Comrades and Friends,
In 1913 an open act of class warfare known as the Dublin Lockout was perpetrated upon the working people of this country. Yet 100 years later we stand here refusing to be defeated, coming here to commemorate the Easter Rising and reaffirming our commitment to the establishment of a democratic, secular, socialist state on the
island of Ireland – a Republic. We are here today in another period of intense class conflict. Once again the capitalists are waging class war on the workers. And once again the re-conquest of Ireland “must mean the social as well as the political independence from servitude of every man, woman and child in Ireland.” We must end oppression. Socialism – the assumption of political, social and economic power by the working class – is the only means to establish real freedom and genuine equality. We must identify who the oppressors are in today’s world; the means they use to exploit us; and the methods by which we can overcome them. This is the task that revolutionaries have set themselves since the days of the French Revolution and the United Irishmen; it is the task that the men and women of 1916 set themselves; and it is the task that we in the Workers’ Party have set ourselves. That, comrades, is why we are here today.
William Martin Murphy’s name echoes in infamy 100 years after the Lockout. But his was not a lone voice. His cohorts constituted the Dublin employers’ federation who had the open support of nationalist and unionist politicians, of clerics of all denominations, and a compliant media. Crucially they were backed by a government based in London that unleashed the forces of the state against the workers. In 100 years, who will be remembered as the oppressors of today? Future generations will recall the native bourgeoisie backed by governments based in Dublin and Belfast as well as in London, by nationalist and unionist politicians, by multitudinous clerics, by a compliant media, and by the forces of international capitalism as represented by the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank – the Troika.
What are the means which they have used to oppress? Since the recent crisis of capitalism began this vast array of forces has used austerity and sectarianism, neo-liberalism, and religion to save capitalism from its own contradictions, and to protect the profits of speculators. We have been told that cuts and privatisation are a collective act of ‘tightening our belt’. But what does the interest of Warren Buffet in the privatisation of our natural resources say about whether this is a good or a bad deal for the Irish working class? David Cameron, George Osborne and their LibDem lapdogs insist that the way to establish economic recovery in the UK is through more cuts. Meanwhile, the folks on the hill in the Stormont Executive think the only answer to the massive economic problems faced by the people of Northern Ireland is to cut corporation tax, to become more like the Republic or Cyprus.
But austerity isn’t working. The result of austerity has been huge unemployment, a return to mass emigration, and the destruction of living standards through inflation, attacks on public services, and cuts to wages and conditions for those still in work. Never content with such levels of oppression, capitalism continues to exploit the situation with further privatisation. It is not working in the Republic, in the UK, in Greece, in Portugal, in Spain, in Italy; it is not working anywhere. Austerity is a complete failure.
Or is it? We need to ask ourselves the question, what is austerity for?
Austerity is not natural. It is the cold and calculated response of the bourgeoisie to the collapse of the neo-liberal model first elaborated by Friedman, Pinochet, Regan and Thatcher. Capitalism’s ideologues in economics faculties, departments of finance, and media outlets explain this away, and try to convince us that this is the natural way for the economy to work. It is not.
Austerity means class war: class war waged by the rich against the poor. Austerity’s job is to protect the interests of international financial capital, and it has been working a treat. While the overwhelming majority of the population has been hit by falling incomes, the world’s richest have been getting richer. And they’ve been splashing the cash, with record sales for super-yachts in 2012. There have been plenty of bailouts, but it is not the people that have been bailed out. It is the speculators, the global golden circle, ably assisted by their hirelings in various governments. And when the governments have not done exactly as desired, the international bourgeoisie have, in true Brechtian style, disbanded the government and appointed a new one.
We have stated on many occasions that the right wing forces have managed to imbed their ideology amongst the people. While many see and recognise that they and their communities are suffering badly they do not see a viable alternative. They have been infected by the Thatcherite disease of ‘there is no alternative’.
The practical manifestation of that reality can be seen in the outcome of last Wednesday’s Meath East bye-election. The two traditional right-wing parties received over 71% of the vote. Add in Direct Democracy Ireland to the equation and the right-wing received almost 78% of the vote. It is appropriate that we congratulate comrade Seamus McDonagh and the Party locally and regionally for the campaign which they conducted. Seamus is from the county and lives in the constituency; he is an activist in many campaigns and particularly so in the CAHWT; within our resources an excellent campaign was mounted; uniquely there has been the very welcome sight of socialist and progressive TDs endorsing Seamus’s campaign in Meath East. As always we must analyse our own performance and result, but the over-riding questions for anybody seeking changes are: why did 62% of the registered electorate not vote? and how do we end the FF /FG duopoly?
In 1848 Marx and Engels identified that the modern state under capitalism acts as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. This is still obvious today. What difference to the tweedledum and tweedledee politics visible since the inception of the Irish state has the supposed watering down by coalition partners made? Next to none. In his own day, James Connolly mocked the bourgeois nationalists and economists who claimed that the decline of the Irish economy in the 1800s was a consequence of the act of union, of moving parliamentary power from Dublin to London. He pointed out that this was to fail to understand how economics shaped reality. Similarly, any idea that merely by ending partition the economic circumstances of the working class will miraculously change is a fantasy. As long as the major parties of the Dáil and the Assembly are infected with the neo-liberal consensus, the same exploitation and oppression will still exist, and the class power of the bourgeoisie will remain untouched. There is no reason to suppose that any coalition with Mary Lou McDonald as Tánaiste will be any more of an alternative than that with Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.
If the neo-liberal policies of austerity have been one means of harassing the Irish working class, then sectarianism has been another. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfe Tone, the founder of the revolutionary tradition in which we stand. And we are still fighting the same struggle for the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter that he did. This single fact is the greatest indictment of how both unionism and nationalism have failed, and continue to fail. Both are reliant on continuing sectarian division. Both are obstacles on the road to socialism that must be overcome.
Unionism and nationalism have wasted the great potential of the Belfast Agreement. A strong bill of rights and the civic forum would have contributed greatly to creating the culture of active citizenship necessary to overcoming our divisions and developing an awareness of what we have in common. The Assembly parties acted quickly to kill off the civic forum, and the bill of rights is as far away as it ever was. The so-called Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy offered by the big two at Stormont is a sick joke. The state must use its power to encourage integration in our society – in education and housing in particular – not use its resources to keep our people divided on a “separate but equal” basis.
At Stormont, the nationalist and unionist parties work hand in glove. However, to maintain their position they need to keep sectarianism simmering, and to give the impression that they are standing up to the other side. Hence at a local level, we see anything and everything turned into sectarian squabbles: flags, playgrounds, even children packing shopping bags for charity. We have seen recently how dangerous this encouraging of low-level sectarianism is. The situation is made all the more dangerous by the on-going campaigns of dissidents who arrogantly and undemocratically assert their right to kill in the name of the people of Ireland when they know all too well that the people of Ireland reject and despise them.
While all this continues, attacks are made by the Stormont Executive on public services and on the living standards of the working class. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive – one of the major successes of the campaign for civil rights and an example of how effective state action can be – is being abolished without a peep from the parties that claim to be interested in human rights. The Housing Executive is not without its problems, but if there is one thing the current crisis has taught us it is that leaving housing provision in the hands of the private sector is a recipe for disaster.
The bedroom tax will be administered by Stormont. Two-thirds of Housing Executive tenants and 62% of working-age housing benefit recipients will be hit. Doubtless there will be some hand-ringing for public consumption, but the effects are potentially devastating. Who at Stormont is speaking for the working class in all this? No-one. We in the Workers’ Party must do so.
“The worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave.” With these words, Connolly got to the core of the oppression of women in the Ireland of his day. The publication of the report into the Magdalene Laundries reminds us of how shamefully working class women have been treated in Ireland. The place of women in Ireland was brutally illustrated by the tragic and shameful death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. The time has come to put an end once and for all to the tragedy of Ireland’s refusal, north and south, to legislate for choice. We reaffirm our commitment to a woman’s right to choose, alongside a commitment to end the continued discrimination against women in employment, whether through lower pay or the social conditions and attitudes that make women more likely to end up in part-time and low-paid employment.
Comrades, the oppressors are known to us and so are the means they use to exploit. But what are the methods to defeat them?
The alternative to neo-liberalism is democracy. As austerity continues over the years ahead, and as things get worse for ordinary workers, those genuinely left people within the major Dáil and Stormont parties, in other parties, in trade unions, in the community sector, and voluntary groups will be faced with a question. Where do you stand? The balance of forces both north and south means that Left cooperation is essential. There have been many positive examples of this in recent times both north and south, most recently as already noted, with Left and progressive TDs endorsing Seamus McDonagh’s campaign in Meath East.
LookLeft is playing a vital role not only in getting our Party’s message across to larger numbers of people, but in also fostering cooperation within the left. It is vital that every party member and supporter does what he or she can to help develop the profile and impact of LookLeft. We have put our money where our mouth is, and the Workers’ Party will continue to work for greater cooperation on the left, north and south.
The alternative to both sectarianism and sexism is secularism. We welcome the establishment of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast and recognise that the struggle against sexism in all its forms must remain a fundamental part of the struggle to build class consciousness and the conditions for the revolutionary transformation of Irish society. Intimately linked with the struggle for women’s liberation is the campaign for a secular Ireland, north and south. Much of what stands in the way of equality and social progress stems from religious beliefs being enshrined in law. Secularism is crucial to transforming our society in both the short- and the long-term.
When the failings of neo-liberalism can no longer be hidden,
When the political bankruptcy of the political elites north and south is stripped bare for all to see,
When the oppression of the working class by capitalism is intensifying,
Socialism is the alternative.
We honour the men and women of 1916 and our own deceased comrades not just in these moments of commemoration, but through creating a viable alternative to the oppressive, stultifying, exploiting politics of neo-liberalism – through the creation of a real future for ourselves and the future generations.
Connolly summed up his policy in a simple sentence. “Educate that you may be free”. We have set ourselves no small task – achieving full freedom for the working class. We know the method – educate, agitate, organise. We must take this to our communities, our workplaces, our schools, our colleges, our trade unions – everywhere. Only then can we bring about the revolutionary transformation of our society. This is the road to a democratic, secular, and socialist Republic.
Sunday, 31st March 2013