Report on anti-NAMA / anti-cuts demo in Dublin
22 September 2009
An anti-NAMA / ant-cuts demonstration took place in Dublin last Saturday (19th). Called by the United Alliance Against Cuts it took the form of a march from Parnell Square to the Headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank. Demonstrators were addressed by a number of speakers at both the start and finish.
First up was Richard Boyd Barrett of the SWP and People Before Profit. He seemed to be marshalling the demonstration as well as compeering the speakers. His first concern was to make it clear to people how the march would form up as it left the Square – insisting the order would be community groups first, followed by trade unions and then political groups. On the face of it this was a bit over officious but given the tenor and contents of the subsequent speeches it was clear that the line up the march (mothers and babies up front and parties in the rear) corresponded directly to its politics. Boyd Barrett then made a brief introductory speech. He started by saying that the demonstration had been called by the United Alliance Against Cuts – a coalition of political parties, trade union branches and the community sector that had come together to oppose the Government’s austerity measures. Richard said that it was scandalous that billions of public money had been poured into the coffers of bankers and property developers, and that the public shouldn’t be made to pay the price for the criminal greed of such people. He said that NAMA was a bail out of the rich and greedy – evidence for this was the rocketing of bank shares of the back of the announcement on how much the Government would pay for their bad debts. The banks were being rewarded for their greed and freed up to do it all over again. Richard concluded by highlighting the role of the role of the ECB in the bank rescue. He cited its official guidelines on such rescues, which insisted that private ownership had to be preserved, and the profit motivation undiluted.
The first speaker was Jimmy Kelly of UNITE. He said that we had a Government that didn’t support workers, and were living in a republic that was becoming more anti worker by the day. He pointed to a recent court injunction against workers naming and shaming strikebreakers by calling them scabs. He also pointed to the Thomas Cook occupation where workers were brought before the courts on contempt charges. Jimmy Kelly said that while we should support bank workers we should be against speculators. He also highlighted the savage cuts that had taken place in the health service over the last year. He said that given the threats of even more cuts we had to say on the streets in the run up to the budget. In his conclusion Jimmy hinted (though it wasn’t clear) that a national strike on the day of the budget would be an element of those protests.
The second speaker was a spokeswoman for Protest Against the Child Unfriendly Budget. For her the main issue was the threat to child benefit in the upcoming budget. She said that her group had already collected 30,000 signatures on a petition opposing any cut. Such proposals were completely unacceptable, especially as Ireland was already bottom of the EU child poverty league. She claimed that the government had a duty to protect the most vulnerable in society, and that future generations would be paying the price for today’s cuts. She urged people to tell the government to leave child benefit alone. The third speaker was Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein. She said the banks were being bailed out to the tune of €54 billion –far more than the market value of the loans that the government was taking on. Citizens and the taxpayers were being asked to carry the can for the reckless behaviour of the banks. Mary Lou said that there should be no return to “business as usual” in the Irish state; that we should resist growing inequality and the run down of public services. She claimed that the government was mugging young people, citing the threat to child benefit as an example. The government had to be told to back off and to get its hand out of the pockets of children. Mary Lou concluded by saying that Ireland was enduring its worst government ever, and that it had to be forced out at the earliest opportunity. This could be achieved by mobilising as many people as possible.
The next speaker was Kieran Allen of the SWP. He said that the nature of the bank bailout was revealed in the welcome it had received form the richest people in society. In opposing NAMA and the cuts people were going up against the political establishment. However, we had to stop these for the sake of our children. Kieran said that the Government was in a weak position – this was seen in its attempts to prolong the NAMA debate and delay the vote until after the Lisbon Treaty referendum. He said that people had to keep up the protests and announced that there would be an assembly outside the Dail every Wednesday night between now and the date of the vote. He compared this to the tactics of protesters in East Germany twenty years ago who brought down the Berlin Wall. Kieran concluded by claiming that “people power” could defeat NAMA.
He was followed by the well know artist Robert Ballagh. He opened by saying that he was a socialist and what he meant by socialism was the redistribution of wealth to create justice and equality, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. NAMA was the complete opposite of this – it was a redistribution from the poorest to the richest – socialism for the rich. Robert said that every sector was going to suffer as a result of cuts. He drew attention to the arts sector, which already had the lowest level of state support in the EU. He said that cuts would not only hit artists but also the public’s access to the arts, citing the proposals for entry charges to museums and galleries. Robert concluded by claiming that Lisbon, NAMA and the budget were all part of the same agenda. He urged people to show their opposition to all of these by voting no in the upcoming referendum. Robert was followed by a spokesperson for the Peel Port dockworkers who had been locked out after refusing to sign new contracts. He told of the hardships they were facing after 11 weeks of industrial action and the attempts by the company and the courts to criminalise their struggle. The final speaker in this part of the demo was Theresa Shallow of the Save Crumlin Children’s Hospital Campaign. She gave a short but angry speech, claiming that money was being wasted on the banks while hospital services were being run down. She cited Crumlin Children’s Hospital being denied the €9.6 million required to maintain its services – a pittance compared to the billions going into NAMA. Theresa finished by saying that she would be showing her opposition to the government by voting no in the Lisbon referendum.
Soon after this the march went off, making its way through Dublin city centre and past the Dail on its way to the headquarters of the Anglo Irish Bank, the “scene of the crime”. Here there was another interjection form Richard Boyd Barrett. He claimed that the demo was not part of some Grand of Duke of York strategy of marching people up a hill and down again; the plan was to stay on the streets and escalate the protests. He reiterated the point made by Kieran Allen that people power could stop NAMA. Richard drew people’s attention to a number of upcoming events – a protest outside the Dail on Wednesday night, and a SITU demo against the cuts in the community sector on the 30th September. The first speaker at this part of the demonstration was community worker Rita Fagan. She said that many of the poorest communities in Ireland had failed to see any benefits from the Celtic Tiger years and now were facing the prospect of cuts. The McCarthy report was calling for 6,500 job cuts in the community sector; the Combat Poverty Agency had already been dismantled and the Community Development Programme was under threat. Rita said that it was the children who would feel the biggest impact of these cuts. She concluded by calling on people to support the SIPTU demonstration at the end of the month.
Following on from Rita was Cllr Joan Collins of People Before Profit. She said that people needed to get angry about what was going on, and that the government should already have been tossed out. Joan finished by saying that we should demand that the trade unions support protests rather than return to talks with the government. Next up was Brian Leeson of Eirigi. He said that the current period was reminiscent of the 1980’s when we were being told there was no choice and no alternative to the polices of austerity, and the likes of Charlie Haughey were lecturing people on belt tightening. Brian said that we did have a choice, that the Irish people were sovereign and had the right to decide their own future. Fir him the choice was to accept NAMA, Lisbon and the cuts or to fight back. He said that people had to take to the streets and stay there. Brian concluded by calling for the whole rotten system to be taken apart and replaced by a socialist Ireland. Richard Boyd Barrett intervened again at this point, claiming that there were 5,000 on the march and urging everyone to act as an organiser fur future protests.
The next speaker was Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party. He claimed that there was a growing movement against the polices of the government. He said that the attacks on public services were attacks on workers. Joe cited the example of the cuts of the 1980’s whose affects were still being felt. He said we couldn’t allow this to happen again. Joe then highlighted the attempts to criminalise workers who were in struggle such as the dockers and the staff of Thomas Cook. He said that in February the trade unions had brought 120,000 out onto the streets against the cuts, but ICTU had failed to take this movement forward and now they were looking for talks with the government. He demanded that ICTU withdraw from talks and start to organise for a one day general strike. Joe finished by saying that the Lisbon vote provided an opportunity to oppose the government a that we should making the argument for a no vote. Joe was followed by a spokesman for the recently formed Irish Peoples Union (IPU). He said that the IPU was about giving a voice to ordinary people and making political leaders accountable. It was time for Irish people to wake up and make their voice heard. He said that he was an employer himself and saw no reason why employers and workers couldn’t come together.
The next speaker was Maura Harrington of Shell to Sea. She remarked that while serving time in Mountjoy for anti-Shell for her protests she hadn’t spotted any bankers. She said that there was a need for regulation and accountability in Irish society. She also claimed that the solution to the crisis, in the form of Ireland’s natural resources, was being given away. Maura concluded by calling for the nationalisation of Ireland’s mineral wealth. Paddy Carroll, a spokesperson for Coca Cola workers, followed her. He recounted how workers had effectively been locked out after rejecting compulsory redundancies. The final speaker was another representative of the community sector.
Despite some of the speakers making useful arguments about the complicit role of the trade union leaders and the links between the EU, the bank bailout and the cuts, these were drowned out by the overall populist tone of the demo. The organisers went for the lowest common denominator in terms of politics and the widest coalition in terms of organisation. The dominant message was a plea to protect the poorest people in society. But such moralism does nothing to address the wider assault on the working class. Neither does it challenge the current trade union leadership who are making similar pleas, and who are quite happy to work with the government to win support for Lisbon and NAMA and help implement cuts in exchange for few gestures. The testimony of the spokespeople for the dockers and Coca Cola workers shows that the trade unions are doing everything they can to isolate workers in struggle. This seems to be lost on the organisers of Saturday’s demonstration.
Another consequence of their populist approach is the broadening of the so-called opposition to include state funded NGO’s and even pro-capitalist organisations such as the IPU who are urging class collaboration. This is a backward step for the left. It is not as if the populist approach attracted any more people - despite the claims of the SWP there were only two thousand at the demo on Saturday. A demo with an explicitly working class and socialist message may not have attracted any more, but politically it would have been a big advance. Despite all the bombast we heard on Saturday we are still a long way from building a movement that can challenge the assault being unleashed on the Irish working class.