Belfast Marxist is unhappy at the trade union movement.
Do you remember the revolution of 2015? Do you remember the general strike, the mass agitation and the united approach of communities and workers? No? Me either!
This is what I do remember. I remember the rallying call from the major trade unions to unite and fight against the cuts. I remember them attempting to organise in the working class communities that they have ignored and alienated for decades. Through the time of major conflict and oppression the unions stayed on the fence, not to get their hands dirty in what they would see as ‘sectarian conflict’. I remember being marched right up the hill and marched right down again!
Late last year I was sceptical of the unions in their approach to tackling the onslaught of cuts to our public services but I hoped that the unions were sincere in being a vanguard for revolution, organising the masses and begin to organise the fight against corporate greed and corrupt gangster politicians. Unfortunately my scepticism was correct.
The unions have massive amounts of resources at their disposal and also man power, at the drop of the hat they can organise and do it well. Very quickly they were able to launch a campaign against cuts across the British occupied territories in Ireland, running public talks in local areas (eventually after finally breaking the mould of city centre organising in Belfast), distributing thousands of leaflets in a short period of time, organising the public, community and voluntary sector and also pulling people in from various unions, groups, political parties and none.
I give the unions credit for all of the above and at the time I sensed that things may be changing, I thought that the unions had finally saw sense and had reignited their revolutionary spirits, that the state had went too far in attacking the working class and the union was throwing its weight behind the fight back.
For the first time in a while I had seen the re-politicisation of local working class people on this singular issue. I wrote at the time that I feared that the unions would mobilise people in local communities, rally them up and work toward the rally in Belfast city centre on March 13th and then that would be it. That is exactly what happened and despite the war cry on that day what has happened? This left people feeling demotivated, vulnerable and let down yet again by the unions.
I remember sitting in eírígí’s office for a public talk on building a resistance against austerity in late 2014, on that same night the unions held a similar talk at short notice in the city centre. This could have been a deliberate attempt to halt the growth of any radical movement aimed at tackling the cuts that the unions couldn’t control. By doing this the unions automatically split the camp and éirígí, despite running its own campaign, had nothing on the unions with its unlimited resources.
Where I see the difference is that if éirígí, or any other radical left wing organisation, had the power and resources that the unions had the revolution wouldn’t have ended on March 2015, they would have fought on and continued to mobilise, organise, protest and agitate at every opportunity and with every resource they had.
It appears to be that the unions are only prepared to push the state and its lackeys so far and then retreat before the state kicks back while at the same time trying to appease its membership by paying lip service to tackling cuts and organising tokenistic pickets and city centre rallies.
When was the last time a union leader put their neck on the line and got their hands dirty? What we need is the development and building of a radical trade union movement, one that organises on the floor of the workplace and in the heart of working class communities, a radical trade union that will be prepared to collectively work with other radical left wing political organisations (instead of Labour!). We need an organisation that will lead from the front like Larkin and Connolly and the ITGWU and the ICA, those who understand the struggles of poverty and exploitation and those who are prepared to fight, be gaoled and die for the cause of class struggle and the cause of Labour!
Without the power of the Industrial Union behind it, Democracy can only enter the State as the victim enters the gullet of the Serpent – James Connolly