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May Day 2016 in Belfast 

Absence, Apathy and abstraction

2 May 20016

The May Day demonstration in Belfast is traditionally the biggest in Ireland - not because it is very big, but because decades of social partnership between Unions and bosses have shrunk demonstrations south of the border to minuscule proportions.

However this year Belfast caught up with the rest of Ireland, with attendance measured in the hundreds.


Well, there was the absence of any mention of Fresh Start - the savage austerity programme signed off by the union leadership. This led to an absence of workers, demoralised and apathetic as both political and economic leaderships sell them out and sectarian identity replaces workers solidarity. Even the majority of the socialist groups stayed away. They have agreed to line up with the union leadership but are busy with hopes for electoral success in the Stormont elections.

Into the vacuum stepped the "left" and "right" of the union bureaucracy, with bland abstractions meant to reassure.

The right was represented by ICTU's Peter Bunting. His May Day statement was a hymn of praise to the Stormont executive and its subcommittees for passing employment regulations. Bunting is well known for his unconditional support for the devolved administration. The Fresh Start agreement means that workers are expected to sacrifice living standards to keep the sectarian assembly afloat. Bunting argues that we will gain from the new regulations even as 20,000 jobs disappear from the public sector. 

Consistent to a fault, he goes on to argue that we should oppose Brexit because of the progressive role of European institutions, even as these institutions collude in the deaths of refugees and drive sections of the Greek working class towards starvation.

More interesting is the arguments of the "left" represented by UNITE and UNISON. UNITE's Jimmy Kelly led a contingent with the slogan "Stormont must act." Many would argue that Stormont has acted, by imposing "Fresh Start," but UNITE means the alternative "better, fairer" Keynesian programme that they have presented.

Facts such as Stormont's colonial status and the reality of the DUP as a far right party are not allowed to get in the way of a good story.

What the "left" bureaucracy actually advocate is dancing in the cracks. They plan to protest specific cuts while accepting the overall austerity. They have won the acceptance of the left, but await the response of the workers.

The size of the defeat inflicted by Fresh Start can be judged from the size of the May Day march, by the poverty of the arguments put forward by the bureaucracy and by the acquiescence of the left.

Meanwhile, in Paris, Berlin and Instanbul workers and youth on May Day re-enter the political  stage and find themselves in hand to hand fighting with the state.

The bureaucracy say that this is impossible in Ireland. The revolutionaries say it is inevitable. 

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