ON Saturday April 13th, nearly 10,000 people marched in Dublin against the introduction of the Property Tax. The demonstration coincided with a meeting of EU Finance Ministers to discuss the further imposition of austerity polices across the eurozone.
Unlike the demonstration called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in February, the mood was determined, angry and positive. In February, the leadership of ICTU offered nothing but token opposition to austerity policies. On that occasion, after being presented with comedians and musicians on the platform, consciously avoiding putting forward a programme for future action, people walked away angered at the lack of any direction from the union leaders.
Saturday was different, in no small part because the Campaign Against Home & Water Taxes has been to the fore in fighting household, water and property taxes and austerity in general over the last two years. The Campaign, in which the Socialist Party plays a leading role, built an incredible boycott of 50% of ordinary homeowners last year against the Household Charge.
Speaking to mass applause, Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins, warned that just as the Poll Tax battle reduced the Iron Lady to a lump of rust, so to would a mass campaign of opposition to the Property Tax consign the Labour Party to history.
And opposition to the Labour Party was a theme embraced by all who protested. As marchers reached the stage outside Dublin Castle, the MC asked everyone to show the Labour Party the red card. To loud cheers, a sea of red went up from the crowd. The image of thousands of red cards was reproduced in many newspapers over the following days, and graphically captured the growing attitude of many working class people towards Labour.
It was Socialist Party activists in the campaign who advocated the ‘red card’ idea. Similarly, Socialist Party members played a key role in building for the demonstration, putting up thousands of posters and organizing a mobile road-show, travelling to different parts of the city publicizing the protest, and producing thousands of stickers which went up widely on lamp posts.
Since the crisis began, a conscious attempt has been made by the political establishment and the media to paint the Irish people as stoic and responsible who, unlike the unruly working class of the other PIGS countries, adopt a sensible approach and accept the painful medicine meted out by the troika slavishly. Saturday’s demonstration was as much a blow against this concocted image.
It is true that the troika parties have been able to implement their vicious austerity policies but this has only been possible because of the treacherous role of the leadership of the trade unions. And it has not been without its consequences.
There is a seething anger under the surface of society as the austerity policies cut deeper and deeper. In the absence of a fighting lead from the trade unions, this anger has been expressed politically. The recent parliamentary by election in Meath East saw the Labour Party crawl home in an embarrassing 5th place. Whereas Labour topped the poll here in the 2011 general election with over 21% of the vote, this year they mustered barely 1,000 votes, 4.5%.
This has been followed by two opinion polls that put the party on 9% and 7% nationally. Labour are heading for political oblivion.
The campaign now has an opportunity to bring massive pressure to bear on the Labour Party, demanding that they pull back from robbing the tax from people’s wages and welfare payments. The Socialist Party has been arguing that local campaigns should be discussing plans as to how to put pressure on Labour representatives. In some areas, campaigns have been canvassing in Labour Party strongholds, asking people to sign a pledge that they will not vote Labour again.
But is also necessary to offer something to vote ‘for’. At the next local elections, due in July next year, we believe that local campaigns should put forward a slate of anti-property Tax, anti-austerity candidates. Given the anger towards the Labour Party and given the absence of a real political alternative, there is a major opportunity to take an important step forward for political representation for working class people.