The same working class areas that resisted against the installation of water meters some years back. Then, they were led by the hard left, now, some, are led by the hard right. A divided working class can only serve the powerful political establishment and wealthy class. The fact that the question is yet to arise in more affluent communities is indicative of the voter base of the government in my view.
Both Social and Mainstream media are currently dominated by opposing narratives and accusations with little reasoning or respectful discussion where opposite views exist. This is hardening attitudes and dividing people further. We have a recent culture of protest and counter protest which must seem like noise to most ordinary people trying to get by, sometimes literally, on the way home from work.
Within a few short weeks we have gone from hearing communities have genuine concerns to labelling and shaming those attending protests. There are certainly extreme groups at work stoking division and hate,. And protesting against innocent people where they sleep is wrong. The result is that this pushes droves of onlooking ordinary working people away from grass roots action in general and back into the electoral arms of the seeming safe but hegemonic establishment which created the inequalities in the first place.
If those of us interested in social justice wish to see a rejuvenated and strengthened workers movement than we must be organized. Perhaps if Trade Unions had effective leadership and campaigned to repeal the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, workers could unite and command pay and conditions which would eliminate the cheap and exploitive labour market which either by design or consequence the rich will benefit from.
This would immediately and drastically bridge the gap in our communities as workers could belong to an organisation which leads its members on both employment and social issues. Integration and solidarity would organically grow as common cause would be established.
It's not long ago things were very very different on the ground than they are today and genuine hope of change was growing in a risen people. I recall Listening to Brendan Ogle introduce Terry McMahon on Dame Street Dublin, April 2017 at the Right to Water protests. I've chosen these two figures to represent the shallow fault line between left and right in ordinary genuine people which I believe can be repaired. Division between fringe groups is not under consideration as it is of no constructive value due to the fact in my mind that they arguably exist to stoke division itself. This I believe is true on both the left and right fringes.
On a single day in April 2017, My wife and I stood listening to various speakers at the R2W protest amongst banners from Sinn Féin, PBP, various Unions, Éirígí the IRSP and Joe Higgins' Socialist Party among others, all identifiable left wing working class political groups.
Ordinary voices of the rural and urban Irish working class murmured all round united in their purpose, few of which had membership or history with the groups involved. As is inevitable when Irish people gather, there's a mixture of humour and devilment alongside the protest chants, but an air of people power and solidarity lingered. The chants invariably identified the decimated Fianna Fáil party and their replacements, the Enda Kennys and Joan Burtons of the day as the villains, those elected to burn the bondholders but decided to inflict austerity instead. Those who are opposed to unions and to community activists, some, who famously remarked upon the financial means within working class communities to acquire expensive phones. One sign among the crowd read in reply to this, "let them eat phones".
Some 80,000 people came out that day and as an example of the often asserted line that RTÉ and the Irish Times are government propogandists, they estimated the same crowd at the 10,000 mark.
Terry McMahon, who is viewed by many today as, of the right, for views on pro-life, his bemusement at gender politics and lockdown skepticism, gave a rousing speech as is well within his creative comfort zone as a screenwriter.
He spoke of "Our Ireland" and its cancers which ran far deeper than just the water charges issue we had all united on. He spoke very inclusively about all the shapes, makes and sizes of the Irish people in all its diversity and how we must create change.
Highly recommend a listen
To this day he speaks out on issues of "the left", but not specifically from the left, probably just injustice as he sees it, for example the cost of living or highlighting an individual case of discrimination.
Brendan Ogle, as a trade union leader on that day was in perfect sync with the talented speaker, applauding his words. Today he represents a strong left wing perspective, collectivist, antifascist, a strong vocal presence on the pro-Covid restrictions that came some years later.
The two clearly diverged from synchronicity of that rally on separate issues, though a key point must be, they agree on the substantive underlying issues in society which is where we must return. We do not have to agree on everything, maybe only in opposing discrimination from which all problems can be linked.
The political class across Ireland that hold seats in Leinster House, were called out that day, repeatedly, as the cause of the issues. Nothing has changed on that front in the years since, other than they've gotten worse. The tone to proceedings was so much simpler than that of today. It was the working class marching against undemocratic vulture capitalism. It doesn't take a socialist to oppose exploitation, and it wasn't a socialist rally.
The contextual backdrop was the legacy left by the failure of international banking speculators combined with the laissez-faire Irish central bank crippling the Irish economy and the resulting austerity being our punishment for allowing the Bertie Ahern Government mismanage the economic conditions of the state.
Maybe we didn't all see it like that but that's what it was. Fianna Fáil had previously surrendered economic sovereignty to the sovereignty vultures of the IMF. They done so while lying to the people before handing the reins of the state with newly acquired "sovereign" debt to the hungry hands of Fine Gael and Labour.
The irony with continuous EU integration is that debt seems to be the one area of sovereignty that remains with the people!
Here we were, assembled against the double taxation being forced in ironically by the Party founded by James Connolly. What would he say?
Labour of that day in 2017 represented the cowardly interests of the wealthy, anathema to Connolly. Terry McMahon invoked the spirit of 1916 to the crowd that day and in a second left, right comparison it can be said that in a snapshot, Connolly and Pearse, leaders of the rising represented something politically similar. People united in a cause against a common enemy in the interests of the Irish people.
Pearse, the Nationalistic Republican immersed in the gaelic cultural revival, united with Connolly, the Socialist Republican concerned with the condition of the working class, both seeking to break the connection with the imperialists who suppressed the rights of a people to both nationhood and economic emancipation.
As McMahon spoke of the conditions in our country there was an air about the place of action. Other issues were raised that day which further motivated the crowd that a corrupt system reigned over.
When the mother of young Ava Twomey got up and spoke of how the Minister of Health was preventing her from accessing medicinal cannabis, available abroad, to limit the frequency and damage the child was suffering from brain damaging fits, the paternal instincts of most parents assembled went into overdrive and for me at least, the anti-establishment resentment raised to a level that would never really go again.
Roll on a few years and the unified solidarity of the people in that movement has fragmented.
Power knows how to pacify and diffuse it would seem.
Undoubtedly to my mind, text book tactics are played by strategists advising parties on how to navigate contentious political situations. The water charges were shelved, by no means scrapped. No constitutional amendment was ever made to protect the right to water. Taxation was hiked elsewhere. The long game comes in, defer and postpone until another day. A day when the people become divided enough that those who call a rally will only mobilize their own support base. Its not all about water, that was just a symptom, the disease is exploitation in general.
That day has arrived and passed, the political elites are far bolder now than before. For example national territory is now comoditized for sale such as the British vulture aquisition seen in the Coillte deal ratified through Leinster House recently.
Our healthcare system is run down so far that 50 avoidable excess deaths a week are being warned of.
Our health and education systems are bursting due to increased need and under development. Our housing sector sees ques of people in good employment left disappointed as demand cannot be matched by supply and for those that require social housing there are over 11,500 categorized as homeless with growing numbers on the streets.
Poverty is visible in society yet the landlord class is reaping public funds through HAP. Vast portfolios of property are bought up by foreign capitalist vulture funds enforced at the point of private security firms. Indeed, this is our Ireland.
All this amidst political corruption scandals but no unified mass movement. This is the consequence of division and it sure helps those in power.
For the spoils of the R2W campaign Some members of the Socialist party and PBP ended up gaining profile and seats in Leinster House.
Sinn Féin grew strongly as people could see that there was no difference in outcome if you had FF and Greens or FG and Labour in power.
The establishment that reign perennially in Kildare Street were actually threatened by a risen, unified people during that campaign. This threat never returned since. Instead a series of changes occurred in society which split people into groups.
Since those days we've seen social issues change the shape of society. The 8th Amendment referendum, the draconian emergency health powers, the blasphemy referendum - all these things have divided people, a people comprised of different sub categories from liberals to conservatives which may possibly only heal by generational attrition.
Brendan Ogle and Terry McMahon stood in common purpose on behalf of the working people that day. Since then both men, I believe have continued to speak out publicly on the issues of the day from their perspectives, again, in their view, on behalf of the ordinary working people of Ireland. Yet today they have diverged off in quite different directions and the issues they speak on are distinctively placed on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Is this the result of one being right and the other wrong or is this the essence of difference and diversity of thought? The working people in Ireland are not organized in any way which would concern the Neoliberal dominance of the political elite class which control Ireland.
People can have distinctively polar ideologies but can unite against a common opponent. Today this opponent is those holding power and rather than unite against that misrule we withdraw, divide and squabble amongst ourselves to the extent of bitter division.
We must learn to agree on basic principles and respect for rights and then work together to create change. This does not mean we can work with anyone, only those of genuine principle. It will quickly become clear who the provocateur and agents are as they do their best to destroy such an initiative but for those of sufficient sense we must move forward and restore imperfect but genuine working class solidarity.
⏯Pádraig O Maonaigh is a social justice activist.