Fight the criminalisation of Protest! Support the Jobstown defendents!
In the lead-up to May Day a monumental show trial opened in Dublin. The trail was aimed at water charge protesters, including a Socialist Party Dail deputy and councillor and a leader of the republican group eirigi.
On the basis of a protest that led to then Labour minister Joan Bruton and her assistant being held up in a car for several hours, the state decided to advance a charge of false imprisonment - a serious criminal charge that can lead to a long period in jail.
No greater contrast can be given than that between the vindictive persecution of workers and their representatives on the one hand and the impunity of local and international capital and of the state forces themselves.
Former minister Bruton has spent hours in the witness box describing the horror of having to listen to criticism of her betrayal of workers. In addition 50 Garda were called as witnesses to establish the guilt of the defendants, even though the Garda themselves are involved in thousands of fake motoring offences. Despite weeks of investigation no explanation has been offered. This is because no-one will offer the only possible explanation - that the entire force is corrupt at every level.
Criminality, framing suspects, bending the law to suit big business, brutalising protesters, illegal wire-tapping, persecuting whistleblowers - the list is endless.
The corruption of the Garda is a pale reflection of the corruption of the state and society. The constitution and legal framework are torn up to allow free rein to the US war machine and operate the economy in the interests of transnational capital. Locally church and state enjoy almost perfect impunity despite crimes extending over decades.
So why is the Irish state investing so much effort in intimidating a small group of protesters, given that the protests about water charges have largely died away? An Irish solution was found in the Dail. Irish Water survives as a government company. Water meters and a charging structure survive under the cover of "excessive use." The way remains open for eventual privatisation but few will face bills now and it is unlikely that further mobilizations will occur.
So why then the show trial? The Irish economic recovery is only a recovery for capitalism and imperialism. It depends on developing a low wage economy, on the sell off of housing stock and other resources and mass privatisation. The strategy of the Irish government has been to seek the collaboration of the trade union bureaucracy and to head off revolt with careful use of the financial reserves in the "fiscal space" left from payment of the sovereign debt. State funds paid to Irish Water constrain the fiscal space, which is shrinking in any case. There less room for carrot. The state is reaching for the stick it knows it will need as social unrest increases.
It is tempting to believe that the Jobstown show trial will collapse under the weight of ludicrous charges or because of the absurd and contradictory evidence provided by Bruton and other witnesses. However the judge has already placed constraints on the political statements of the defendants and tight conditions on jurors. In any case a younger demonstrator has already been found guilty in the youth court. In this case the judge ruled that chanting and road blocking were so violent and extreme that they ruled out any defence based on a civil right to assemble and protest.
As in the youth case it is open to the court to impose non-custodial sentences while firmly criminalising future protest.
It must be said that the political opposition is weak. Defendants are relying mainly on their legal team and demonstrations have been relatively small. This was an outcome of the water charges campaign itself, with a minimal political programme and a very loose alliance that left the union bureaucracy able to decide their own level of commitment.
In the future we will not have that luxury. An iron heel from the state will need a united working class movement, willing to take whatever steps are necessary to defend itself. An active campaign to force a response from all the groups and organizations who claim to support democracy, a direct appeal to the organised working class on behalf of the Jobstown defendants, would immensely strengthen our hand.