participation of a number of major unions alongside NGOs and political parties.  Today the violent rioting, threats to public sector workers and death threats to migrants were met with a lunchtime rally of about 600 people, mostly officials and union branch members. There was no attempt to mobilise any significant section of the working class - for example by calling out bus drivers in response to the attacks on drivers. No further action has been announced.

The politics were just as poor as the level of organisation. ICTU General Secretary Owen Reidy said that: “the xenophobic and racist nature of some of the violence last week does not represent us”.  He heaped praise on the Gardaí, standing alongside him on the platform for a wonderful response, while in reality they had capitulated to the racists and applied a public policy of conciliating the far right. Phil Ní Sheaghdha, General Secretary of the nurses` union, said that; “this is an Ireland for all” and that the health service needed migrant workers, hardly an answer to the anti-migrant mobilisation.

It was quite clear that this was the unions virtue signalling their anti-racist credentials while failing to announce any further mobilisation and passing the buck back to the state.  To underline this, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe was in the crowd.

The problem with this perspective is that the response to the riots has been a sharp turn to the right by the government in an attempt to conciliate the racists. The talk is of “allowing the Garda to take the gloves off”, of water cannon, tasers and street patrols that would check the credentials of migrants.

In reality, the Gardaí have no need to take the gloves off. They have a long history of repression, corruption and brutality aimed at the left. A recent left demonstration saw a Garda confiscate leaflets from a leading member of People Before Profit. The soft line towards racists is an openly stated policy of not falling into the trap of confronting the right, enforced over and over again in many violent rightist demonstrations.

The tide of reaction has seen the revival of hate crime legislation. As with empowering the Gardaí, this will essentially be a restriction of free speech aimed at the workers.

The ICTU response shows an incredible weakness in defence of the working class. The union bureaucracy has been immersed in decades of social partnership with the government.  The socialist groups call for militant trade unionism, but their only plan is to fall into line behind ICTU. The large February march was constructed with the NGOs, but many of them support “Hate Speech” laws as part of support for Trans ideology. The overall plan for reform of Irish society hangs around a left government led by Sinn Féin, but Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who was at the demonstration, has now positioned her party as the law-and-order party, demanding even greater reinforcement of the police.

So how can a movement be built?

The basic starting point is to unite around a policy of defending the working class. The rightist slogan of Ireland for the Irish is in essence a call for unity with the Irish elites who are oppressing us all.

The counter position is unity of the working class. Anti-migrant politics are an attempt to fragment that class while mounting offensives which aid state repression. Instead of Ireland for the Irish we stand for the Workers Republic.

Organisationally we need a defence movement that will mobilise against the right. We should not ignore the unions or the left, but we have to accept that they will not lead the struggle for this movement.  In addition we have to tackle the cause of the crisis - a housing and public service crisis which is driving many workers to despair. The unions signed up to failed government housing plans and a central task is to oppose this.

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