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 Solidarity
Brutal bosses attack striking Lisbon Dockers

25/05/2016: Protest and solidarity messages needed

  Solidarity

Austria
Only 31,026 votes prevent far right’s Hofer becoming president

24/05/2016: ‘Breathing space’ offers chance to build a fighting, democratic left alternative

  Austria

Britain
EU referendum exposes gaping political fault-lines

24/05/2016: New road can open up for labour movement if working class relies on its own forces

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Kazakhstan
Massive police operation confronts demonstrators

23/05/2016: Nazarbayev regime faces mounting opposition

  Kazakhstan

Australia
Federal election looming

21/05/2016: How should the labour and social movements respond?

  Australia

Kazakhstan
 Anger against Nazarbayev expressed on the streets

20/05/2016: ‘Illegal’ protests planned for Saturday 21 May

  Kazakhstan

Brazil
Fall of President Dilma Rousseff unleashes offensive against working class

19/05/2016: The impeachment process and historic crisis of the PT (Workers’ Party)

  Brazil

Britain
Brexit, the EU and the economy

19/05/2016: Remain or Leave, workers must fight for socialist change

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Nigeria
General strike begins

18/05/2016: Determined leadership and clear strategy needed to succeed

  Nigeria

Ireland
‘Jobstown trials’ to go ahead

18/05/2016: Government loses battle on water charges but wages war on Left

  Ireland Republic

Greece
Striking Athens bus cleaners continue their struggle

17/05/2016: Court declares strike ‘lawful’

  Greece

Canada
Fire devastates Fort McMurray

16/05/2016: Capitalism equals environmental destruction

  Canada

Saudi Arabia
Gathering storms over the House of Saud

13/05/2016: Collapse of oil prices expose fragile foundations of oil Gulf monarchies

  Middle East, Qatar, Saudi Arabia

France
New stage in battle over labour law

12/05/2016: Hollande’s decision to over-rule parliament provokes another round of struggle

  France

Kazakhstan
Protests erupt

12/05/2016: Phoney elections have not brought stability

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Sweden
Successful Congress for CWI forces

12/05/2016: Political foundations laid for new branches and growth in other Nordic countries

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Ireland
100th anniversary of the execution of James Connolly

12/05/2016: Revolutionary socialist, militant workers' leader and internationalist

  Ireland Republic

Northern Ireland
Main parties win Assembly elections…

11/05/2016: But positive moves against sectarian politics

  Ireland North

Belgium
Trade unions announce new plan of action

11/05/2016: Call for two national demonstrations, building towards general strikes

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Quebec
The fight for $15 shows true colors of Parti Québecois

10/05/2016: No to an all-class pro-independence alliance

  Quebec

Britain
Elections show anger and fragmentation

10/05/2016: Mobilise the anti-austerity mood into a mass, democratic movement to defeat the right

  Britain

Scotland
SNP win elections

09/05/2016: New openings for a socialist left alternative emerge

  Scotland

Ireland
How long can Kenny’s government last?

07/05/2016: Minority government supported by two main parties and “Independents” formed

  Ireland Republic

 Video
Paul Murphy sets record straight on "legal aid"

06/05/2016: Socialist MP threatened with jail for protesting against water charges responds to attacks in Irish parliament

  Video

South Africa
Zuma must go!

06/05/2016: Build a socialist mass workers’ party for a government of the working class

  South Africa

 Solidarity
Portuguese dock workers’ indefinite strike

05/05/2016: What we cannot do: leave the dockers alone

  Solidarity

Britain
90th anniversary of epochal general strike

05/05/2016: When workers tasted power

  Britain

Hong Kong
Racist smear campaign against refugees

05/05/2016: Socialist Action (CWI) initiates successful anti-racist march

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May Day 2016
Rallies and marches mark international workers' day

04/05/2016: Photo gallery of CWI's global May Day participation

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Ireland
Water charges suspended

03/05/2016: Protest movement and boycott force huge Establishment parties climb down

  Ireland Republic

Britain
'Slow coup' against left Labour leader

02/05/2016: Anti-Semitism charges a cynical campaign by right-wing to ditch Jeremy Corbyn

  Britain

May Day 2016
The idea of May Day on the march

01/05/2016: "The brilliant idea of May Day is the immediate stepping forward of the proletarian masses"

  May Day

Israel/Palestine
The Marxist left, the national conflict and the
Palestinian struggle

29/04/2016: The necessity of a class approach and a socialist alternative

  Israel / Palestine

Austria
Stop the rise of the far right!

27/04/2016: Against Hofer, the government and the system of the super-rich!

  Austria

History

Northern Ireland - 1907 Dockers and Carters’ strike

www.socialistworld.net, 11/05/2007
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

Belfast workers in revolt

Peter Hadden, Socialist Party, Belfast, Northern Ireland

THIS YEAR the working class of Northern Ireland can celebrate one of the proudest moments in its history. One hundred years ago the city of Belfast was gripped by a revolt of the low paid and the exploited. For three months in the summer of 1907 the working class communities across the city stood firm and united in support of the historic strike by dockers and carters.

ALTHOUGH THE numbers directly involved in this dispute were not large - at the high point of the struggle in July just over 2,300 workers were on strike or had been locked out - the dispute galvanised the working class of the city, Catholic and Protestant, in active support. This was vividly demonstrated on 26 July when a massive 100,000 strong demonstration wove its way around the city, ending with a huge support rally at the City Hall.

The discontent which erupted in 1907 had been simmering for some time. Rapid industrialisation saw Belfast grow faster than any other city in Britain in the second half of the 19th century. By the turn of the century it was - by some way - the pre-dominant industrial centre in Ireland.

Growth of the shipyards, of heavy industry, of the linen mills and the huge expansion in trade created enormous wealth - but not for the army of unskilled and semi skilled workers who slaved to keep the looms and presses turning and who moved the raw materials and finished goods in and out of the city.

Trade unions at this time were overwhelmingly confined to skilled workers, those employed in the various trades, and were mostly organised along craft lines. Belfast had been affected by the wave of strikes in Britain in the 1880s and 1890s that led to the building of general unions for the unskilled and semi skilled, but not to the same extent as in other cities.

1907 marked the real birth of this "New Unionism" in Ireland. The Belfast strike and lock out prefaced the bitter struggle by the unskilled for union rights that culminated - in its first phase at least - in the 1913 Dublin lock out.

Two thirds of the city’s 3,000 dockers were hourly paid casual workers. The majority of the 1,500 carters worked either for a handful of shipping companies or else for small carting companies, mostly for pitiful wages.

Larkin’s arrival in Belfast at the start of 1907 as an organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) provided a catalyst allowing the anger at these conditions to surface. Very quickly he succeeded in recruiting Belfast dockers and setting up a local NUDL branch. The employers too were organised in their own bodies and were determined to resist unionisation and the disease that would become known as "Larkinism". Class lines were being clearly drawn.

At the end of April there was a dress rehearsal for the mightier battle to come when Samuel Kelly’s coal merchants locked out 400 workers declaring that "a union should not embrace such a class of employment." Although scabs were brought in from England, Larkin this time succeeded in resolving the dispute, winning reinstatement and union recognition.

The next dispute, which began just a few days later on 6 May, was not so easily resolved. 70 casual dockers working for the Belfast Steamship Company walked out, refusing to work with two non-union men. The Company Chairman, Thomas Gallagher, owner of Gallagher’s tobacco factory, sacked the strikers along with another 90 permanent dockers. Scabs were again brought in. The strike and lockout had begun in earnest.

Strike spreads

Although most of the workers involved at this stage - and in the earlier Kelly’s dispute - were Protestants, Larkin’s leadership position was accepted without difficulty, despite the fact that he was a Catholic. His response to the lockout imposed by Thomas Gallagher was to go on the offensive, mobilising support for the workers and attempting to spread the dispute. On 16 May 1,000 women workers walked out of Gallagher’s Tobacco plant although the strike quickly crumbled and they went back to work after a day.

Meanwhile nightly meetings were held in the docks, mass pickets were organised and street collections held to raise funds to maintain the dispute. Thousands became involved in this support activity.

As the dispute dragged on through June, dockers working for other companies began to raise their own demands mainly on wages with their employers. Larkin seized the opportunity to broaden the dispute by demanding wage increases from all the cross channel shipping companies and threatening to bring the whole docks to a standstill if they didn’t comply.

The dispute escalated sharply from this point. On 26 June 300 dockers working for a number of cross channel companies, most of them owned by the big British railway magnates, came out. At the same time the employers, rather than cave in, met in the chamber of commerce to form an Employers’ Protection Association. More scabs were brought in, some from Dublin and other ports in Ireland.

The next day 129 carters in two local firms came out in sympathy, but also with their own demands. A meeting of almost 1,000 carters decided to black the Belfast Steamship Company and the cross channel companies whose dockers had walked out. Larkin went further - on 3 July he threatened a general strike in the port.

The response of the employers was to significantly up the ante - the following day the Master Carters Association joined the fray by locking out 800 carters. Then, on 15 July, there was a further escalation when coal firms locked out a further 880 carters.

In the first weeks of the dispute the strike meetings, pickets and other activity were mainly confined to the docks area. With the involvement of the carters the focus of the dispute changed abruptly. The scabs who had been brought in to replace the locked out carters had to drive through the city and immediately became a target for the strikers and their supporters.

What then developed was an early example of "flying pickets". Pickets went from area to area to try to physically block the vans. Confrontations took place all over the city. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, gathered to confront and physically block the scabs.

The state - which is a class society is never neutral but in the last analysis will come down on the side of the ruling class - intervened on the side of the employers. Police were used round the clock to escort the scab vans.

Workers’ unity

Larkin and other leaders such as Alex Boyd, head of the Municipal Workers’ Union and also a prominent member of the Independent Orange Order, understood the need to build on the support that existed in the working class communities. They organised nightly meetings in working class districts all over the city. Thousands turned out to show their support.

With class issues to the fore across the city, the old sectarian divisions that had kept working class people apart began to soften and diminish. On 12 July the strike meetings were "suspended for one day" to make way for the Orange Order annual celebrations.

A request that a collection for the strike fund be held during their parade was turned down by the bigwigs at the head of the Orange Order. The breakaway Independent Orange Order, which had started out as an even more hard line Protestant organisation, but which had a working class leadership some of whom were heavily involved in the strike, did, however, take up a collection. They also passed an unusual resolution for a 12 July parade condemning employers who did not recognise trade unions.

With the momentum of the dispute developing, pressure was really starting to mount on the employers. Ewarts mill had to lay off workers because they could not get grain. Coal supplies to industry began to dry up as the impact of the lockout of the coal carters began to bite. Linen bosses across the city were facing the prospect of a general closure. Meanwhile an unrelated dispute involving ironmongers was forcing mass layoffs in the huge Harland & Wolfe shipyard. The dispute was rapidly escalating towards an all out confrontation between the forces of Capital and Labour across the city.

Then, in one of the most dramatic and historically significant developments of the dispute, the infectious "contagion" of Larkinism spread to the police. At the time of the carters’ lock out Larkin had made an appeal to the police by referring to the long hours they were forced to work escorting scabs for "not a penny extra".

A few days later one RIC officer, Constable Barrett, refused to escort a scab carter. He was suspended but managed to call two meetings in Musgrave Street Barracks which around 800 of the 1,000 strong RIC force attended. Demands were drawn up on pay and pensions and presented as an ultimatum to the senior officers. But instead of coming out on strike immediately the potential mutineers gave the RIC chiefs a ultimatum - either meet their demands by 6 August or they would strike.

At this point an historic victory was in sight for the strikers. Much of industry in Belfast was about to grind to a halt, with an overstretched and now mutinous police force unable - or unwilling - to protect the scabs. With workers in Britain blacking goods from Belfast the ruling class faced the possibility that the turmoil in Belfast could spread.

Rotten role of national union leaders

What stood in the way of escalation and likely victory was the cautious role played by the national trade union leadership. Obviously concerned at the potentially revolutionary implications of what was happening in Belfast, NUDL leader James Sexton came over from Liverpool to intervene. He arrived on 19 July along with two leaders of the General Federation of Trade Unions. Their aim, as was recorded at a GFTU meeting, was to "promote industrial peace".

Sexton opened negotiations with the coal merchants over the head of Larkin and the local leaders. He reached a rotten deal whereby the locked out coal carters would be taken back but would have to work alongside non-union labour. There was opposition on the strike committee to this deal but, nonetheless, the coal carters went back to work on 26 July. The Ironmongers dispute was also settled with union leaders pressurising reluctant workers to return to work.

This was a turning point in the dispute. The relentless pressure that had been building on the employers was eased as coal supplies to the factories of the city were restored.

This return to work came just as the dispute had reached its high point. Ironically the coal carters went back to work just as the massive 100,000 strong support demonstration organised under the banner of the Trades Council was about to take place.

The weakening of the strike, courtesy of Sexton and the GFTU leaders, allowed the employers and the establishment to take the offensive. The heads of the RIC took pre-emptive action ahead of the strike deadline set by the police meetings to crush this mutiny. Barrett was kicked out of the force and a quarter of the Belfast RIC were transferred out of the city.

1,200 extra troops were brought in at the end of July to take their place bringing total troop numbers up to around 6,000 and a military clampdown was instituted across the city. Efforts were also made to whip up sectarian division. The Belfast Telegraph issued black propaganda claiming the strike committee was favouring Catholics, making it more difficult for Protestants to get strike pay - a charge that was answered by Larkin and the strike committee.

The heavy troop presence led to riots, mainly in Catholic areas. West Belfast was saturated with troops. In one incident on 12 August, troops opened fire indiscriminately on a crowd during extensive riots in the Falls Road area. Two people were shot dead. There was a danger incidents like this could provoke a sectarian backlash.

The strike leaders, rather than fold their arms in the face of the threat of sectarian division, took the offensive. The strike committee issued hand bills which appealed to workers to stand firm against sectarianism: "Not as Catholics or Protestants, as Nationalists or Unionists, but as Belfast men and workers stand together and don’t be misled by the employers’ game of dividing Catholic and Protestant."

By and large the intervention of the strike leaders prevented sectarian violence from developing and workers across the city stood together in condemning these killings.

However the momentum of the strike was clearly waning. An agreement reached with the Master Carters’ Association was accepted by a mass meeting of the locked out carters on 15 August. There was to be a wage increase but crucially the employers retained the right to employ non-union labour.

This left the original strikers, employed by Gallagher and the English railway magnates, isolated. Over the course of the next weeks they were starved back more or less on the employers’ terms. The strike was defeated but it left a never to be forgotten legacy of working class unity and of militant struggle. n



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NEWS

Solidarity: Brutal bosses attack striking Lisbon Dockers
25/05/2016, Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Portugal) reporters:
Protest and solidarity messages needed

Britain: EU referendum exposes gaping political fault-lines
24/05/2016, Peter Taaffe, from Socialism Today (monthly magazine of the Socialist Party England & Wales):
New road can open up for labour movement if working class relies on its own forces

Kazakhstan: Massive police operation confronts demonstrators
23/05/2016, Clare Doyle, CWI:
Nazarbayev regime faces mounting opposition

Australia: Federal election looming
21/05/2016, Editorial from May 2016 edition of ‘The Socialist’ (paper of the Socialist Party – CWI Australia) :
How should the labour and social movements respond?

Kazakhstan: Anger against Nazarbayev expressed on the streets
20/05/2016, socialistworld.net :
‘Illegal’ protests planned for Saturday 21 May

Britain: Brexit, the EU and the economy
19/05/2016, Judy Beishon, from The Socialist (weekly paper of the Socialist Party England & Wales) :
Remain or Leave, workers must fight for socialist change

Nigeria: General strike begins
18/05/2016, HT Soweto, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI Nigeria):
Determined leadership and clear strategy needed to succeed

Greece: Striking Athens bus cleaners continue their struggle
17/05/2016, Articles from Xekinima (CWI Greece) website :
Court declares strike ‘lawful’

Canada: Fire devastates Fort McMurray
16/05/2016, Bill Hopwood, Socialist Alternative (CWI Canada) Vancouver :
Capitalism equals environmental destruction

Kazakhstan: Protests erupt
12/05/2016, Sergei Skobelev, CWI Russia:
Phoney elections have not brought stability

Sweden: Successful Congress for CWI forces
12/05/2016, Kristofer Lundberg, Rättvisepartiet Socialistern:
Political foundations laid for new branches and growth in other Nordic countries

Northern Ireland: Main parties win Assembly elections…
11/05/2016, Daniel Waldron, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
But positive moves against sectarian politics

Quebec: The fight for $15 shows true colors of Parti Québecois
10/05/2016, Bruno, Alternative Socialiste (CWI in Quebec):
No to an all-class pro-independence alliance

Britain: Elections show anger and fragmentation
10/05/2016, Hannah Sell, from The Socialist (weekly paper of the Socialist Party, CWI England & Wales):
Mobilise the anti-austerity mood into a mass, democratic movement to defeat the right

Scotland: SNP win elections
09/05/2016, Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI):
New openings for a socialist left alternative emerge

Ireland: How long can Kenny’s government last?
07/05/2016, By Kevin McLoughlin, Socialist Party (CWI in Irelnd):
Minority government supported by two main parties and “Independents” formed

Video: Paul Murphy sets record straight on "legal aid"
06/05/2016, socialistworld.net:
Socialist MP threatened with jail for protesting against water charges responds to attacks in Irish parliament

South Africa: Zuma must go!
06/05/2016, Editorial from Izwi Labasebenzi (WASP - CWI South Africa) :
Build a socialist mass workers’ party for a government of the working class

Solidarity: Portuguese dock workers’ indefinite strike
05/05/2016, Socialismo Revolucionário (CWI in Portugal) Statement:
What we cannot do: leave the dockers alone

Hong Kong: Racist smear campaign against refugees
05/05/2016, Dikang, Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong):
Socialist Action (CWI) initiates successful anti-racist march

France: Striking workers join students and youth in mass demonstrations
04/05/2016, Naomi Byron, Paris (first published in The Socialist):
Build a general strike movement!

May Day 2016: Rallies and marches mark international workers' day
04/05/2016, socialistworld.net :
Photo gallery of CWI's global May Day participation

Ireland: Water charges suspended
03/05/2016, Katia Hancke, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Dublin:
Protest movement and boycott force huge Establishment parties climb down

Britain: 'Slow coup' against left Labour leader
02/05/2016, Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary :
Anti-Semitism charges a cynical campaign by right-wing to ditch Jeremy Corbyn

May Day 2016: The idea of May Day on the march
01/05/2016, CWI socialist greetings/Two articles by Rosa Luxemburg :
"The brilliant idea of May Day is the immediate stepping forward of the proletarian masses"

Austria: Stop the rise of the far right!
27/04/2016, Tilman Ruster, SLP (CWI in Austria) :
Against Hofer, the government and the system of the super-rich!

CWI Comment and Analysis

ANALYSIS

Austria: Only 31,026 votes prevent far right’s Hofer becoming president
24/05/2016, Sonja Grusch, SLP (the Austrian section of the CWI):
‘Breathing space’ offers chance to build a fighting, democratic left alternative

Brazil: Fall of President Dilma Rousseff unleashes offensive against working class
19/05/2016, André Ferrari, LSR (‘Freedom, Socialism and Revolution’ - CWI Brazil):
The impeachment process and historic crisis of the PT (Workers’ Party)

Ireland: ‘Jobstown trials’ to go ahead
18/05/2016, Kieran Mahon, Anti-Austerity Alliance / Socialist Party Councillor, Dublin:
Government loses battle on water charges but wages war on Left

Saudi Arabia: Gathering storms over the House of Saud
13/05/2016, Serge Jordan, CWI:
Collapse of oil prices expose fragile foundations of oil Gulf monarchies

France: New stage in battle over labour law
12/05/2016, Clare Doyle, CWI:
Hollande’s decision to over-rule parliament provokes another round of struggle

Ireland: 100th anniversary of the execution of James Connolly
12/05/2016, Three articles on Connolly’s life and ideas :
Revolutionary socialist, militant workers' leader and internationalist

Belgium: Trade unions announce new plan of action
11/05/2016, LSP/PSL (CWI in Belgium) Reporters:
Call for two national demonstrations, building towards general strikes

Britain: 90th anniversary of epochal general strike
05/05/2016, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales) general secretary:
When workers tasted power

Israel/Palestine: The Marxist left, the national conflict and the
Palestinian struggle

29/04/2016, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel-Palestine):
The necessity of a class approach and a socialist alternative

France: One-day strike set for 28 April
26/04/2016, Alex Rouillard, Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France):
A final stage before indefinite action against Hollande’s government?

US: The un-Democratic Primary
22/04/2016, Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative Seattle, originally published on counterpunch.org:
Why we need new party of the 99%

Capitalism: a failing system
18/04/2016, Peter Taaffe, from May edition of Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
A new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, analyses the downward course of the US economy – and the limits of the whole capitalist system

Review: ’Militant’ by Michael Crick
14/04/2016, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) general secretary:
Lessons of Militant vital for anti-austerity struggles today

US election turmoil
01/04/2016, By Tony Saunois (CWI Secretary) who recently visited the US for meetings of Socialist Alternative:
Bernie Sanders campaign - an opportunity to build a new party of the 99%

Britain: A new moment
28/03/2016, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales), published in April 2016 issue of Socialism Today:
Extracts from a statement discussed at the Socialist Party’s recent congress

Ireland: 100th anniversary of Easter 1916 Rising
26/03/2016, Cillian Gillespie, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland):
A revolt against imperial power and war

History: When Khrushchev denounced Stalin
26/03/2016, Niall Mulholland, from Socialism Today (April 2016 issue of the monthly journal of Socialist Party, England & Wales):
1956 ‘secret speech’ a devastating blow to Stalinist regimes

11th CWI World Congress: World Perspectives
22/03/2016, socialistworld.net:
Amended agreed version of the World Perspectives document agreed by the CWI’s 11th World Congress

Germany: Big gains for right-wing, nationalist, AfD in state elections
22/03/2016, Sascha Stanicic, Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
DIE LINKE (Left Party) urgently needs to change course

US: Sanders needs to run as an independent in November
18/03/2016, Calvin Priest, Socialist Alternative (CWI supporters in USA):
Continuing the Political Revolution

European Union: Alliance with Turkey to close borders
09/03/2016, Per-Ãke Westerlund, from Offensiv - the weekly paper of Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden):
Crises for refugees - and the EU – continues

Germany: Between hatred and solidarity
08/03/2016, By Sascha Stanicic, Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
The situation in Germany

Turkey: No intervention in Syria! Stop the war on the Kurds!
01/03/2016, By Murat Karin, Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI in Turkey) and Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Two articles on the current situation in Turkey and Kurdistan

US: Nevada Goes to Clinton – Sanders Looks to Super Tuesday
26/02/2016, Calvin Priest, Socialist Alternative (CWI in the USA):
Huge enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders’ call for a political revolution leads to serious challenge to Hillary Clinton

Five years on from the “Arab Spring”
20/02/2016, Serge Jordan (CWI), article to be published in the March 2016 edition of Socialism Today, No.196.:
The “Arab Spring” revolutionary wave brought dictators in Tunisia and Egypt crashing down. It swept through the Middle East, inspiring workers and youth the world over. It has since ebbed, however, leaving the region wracked with war and sectarian conflict.