Irish Left Unity


Initial Thoughts on the Results of the Greek Elections and Lessons for Ireland

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The Greek Elections’ Results

The number of the people that did not vote is the largest one in the elections history so far. This is to do with the capitulation of Tsipras, and the enforcement of the left TINA, as well as with financial restrains for the voters that had to travel.

Syriza’s victory was not based on ‘hope’ or any expectations for a more socially just governance. It was a personal victory for Tsipras, which tapped into the emotional “he’s a good kid, the EU were hard on him, at least he negotiated hard” on one hand, and the more moderate, centrist “Now that he got rid of the left burden, he will be more sensible and the government will be more stable” on the other. The new left TINA, in particular, played a role in reversing the radicalisation of large groups of the Greek population (especially the young, and working class urban areas), and appealed to the collapsing middle classes. “Stability” has entered Syriza’s vocabulary.

Tsipras’ victory was also based on the ideological and organisational defeat of the left alternatives. KKE’s stance in the memorandum sounded like a broken clock that tells the time correctly twice a day, but they failed to support and express the OXI. LAE (Popular Unity) ran for the elections attempting to express the OXI, while at the same time attempting to revive Syriza’s -in my view bankrupt- programme. However, their focus was on humourous TV spots, rather than the programme itself and the fact that it was mostly a party/front of prominent ex Syriza MP’s that have not addressed what their role in the Syriza government was turned a lot of people off. Antarsya-EEK, going through a split (with ARAN and ARAS siding with LAE), got a few thousand votes more than they did in the January elections. However, their programme needs to be substanciated. It also has not reached the wider population (partly due to the small organisation and lack of access to the media) and they failed to present it in detail. In this sense, Antarsya is seen as a useful force for the struggles, but not good enough as a parliamentary force.

A separate mention to the declining votes of Golden Dawn is necessary here. Golden Dawn did not manage to grow in an environment, which is characterised by disappointment on one hand, and the refugee crisis on the other. Even though their votes were higher than last elections on the Islands of Kos and Lesvos, they were not significantly higher and they were mostly votes that came from other right wing parties, such as New Democracy. It is also important to stress that dispite their attempts they have not managed to build a fascist movement on the streets as their presence, on those islands too, is very limited and they are outnumbered by the activists standing in solidarity with the refugees.

In all, the 2.86% (155000 votes) of LAE. the rise of votes to Antarsya-EEK (by 4200 votes), as well as smaller maoist and troskyist parties, such as the ML KKE-KKE (ml) coalition and OKDE, and the stability in the votes of KKE would not allow anyone to say that the Greek left is dead and buried, far from it. This is evident especially in comparison to the losses of votes for Syriza, and the establishment parties. Syriza lost 320000 votes, while New Democracy lost 192000,To Potami lost 151000, Golden Dawn 8800.

Regardless of the voting outcome, I believe, discussions and other collaborative efforts from a movement-building perspective between LAE and Antarsya-EEK and other anticapitalist organisations-parties will take place the following period, as the struggle against the 3rd Memorandum will start unfolding.

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Opportunities, Polls and the Left

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A response to Ronan Burtenshaw and Eoin O’Broin, by Paul Murphy,  Anti-Austerity Alliance TD and member of Socialist Party

Last Sunday’s Red C poll, which saw a rise in support for the government parties and a decline of Independents/Others has provoked a discussion about the prospects for the left. Independent socialist, Ronan Burtenshaw, wrote an article on The Village website, entitled “Left may have squandered opportunity”. Eoin O’Broin, a leading member of Sinn Fein and a Councillor, then responded on his blog.

The discussion provoked by the opinion poll findings and these responses is useful. Debate between different analyses and programmes is a necessary and unavoidable part of working towards building a significant new left movement. This response is written to contribute to that debate in the hope that it will help to clarify the position of different trends within the left and the movement against the water charges.

Ronan’s piece is provocative and engaging, but I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that it is a classic example of confirmation bias. His essential conclusion from an analysis of the movements of the polls over the past couple of years is this:

“Clearly people in Ireland experimented with mass mobilisations against austerity, rejected the government’s line on water charges and the economy more generally, and even went so far as to express majority support for forces other than Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour for the first time in history.

“But my conclusion, given this data, is that they have found the alternatives unconvincing. As a proportion of the population, few new supporters have been won over to a project for political change.”

His conclusion, that the fall in opinion polls is because people looked at the alternatives and found them to be unconvincing, simply does not flow from the data, or his preceding analysis. Instead, I would contend that the opinion polls worsened primarily because of the decline of major mobilisations as well as because the low point for the government wasn’t fully capitalised on by a sufficiently authoritative force to consolidate the indicated trends.

I think his analysis contains two essential flaws.

Marriage Equality Referendum

The first is that he under-estimates the temporary impact of the marriage equality referendum result on support for Fine Gael and Labour. In fact, he makes no mention of it whatsoever, which is strange given that was a major political event that occurred just in advance of the poll being carried out.

It was always likely that a referendum victory, which enabled Labour in particular to wrap itself in a rainbow flag and present itself as socially progressive, was likely to result in an increase in the polls. I think much of that can be reversed as people are reminded by the real role of the Labour Party. Within days, for example, of the referendum result, but not accounted for in the Red C poll, they moved to sell-off the remaining state share in Aer Lingus, and politics was embroiled in another Denis O’Brien-related controversy as he tried to silence the Dail itself.

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Principles for a Left Alternative

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Principles for a left alternative. May-June 2015

The following statement, as a contribution to the debate at the conference organised by the R2W unions on June 13, has been agreed between the Anti-Austerity Alliance, the People Before Profit Alliance and some independent left-wing activists including Cllr Brendan Young.

The Mayday Conference initiated by the Right2Water Trade Unions was designed to bring union members, community groups and political representatives into dialogue about an alternative to the political and economic establishment. We welcome the fact that these unions initiated such a meeting to build a political movement based on the anti-water charges struggle of the last eight months. Unfortunately, the meeting was a limited and invite-only event, without sufficient space for discussion.

Open up and democratise the June 13 conference

To best achieve the potential for this movement, we believe that the process needs to be opened up and democratised. Without grassroots participation, any political initiative will lack the energy and vibrancy needed to challenge the political establishment. So we think the follow up conference on June 13 should have delegates invited from all of the community groups campaigning against water charges, selected over the coming weeks at local meetings.

On June 13, the conference must also be designed to allow genuine debate and maximum inclusion. In place of structured inputs from selected speakers, the event should be bottom-up and participatory. It should be designed to allow as many contributions as possible and allow for decisions to be made by those present.

For an anti-austerity, anti-coalition approach – based on struggle

To initiate the debate, the R2W unions have developed a document entitled, Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government. The basis of the Principles document is a series of seven economic and social rights. The R2W unions have asked for “further discussion and input”. In responding to this call, we believe that a number of additions and amendments need to be made.

Firstly, any proposed political initiative must not become a replacement for the grassroots struggles that have brought us to this point. In relation to water charges, the document proposes that “Irish Water PLC’ and domestic water charges will be abolished within the first 100 days of a government endorsing this policy”.

We must not wait for a progressive government to abolish water charges. What if such a government is not elected? Abolition can only be won by an organised boycott and continuing the protest movement on the streets. People power and protest is the only way to beat austerity measures and the best way to build support for the actions of any future left government.

We think the 13 June conference should make a public statement calling for mass non-payment of the water charges. This is the crucial stage of the campaign and the crucial question. It would be negligent if a major conference of large sections of the anti-water charges movement takes place and does not issue a call for people not to pay. Instead of giving confidence to the movement and impetus to continue organising and mobilising, it can give the impression that the only focus now is the election.

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Time for the Left to Act Together


Popular desire for political change has become a feature of the current campaign against the water charge. This charge is the last straw in a litany of bank-bailout  impositions; and many want an entirely different set of socio-political priorities. Recent months have also shown the power of the mass movement to bring change. The movement now needs to drive home the advantage by making the charge unworkable through mass non-payment and continued mobilization. But this in itself is not enough to create the radical political alternative that would implement the significant change that many in the campaign, and across society, desire.

Such change would require a new left party – committed to a socialist alternative. The imperative for socialism has never been greater given the disastrous impact of the financial crash on working people and impending environmental meltdown due to the failure of the market system to curb fossil fuelled growth.

Is a new left party on the political horizon at present? Clearly not. The closest recent approximation to the start of such a party was the United Left Alliance. While we acknowledge its failure, we think there are some lessons from the ULA experience that can help us today.

At the time when ULA TDs were elected there was little mass challenge to the government: dissatisfaction was expressed through the election and there was no mass movement behind the new political formation. So there was no big growth in the ULA.

But other factors also influenced the difficulties in the ULA. There was insufficient trust between the leaderships of the two main political groups; there was unease at working together in a common organization, while having differences. There was also a failure to prioritise the ULA and build it as a functioning organisation.

But the political conditions for such a formation have changed for the better: there now exists a powerful mass movement against the water charge and other austerity measures – albeit quite fragmented. It has created the conditions for a political alternative to the Troika parties and to Sinn Fein, which is prepared to go into coalition with the Troika parties – with the inevitable political accommodations that preserve inequality such as we have seen Labour and the Greens implement.

Based on the experience of the ULA, we think that any new left formation cannot be based solely on an amalgamation of the current small parties but would have to draw in activists who have mobilised in recent months and who want real change. Relations between these parties are not great at present: witness the electoral competition in the European elections and Dublin South West. But a commitment to develop common work against the water charges and a common electoral project involving many new activists could generate positive working relations and create the momentum and trust required for the construction of a new, anti-austerity political formation after the election.

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The Time for Left Unity is NOW!

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The latest Ipsos MRBI poll shows that ‘Independents and Others’ are currently on 32% therein making them the most popular group amongst the electorate. If these poll figures were to be replicated in a general election tomorrow this would equate to around 52 seats – by all accounts a massive number. To put this number in perspective, in the 23 general elections that have taken place in the state since 1937 Fine Gael have only managed to exceed this figure on 7 occasions. This is pretty remarkable considering the complete duopoly they have shared – alongside Fianna Fail – on our political system.

Now it goes without saying that the ‘Independents and Others’ grouping is a broad brushstroke comprised of People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, former Workers Party members, ex Labour party members, the Fine Gael rejects and a range of other independents from across the political spectrum. And the conflicting political positions of this 52 mean that it would obviously never act as a coherent political unit. In fact some are even rumoured to be considering starting a party of their own, likely a centre right entity reminiscent of the Progressive Democrats – so in other words, nothing we haven’t had before.

However, in saying that, many of this 52 if not elected on a left platform could at the very least be considered anti-austerity anti-establishment candidates. These individuals should certainly look to coordinate as much as possible but where the small left wing parties are concerned this should go beyond mere coordination toward something more concrete. We saw that the transfer pacts used during the local elections in May bore fruit, but the question is why stop there?

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Left Forum: The Marxist Seminars Are Back!

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The Marxist Seminars are back!

After our initial 6 seminars based on theoretical topics, we thought we’d run the next 6 on ‘Marxism in Practice’.

We will be beginning on Saturday 9th August, 6pm, Chaplin’s Bar, Hawkins’ Street, D2. Each seminar will be at the same time and venue fortnightly thereafter.

Miles Link will be introducing the first seminar and will be put the case forward for the Frankfurt School of ideas. Western Marxism: Problems of mass culture. A lively debate will surely follow as always.

The full programme is the following:

  1. Western Marxism: Problems of mass culture – Miles Link
  2. Comparing popular resistance to neoliberalism in Latin America the in 80s and 90s to the situation in Ireland in the current context of crisis – Prof Barry Cannon NUI Maynooth
  3. Marxist Analysis of the Trade Union movement – Andrew Phelan
  4. Fundamentals of communist production and distribution – Gavin Mendel-Gleason
  5. Personality & History – Helena Sheehan
  6. Marxism & Feminism – Sinead Kennedy

Hope to see you all over the coming months!

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Debating Directions for a New Republic

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This article provides a critique of social partnership & ‘soft’ NGO advocacy and reflections on pathways forward.

Political & Economic Context: Neoliberalism & Ireland
Many people ask about the cause of poverty, oppression, rising inequality, environmental destruction and climate change. Neo-Marxist thinkers like David Harvey, Erik Olin Wright and Hardt & Negri, make the case that it is International capitalist globalization that is underlying these social catastrophes. It is the neoliberalism of the Washington Consensus – which was a political project of the wealthy and capital elite, theorized by the free marketeers of Friedman and Hayak. It started in Pinochet’s Chile and then Reagan and Thatcher implemented it in the US and the UK. In the face of declining profitability and the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s the aim of the wealthy and elite was to reduce the share of income (wealth) that went to workers and to increase that returning to capital and the elite. They also sought to reduce the power and influence of trade unions and the working class socialist organisations in society, politics and the economy.

At the heart of the neoliberal ideology was a belief that private unregulated markets are the best mechanisms to organize society and state-led planning is inefficient. Neoliberal policies included the de-regulation of the Keynesian welfare state protections and the financial sector, the privatization of public services, neocolonial conquest through corporations, imperial wars for resources such as Iraq, the commodification of nature like water, land, and seeds. Indeed at the heart of this project of neoliberal capitalism is the commodification of everything. Everything is to be turned into something that can be bought and sold, traded on markets, profited from, commercialized. Neoliberalism is about the utopia of individualized responsibility. Your existence is commodified through competition. You must compete with everyone for everything. Values of solidarity, public good, and co-operation are replaced with competition, individualism, commercialism and materialism.

But neoliberalism is also based on a myth of freedom. Where is the freedom for migrants who die in attempts to enter the EU or the US? Where is the freedom for low paid workers forced to work three jobs to survive? Neoliberalism has been dramatically successful in increasing the wealth of the minority, in increasing inequality, and in promoting its values and ideology amongst populations. However, it is also riven with contradictions as any variant of capitalism is inherently so because of the anarchy of free, unregulated, markets that continually engages in boom and bust cycles and because of uneven development where one area expands at the expense of retrenchment in another area. For example, the declining rate of investment for capital in general commodities led to capital in the 2000s flooding new financial products and the financialisation and commodification of ever greater aspects of our lives that capital could invest, gamble and accumulate profit from. But as the logic of the market was expanded into ever greater areas the potential for crisis and crashes increases and thus we see greater numbers and intensity of economic crises. Naoimi Klein has used an interesting term ‘disaster capitalism’ to describe the way in which the elites use various crises to further intensify exploitation and the commodification of everything by private corporations.

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Dear friends in the Irish Labour Party…

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… I won’t be voting for you. I have voted Labour in every election since I could first vote. I haven’t always given you my first preference – sometimes there were better left candidates – but you’ve always been there in the first two or three, and first more often than not.

Some of my younger friends are amazed that I voted Labour at all, but they weren’t there during the seventies and eighties, when Labour was on the side of divorce and contraception in a Catholic confessional Ireland. In those days Labour seemed to a lot of people to stand on our side in fights that were not easy, given the array of reactionary forces – the Church, the two main political parties, most of the institutions of civil society. In those days the modernisation of Irish social life – still an unaccomplished task of course – seemed of vital importance. We did not notice, or took a long time to notice, that Labour was moving steadily to the right in coalition after coalition. Those with historical blind-spots, like me, didn’t know, or swept aside the fact that Labour had not always been on the side of Labour, and in fact as a trade union member, I was perplexed to discover that Labour was not always on the strikers’ side in industrial disputes. But other forms of struggle seemed so important then, and Labour was by-and large- on our side. What’s more I have always believed in the idea of a broad coalition of the left, hoping that differing parties with differing discourses could or at least should draw together in shared opposition to capital and oppression.

So for a long time I believed that at heart the Labour Party was really a party of labour, of the worker, a left-wing party, and that given the opportunity it would show its true colours.

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Breaking a Cycle

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This post was originally published on the 28th of October on the comradezhenka blog.

Socialists, Protests and Strategy

The last few years has seen a lot of frenetic political activity, there have been countless protests and mobilisations without much success in many of them. There were of course some obvious exceptions, the early CAHWT demos and more recently the Coillte protests The unions had organised some very big demos but they’re now in the distant past, and the recent ones are more a case of being seen to do something, rather than actually doing something. It seems like there has been an endless round of activism and it appears people are simply moving from one protest to the next. Every new cut in services is met with a protest, every attack on the working class is met with a demo. There are a lot of very good people putting a lot of effort into these activities. Unfortunately it seems as if we’re simply chasing our tails and one of the results of this is that the numbers attending have, in general, been declining. The lower numbers and the lack of substance to back up the demos ultimately leads to demoralisation and a downward spiral.

If you ask someone outside of the left what the left does, the answer is usually ‘protest’. Is that all we stand for? Of course not. We do however need to move beyond the cycle of tactical actions. Rather than objecting to every single manifestation of ‘austerity’ we need to develop an overall strategy for tackling capitalism. This means we need to break the current cycle of protests. We need to take a step back from the current level of activity and analyse what has worked over the last few years and what hasn’t. It is important we don’t get bogged down in the usual protest-recruit cycle that other groups thrive on, but ultimately leads to a dead end as there’s little substance to back it up. We need now to develop that substance. This is naturally going to be a long process involving as wide a range of voices on the left as possible. It certainly won’t be glamorous and will most likely be boring, but it’s vital for our long-term interests that we break this cycle and get back to some serious thinking.

This is not to say there should be no protests, but that we should pick and choose our battlegrounds more carefully. There are a myriad of cuts and attacks on the working class happening now under the guise of austerity, and we shouldn’t be looking to protest every last one of them. Simply put we don’t have the numbers to tackle each one of them individually. We have been trying to do this, and the result of it is diminished numbers at these demos. In my opinion this has the net effect of making the left appear weaker than it actually is. I know this won’t be a popular idea, but the left is thin on the ground and further dividing our strength by the sheer volume of (and sometimes competing) demos doesn’t serve us well. We simply don’t have the strength of numbers required to attend every protest, and in truth everyone knows the low turnouts make us look weak. We need to strategise our demonstrations, we need to decide what our priorities are and then take each invite to a protest and decide whether it fits into our strategic plan.

This will necessarily involve making some tough decisions. Nobody wants to turn away from any members of the working class that are under attack. But it must be done. We have to find other ways of supporting those groups, because truth be told having 300 people turn up to protest a cut in, for instance, the education budget does that group no favours at all. Ultimately it shows that those protesting aren’t strong enough to defeat the cuts, and makes them ripe for further cuts in future. I know some people will say that having 300 there is better than having no one, but really it isn’t, it amounts to the same thing: There is not enough force there to prevent the cuts.

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Left Forum Debate: Does Ireland Need a New Left Party? Sat. Nov 2nd 2013 @ Teacher’s Club

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The proceedings begin at 10:30 am, and will be followed by an afternoon of open workshops.

The intention of the Left Forum is to provide an opportunity for a productive dialogue across the left, and as far as it is possible, to facilitate coordination of left-activists and campaign groups, so as to strengthen the worker’s movement in Ireland generally.

All left-organisations, left-campaign groups, independent left-activists and all others that are interested in facilitating the development of the workers’ movement are invited to participate. Please join us at the Teacher’s Club on November 2 to take part in this important debate.


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What’s Left After the ULA?


Originally posted on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on the 29th of April.

This brief report intends to outline the situation within the Irish left following the slow implosion of the United Left Alliance (ULA).

The ULA was an alliance made up of the Socialist Party (affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI), the Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialist Tendency, IST), the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG, a locally based group with public representation including a member of Ireland’s parliament [TD] and numerous municipal councillors). It also included smaller groups such as the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy.

The ULA was initially very successful by Irish left standards and won five TDs. Though, it should be understood most, if not all, of these victories did not come only from the unity project itself but from literally decades of work by the various groups.

However, seeing the left under a single banner with a serious electoral challenge did initially attract many activists to its banner.

The ULA unfortunately lasted less than two years and today exists in name only.

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The Origins of May Day and Why it’s Relevant Today

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Originally posted on Irish Student Left Online on the 24th of April.

Eoin Griffin writes about the history of May Day and how we can use this focal point to reassess our own goals. On Wednesday, May 1st from 6:45PM at Parnell Square we'll be taking the energy that was part of last Monday's public meeting organised by the 1913 Unfinished Business Youth Bloc into the DCTU’s May Day march leaving Parnell Square at 7pm. What was it Oscar Wilde said about socialism and evenings? Sign up to the Facebook event here.

May Day holds a mythical position among the international workers and union movements. Its origins can be traced back to Australia in 1856 when stonemasons and builders in Melbourne downed tools on the 21st of April and marched on Parliament to demand an eight hour working day without any deterioration in pay. In 1884 the Chicago Labour Movement adopted the eight hour working day as their core demand, declaring that May 1st 1886 would mark the beginning of the 8 hour working day being a standard. They famously campaigned for this using the slogan “eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours of recreation”. This slogan had first appeared in the UK during the Industrial Revolution.

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The Left Forum – Who, What, When, Where and Why?

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The First Left Forum will be held in the Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square, on May 18th 2013. In the call out the Forum states:

“We have had five years of crisis, five years where no alternative has been able to win support despite the obvious failures of the current political and economic regime, with serious human and environmental consequences.

Can we do better? Can the Left win widespread support for our ideas and build an alternative society? Can we make socialism more than a nice idea? The Left Forum invites you to contribute your views on the state of progressive politics and to discuss how we can do better.

The forum will be participatory and exploratory, and will aim to ask and answer key questions about what levels of political agreement are possible, what forms of organisation are useful and what tactics and strategies will be effective. We hope that you will join us and help define the future of the Left in Ireland”

This has led to some questions, firstly who is the Left Forum? Is it another front? What ideas do you mean, what exactly is ‘participatory’ and ‘inclusive’ and haven’t we heard all of this before?

Who are we?

The Left forum is an initiative that has been launched by the old United Left Alliance reading group in DCU, (now renamed the Left Forum DCU). While small the membership is diverse representing many trends of the Irish left. The group includes ex members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, The Workers Solidarity Movement, The Workers Party, the Communist Party as well as the non-affiliated. Though the various group members very much recognise the different strengths of the various organisations we believe that for both objective and subjective reasons that these groups (certainly alone) do not offer all the answers. The group originally came together as the DCU branch of the United Left Alliance and this initiative has partly comes as a result of the implosion of the alliance and the gap left in the political spectrum by its demise, including the political space available independent left activists.

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Dublin Council of Trade Unions: May Day March, ‘1913-2013 Unfinished Business’

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Dublin Council of Trade Unions

May Day 2013

1913-2013 Unfinished Business’

Resist austerity- March with your banners

The Dublin Council of Trade Unions is holding its annual MAY DAY demonstration on Wednesday, May 1st.

Assembly point will be Parnell Square at 7 pm and marching to Liberty Hall for a public meeting at Beresford Place.

Music and stalls around the Lock Out theme will follow in the theatre and bar area of Liberty Hall.

This year’s theme will be ‘1913/2013: unfinished business’. The unfinished business includes the legal recognition of trade unions in all employments and negotiating rights for all members.

It also includes a policy of resistance to austerity imposed by the government at the behest of the troika. Resistance to unemployment; to relentless cuts in health services, education, social welfare, community services, and in provision for the needy.

Job creation can never be seriously addressed in a climate of austerity. Oil and water don’t mix.

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