There were demonstrations across France yesterday, Thursday, in memory of young anti-fascist Clém
Irish can follow Spanish and Greeks
It has been a normal week of protest in Greece and Spain. In Greece, judges and court workers went on strike against the cuts in funding imposed by the Troika. In Spain a march of mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo and his 500 followers reached the small Andalucian town of Albolote.
The march is highlighting the impact of unemployment and is growing as it makes its way to Madrid. So far marchers have raided two supermarkets and given food to the poor. Gordillo described the cuts as “the biggest rip-off in the history of capitalism”.
Greece and Spain are at the forefront of the resistance to austerity in Europe. But there are differences in the style and dynamics of the rebellion.
Greek workers were staging militant strikes before the Wall Street crash of 2008. When attacks on working conditions grew, these protests escalated very rapidly. Networks of workers, who had emerged in previous protests, were able to push the official unions into action. Greece has seen over fifteen general strikes and the emergence of Syriza as a party of the radical left.
In Spain, the unions worked more closely with the government and there was an implicit pact not to rock the boat. Resistance was started outside the rank of organised labour. Last year, a movement known as the Indignados followed the example of the Egyptian revolution and staged an Occupy-style sit in at the main square in Madrid. Soon, a million people marched in their support. This vibrant social movement helped to awaken the ranks of organised labour.
This summer, for example, there has been a huge miners’ struggle that has galvanised popular support.
There are important lessons to be drawn from these struggles for Ireland.
Ireland has a very low level of resistance - compared to other countries. This has led some to argue that the Irish suffer from a post-colonial complex and have developed a deeply conformist strain.
But this is doubtful, given the rebellious history of the country.
The explanation has much more to do with two key factors that shaped how Irish workers reacted to the global economic crash.
The first was that their unions had been locked into a structure of social partnership for twenty years. This led to a calamitous decline of union membership in the private sector and to a more general lack of involvement in union branches.
The lack of experience of struggle meant that a key layer of union activists was inculcated with a defeatist attitude when the crash occurred. Full time officials who were closely tied to the Labour Party promoted this attitude assiduously. Their slogan after every defeat was ‘ Ah sure, it could be worse’.
The second reason was that Irish workers moved very abruptly from a Celtic Tiger success story to a 1930s crash. They experienced a huge shock – but many also had some savings built up from the boom. This led to a political psychology whereby people tried to ‘keep the head down’ until the crash went away. Most assumed that there would be a return to normal in a few years.
Today there are signs that the patience of workers is starting to snap. Talk of another property tax has caused real worry in many families. The vandalism that has been perpetrated on the health service is becoming more apparent. We are, therefore, reaching a point where mass resistance can start in Ireland.
The first sign of this was the momentous decision by the majority of the population, initially, to boycott the household charge. An even more extraordinary issue has been the way that 95 percent of people have boycotted the sceptic tank charges.
These forms of resistance are still relatively passive – you can simply sit at home and refuse to register. But where people have been asked to come out onto the streets they have shown a willingness to respond in greater numbers and with greater anger.
The question arises, then, of what concrete lessons can be drawn from the experience elsewhere.
To answer this question, Socialist Workers has invited two socialist activists from Spain and Greece to report on the experiences in their country.
Luke Stobart is a member of the En Lucha in Spain and will report on events there
Costas Todoulas is a member of the Greek Socialist Workers Party and will describe their political situation.
Brid Smith – a Dublin City Councillor and member of the Irish SWP – will look at the implications for Ireland.
The meeting Greece, Spain and Ireland: The Fight Against Corporate Greed takes place in The Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square at 8pm on Friday 7th September.
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