The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is meeting on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of organising a series of demonstrations across the Irish State in opposition to austerity and debt. It has issued a press statement outlining its reasons; in particular it is targeting the issue of debt and has indicated that demonstrations might take place in a number of towns and cities including Dublin, Cork, Galway, Sligo, Limerick and Waterford.
The possibility of these being organised should be welcomed but more important, if they take place, they should be supported. It gives working people an opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to austerity, to demonstrate the scale and anger of their opposition and put forward what they think should be the alternative.
It gives the small socialist movement an opportunity to campaign in the working class to make these events as large as possible so that the demonstrations can convince and give confidence to others to also oppose austerity and oppose the crippling debt. It gives it the opportunity to speak to workers to take action outside as well as inside the trade union movement and in the private sector as well as the public sector. The purpose would be to begin reuniting workers who have been successfully divided into union and non-union and between public and private sector by the propaganda of the State, employers and media.
A real campaign at union and community group meetings, at workplaces and in the streets including door to door leafleting and canvassing should aim to mobilise as many as possible to turn out, should the demonstrations be called. Right away attempts should be made to extend the numbers building the demonstrations through meetings organised to discuss the demonstrations and how they could be made as large as possible.
These meetings should not simply be organising meetings but should also discuss why we oppose austerity and the debt, how they are affecting the lives of working people, how we should organise against them and what our alternative should be. What for example is our position on debt default? What role does strike action have in a campaign against austerity and default?
There are many issues facing workers and socialists have the opportunity to give them the possibility of coming together beyond the existing union movement to unite and discuss all these issues.
What have been called as one-off demonstrations should be supported in order to make them an on-going campaign both before and after they take place.
All this is primarily the task of the socialist movement but it is not limited to it. There are many opposed to austerity and many campaigns against its effects that should take the opportunity to better organise and unite with each other to discuss what should be the alternative.
An additional onus is however placed on the socialist movement. It claims to stand for the interests of the whole working class and has a special duty to take every step to unite it in defence of its own interests. This has two aspects. First it must unite itself to carry out the task of uniting workers. Otherwise it is weaker and opens itself to charges of incompetence, hypocrisy or political sectarianism. The second is to create a campaign which is open and democratic and which at the very least offers the possibility, if not yet the certainty, of uniting the most militant workers.
The unity of the socialist movement in such a task should in principle be easier since it has theoretically already achieved some level of unity through the United Left Alliance. The ULA should immediately discuss how such an opportunity can be utilised to build an anti-austerity campaign, on what basis it should be built and what policies it should fight for. This is, after all, something which the ULA said it was going to do when it got elected and it would not do to renege on promises, just like the Labour Party and all the other right wing parties, once elected to the Dail.
Complete agreement should be no barrier to taking this action. A democratic campaign would in any case allow everyone to argue its particular view on the way forward and the alternative. In a democratic campaign of action there would be no role for vetoes.
The objective on the day would be a united left contingent, united around an agreed programme and demands, offering an on-going campaign to everyone at the demonstration who didn’t just want to go home afterwards to watch themselves on the RTE news. The size and resonance of such a contingent would testify to the potential to build real and lasting opposition to austerity.
There is of course a flip side.
To borrow from management-speak: for every opportunity there is a threat and for every potential strength a potential weakness. To fail to take opportunities threatens the effectiveness of resistance to austerity and to fail to strengthen the resistance will result in weakening it. The ULA through its minor electoral success has given itself some responsibilities which it should relish as opportunities to help workers build a movement against austerity.
Support, build and go way beyond the ICTU demonstrations!