Saturday, May 22, 2010

The beginnings of a protest movement?

Under 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 (see post below), organised by the Right to Work Campaign (RWC), sponsored by the union UNITE, and with 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. (videos: 1, 2)

Media campaign

During 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:
Suited-up 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 (video). It 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 (video). The 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 surprised, 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

In 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.

One 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”.

The 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?

A number of around 1500 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”.

But 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 protests and 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.

It is also a sign that the Labour party conference last month in Galway mandated the party to start campaigning against the December budget cuts in 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 also 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”. In the next period workers will face two options: either we go the IMF way or we take the Venezuelan path. There is not a third or a middle way.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010




Several thousand protesters marched to the gates of Dáil Éireann in Dublin last night where speakers on the platform in Molesworth Street condemned Government policy of Bank bail-outs and deliberate impoverishment of wage workers with cutback in wages and pensions and in vital public services such as health and education all to pay for the shameless delinquency of the banking and property speculator class who have crashed the Irish economy with their reckless gambling.

When some of the crowd tried to enter the front precinct of Leinster House some of the few Gardaí on duty drew batons and attacked the crowd in front of the gate injuring several men and women. Only strong appeals from the platform speakers restored calm and prevented a serious outbreak of violence. There was no aggression from the crowd, the gates of Leinster House were open and people were entitled to enter and demand to see public representatives inside. The police had advance warning of the proposed march from over a week ago and if they did not want anyone entering they could well have closed the gates before the protest arrived. Some questions arise, therefore, from the behaviour of the police. Was there intention to provoke trouble and try to discredit the protest? If they were so concerned about security why did they leave the gates open as several thousand marchers approached slowly up Molesworth Street? The presence of one police inspector who is known to produce a baton with alacrity on previous occasions here is significant.

TV coverage of the demonstration was broadcast live on Sky News and later on Irish TV3 channel but, was ignored by Irish national public broadcaster RTÉ. However, RTÉ radio news bulletins today carried a story stating that Gardaí were “investigating” the incident where “IOO protesters tried to gain access to the Dáil premises from a crowd of 500”. This is an outrageous lie; no more than 20 people tried to enter the open gates to talk to TD’s inside. The crowd in Molesworth Street numbered more than 2000 at that stage. This is typical of the editorial bias in RTÉ against any political dissent since the beginning of the economic crisis last year. What will they say next week if 20,000 people turn up?

With anger mounting in the country as the affects of the first round of cutbacks bites hard there will be increasing levels of protest throughout the state, not just in Dublin, and this rotten Government should realise its days are numbered and resign and call an early election. The people are quite clear in their demands; "We will not wait, we want elections now, we will not pay for Banker bail-outs"

FearFeasa Mac Léinn

Áth Cliath/DUBLIN, 12 Bealtaine/May, 2010.