What do Jack O’Connor, ‘garda sources’ and Sunday Independent journalists have in common? - Sowing The Fear and Spinning The Lies


On Saturday last (24th November), approximately 15,000 people marched through Dublin to demand an end to austerity.  It was a lively and vociferous march that seemed to herald a renewed sense of militancy among those attending. This militancy was most evident when Eugene McGlone, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, was roundly booed when he rose to speak.  Despite attempts to claim that this booing was orchestrated by Sinn Fein and the ULA, it was clear that a great many of those booing were doing so spontaneously and were expressing their frustration at the lack of action by the trade union leadership in terms of organising a real fightback over the past few years.

McGlone skilfully and cynically responded to the booing and heckling (see http://www.wsm.ie/c/beyond-slogan-general-strike-dublin) but Jack O’Connor, general president of SIPTU, condemned those who had booed as being guilty of “fascist” behaviour.  One’s first reaction to such an outrageous statement is that it is so over-the-top and ridiculous that it is laughable.  But there is a very serious issue at stake – fascism as a political ideology has been responsible for the death of millions of people and the brutal repression of millions more over the course of the past century.  For O’Connor to use the term ‘fascist’ to describe a bit of booing is an insult to the memory of those victims.

Keeping a lid on dissent

His choice of language was unlikely to have been accidental.  As a senior member of the Labour party and as one of the prime defenders of so-called ‘social partnership’ and the Croke Park Agreement, O’Connor’s principal role in the current crisis is to keep a lid on dissent.  As such he, in common with the rest of the union leadership, has no problem with an annual – or even more often – march up and down O’Connell Street to allow people to show their opposition to austerity/government policies. 

However what he cannot allow is that protest be taken any step further than that.  The calls for a general strike, which received an echo among large sections of the marchers, and the booing of the ICTU president (and O’Connor himself at a march 2 years ago) are a source of real worry for the union leadership.  Their strategy of containment of protest can only be successful as long as people don’t begin to really see a glimpse of their own power, so long as people don’t begin to push protest to the next level.

And more worryingly for him, so long as wider layers of people don’t begin to see through the ineffectuality of simply repeating the same march route and listening to the same speeches year after year!  Which is where his ‘fascist’ comment came from – sow seeds of division, sow seeds of fear, attempt to paint those who want effective action as ‘troublemakers’ and give a message to ‘good protestors’ and all those at home who might be tempted to go on the next protest that ‘troublesome elements’ are attempting to manipulate the protests.

Hijacking the peaceful march

Which brings us to what O’Connor has in common with garda ‘sources’ and Sunday Independent journalists. 

On Sunday morning, 25th November, Jerome Reilly and Jim Cusack wrote that “Gardai claimed they had been told from early in the week that some protesters intended to break away from the peaceful and lawful march.

They say the information indicated that a number of groups, including members of republican group Eirigi, various anarchist groups and others who termed themselves 'anti-globalist', were intent on taking the protest a step further than merely marching.

Gardai said there was an intention to hijack the peaceful march to mount a "Greek-style" riot and 18 garda vans were used to provide transport for gardai – an unusually large number of such vehicles for a demonstration.”

Again something that is so over-the-top and ridiculous that it is laughable.  As members of the WSM marched with our unions, CAHWT campaign groups or community campaigns on Saturday, we were certainly unaware that we were planning a riot, Greek –style or otherwise.  Instead we were distributing copies of the latest issue of Workers Solidarity, whose front page article said “Those of us who care about the type of society we live in can no longer afford to just give out about things.  We all need to get involved.  We need to begin a conversation about how we can replace this rotten mess and what we can replace it with.

Begin to question, begin to organise….”

But again the Sunday Indo statement – whether it came from gardai or the fertile imaginations of journalists -  used language which is unlikely to have been accidental.  Jack O’Connor chose to sow fear through reference to ‘fascists’, the cops and Sunday Independent chose to do so by making up nonsense about ‘various anarchist groups and others’ intent on ‘hijack[ing] a peaceful march’.  Again the intent is to sow division between supposedly ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protestors i.e. those who are content with marching up and down and those who want to move things to a different level and take effective action.

A Harmless Walk or real effective action?

We have got to the point that numbers – albeit small - of people are coming to the conclusion that harmlessly wandering up and down O’Connell Street in pointless marches is not enough.  This is something that has to be built on.  Moving things on to effective action is not about organising or engaging in ‘Greek-style riots’ or ‘hijacking peaceful marches’.  It is about convincing people – our workmates, our neighbours, our family members - that we have the power.  Through building the boycott of the household and property taxes, through working in our unions and our communities to build support for further action, through convincing people by talking to them … we can continue to build militancy and confidence.

And we can overcome the pathetic attempts by trade union leaders, cops, politicians or journalists with their own agendas to sow division and to divide and conquer.  Noam Chomsky put it perfectly when he wrote:

"If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time." 

WORDS: Gregor Kerr