Old loyalties under threat

The fightback against the cuts continues to grow, but the left must build a viable alternative to the politics of nationalism. Anne Mc Shane reports in the aftermath of the latest mass demonstration in Dublin

The mood of the masses in Ireland is hardening. Anxiety is giving way to anger, as hatred of the government intensifies. This was reflected in the mass demonstration in Dublin on November 27.

Estimates for the numbers attending vary from 50,000 from the Gardaí to 150,000 from the organisers - with the true figure probably lying somewhere in between. The fact that so many turned out despite heavy snow showed the enormous desire for political change. The atmosphere was one of grim determination, with a clear and vocal message to the government that it must go - and now.

Jack O'Connor and David Begg of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions received a very mixed response. Both posed left and avowed their dogged determination not to give in to the government and the International Monetary Fund. Together they appealed to a sense of national pride and defiance. But both were booed by marchers - in particular O'Connor, who was told to "get off", as he was "saying nothing". It was interesting that the heckling and shouting did not come from the left, but from trade unionists and other marchers. The likes of O'Connor and Begg have sold out on many key struggles over the last two years. They are now reaping the rewards of their treachery.

Meanwhile, the government is hanging on by a thread. The election of Pearse Doherty for Sinn Féin in the Donegal South West by-election shows the depth of the swing against Fianna Fáil in what had been regarded as an extremely safe seat for the senior party in the government coalition. Now even its most loyal supporters have refused to turn out for it. Prime minister Brian Cowen is looking very wobbly in the lead-up to the budget on December 7 and his party will no doubt be routed at the general election in the new year.

The question is, as always, what is the alternative? At least the newly formed United Left Alliance was visible on the demonstration. There was a bloc of members of the majority of the left organisations, including the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement and Éirígí. This bloc held a rally just after the main speeches, which was mainly dominated by the ULA - Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party and Richard Boyd Barrett of the Socialist Workers Party both called for a one-day general strike. It is interesting that comrade Boyd Barrett was introduced as a People Before Profit speaker and did not mention his party membership. Kieran Allen, another leading member of the SWP, also spoke, but as president of his union branch, Siptu Education. The SWP seems determined to keep its own organisation at arm's length from the ULA.

The left is organising interventions via weekly meetings. There are, however, reports of continual difficulties and tensions, as groups vie for position. The other problem is that there are far too many different anti-cuts campaigns. Efforts to create a united one are welcome and we urgently need to set up anti-cuts committees in all areas of the country.

We are constantly being told that the Irish (just like the British, it seems) do not demonstrate, that this is no Greece or France. That working class people will accept the medicine for the good of the nation. But Saturday showed that passivity may be a thing of the past. It is true that 20 years of social partnership has paralysed the working class thus far. Opposition from below is sold out every time by trade union bureaucrats. It is also true that the Irish political landscape has historically been dominated by nationalism rather than working class radicalism. But old loyalties and political tribalism are now under threat in an unprecedented way.