Ireland: Easter then and now - Socialism the only way out!

We are making available to our readers the editorial statement of the first printed issue of Fightback (Ireland), published just before Easter. As it states, “Neither social partnership in the south nor the TUV and ‘dissident’ republican terrorism in the north provides a way out. Connolly explained long ago that only the Irish working class stood alone as the incorruptible inheritor of the struggle for Irish freedom.”

This Easter many Irish socialists and republicans will no doubt spend some time to pause to remember the events of 1916. The rising which asserted the national sovereignty of Ireland was in fact an internationalist rising against the First World War around the leadership of James Connolly and the Irish Citizens’ Army that has become a central point in Irish history but the events and the lessons of those events have been distorted by bourgeois nationalists. As in every year parades and other events across Ireland will be held to remember 1916, unfortunately many will portray the Easter Rising as a purely nationalist event or one that is merely of historical interest. For Marxists this far from the case. It is by going back to Connolly and Larkin that we find the way forward for the Irish labour movement today.

The Irish Citizens’ Army was formed to be the armed wing of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union to defend pickets from scabs and the police acting as the goons of employers during the bitter Dublin lockout of 1913. This was not a mere historical episode; the struggle for union rights in Ireland is an ongoing battle as demonstrated by recent events at Green Island where workers went to the length of a hunger strike after being sacked for union activities. This event has revealed the character of the state in the south which has threatened the deportation of one of the workers involved. As ever therefore the Irish state acts as the guarantor of the boss class and foreign capital. This was demonstrated in Obama’s recent thanks to Cowen for allowing US imperialism access to the Shannon.

Connolly understood that the working class stood independently and could rely on no forces but its own, warning the Citizens’ Army in the days before the Rising to “hold onto your rifles because the Volunteers may have a different goal”. In comparison to Connolly’s day our class stands enormously strengthened. Ireland is no longer a comparatively backward country dominated by small population settlements and largely tied to agriculture. During the Celtic Tiger period the Irish economy more than doubled in size. This economic expansion came on the back of huge inward investment from large corporations, in particular American companies such as Dell who wanted educated English speaking workers in a relatively low wage economy. Throughout the 1990s alone it is estimated that the workforce in the south doubled to 2million. (Management Today, 1/6/09).

The thanks to the working class, whose labour created the economic expansion and the huge profits in the good times, were attacks from the bosses from the onset of the crisis. The bailout of the bankers needs to be paid for and those parasites whose greed is responsible for exacerbating the crisis are desperate to make sure that it won’t be themselves that foot the bill. With their willing accomplices in Cowen and his Fianna Fáil/Green cabinet the bosses are determined that the Irish workers and youth will pay for the crisis in the form of slashed public services, and attacks on jobs, pay and conditions. Recently they announced intensions to force us to “work till we drop” by raising the retirement age to 68.

However, Irish workers have not taken this lying down. Over the last year we have seen the beginning of a fight back, including workers’ occupations at Waterford Chrystal, Visteon and Thomas Cook and action by TEEU electricians in the construction industry. Whilst over 250,000 public sector workers struck in November. Unfortunately the trade union leaders called off further action planned for December. ICTU and the Frontline Alliance have pledged themselves to further industrial action, including limited and all out strike action. The leadership must see that the ideas of social partnership are now dead in the water. The bosses need to cut our pay and conditions in order for capitalism to survive. The ideas of social partnership are the ideas of yesterday and failures to call demonstrations around action as seen in November and a willingness to call off strikes as we saw in December will only invoke further attacks: weakness invites aggression!

Workers are being attacked in the north as well, where disproportionately high numbers of workers are employed in the public sector. Recent action by the PCS against a 30+% reduction in redundancy payments saw workers across both Britain and the north of Ireland take strike action which is set to continue. This could prove to be the tip of the iceberg as the Executive in the North is set to find cuts of up to £370m in the budget, whilst the water tax is not far from implementation.

Recent events in the north only reveal the political vacuum and the need for working class representation. The Iris Robinson affair demonstrated the extent to which politicians are removed from the realities of the lives of workers, protestant or catholic. The rickety agreement which came out of it and the devolution, in name at least, of policing powers is only staving off problems for the near future. The rise in support for Traditional Unionist Voice and ‘dissident’ republican activity reflect the rising disillusionment with the Good Friday Agreement which was based on the relative prosperity of an economic boom which now seems to belong to a bygone era. Yet these ultimately represent a reversion to the failed politics of yesterday and can only lead to the strengthening of the sectarian divide.

Neither social partnership in the south nor the TUV and “dissident” republican terrorism in the north provides a way out. Connolly explained long ago that only the Irish working class stood alone as the incorruptible inheritor of the struggle for Irish freedom. A Marxist tendency can be developed in Ireland amongst the most advanced layers of workers and youth. Based on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Connolly and Trotsky we can gain an echo in the labour movement through struggling alongside the working class in its organisations, on the picket lines, in the workplaces, universities and schools.

Join us in the struggle for socialism!!

(02 April 2010)

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