heavy Gardaí surveillance, including a helicopter, a crowd of over 1500
filled up Molesworth St, opposite the Dáil’s gates on the 18th
May. It was the second protest, after the 11th of May, organised by the
Right to Work Campaign (RWC) sponsored by the union UNITE and the
support of all the left groups with presence in Dublin, including SF.
There were also two banners of the Labour party, although this party is
not officially supporting the protest. Previously a couple of hundreds
of the so-called Anticapitalist Block had marched from Stephens Green
harassed by Gardaí, who seemed to be trying to provoke clashes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8JcJ7IJsS4&feature=player_embedded / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK5-EZL5rAk&playnext_from=TL&videos=Huq2p5VyyTU&feature=sub
the week previous to the protest, the Irish media engaged in a scare
mongering campaign about the almost “certainty” of violent incidents
that would take place during the protest. The independent group
newspapers displayed the most vicious attacks. The Evening Herald, for
example, on the 17th published an article titled, “Riot squad gear up for violent protest at Dail”, where they said things like:
members of the unit will be at the Dail gates should protesters attempt
to storm the building for the second week running … The threat of
violence tonight was exacerbated by a notice on the SWP website saying
they "must escalate the action"… A source told the Herald the Public
Order Unit would be deployed "to safeguard the welfare of the
public"… Less than 24 hours after the riotous scenes at Leinster
House, gardai from the Public Order Unit were in specialist training
behind closed doors.
At the end of meeting on the 18th
of May, Gardaí also tried to push protesters in order to provoke
clashes but apart from the Gards pushing and obstructing protesters
nothing happened. That was enough, however, for RTE news to publish in
their webside hours later that,
Towards the end of the main rally, minor scuffles broke out between some protesters and the gardaí.
Earlier, there were minor scuffles with gardaí when éirígí commenced a march past Anglo Irish Bank.
All the fuss about “violence” started in the media after the protest of the 11th of May, when barely two dozens of demonstrators tried to get into the Dáil and the police stopped them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51svKk_0FEY&playnext_from=TL&videos=sOVHrJqnLMw
was nothing significant in the context of the protest, but the media
wanted to capitalise on that small incident and draw comparisons with
Greece. The following Saturday Éirígí stayed a protest on its own at
the the headquarters of the Anglo Irish bank, not the first they have
organised, but unlike in other occasions this time Gardaí was
generously displayed, arrested seven protesters and triggered some
minor incidents. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCOsOPrYce0&feature=fvst
aim of the state and the media in these very early stages of a protest
movement in Ireland is to criminalise it and to discredit it in order
to avoid any further escalation that could suppose a threat to the
plans of imposing significant cutbacks to workers. They probably think,
“Better now when they are small”. We should not be surprise,
any time there has been a strike or a threat of a strike, the emphasis
of the media and the political establishment has been on the negative
effects that strikes can have on the nation and its economy. That is
the kind of “public opinion” that they try to create in order to
facilitate their way to get out of the crisis, that is, to return to
old rates of profits no matter how many casualties they provoke among
the working class.
The reasons behind the protests
this Ireland is no different from what is happening in Greece, Spain or
Portugal, and from what is very likely to happen in the rest of Europe.
To save the Euro and profits, EU governments must reduce deficits and
apply drastic budget “adjustments”, including cutbacks in essential
services to workers. However, except in Greece, these attacks on
workers incomes and living standards have not provoked a large protest
or strike movements anywhere in Europe, no yet. Clearly there is a wide
spread feeling of anger and increasing political radicalisation, but it
has yet to materialise.
of the reasons in Ireland is that union leaders in have been holding
back a general strike in the public sector for over a year, threatening
the government with strikes from time to time in order to minimise
losses for the workers in government unilateral deals. But each time
there is a new deal, it is worse than the previous one. All in all,
union and labour leader are afraid of strikes and do not believe that
workers can win them. They also fear “public opinion” as the action at
the passport office showed. So, they prefer to wait for better times:
“if the economic situation improves and if the labour party gets to
office, maybe then we can get back what we lost”, they reason. But we
won’t go back to the boom times of the Celtic Tiger. For the next 5 to
10 years, at least, we can only expect sluggish recovery and tough
budgets. We can see that even social democratic governments are
applying IMF medicine. The slogan now is, “reduce deficit”.
media campaign, of course, did not mention why people were out in the
street to protest last Tuesday. The RWC is trying to mobilise on the
basis of the injustice of bailing out with billions the corrupt Irish
banking systems while workers are paying for it.
Which way will protests develop?
number close to 2000 people protesting at the Dáil two weeks in a row
is a sign that changes in consciousness are starting to take place.
There is an accumulated anger among the lower and middle ranks of
public sector workers who had seen their incomes reduced and expect
worsening working conditions. Cutbacks in the public sector are also
directly affecting the majority of the population in terms of cuts in
education and health services. In the private sector, wage cuts and
worsening of working conditions have gone quite far already, but high
levels of unemployment and low levels of union density have generally
obstructed and contained collective action. Union and labour leader
have also contributed to keep “social peace”, as we have seen in other
articles published by Fightback.
anger at cutbacks and lower living standards cannot be contained
forever, particularly if the economy is not likely to go back to
previous rates of growth. On the other hand, events in Ireland are
closely connected to events in other European countries. If the protest
movement increases in Greece and spread to other countries, it will
also have an effect in Ireland. The question, however, is not
“if” but rather “when” there will be a labour upsurge, when 1500 will
turn into 20 or 50 thousand, or more, when a new cycle of strikes will
begin. History knows of cycles of protests and strikes, labour upsurges
and general changes in consciousness, which are related, although not
mechanically, to economic cycles.
is also a sign that the Labour party conference last month in Galway
mandated the party to start campaigning against the Croke Park deal for
the public sector. However, it is a fact that the Labour parliamentary
group and the party apparatus will not do it. In the mass organisations
of the labour movement we will see in the near future protest movements
to get rid of the strait jacket imposed by the union and labour leaders
who acquired some bad habits, particularly a dangerous reliance on
“social partnership” and ruled labour organisations during the 20 odd
years of “social peace” because in the next period, workers will face
two options: either we go the IMF way or we take the Venezuelan path.
If we cannot change our unions and labour organisations we won’t be
able to change society.