It appears that the growing militancy of working people in the Twenty-Six Counties has thrown the establishment into paroxysms of indignation.
With increasing numbers taking to the streets and a number of public sector unions having rejected the Croke Park deal; the dangerous spectre of communism has risen. We have, it seems, been thrust into the midst of a latter-day red scare and an unholy alliance of trade union bureaucrats, Sunday Independent hacks and Fianna Fáil TDs has emerged to slay this evil beast.
First out of the traps was the newly installed IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody, ironically enough a former member of the Workers’ Party, who launched an extraordinary attack on what he described as left-wing ‘micro-groups’. Speaking at the IMPACT union’s biennial conference in Kilkenny, Cody asserted that IMPACT would be “resistant to manipulation by those who seek to manipulate and capture our organisation for narrow politically sectarian ends”.
The trade union bureaucrats, clearly worried that workers are revolting, have taken to doing their masters’ bidding. Rather than focus on the Dublin government’s attempts to undermine the pay and conditions of workers and on re-building a fighting union, the trade union leadership has chosen, instead, to turn its fire on those who are calling for a rejection of the deal. With the collapse of social partnership, the trade union leadership is obviously attempting to reassert control over the membership. It seems clear from a number of ballots to date that workers are refusing to be led blindly into a deal that would reduce their living standards and result in the loss of thousands of jobs in the public sector.
Over the last number of weeks, thousands of workers have rejected the Croke Park deal, including the membership of the ASTI, TUI, CPSU and IFUT. All of these unions returned overwhelming majorities against the deal, some in the region of 3:1. This, it would appear, represents quite a substantial ‘micro-group’.
The deal, if passed, would represent a significant defeat for workers. It opens the way for significant job cuts, which, based on the McCarthy Report recommendations, would mean that over 17,000 jobs would be slashed. In addition, it will see the privatisation and ‘outsourcing’ of some services, the imposition of a three-year pay freeze, further restrictions on the right to strike and a longer-working day for less pay. It also confers powers on management to redeploy staff to within 45km of their current employment or home address and allows for the imposition of new contracts of employment that emphasise ‘flexible’ working arrangements. This is the type of deal that the hacks of the Sunday Independent have been baying for. That trade union leaders would seek to deliver this deal is remarkable; that they would line up with them to engage in a spot of red-baiting is truly astonishing.
The subtext to the Sunday Independent’s scare stories about ‘dangerous radicals’ is to scare people from coming out on to the streets to challenge the Dublin government’s war on the working class. The owner of the Independent Group of newspapers, Tony O’Reilly, a long-time tax fugitive and one of Ireland’s richest men, clearly has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Meanwhile, support for all of this has been forthcoming from the highly excitable Fianna Fáil minister Martin Mansergh. Last week, Mansergh launched an attack on Labour Party leader Éamon Gilmore for his past membership of the Workers’ Party and that party’s links with the Soviet Union and North Korea. What all of that has to do with the current state of the economy in the Twenty-Six Counties in 2010 is not altogether clear, but then little of what Martin Mansergh says has any connection with reality.
That the main power brokers in Irish society are seeking to whip up a fever against any manifestation of radicalism should not surprise us in the least. That, after all, is the nature of class politics. Those in power will do whatever it takes to maintain their grip and, the greater the threat to their interests, the more vicious the attacks will become. Much of this is a throw-back to the 1930s when Catholic bishops fulminated from pulpits up and down the country in their denunciation of the increasing influence of left-wing organisations and trade unions.
Ireland in the 1930s was characterised by chronic unemployment, acute poverty and appalling living conditions. It was also a period in which socialist groups such as Saor Éire, the Republican Congress and the Irish Workers’ League emerged and agitated for a radical political and economic programme that would uproot capitalism and put power in the hands of the working class.
In 1934, the Republican Congress denounced the living hell that continued to be the Dublin slums. The Congress newspaper carried regular reports of the shocking living conditions that the working class of the country’s main cities were forced to live in. Hard as it might be to believe, living conditions had actually deteriorated since the time of the 1913 Lockout when one in 10 of the population in Dublin lived in conditions unfit for human habitation. In June 1934, the Congress newspaper Republican Congress strongly denounced this appalling degradation of humanity: “terrible indignation should burn up in the breast of every worker at a system that condemns our brothers and sisters to crawl to an unholy death in such cesspools of misery and death.”
The only option open to many thousands of working class people was the emigrant ship. Many who stayed began to listen to the radical ideas of various left-wing groups and to become actively involved in campaigns and strikes that sought, at a very basic level, to improve their working and living conditions.
Terrified that they might lose their grip on power, the Catholic Church embarked on a hysterical ‘red scare’. The Church had little to say about the hellish conditions of the slums, nor did it denounce the parasitic landlord class that imposed these conditions. Rather, the Catholic Church reserved its ire for the radical left, whose ideas and actions it feared might awaken a spirit amongst the working class that would sweep away the poverty and degradation of the capitalist system under which they toiled.
In October 1931, a Lenten Pastoral was read at all Catholic masses which fulminated that organisations such as Saor Éire were “prepared to impose upon the Catholic soil of Ireland the same materialist regime with its fanatical hatred of God that now dominated Russia and threatens to dominate Spain… materialistic communism, in its principles and actions, wherever it appears, means a blasphemous denial and the overthrow of Christian civilization. You cannot be a Catholic and a communist. One stands for Christ, the other, the Anti-Christ.” Simultaneous to denouncing the ‘dangerous’ and ‘anti-Christian’ ideas of radical left-wing groups, the Catholic Church was locking up working class children in industrial schools, using them as a cheap source of labour and systematically raping and abusing them.
While the power of the Catholic Church has dissipated over the last number of decades, the social and economic system which they so strongly supported back in the 1930s is still very much in place. The business class, as has been demonstrated throughout history, has no compunction about resorting to violence to maintain their class interests and uphold the capitalist system. That the upholders and supporters of capitalism denounce socialism and portray it as a dangerous and violent ideology is entirely predictable. That some trade union leaders would position themselves alongside these reactionaries is deeply regrettable.
The state under capitalism will, at all critical junctures, defend the interests of capitalism. The Garda treatment of peaceful protestors over recent weeks provides testimony to that.
The greater the numbers that mobilise, the more likely the state is to respond in an even more draconian fashion. This should not deter people, however much work remains to be done to build the type of revolutionary mass movement that will have the power to depose the business class and its government.
Across Europe and beyond, working people are taking to the streets, with mass demonstrations in Greece, Romania and Slovenia. While the radical left in Ireland remains relatively weak, it is important the momentum that has been built over recent weeks be maintained.
The Dublin government intends imposing a budget later this year that will slash a further €3 billion [£2.5 billion] from public spending, while, in the Six Counties, cuts of £128 million [€151 million] are on the way. Linking up all of the various struggles across the country over the coming months is a vital component of the work that must be done. The short-term challenge is to build such a momentum that the imposition of yet another austerity programme, this time across the country, becomes politically impossible for both administrations.
This month marks the 94th anniversary of the death of Ireland’s greatest labour leader, James Connolly and, over the last number of weeks, éirígí has been promoting his ideas. We do so because we believe the writings of Connolly continue to have relevance and have much to teach us in this contemporary class war.
In 1910, Connolly wrote Labour, Nationality and Religion in which he challenged Dublin priest Father Kane’s false assertions about socialism. In it, Connolly emphasised the violent nature of the capitalist system and the type of struggle required to overcome it. Again, we will leave the last words to Connolly:
– James Connolly, Labour, Nationality, and Religion, 1910