Ireland: After the election earthquake – for a left government with socialist policies

Last Saturday, a ‘stop the stitch-up’ demonstration took place in Dublin, opposing attempts by the two main establishment parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to form a government despite faring badly in the recent general elections. The election saw Sinn Fein win the largest percentage vote. The result indicated that working-class voters are seeking radical political change.

CWI Ireland members participated in the protest and handed out a leaflet, the text of which is reproduced below.

February’s election marked a huge rejection of establishment parties by hundreds of thousands of working class people. The grip of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, the traditional parties of capitalist misrule, corruption, austerity and chaos, was decisively broken.

Opinion polls since the election have confirmed that Irish politics has changed forever. We are never going back to permanent Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael led government. After 12 years of turmoil following the financial crash of 2008 people desperately want change. Having marched in their hundreds of thousands against the water charges and stopped this austerity tax dead through mass non-payment and boycott, ordinary people are hungry for fundamental political change.

It is not hard to see why. Every year, life is getting harder and more difficult for the majority of ordinary people. Low and middle-income workers, the vast majority of society, are hit hard every day. Sky-high childcare costs; rents rising; inability to buy your own home; low wages; permanently rising costs of living; abysmal transport infrastructure; long commutes; a decaying and dysfunctional public health system and lots more.

While 97% of businesses pay no taxes, workers who earn below the average industrial wage are on the top rate of tax at a low threshold. Ordinary people need a break.

What needs to happen now?

Despite the propaganda and misinformation, austerity remains in place. Only a Left government pushed hard by a mobilisation of the working class, as with the movement to defeat water charges, can end the current continuous decline in living standards.

There can be no Left government without this mobilisation of the working class and it must start now. This must be the sort of Left government that Left TDs fight for. There should be no illusions invested in parties like Labour and the Greens that have a track record of going into coalitions with right-wing parties and making attacks on working-class people.

There is a huge ‘To Do’ list for any Left government to even begin the process of healing the wounds austerity has inflicted on working people. This list includes:

  • A mass public house building programme
  • A radical improvement of trade union rights – including the abolition of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act.
  • A living wage of €15 an hour.
  • Massive investment in the public health system.
  • Upgrading of the transport infrastructure – particularly given the importance of stopping climate change.
  • Free public transport and improved cycling infrastructure now.

The money is there to do this. A 2018 Revenue Commissioners report showed that in 2016 companies based in Ireland made profits of €158 billion. Meanwhile, the two million workers employed by these companies were only paid €48 billion! Incredibly the bosses only paid €7 billion in corporation tax that year while workers, paid €8.5 billion in taxes! Bank of Ireland announced a €758 million profit but boasted it won’t pay a single cent of tax on this! This while 10,000 people are homeless.

Sinn Fein must answer hard questions

Right now, in the eyes of many, Sinn Fein represents the best chance for an alternative government. This is understandable. Sinn Fein, if they were committed as a fundamental political principle to leading a Left government on a programme that breaks with the control of capitalism over our lives, would represent a positive political change. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Sinn Fein is genuinely interested in this, as their track record in government in the North clearly demonstrates.

Workers in the North have nothing to show for 20 years of Sinn Fein in government. For the majority, living and working conditions haven’t improved one iota. In fact, they have worsened. The Northern Ireland health service has deteriorated, with many services and hospitals handed over to privateers, cutbacks to staffing and wages leading to an unprecedented wave of strike action last December.

Sinn Fein has been proactive in privatising public services in Northern Ireland through Public-Private Partnerships. Alongside the DUP, they argued for hundreds of millions in additional cuts to public services to pay for a reduction in Corporation Tax in the North from 25% to 12.5%. They fought hard to get the power to lower corporate taxes but not to stop the austerity attacks on working people!

If this is the ‘new Ireland’ they are working towards, which is a tax haven, where public services are degraded and privatised, then Sinn Fein need to come clean on this. Most disgracefully, Sinn Fein voted to hand the power back to London for the Tories to impose the barbaric ‘Universal Credit’ system in Northern Ireland. People are left penniless for months at a time under this cruel and inhumane system.

Just like their vote to back the bankers’ bailout in 2008 – when it comes to the crunch Sinn Fein do not stand up for workers. There is no indication that Sinn Fein are prepared to fundamentally alter the pattern whereby the bosses rake in three times more in profit and workers earn in wages.

Indeed, Sinn Fein refuses to reject any possibility of entering into a coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. To build a true ‘Ireland of Equals’ we need radical socialist policies to end the housing, health and education crisis, and to end inequalities and poverty by scrapping the capitalist system and replacing it with a socialist system based on democratic workers’ control and management of industry and a democratically-agreed economic plan.

We need to build a new party based on the working class majority, to link up with our working class brothers and sisters in struggle in the North, England, Scotland and Wales, Europe and internationally.

That is the only long term solution to the crisis of capitalism. If you want to play your part in building a socialist future then join CWI Ireland

  • For a left government that fights for socialist change to end the rule of the billionaires
  • Tax the rich and big business. For public ownership of the major sectors of the economy under democratic workers’ control
  • A huge programme of public house building to end the housing crisis
  • massive investment in the public health system to provide free health care for all
  • Build a new mass working-class party to challenge the big-business political elite

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March 2020