Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope and the marginalistion of the left


Several hundred people took part in "A Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope" in Dublin Friday night to protest the way the government have cut funding to vital community services. Janice Feighery a co-ordinator at an after school computer program for young people said “Community programmes are being devastated by the cuts. Our work with young people is strangled by lack of funds."  The spectacle draws to a close the week of protests against the austerity budget.

The organizers who had received financial support from at least one trade union had focused on giving a single look, sound and feel to the event rather than mobilizing numbers. Visually this worked well with everyone dressed in red, a truck with a sound system blasting our the message to the passers by, two other floats (one a very impressive back light animated skull on a cherry picker) and mime artists, dancers, musicians and the frequent lighting of red distress flares. Placards were all heart shaped, some surrounded by fairy lights, one read "Let the Bondholders take the Pain." Right at the back of the march was the SIPTU Community sector union banner and a few people who had turned up without following the dress code including one in a balaclavia carrying one end of a Republican Youth banner!

Protest organiser and community activist John Bissett said “We have had enough of greed and speculation. It’s now time to listen to ordinary people and to do things differently so that it’s the people on the street, and not just the elite who are protected.” There was a large but non confrontational Garda presence throughout presumably to ensure there was no deviation from the agreed route, the Garda presumably not being that keen on cherry pickers in the vicinity of the Dail after one was used there during a protest on  budget day.

I understand something in the region of 15,000 euro was spent, having taking part in the organising of a few protests recently on a budget of 200 or so I'd love access to a budget that size. It is not uncommon for the left to be criticised for not being innovative enough in terms of protest, but without and ability to spend this sort of money it is actually quite hard to move on from standard demonstrations. It also has to be said that while this style or protest certainly has its advantages in terms of creating a photographic spectacle for the media and creating a vibrant sense of purpose for those taking part in the march. But it was very noticeable that for those on the pavements this was a spectacle to be consumed rather than a protest to be joined in. Only a tiny number joined the back of the march and almost all of these were activists I recognize. The request from the organizers not to bring political banners also meant that apart from individuals and a couple of paper sellers the left and republican movements were almost entirely absent.

There is something of a challenge in this. Recent protests, including that on budget day, have demonstrated that the far left has huge problems mobilizing anyone beyond its own narrow support base. When the left has taken part in bigger mobilizations called by USI or ICTU the media and organizers have successfully played a game of working to marginalize the left organizations. This has resulted in a situation where the left cannot initiate the sort of direct actions which would give expression to the real anger people feel without risking further increasing that marginalisation. This was seen after the USI march when even the radical student group FEE requested that left banners not be brought on the march called to protest Garda brutality during that march in the context of the media and USI leaders suggestion the Garda attack had been provoked by the action of a handful of left activists.

Among those who think the governments can be defeated there is general agreement that only a general strike can halt the attacks being launched on workers by this and future governments. Yet there is also wide spread realization that ICTU are not going to call this, certainly not without enormous pressure from the base of the unions. A highly marginalized left is unable to get the critical mass needed to start the process or organising from the base. Clearly there is a need to overcome this marginalisation and to bring anti-capitalist politics back into opposing the government attacks in order to build for a generalized revolt. Well organized sectoral lobbying and press stunts could make limited gains for the most marginalized in the past under the Celtic Tiger, it seems highly unlikely they can do so under the ECB/IMF austerity package


Further reading



Video of entire procession

Trade Union TV coverage