Ireland: Economic and social issues preparing an explosion

Anti-household tax struggle sinks deep roots as signs of increased anger against austerity emerge

The last two Saturdays have seen two important demonstrations in Dublin. With another austerity Budget due on 5 December, last Saturday, 24 November, 15,000 attended an anti-austerity march and rally.

The original proposal for this demonstration was put forward by the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) in both the United Left Alliance (ULA) and the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT). Our proposal was taken up but unfortunately its nature was significantly altered along the way. Even still, in comparison to a demonstration called in advance of last year’s Budget which attracted just over 2,000, last Saturday’s demo was a significant development.

Anti-household tax struggle has deep roots

The most obvious change since last year has been that the campaign against the household tax burst forth, particularly between January and April, including the unprecedented indoor rally of 3,000 in the National Stadium, followed up with 15,000 marching on the Fine Gael conference in Dublin on 31 March, as well as the establishing of mass non-payment. Recent figures illustrate that 52% of single homeowners and 47% of households in general have still not registered or paid the tax.

In the last months, there have been some signs that anger is intensifying as the cuts and attacks get worse and it is more and more apparent that there is no economic recovery. Even though the figures on the demonstration are up, it is still not clear if a point has been reached where new layers are ready to get active in the struggle against austerity generally.

A centre piece in the Budget will be the new Property Tax which will replace the household charge, and what was clear from the demo was that the campaign against the household and property taxes has a real base in society as it mobilised the largest and most vibrant sections of the demonstration.

Abortion – a new social movement erupts

Another protest demonstration on 17 November, attracted 20,000 people on a completely different issue and with a completely different age profile. That demonstration was called at a few days notice by an ad-hoc campaign and people came in their droves.

They came to register their horror at the death of Savita Halappanavar who died in Galway having been denied a potentially life-saving abortion. People turned out in huge numbers in solidarity with her family and to demand abortion rights in Ireland.

In contrast to the demonstration last Saturday, the vast bulk of those attending were between the ages of 25 to 35. There were few enough people in the over forty or under twenty age brackets and nearly as many young men as young women participated. The significance of this demonstration cannot be overstated.

Savita Halappanavar – denied her right to choose

The tragic story of Savita Halappanavar has gained significant international coverage. The CWI has played an important role in spreading awareness of her gross mistreatment and the medieval treatment of women’s rights in Ireland in the 21st century. There are investigations into Savita’s death but her partner, Praveen, is demanding a public inquiry.

It has been stated by Praveen that Savita’s repeated requests for a termination were refused on the basis that Ireland was a “Catholic country”. This would indicate that Savita may not have been allowed an abortion either because of bigoted religious sectarianism or because it was deemed that her health may have been in danger, but not necessarily her life.

In Ireland abortion is illegal except where there is a “real and substantial” risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of a woman. This was the finding of a Supreme Court ruling in the X Case in 1992. Yet even this ruling has never been legislated for because of political spinelessness as well as the continuing but unrepresentative influence of right-wing and Catholic ethos in the traditional capitalist parties.

Backward capitalism

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that for those in power, it is acceptable that women may suffer horrendous agony and serious risks to their health rather than bring in clear legislation and allow for terminations to be performed. As a result of this scandal we have heard of many other dreadful stories of the physical and mental anguish that denial of a right to an abortion has caused countless women over many years.

The counter-posing of a women’s life to her health is disgusting, backward and must be ended. A woman’s right to the best possible care and respect for her choices regarding her own body must be established. A government ‘Expert Group’ report was pending on these issues when Savita died. A real movement made up of ordinary women and men must be established to maximise the pressure on the backward political establishment.

Such a movement must fight for a referendum as soon as is possible to get rid of the 1983 Pro-Life 8th amendment to the constitution that bans abortion. Such a referendum could be won and that could open up the way for a struggle for legislation to be enacted to provide for abortion rights.

The bitter experience of the many tragedies that women have suffered in Ireland – the X Case, the A, B, and C cases and now the oppression that Savita suffered means that the struggle for abortion rights is seen now more than ever before, as a battle for basic but essential human and democratic rights.

For real choices – yes to abortion rights – no to austerity

The age profile of the Savita demonstration gives a glimpse of the future and indicates the importance of democratic and social issues to young people and their resolve not to be dragged backward.

The Labour Party who would have previously reflected to some degree the aspirations of many people are now seen to have sold out on both the economic and on the social issues. The hatred towards them is tangible.

It is now becoming a matter of course that trade union leaders and Labour politicians can’t speak on public platforms without getting booed relentlessly. This indicates the political vacuum that is opening up.

An explosion on the Property Tax?

In the New Year, ordinary working class people who have not paid the household tax are likely to be dragged to court and this can result in some significant conflicts. The new property tax, replacing the current €100 household tax, will be announced in the Budget but will come into effect in July 2013.

The indications are that the tax could well come in at a level of €400 a year on an average home. After five years of austerity we are now getting into the territory of “can’t pay, won’t pay” for huge numbers of people. The reality of austerity, as well as the deep principled opposition among huge numbers to more austerity taxes so bondholders and speculators get their pound of flesh, is creating the basis for an explosion.

The build up to the imposition of the Property tax in July could see mobilisations greater and deeper than with the household tax earlier this year. Many issues can come to the fore, some out of the blue, just as with Savita’s tragic death. However, it seems likely that the property tax could become a vehicle for a real and sustained struggle against austerity and against this discredited Government.

Attempts to build an independent class movement undermined

This perspective informed the Socialist Party’s initial proposal regarding the pre-Budget, anti-austerity demonstration last Saturday. We advocated that the CAHWT (Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes) should take the lead in initiating the anti-austerity demonstration as it was by some distance fighting the most significant battle against austerity. CAHWT could then seek the support of others, including from the rank and file and fighting elements in the trade unions.

Unfortunately, abusing the understandable desire for unity and feeding off a lack of confidence among activists, others including the Socialist Workers Party in the CAHWT prevailed with the idea that the march should be "jointly" organised with the ineffectual Dublin Council of Trade Unions (DCTU).

The Socialist Party wouldn’t have had a problem with a joint demonstration but we knew because of our experience with the DCTU that even though it plays a minimal role in the struggle against austerity, it always seeks to exaggerate its importance and exert tight control.

A joint demo or DCTU control?

Unfortunately what supposedly started out as a joint demonstration quickly became a march organised by the DCTU with the CAHWT becoming just one of a number of supporting organisations. Before and after Saturday’s march the media again and again referred to it as organised by the DCTU with little or no mention of the anti-household tax campaign.

The Socialist Workers Party was the main agency that argued in reality for CAHWT to play second fiddle to the DCTU, and in this way, their approach facilitated the take over of this initiative by the DCTU.

Having been allowed take control of the initiative, the DCTU’s then appealed to the discredited main trade union leaders to support the demonstration. Some of these leaders who have completely sold-out the attempts of workers to fight austerity, then indicated their support, not because they were serious about mobilising for the demonstration but as a cover for the very negative role that they are playing in reality.

Involvement of trade union leaders who have sold-out undermines demonstration

The reality is that the endorsement of the principle trade union leadership – Jack O’Connor, the leader of the biggest union SIPTU was a key speaker at the press conference for the demonstration – will have brought out some workers and certainly brought out a lot of union officials, but it also would have undermined the basis for the demonstration among other, potentially more militant layers.

It illustrates how the main leaders of the official movement are viewed that when the President of Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Eugene McGlone was introduced to the demonstration on Saturday, he was met with a loud and long chorus of jeering from the demonstrators.

One Socialist Party member commented that a member of SIPTU who he knew said that he attended the demonstration because he was made aware of it through a SIPTU circular, but he refused to march under the SIPTU banners.

Opposition to the Property Tax is dropped

With the influence and control of the DCTU, opposition to the property tax, which clearly should have been a central demand of the demonstration, was dropped and again this limited its attractiveness for many of the best people, including activists in the campaign who increasingly didn’t see the demonstration as their demonstration.

There are clearly elements in the trade unions, both “left” and “right” who fear the potential explosion around the property tax, the political significance of it and the political influence that the campaign could develop, potentially representing a new and independent political movement of working class people.

Significance of Campaign and Property Tax becomes clear

It is poor that the SWP pushed and promoted the Dublin Council of Trade Unions into the central organising role for the pre-Budget march. While being part of the CAHWT, the SWP’s approach ensured that the CAHWT and DCTU were not equals.

As a result the role of the most significant anti-austerity campaign and movement that has been built since the crisis hit was diminished to the detriment of the demo itself and to the detriment of preparing for the property tax which will be key in the fight against austerity in 2013.

Regardless, in the end the actual attendance on the march reflected more than anything else the significant base and influence of the Campaign, the opposition to the household and property taxes and the huge potential of these issues. 2013 is shaping up to be an eventful year on many counts.

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