On Sunday, February 21st, 120,000 workers answered the call of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and took to the streets of Dublin. John McAnulty, of Socialist Democracy (Ireland), makes his assessment of both the potential and the political limitations of this massive demonstration.
It has become unfashionable to speak of working class power. Asserting the power and potential of the working class provokes laughter or leads to the speaker being derided as a mindless doctrinaire.
Yet on Sunday 21st, on the streets of Dublin, we saw working class power – 120,000 working people marching in their own defence. Nor were these people a mindless mob. Working class power stood alongside working class organisation. The marchers stood together in occupations, in union branch and factory groups, as town and country groups. Given that they represent the sentiment of the majority of organised workers in the country, it would have been the work of an afternoon to displace the current government of capitalist crooks and take control of the state.
All that was needed was the will. That will was absent. It is that task – the task of convincing workers of the need to take state power – that is at the centre of socialist politics. It is that task that is so difficult.
It was clear from the demonstration that the majority were firmly behind the policy of the bureaucracy – accepting the need for cuts but looking for a fairer settlement. This was reflected in banners, placards and even T-shirts: ‘Can do our bit – can’t take the whole hit’, ‘Fair deal, not raw deal’, ‘Levy too heavy’ and ‘A better, fairer way’ (to cut wages and services). There was also a conviction that lobbying the government would lead to them changing direction – many marchers did not wait for speeches, but turned and walked away. Many were disinterested in the left publications
For their part, the bureaucracy were absolutely open about their aims. Their spokesperson announced that the purpose of the march was to get back around the table with government. ICTU had published its ten-point plan – a fairer way for the workers to support the bankers. At the rally, ICTU General Secretary, David Begg, announced that the bureaucracy’s plan was the best way to achieve the government aims. ‘It’s the best offer you’ll get,’ he said. There seems little doubt about that.
Yet things are not well, and the bureaucracy’s fear of self-organisation of the working class probably exceeds that of the government. What we saw in Dublin was the last gasp of the Irish Ferries strategy – mass demonstrations as bargaining chips to gain a place at the bosses’ table, followed by a sell-out.
The workers support a fair outcome, but what they mean by this is very different from the bureaucracy’s perspective. They expect that the cutting edge of the crisis will be blunted – that their jobs and pensions will be protected and public services protected. They believe that the capitalists can be forced into paying a large proportion of the bank bail out.
These expectations must fall. The workers are the source of wealth and across the world the strategy is to make them pay. The only way that capitalists can be made to pay is through a process of sequestration and expropriation – the first steps towards a socialist society.
In the coming period union leaders will either strike a deal and lead the offensive against the workers or they will be refused a place at the table and gradually defuse mass opposition. In any case it is the duty of socialists and class-conscious workers to build an independent movement around an alternative working class program.
Far too many of the current left organisations are simply acting as left supporters of the bureaucracy.