The Coming Attacks on Irish workers


After the hyperbole of the election campaign, we have started to realise that rumours of a new day in Irish politics were greatly exaggerated. Somewhat deflated, we now sink back into the same old crisis. While the limited exposures of the Moriarty tribunal have shown us how politics works for the rich, we are about to learn exactly how it works for the rest of us.

 The new Government is as burdened by debt as the old, equally bound by the bailout and its conditions. There will be more taxes and more cuts to services; less and less money for the bulk of the population. Labour and union leaders collude, looking for ‘efficiencies’ in the public sector. A cut by any other name still wounds as deep.

If the union leadership won’t fight the cuts and taxes, and they have shown no signs that they will, then there’s no existing organisations that can take on the Government and force them to change course. Although the ideal option would be for a radical wing of the union movement to gain enough influence to bring their organisations into a confrontational position and mobilise the membership into active resistance, the current state of play makes this seem unlikely. There are Left activists working in the unions and there is some coordination in places, but there is nothing that is capable of overturning the obstacles within them of undemocratic structures and an entrenched leadership. Where there is democracy there is hope, but the unions cannot be relied upon to lead resistance to austerity.

In the absence of any positions of significant strength, the Left should seek a place to start building from. The coming imposition of local taxes, either as water charges or property taxes, gives ample opportunity for this, as there are no entrenched organisational structures to control and misdirect opposition. Instead, Left activists have the opportunity to build afresh, using the experiences of the previous Bin and Water Tax campaigns to plan an effective short and medium term strategy.

Looking at these community struggles, there is a common lesson; the base of a strong campaign is in participatory local groups. It is ongoing mass involvement that gives people the confidence and the willingness to take the actions needed to win. The same was true in the British Poll Tax struggle in the early 1990’s, which was successful due to the combination of strong, democratic local groups and a clear strategy of non-payment. The specific form of resistance that should be favoured will depend on how the tax is to be imposed, but mass action should be the priority for both effectiveness and future prospects.

The other element is of moral legitimacy. Fine Gael and Labour will justify their attacks through the handy excuse of the Fianna Fail ‘heritage’ and claim that water taxes are an ‘environmental measure’. This is a thin excuse for a nasty and unfair tax, but it’s not going to be challenged strongly in the mainstream press. The Left does have the advantage here of 5 United Left Alliance TDs to kick up a fuss and command coverage, but the major outlets will do their best to mock, discredit and outnumber them. Therefore, anti-tax campaigns should also focus on building up involvement in local media projects as part of a broader policy of developing an alternative media sphere to undermine the dominance of state and corporate outlets.

Ultimately, the natural home for a progressive movement is in unions. As the Water, Bin and Poll Tax campaigns all show, serious Left involvement in community campaigning can help stave off attacks, but the dissipation of energies after their conclusion should be a warning sign. Any gains in organisation from these struggles needs to contribute to building a radical and democratic presence in the unions.

The new Government, like the last, is tied to the concerns of the European Central Bank. It would be foolish to think that an effective opposition to this destructive drive can be conjured out of thin air, just because it is sorely needed. Those in search of a better alternative should focus on developing the organisations and movements that can push such an agenda. Focused campaigns against local taxes can be a part of this process, they won’t be enough, but they can start the process of building an opposition strong enough to matter.

WORDS: Dara MacAoidh


This article is from Workers Solidarity 122 July 2011
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