ICTU march - No recovery on the back of the workers


These are a selection from the many shots I took on a day when our class re-discovered a little something of its old combative spirit, and the numbers marching are more comfort to ordinary working folk than to those who would misinterpret this monster attendance as endorsement of their strategy of appeasement towards IBEC and the government. I saw David Begg walk up Parnell Sq. East towards the Garden of Remembrance a half-hour or more before the march started. He was alone and he looked downcast - surrounded by thousands of his fellow trade unionists, none of whom seemed to notice or even care about his presence among them. Nobody greeted him or was willing to share his company on this day of days. It couldn't have happened out of ignorance on the people's part, for Mr. Begg's face, voice and message assails us from all state and private media organs. It couldn’t have occurred from unfamiliarity either, for surely it couldn’t be true that our leaders generally disdain our company?

‘Social Partnership’ is over. During its operation it delivered far more to Ireland’s ruling classes than it ever did to the workers subjected to it. Even in the ‘good times’ we suffered appalling-quality public services across the board, and the ‘partnership process’ did nothing to alleviate this. Social service provision in Ireland never recovered from the swingeing cuts imposed in the 1980s during the last period of capitalist crisis, and has since always lagged demand growth due to increase in population from the mid-90s onward. There were even cutbacks in service provision during the best of the boom years! The relative share of labour in national income shrank all through the ‘tiger period’ as the share claimed by all forms of rent-taking (dividends, profits, capital/asset price appreciation etc.) increased. As income taxes fell, taxes on domestic consumption rose, further shifting the state’s tax burden from the rich to everyone else.

The ‘partnership process’ allowed union leaderships some limited input into national wages policy but no say on prices policy, rent controls or many other facets of economic and social policy, all of which were practically ignored by trade union leaderships between negotiation periods. This inattention gave space for IBEC/FF/FG etc. to shape the rest of state policy in a pro-capitalist, pro-rentier direction. ‘Partnership’ kept wages down for Ireland’s ruling classes while maximizing their profits in a situation where the Congress trade union movement acted as workplace enforcers and salespeople for that shoddy con. To want to return to that dynamic in recessionary times is a tactic either of a despairing lack of imagination or rank dishonesty.

Courtesy of ‘partnership’ and the Congress unions’ leaderships’ enthusiastic embrace of their role within that system, there has been a creeping revisionism regarding the role of trade unions. Once upon a time, unions saw themselves as the fighting organizations of working-class people, defending our economic rights and interests, organizing across all our class not just those of us who have jobs, and above all organizing for the eventual overthrow of capitalism. Yes, the roots of the trade union movement worldwide are and were revolutionary, here as much as any other country. That was the conception of trade unions cherished by James Connolly, Jim Larkin, William O’Brien (in his younger days at the very least), Constance Markiewicz and countless thousands of working-class people from that day to this.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting this heritage if all you had to go on for historical evidence were the public utterances of union leaders and some of the banners that I assume were designed especially for yesterday’s march. Siptu’s banners were particularly risible – ‘organizing for fairness and justice in the workplace’!? That is a slogan lame to the point of qualifying for disability allowance, and an insult to generations of workers who gave over (and still give over) their lives, leisure and intellect to strive for the victory of workers over Capital. What about workers’ power in the workplace? I suppose that might scare Enda Kenny that bit too much. Even the likes of IBEC’s Turlough O’Connor could declare himself in favour of ‘fairness and justice in the workplace’. Cowen’s government will treat such weak demands with the contempt and scorn they deserve.

I was listening today lunchtime to Mr. Begg on the ‘This Week’ programme on Raidio Telefis IBEC. His analysis of the current situation and what is to be done about it does not differ substantively from that of his supposed adversaries in the government and the ‘business community’. He wishes capitalism would recover on the back of ordinary workers’ sacrifices, and he cannot envisage any scenario where working-class people don’t have to pay (either wholly or in part) for the problems caused by the rich in global society. According to him, we have to strive harder and do without so that the rich can stay ruling over us. He is scared of a real fight with the bosses – not so much because of what it will cost us, but rather because of what it will cost him. Confronting the class enemy means the end of the influence of a collaboration-minded leadership atop Congress. No wonder such a strategy is unpalatable to him and those around him!

All signs so far indicate to me that Mr. Begg et al are playing to lose. We ordinary people cannot afford this losing game any longer for it is us and not Mr. Begg who will end up carrying the can for it, and this is the standard outcome with leaders of all stripes. Time must be called on this suicidal strategy of wanting to parley with those who seek to rob us blind to make good their own losses. Hence the legend on the WSM banner – National Strike now!

I must express my thanks to the Cork Branch of Impact for organizing our transport to and from Dublin on the day, and for the marvellous stop-over in Durrow, Co. Laois on the way for breakfast. It sure filled me up with good feelings towards the trade union movement, and added greatly to my enjoyment of the day. A debt of thanks is generally due to the thousands who made the effort to come together to show our strength of numbers. It is a re-assurance that while all of us may disagree on some basic issues, we are far from alone these days in how we feel. In spite of how Power has tried to divide us in the past and present, we remain united in our desire to resist what is about to be foisted on us. That really cheered me up on the way home!

Background articles on the crisis and resistance as well as more reports from the demonstration

This article was first posted to indymedia.ie - high quality versions of the images will be found on indymedia