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Right2Water is reborn

The mobilization is there, now where’s the strategy?
26 September 2016

The 50,000+ Right2Water demonstration in Dublin on the 17th of September was a strong indication of the continuing levels of opposition to austerity among Irish workers and can only add to the fragility of the minority Fine Gael government. It also saw changes in composition of the mobilisation. The AAA/PBP alliance, which had failed to follow instructions and transfer votes to Sinn Fein in the general election, were demoted, although Paul Murphy was able to speak in support of defendants in the Jobstown trials, who are facing a criminalization offensive by the state. Sinn Fein itself, for the first time, committed a large number of members, an indication that they intend to pump up their left credentials in alliance with the Right2Water union leaders.  The republican group eirigi led a large anti-imperialist front. While their platform did not go beyond calls for further mass lobbying, it holds out the possibility of a pole of mobilization outside the grip of the union bureaucracy.
However, in common with other areas of Europe, the political weakness of the movement is evident, with populism and nationalism winning out over class consciousness.
The march called for the ending of water charging, but as charges are currently suspended this is hardly a clearly defined target.

Left bureaucracy
In fact the movement is in the hands of the left of the trade union bureaucracy and allies in self-appointed community groups. The timing of the march could only serve to reinforce the Irish Congress of Trade Union's submission to government - a routine sub-Keynesian programme of investment for growth, wealth taxes and action to solve the housing emergency.
The inevitable rejection of their plan will not upset the union leaders. Plan B is plan A all over again - continue to lobby capitalism for reform.
In fact this strategy has led to division. The majority of the union bureaucracy used the Labour party element of the last coalition government to justify collaboration and were reduced to calling for the return of the austerity government as the least worst option.
The left began to look for an electoral alternative. They wound up the Right2Water mobilization and converted it into the "Right2Change" electoral machine, built around a jumble of nationalist demands. A failed attempt was made to co-opt the socialist groups into a new left party built around Sinn Fein, despite that party's implementation of austerity in the North and faithfulness to the "fiscal space" in the budget allowed by the Troika. 

180o turn
Despite their failure the left bureaucracy were able to make a 180° turn and reanimate Right2Water.
The fact that they were able to do this illustrates something very significant. The lobbying strategy of the union bureaucracy is not in contradiction to popular consciousness.
This consciousness, and its limitations, is reflected in the voting pattern in the election. Voters hammered the government parties but fragmented when it came to an alternative. Sinn Fein's attempt to supplant the populist Fianna Fail was unsuccessful and the strongest trend was towards localism and non-party candidates.
The weakness of this position, founded on a long history of clientelism, was shown when the Independent Alliance banded together and sold their votes to return Fine Gael to power and continue the austerity programme as before, with water charges suspended and the issue kicked into the long grass.
At the moment the left trade union leaders have absolute authority. Reformism, the lack of democratic structures and the lack of a programme and strategy to fight austerity overall are a tremendous handicap.
At the moment an unprecedented show trial is taking place in the children's court. The former leader of the Labour party is the chief accuser of a teenager. The case is that a protest, where the Labour leader's car was hemmed in, was a major criminal conspiracy involving kidnap/unlawful imprisonment with the potential for long jail sentences. In stark contrast to this show trial the  Anglo banker ‘Seanie’ Fitzpatrick is provided with a sham trial whereby jurors who might have been affected by the banks or who are against the austerity resulting from the bank collapse are barred from sitting on the jury under threat of heavy penalties if they fail to declare their opinions.
The union bureaucracy, still half in bed with Labour, have stayed away from the trial, underlining the reality that a movement unwilling to defend itself is unlikely to succeed.

The broader issue is that Irish economic "recovery" is based on increased exploitation of workers and there are a whole series of sharp battles on wages, services, privatisation and housing that cannot be contained within the Right2Water structures.
The union bureaucracies' use of mass lobbying is akin to threatening your opponent with a stick of dynamite. On the one hand both unions and government know there is no detonator. On the other hand each new demonstration holds out the possibility of accident and an uncontrolled explosion.

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