Saturday, 27 November 2010

On austerity in Ireland

Today, tens of thousands of people marched through Dublin to protest the Irish government's austerity programme. Unfortunately, it is almost certain that their protests will fall on deaf ears. Despite the pattern of events across the world, the labour movement is simply not learning the lessons that this current struggle has to teach us.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is set to give Ireland an €85bn loan - as a return on it implementing a "recovery plan" which amounts to an outright attack on the working class. Across the next four years, it will take the equivalent of €20 per week off the average person, cut 25,000 jobs, slash €2.8bn off the welfare bill, reduce the minimum wage by a euro an hour, and raise VAT by 3%. All the while, the extremely low rate of corporation tax will remain in place, to spare the bosses a share of the burden.

There is, rightly, a lot of anger about this. One trade union leader has predicted civil unrest "the like of which has not been seen for decades." But the head of the ICTU says this is "unlikely," and so far the show of discontent has been overtly passive.

But even if it wasn't, that would be no guarantee of success. When the prospect of IMF-funded class war came to Greece, there were riots on the streets - and the measures still came to pass. In Portugal, this Wednesday, a one-day general strike brought the economy to a standstill - and in Friday the austerity budget was passed. Even after which, investors are still "bet[ting] on a Portuguese bailout."

If it appears as though I am suggesting that nothing can be done, that isn't the case. On the contrary, I am arguing that what needs to be done hasn't yet been done.

A protest, wether passive or riotous, is still just a display of anger, a letting off of steam. It is useful in getting a message to the public and building up a support base or a movement, but in and of itself it will change nothing. As I said of Greece, the main failure has been "the apparent inability to turn this riotous anger and willingness to rebel into an act of true revolution."

Likewise, a single-day strike - whether in a single business or across an entire nation - can never be more than a safety valve against genuine radicalism. The Portugese strike showed off the power that the workers have over the economy, but never deployed it to full effect.

As the CNT said of a similar general strike in Spain;
An indefinite general strike paralysing the country until the government withdraws anti-worker and anti-social actions would by contrast act as a binder for workers to recover their class consciousness and act together, with an eye to the destruction of the capitalist system through social revolution which is the only truly effective medicine against congenital diseases of the system.
Ultimately, it needs to be realised that we are not going to reason with those in power. Nor are we going to shame them. They stand by their ideology and not only believe that what they are doing is neccesary but that it is morally right.

If the working class, the vast bulk of people who are being forced to bear their brunt, want to see any change we shall have to force it. We need to strike, occupy, and sabotage. Indefinitely.