Mayday, Dublin Ireland 2015 comrades. Happy workers day, ‘united we will never be defeated’, lets sing ‘The Red Flag’ or ‘The Internationale’ and remember Connolly and Larkin. We do it every year don’t we? Then we disperse. By ‘disperse’ I don’t just mean we go home or go for a tipple. I mean we ‘disperse’. We go back into our silos and we do whatever it is we do, for another year, while neo-liberal capital continues its triumphant rise to total domination of our country, our community and our lives. The rich get rich and obscenely richer, the rest of us get manipulated and bullied into giving them our money, our assets. The 1% wins while the 99% let them. On and on it goes until someday we will be the most unequal country in the EU. OOOPPS….sorry, we already got there! Still, what matter, isn’t it only another 364 days before we can assemble again, sing our songs, remember our heroes and pay lip service to their legacy?
What Ireland will we live in by Mayday 2016? We know two things for certain. By Mayday 2016 we will have passed the Centenary of the 1916 rising and we will have had a general election. Will there be anything to celebrate?
There is some hope that there might be, that there is something akin to an awakening. Following the national collective trauma the nation went through following the scandal of 2008, the bank bailout and the surrendering of our economic sovereignty, the citizens are protesting in numbers, and a frequency never seen since independence. They are angry, motivated, energetic and looking for change. That much is very clear. What is a lot less clear is whether we, the citizens, can deliver real social and meaningful change.
Today the RIGHT2WATER Unions host a Conference to look at developments throughout Europe relating to our Human Right to water and also, critically, at the emergence of democratic people’s movements in other countries throughout Europe, fighting back for the 99%. We will look and listen, learn some things and discard others, and still have the question. What is happening in Ireland? RIGHT2WATER is simply an umbrella campaign that aims to bring diverse groups and individuals together in defence of our Human Right to water and to ensure the abolition of domestic water charges. We will win this campaign. Of that I have no doubt whatsoever. We will return a Government that will be voted in to reverse the current crazy, wasteful, ideological, neo-liberal privatisation of our publicly owned water. And then what? Is that it? What about our right to housing, to a job and decent workers rights, to decent healthcare, to education? Do we, those in what has clearly become a ‘movement’ care about these things? And if so, can a water movement become a vehicle of real social and political change? Surely, less than a year away from an historic centenary we have a chance to actually have something to celebrate for once.
I believe we can do it if the necessary conditions are present and a lot of them are. The anger, and mass mobilisation necessary to reclaim our nation for its citizens are present. The citizen’s hunger for their democracy back is present and the electoral means are present. But the enemies of a more equal society are great and powerful. Our media is owned by the neo-liberal agenda and so the propaganda machine is in full flow. The short term bribes are on their way in a budget and the legacy of gombeen and parish pump politics is not a legacy at all. It lives and breathes today throughout the nation in the parties of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. So, if Mayday 2016 is not to be just another remembrance of what we could have been we need to unite like never before. If Easter 2016 is not to shame Easter 1916 we need to all behave and interact differently.RIGHTS2WATER has three pillars and I raise here three questions, one for each.
Of the five RIGHT2WATER Trade Unions, and others, I ask the following. Are we going to continue to grow and develop this project that we have played such a key role in? Can we see the vision, the possibilities and mobilise our members, their organising capacity and their resources into a vehicle for social and economic change? If we can we will do more to change their lives, and their families and communities than any single pay and conditions package we could ever achieve. Connolly and Larkin were men of vision and dreams. On Mayday we remember them. By Mayday 2016 can we honour them?
For the political groupings of the disparate Irish left let us be honest. We have failed utterly. Look all around you. Capital is winning and labour is losing. If it was a boxing match the referee would stop it. So whatever prescriptions have been used have not worked. Great people have been elected on the left and great people are elected today too. But the impulse of internal argument and separation within our class is deep and wounding and holding the vision we all share back. In the next 365 days can that change? We will not have a progressive Government that does not see unity within the political groupings in RIGHT2WATER. A coalition of some sort will be necessary before an election or in its immediate aftermath. Is it possible?
And to the communities up and down Ireland that are seeking a new direction? Political Economy education is the key. Progressive politicians are not your enemy. And Unions are not either. We, the citizens have two enemies, neo-liberalism and ourselves. We must understand the neo-liberal enemy in order to fight it, let alone slay it, and that requires political economy education in every city, town and village in the state. We must ‘join the dots’. And then we must stop internal fights and vote for progressive candidates when the election comes. How will we know who they are? If we educate ourselves they will stand out, as will our enemies. Regressive neo-liberal politics only lives in an atmosphere of ignorance, suspicion and internal division. Even neo-liberals cannot persuade us to vote against our own interests if we are enlightened. So let us read, communicate, talk and unite like never before. AND MOST OF ALL VOTE!
Let us see, for once, can we do in Ireland what our forebears wanted us to do and create a country that, at last, cherishes all of the children of the nation EQUALLY.