Apr 13 2015

ANTI-WATER CHARGES CAMPAIGN: FROM PROTEST TO ELECTIONS

Our blog has been chronicling developments in one of the most important socio-economic struggles in these islands since the Anti-Poll Tax campaign (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/27/sinn-fein-under-pressure-from-irish-workers/http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/01/water-charges-independent-mobilisation-new-state-repression/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/12/16/defying-water-charges-in-ireland/).

The Irish government is attempting to collect specific water charges from the Irish people (water is already paid for out of general taxation), preparatory to privatising Irish water in line with Troika imposed austerity demands. The massive grassroots Anti-Water Charges campaign in Ireland has destabilised the current Fine Gael/Labour coalition government.

 Until the recent massive show of opposition, Sinn Fein and the trade union bureaucrats were opposed to a campaign of non-payment and non-collection. The following article examines not only the role of the trade union bureaucracy and Sinn Fein, but the illusions being created by some on the Left, in the possibility that these two forces might create a Left Irish government, which can end the water charges, whilst ignoring their cooperation in setting up Irish Water in the first place.

This article by J.M. Thorn of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) addresses the current situation.

 

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ANTI-WATER CHARGES CAMPAIGN: FROM PROTESTS TO ELECTIONS

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The 21st March anti-water charges demonstration in Dublin is clear evidence of the continued widespread opposition to the establishment of Irish Water and the imposition of charges.

In the week running up to the demo the main focus of the media was on how big it would be – with the implication (hope?) that a poor turnout would confirm claims by the government that opposition to water charges was weakening.  However, these claims were convincingly refuted as up to 80,000 protesters, who had set off from three starting points around the city, converged on O’Connell Street.  What was particularly impressive about the crowds was not just their numbers but the breadth of Irish society which they represented – from urban to rural, young and old, and from the poorest sections of the working class to elements of the middle class.  It really had the appearance of a genuine mass movement.

Indeed, it is the persistence of a mass opposition that made the latest demonstration possible.  If it had been down to the trade union backed Right2Water campaign leadership the protests would have ceased when the legislation passed late last year.  It was only when it became clear that the anti-water charges movement could continue without them that Right2Water, fearful of being sidelined, revived its support for protests.

There is a tension between the movement and those groups which seek to give it leadership in terms of organisation.  What was also clear from the demonstrations was that many of the protesters are in advance of the organisers in terms of demands – opposing not only water charges but also to the existence of Irish Water.

This disjunction between the movement and its leadership was really brought home by the speeches made to the tens of thousands of protesters gathered in O’Connell Street.  In comparison to the impressive assembly they seemed totally inadequate.  The selection of O’Connell Street, rather than the Dail, as the end point of the demonstration was already an indicator of the type of quietist politics that would be coming from the platform.  When questioned about this by an RTE journalist the Socialist Party’s Paul Murphy claimed that the demonstration wasn’t “aimed so much at the government as the people.”

So what did the speakers, who included trade union officials, community activists and representatives of the various left groups, have to say to the people?  On first glance the range of opinions seemed quite diverse with expressions of support for non-payment and further protests and denunciations of the political system.

However, the main thrust came from the trade union officials and the left groups, and their focus was entirely on next year’s general election.  While the Socialist Party’s Ruth Coppinger did emphasise the need to build a non-payment campaign, it was placed within the framework of the election of a new government. This was made explicit in her claim that people could afford to not to pay as any penalties would not be imposed until next year “by which point there will be a new government”.  Richard Boyd Barrett of the Socialist Workers Party/People Before Profit movement said that there would be more protests, but again this was linked the coming general election.  It is clear that for the left groups the anti-water charges campaign – whether that takes the form of non-payment or protests – is seen through the prism of their own electoral prospects.

Overriding all this is the trade union leaderships’ own strategy, which, after the collapse of the Labour Party, seeks to create a political vehicle that will look after the trade union interest.  For the right of the bureaucracy this means cosying up to Sinn Fein, while for the “left” it means the construction of a broad front which not only encompasses Sinn Fein but also the left groups, various independents and the remnants of the Labour party.  One speaker at the rally, clearly with such a coalition in mind, claimed that for the first time ever in the Irish state there was the prospect of a left government.

While the construction of such a “broad left” is some way off tentative moves are under way to bring it about.  One of these is the Right2Water campaign’s proposed declaration on the public ownership of water that will be presented at its forthcoming May Day Conference.  The idea is to get as many parties and independents as possible to pledge themselves to it in order to give the semblance of a broad anti-austerity coalition.

This “popular front”, which has long been advocated by “left” trade union officials such former Unite general secretary Mick O’Reilly and is now most identified with Brendan Ogle from the same union, has a number of serious shortcomings.  The first is its view of Sinn Fein as a left party.  While Sinn Fein may engage in some radical rhetoric the reality is that it is a bourgeois party committed to working within the framework of austerity – whether that is the Troika programme in the south or the Stormont House Agreement in the north.  A coalition that has Sinn Fein as its leading component can’t be anti-austerity.

The second short coming is the extremely minimal programme that would underpin such a coalition.  Its vague anti-austerity message would be even weaker than the programme put forward by the now defunct United Left Alliance at the last general election.  The appeal for the left groups of such a loose formation is that it allows them to sweep up a protest vote while keeping on side with the union bureaucracy. It also underlines the extent to which s minimal reformist programme has moved from being an opportunist manoeuvre to the actual programme of the groups.  To describe this as a left unity project, never mind an alternative left government, would be a complete fraud.

However, the fundamental flaw in this reformist strategy is the belief that the election of a left government – even one without the limitations described above – would make a difference.   The experience of Syriza in Greece shows that this is not the case.  The capitalist classes across Europe will not recognise any democratic choice against austerity.  As the German finance minister has stated: “elections change nothing”.

Despite the more militant rhetoric from the trade union leadership they are still essentially in lobbying mode – seeking no more than to have the ear of a party in government.  Moreover, they are still fully committed to social partnership.  This can be seen most clearly in relation to Irish Water.  Despite their rhetorical opposition to water charges the trade union leaders played a key role in the creation of the new company by facilitating the transfer of workers from local councils.  Opposition to this transfer could have prevented the establishment of Irish Water and stopped water charges and privatisation at their earliest stage.  This was, and remains, potentially the most effective tactic to oppose water charges.

Because the left groups have bound themselves to the trade union leadership its collusion in the imposition of austerity goes unchallenged.  The idea of workers taking action by and for themselves doesn’t arise.  All that remains are a series of tactics (protests, non-payment etc) designed to build up support for the “left” in the next year’s general election.  As a strategy this is completely unconvincing.

The strategic objective for socialists, as it has been for a long time, is to break the Irish working class from social partnership so it can regain its organisational and political independence.  This is a precondition for any serious opposition movement to emerge.  While the anti water charges movement is a long way from this it does signify an awakening within the Irish working class after a long period of retreat.  There is now an audience that is receptive to stronger socialist arguments.

 

30.3.15

 

This article was first posted at:-

http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentAntiWaterChargesCampaignFromProtestsToElections.html

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also see article on the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/27/20-years-after-the-poll-tax-lessons-for-the-anti-cuts-movement/

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Apr 09 2015

BLACKLISTED

Brian Higgins, a much blacklisted building worker and Secretary of the rank and file Building Workers Group, reviews Blacklisted, The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, by David Smith and Phil Chamberlain.

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This much needed book is a powerful and always compelling expose. It is sometimes moving with first hand accounts by the victims of the extremely sinister blacklisting conspiracy conducted by multi national building employers and others against organised labour in the construction industry.

Continue reading “BLACKLISTED”

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Apr 03 2015

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP – THE TTIP OF THE PACIFIC

Cynthia Phinney of Labor Notes (USA) writes on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she dubs the “NAFTA of the Pacific”. However, we in Europe will also be able to recognise it as the ‘TTIP of the Pacific’.

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SHOWDOWN NEARS ON FAST TRACKING OF THE BIGGEST FREE TRADE DEAL YET 

This spring the battle is coming to a head over several threatened trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a “NAFTA of the Pacific.”

President Obama announced in this year’s State of the Union address that he would ask Congress to grant him fast-track authority for trade agreements with Asia and Europe. The announcement unleashed a torrent of lobbying in favor of Obama’s request, and galvanized fair trade activists against it.

Continue reading “THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP – THE TTIP OF THE PACIFIC”

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Apr 03 2015

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: FROM LIBERAL PRIVILEGE TO DEMOCRATIC EMANCIPATION

On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in England, Richard Barbrook calls for a new debate on the conception of citizenship.

Richard Barbrook, lecturer at University of Westminster

Richard Barbrook, lecturer at University of Westminster

 

“Government founded… on a system of universal peace, on the indefeasible hereditary Rights of Man … interests not particular individuals, but nations, in its progress, and promises a new era to the human race.”

Tom Paine, Rights of Man

 

In the second decade of the 21st century, citizenship is defined not just by the people being able to choose the political leadership of their nation through regular elections, but also by the legal protection of their human rights, such as media freedom, personal privacy, fair trials and religious toleration. Enshrined in both national constitutions and international treaties, these democratic precepts ensure that individual citizens can express their views and campaign for causes without fear of persecution or discrimination. Yet, when they were first codified during the 17th and 18th centuries’ modernising revolutions which overthrew aristocratic and priestly despotism in Western Europe and North America, these fundamental freedoms were initially restricted to a minority of the population: white male property-owners. Despite the universalist rhetoric of the English 1689 Bill of Rights, the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the USA’s 1791 Bill of Rights, men without property, all women and the African slaves who were property remained outside their constitutional protection. In this pioneering liberal iteration, political and civil freedom was founded upon economic exploitation. Human rights were the privilege of the few not the emancipation of the many.

Continue reading “DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: FROM LIBERAL PRIVILEGE TO DEMOCRATIC EMANCIPATION”

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Mar 27 2015

SINN FEIN UNDER PRESSURE FROM IRISH WORKERS

On Friday, March 13th six unions representing public sector workers in the north of Ireland took joint strike action to resist the austerity programme being pushed through by the Sinn Fein / Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) coalition government. John Mc Anulty, a member of Socialist Democracy in Belfast explains the background.

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The more optimistic socialist commentators hope to see new Left parties in Europe push back the ongoing austerity offensive. The most daring wave expansively … Greece … Spain …Ireland???

The inclusion of Sinn Fein is partly an echo of their past struggle against imperialism and a legacy of support among socialists, partly because they expend considerable energy in presenting themselves as left -wing.

Continue reading “SINN FEIN UNDER PRESSURE FROM IRISH WORKERS”

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Mar 25 2015

DEFINING REPUBLICANISM

John Tummon (Republican Socialist Alliance) responds to Murdo Ritchie’s (RCN) Promoting Republicanism (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/promoting-republicanism/)

Murdo Ritchie’s ‘Promoting Republicanism’ is a very important contribution to something we Republican Socialists need to keep working on until we have a theoretically rigorous and internally-tested critique of the poverty of any socialist analysis that fails to incorporate a full understanding of democracy and republicanism; only when this is in place can we think about breaking through to a position of genuine influence on the Left, let alone wider society outside of Scotland.

I see Murdo’s ‘Promoting Republicanism’ as a key stage in that development – and a very welcome one at that – and my comments, including my attempted development of aspects of what Murdo has written, are put forward in that spirit. What I increasingly find is that the most interesting left thinking in Britain comes from Republican Socialists, which was born out by the impressive quality of discussion at the recent RSA AGM in London; much of what passes as debate within the rest of the British (certainly the English) Left is stale repetition and, within Left Unity, the recycling of stale certainties from past eras in the name of ‘doing politics differently’. Unless we think politics differently, a failed practice will recur.

Continue reading “DEFINING REPUBLICANISM”

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Mar 23 2015

THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT

Allan Armstrong (RCN and RIC activist) provides the following initial assessment of the proposed Scottish Left Project. This is the final part of three articles, the first of which examines the role of the UK state and SNP in attempting to derail Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/) and the second which looks at the inadequate response of the Left across these islands (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/).

 

The Scottish Left Project (SLP) has been mooted in the context of the impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, and the success of RIC as a movement within this. There is now a concerted effort by the unionist and nationalist parties to roll back this ‘democratic revolution’ [1]. Therefore, the success of the SLP will depend upon whether it takes up the baton bequeathed by these momentous events, or lets itself become a bit-player in others’ political projects.

 

a) the role of the International Socialist Group (ISG)

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As with RIC, the ISG has been the SLP’s prime mover. It is therefore useful to examine the way the ISG operated within RIC, to come to some better understanding of how it could see its role in the SLP.

Continue reading “THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT”

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Mar 19 2015

SINN FEIN HYPOCRISY

 

 

We are posting the following letter from Gerry Fitzpatrick sent to Socialist Democracy (Ireland),which comments on media appearances by Gerry Adams

SINN FEIN HYPOCRISY

I think I can see government office from here

I think I can see government office from here

 

Dear Editor,

I note that the current Sinn Fein president {Gerry Adams} has made appearances today both on British and Irish media to inform the public in this election year that he and his party stood and voted for austerity in the North and voted against the fundamental right of a Women’s Right to Choose in the north and will be doing so again in the south.

Continue reading “SINN FEIN HYPOCRISY”

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Mar 17 2015

APPEALS TO RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN AND TO REPUBLICAN SOCIALISTS IN ENGLAND

Steve Freeman, who is standing as a republican socialist candidate in the Bermondsey & Old Southwark constituency  in the Westminster General Election on May 8th has issued the following two appeals. Could RIC members supporting Steve’s candidature please e-mail him:- steve@republicansocialists.org.uk

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1. AN APPEAL TO THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN

Another England Is Possible 

 

Steve Freeman at the Scottish Friends of the People Martyrs Monument in Nunhead Cemetery, south London.

Steve Freeman at the Scottish Friends of the People Martyrs Monument in Nunhead Cemetery, south London.

Dear comrades,

I will be standing in the general election in London as an anti-Unionist republican socialist. I am appealing for your endorsement and support.

Continue reading “APPEALS TO RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN AND TO REPUBLICAN SOCIALISTS IN ENGLAND”

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Mar 16 2015

THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’

After analysing the role of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the liberal and conservative unionists amongst  the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems and the reactionary unionists led by UKIP, and their attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘Democratic Revolution’ (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/), Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the problematic role of the Left in the UK in challenging this.

 

 1. The UK constitutional issue will be central to the General Election campaign

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The continuing political impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ [1] can be seen in the run-up to the May Westminster General Election. The Conservative Party has produced a Westminster General Election poster, which highlights the importance they give to the issue of the future of the UK. It conjures up a diabolic alliance between Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams (the latter two apparently pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, since Salmond now holds no post within the SNP leadership, and Adams sits in the Irish Dail [2]).

Continue reading “THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’”

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