On Saturday, February 9, up to 100,000 people took to the streets of the Twenty Six Counties in a display of mass opposition to austerity, with demonstrations taking place in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Sligo and Waterford. The ‘day of action’, which was organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions [ICTU], attracted support from a wide range of anti-austerity groups and political parties.
In Dublin, Limerick and Sligo dozens of éirígí activists joined their local protests. The Dublin march also included a contingent from the Campaign Against the Household and Water Tax, made up of local branches from across the city and surrounding counties. CAHWT groups displayed a variety of banners calling on ICTU to formally come on board with the CAHWT and join the fight against the home tax.
Unfortunately it was clear from early in the day that ICTU officials intended their ‘day of protest’ to be a tame affair; that the leadership of Congress, under pressure from members and workers across the state, were merely going through the motions. Instead of channelling the righteous anger of the participants, the protests were deliberately stage-managed to do just the opposite. In Dublin those who were expecting to hear ICTU outline its battle plans for a workers’ fight-back were sorely disappointed by the variety show that materialised on the main stage. In several locations non-union anti-austerity groups disgracefully had their movement restricted by a combination of ICTU stewards and the Gardaí.
Once again the leadership of ICTU have shown that they are unwilling and unable to provide leadership to the Irish working class, or indeed to play any meaningful role in the fight-back against austerity. The leadership of SIPTU and ICTU as well as union bureaucrats across the state remain wedded to the Labour Party and for this reason they have offered no meaningful resistance to the Fine Gael/ Labour coalition. Instead they are content to allow the current all-out assault on wages, working conditions and standards of living to continue indefinitely. It is now abundantly clear that the leaderships of SIPTU and ICTU, as well as their hangers on, will have to go if the organised labour movement is to take its rightful place at the vanguard of the fight-back.
Progressive union activists must continue to organise together and push for greater action from the collective trade union movement. UNITE, the TEEU and Mandate have already called for the building of a mass campaign of civil disobedience against austerity, while the IWU have been involved in the CAHWT since the campaign’s foundation. The actions of these trade unions, combined with individual progressive trade unionists in other unions, provide hope that all is not lost within the organised labour movement.
The numbers who turned out to demonstrations on Saturday show that people across this state are ready and willing to fight back, despite the shortcomings of the likes of Jack O’Connor, David Beggs and company. Decades of disappointment and poor leadership have not dampened the willingness of people to take to the streets when their unions ask them to do so.
Speaking after the Dublin march, éirígí spokesperson for Dublin’s South Inner City, Damien Farrell, said, “The huge turnout today shows just how angry the people are. I have no doubt that Fine Gael and Labour are worried by the potential of such demonstrations, but that potential has to actually be delivered. Protests alone, no matter how large, on the occasional Saturday afternoon will not defeat austerity. What’s needed now is a sustained, rolling campaign of protests, civil disobedience and direct action.
“If ICTU’s leadership are serious about opposing austerity, then they should formally come on board with the CAHWT and commit themselves to defeating both the property and water taxes. By working together the organised labour movement, the various anti-austerity campaigns and progressive political groupings have the potential to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people into a movement that can win the war against austerity.”
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