The large number of people who marched behind the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) banners at the 24 November national anti-austerity demonstration in Dublin augurs well for a serious battle against the property tax in the New Year.
More than 15,000 people joined the demonstration, more than three times the size of the equivalent trade union demonstration last year. While still tapping only a fraction of the potential for an anti-austerity struggle, the demonstration showed a growing demand for real action against austerity.
The key difference between this years’ march and the one last year was the emergence of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes in 2012. The Campaign contingent – a sea of black and yellow – was the largest on the march without question. The Campaign contingent was also the loudest and liveliest as chants rang out “No way, we won’t pay”, “Enda Kenny not a penny”, and “IMF on your bike, what do We want? General strike!”.
The President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Eugene McGlone, was booed by large sections of the crowd as he started to speak outside the GPO. This booing – scandalously characterised by SIPTU President Jack O’Connor as “fascist behaviour” – was entirely justified.
Fine Gael / Labour have been greatly facilitated in introducing the austerity agenda by the ICTU leadership. At the same time the official trade union leadership were giving their endorsement to the 24 November protest they were busy preparing a massive sellout of public sector workers by giving the green light to negotiations on a billion euro worth of austerity at workers’ expense in Croke Park 2.
In the light of these facts, the comments of the Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) Brid Smith, who co-chaired the GPO rally on behalf of CAHWT, are weak and inadequate.
She said: “As one of the chairs of the protest I stepped in to stop the heckling. But I did so while openly acknowledging that the discontent with the union leadership was perfectly legitimate. I wish to compliment Eugene McGlone, ICTU President, who rose to the occasion in a good-humoured fashion and changed his speech to explain how they might go about seeking a general stoppage. It was a proper response to the justified anger that was visible on the protest.”
These comments reflect the accommodation that the SWP are trying to make with the “left” wing of the trade union bureaucracy.
This accommodation was seen in the preparations for the demonstration too. The CAHWT were the first to plan a demonstration against property tax and austerity on 24 November. When the Dublin Council of Trade Unions called for a demonstration on the same day, the CAHWT rightly entered into negotiations with them about a joint protest. However the DCTU refused to make boycott of the property tax one of the key themes of the protest and to make the demonstration a genuinely joint effort in deed as well as in name.
Unfortunately, the National Steering Committee of the CAHWT voted 50-20 at its October meeting to accept these terms with SWP members to the fore in arguing for acceptance.
In our view had the CAWHT national steering committee taken a harder line with the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, the DCTU could have been forced to accept a genuinely joint demonstration with opposition to property tax a key central theme.
This would have meant a bigger demonstration with a sharper political message and a better preparation for the battle against the property tax. It also would have been seen by the country as a protest which really threw down the gauntlet to the government on the property tax boycott battle, as opposed to a trade union demonstration with a certain anti-property tax colouration.
Even if the CAHWT had been forced to organise its own demonstration independently it is clear that it would have been very sizeable, apart altogether from the clarity of the message for the demonstrators and those observing it through the media.
In this sense, despite the very significant positives from the 24 November demo, it also represents something of a missed opportunity. This is something that should be discussed and debated by CAHWT activists as we prepare for a serious battle against the property tax and austerity in 2013.