Ireland: Socialists campaign against anti-worker Lisbon Treaty

Capitalist establishment conduct a campaign of fear to secure a yes vote in second referendum

There are only a few days left before the second referendum vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland. The big business and political elite in Europe on the one hand, but also many workers and activists on the other, will be watching the result closely but hoping for different results.

The Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) and our MEP, Joe Higgins, have been key elements in the campaign for a no vote. Joe Higgins is the only MEP who is fighting for a no vote. Even more so than last year, Joe has clearly been the most consistent, clear and effective leader on the no side in the media, able to deal with the general points but also bringing out the very dangerous attacks hidden in the depths of the treaty. Joe and the party have made a real impact.

Socialist Party (CWI) poster

The Lisbon Treaty is being promoted as a ‘tidying up’ exercise, aimed at stream-lining the structures of the EU. The reality is that Lisbon is not about achieving a better future for all.

Militarisation and worker’ rights

Lisbon is about militarism. It’s about the EU beefing up its military capabilities to match its international economic ambitions in the crisis-ridden, competitive global markets.

Lisbon will assist bosses to attack the pay and conditions of workers. Lisbon opens up vital public services to privatisation and is a continuation of the capitalist market policies that have created the crisis in the first place.

Lisbon endorses the anti-worker rulings and bias of the European Court of Justice. It makes the EU even less democratic, in an attempt to make it easier for the EU establishment to force through all these policies.

The last dependable opinion poll, which was published four days ago by The Irish Times, indicated that 48% intended to vote yes, up 2% and that 33% intended to vote no, up 4% from the previous poll. 19% were still undecided – a basic 60/40 split of those who are committed.

Capitalists all out for a yes vote

Given the resources that the whole of the establishment have mobilised on this issue over the last year, that as of now 40 plus are saying no, is actually quite incredible. Last June Lisbon was rejected by 54% to 46%. However, with the economic crisis, opinion swung and by November last there was a slight majority in favour of the treaty.

In February a poll indicated that 51% would vote for Lisbon and 33% would oppose it. After that support for Lisbon went up even further. However, as the crisis gets worse some opinion is hardening against Lisbon and the EU.

While most polls indicate that the momentum is more with the no side at the moment, this gap is still considerable with a week to go. However, a week is a long time in politics.

A defeat for Lisbon would be a significant setback for the EU political establishment and big business. It would increase the national capitalist tensions at the heart of the EU which have become more fraught as a result of the economic crisis.

However, regardless of the vote, they will still attempt to impose the attacks on the rights of working class people. It is necessary to build a united movement of workers and young people throughout Europe to resist and defeat the big business policies of the EU.

For the Irish capitalist establishment, defeat would be a calamity. It would mean the end of the Fianna Fail/Green Party government, just when they are hoping to complete what could be a €50 billion bailout of the banks and are preparing to impose €4 billion worth of cuts in public services in December’s budget. There is a huge amount at stake and that’s why they are going to unprecedented levels to try to ensure a yes vote.

In a more direct way than last time, big business has directly intervened in the debate. Intel, who make parts for military equipment has spent a fortune. Ryanair chief, Michael O’Leary, who has made a career and a fortune out of attacking workers rights, says he has spent €500,000.

Last week he and the EU Commissioner for Transport, Antonio Tajani, flew around Ireland in a Ryanair jet and held press conferences at every airport for a yes vote. Any pretence to balance or fairness in this debate was thrown out the window a long time ago. As Transport Commissioner Mr. Tanjani is responsible for the regulation of the companies in the air industry in which Ryanair is a major player.

Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins

This conflict of interests is staggering. As Joe Higgins said at a public debate, it’s the same as property developers or land speculators taking the head of the planning board out for drinks!

In a way, the government has stayed more in the background. But miraculously and all of a sudden there has been an explosion of well-financed but bogus civic groups – "blah blah for yes". Even the Irish rugby team has come out for a yes vote. The bias in the printed and broadcast media has been unprecedented.

That last poll also showed that 81% of people were opposed to the government. However, the hatred and anger towards the government is not automatically being translated into opposition to Lisbon.

There is a deep class polarisation reflected in voting intentions. The vast majority of the middle or upper class support Lisbon but a majority of working class people seem to be opposed. Woman and young people remain most likely to vote no.

The economy and workers’ rights have been the biggest issues in the campaign and on the issue of workers’ rights, Joe Higgins and the Socialist Party generally, have played a critical role.

Socialist campaign counters role of Labour and trade union leaders

While the treaty is a conscious attempt at deception, aided and abetted by the disgraceful role of the Labour Party and the vast bulk of trade union leaders, we have been successful in bringing out the anti-worker character of Lisbon and the ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’. This Charter lists off many important rights but then article 52, paragraphs 1 and 7, a small print disclaimer of those rights, makes the Charter a meaningless document.

The majority of working class people do not believe, or at least seem to have serious doubts, about the assurances given by the Labour and trade unions leaders on workers’ rights contained in the Charter. That and the fact that workers’ rights have been so dominant, is a compliment to Joe Higgins and the campaign of the Socialist Party.

However, at the same time, a significant layer of working class people are intending to vote yes as they feel that a no vote could worsen the economic nightmare and that unemployment could get worse as a result.

The uniform message from the establishment, with Labour and trade unions leaders playing a key role, has been that Ireland will face an economic disaster if there is a no vote. If Lisbon is passed it will be passed on the basis of spreading fear and blackmail. There is very little enthusiasm for Lisbon amongst the broad working class.

In last Friday’s poll, 71% of people said they agreed with the idea that economically Ireland was better off in the EU. However that is an 8% drop compared to three weeks earlier and shows that more people are beginning to understand the depth of the crisis and the real nature of the EU.

The absence of a strong left force and alternative in society generally has been a vital factor in the campaign. A left party with a base throughout the country or a group of fighting trade unions that mounted a serious national campaign, could have made a decisive difference to the campaign and voting intentions. People’s fears could have been dealt with, but crucially a fighting alternative on jobs and services and to the capitalist market itself, would have had a big impact.

The Socialist Party has organised many meetings throughout the country. In Dublin, Cork and Limerick we organised the main public debates on Lisbon against major figures on the yes side, with more than 200 attending each debate.

At the debate in Dublin, Clare Daly and Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party debated against Joe Costello, a leading figure in the Labour Party and trade union leader, Blair Horan of the CPSU (public sector union). This debate can be viewed at www.socialistparty.net

The Socialist Party has organised the distribution of over 500,000 A3 fold-over leaflets. We have put up thousands of posters, with six different slogans and designs in the bulk of the major cities and urban areas.

While the yes side are ahead in the polls, we and the others in the broad left no campaign will continue our efforts right up to the end of the campaign on Friday.

The day after that, we will continue the same fight against neo-liberal capitalism and the same struggle to transform the trade unions into fighting organisations. We will redouble our efforts to build the socialist alternative that alone offers a decent future for all.