In the region of 2,500 people took part in Saturday's Dublin Council of Trade Unions demonstration in Dublin. Although this made it the biggest anti-austerity demonstration in the city since the massive ICTU demonstration of last year the small number attending was a wake up call for anyone on the left or in the unions who is optimistic about significant resistance to the crisis emerging in the short term.
The march was led off by Fair Deal for Cleaners activists & organisers "with bins saying "Don't Bin our ERO." EROs are, essentially, the minimum wages and conditions in low paid industries. They were ruled unconstitutional by the High Court in July, 2011. Cleaners all over the country are organising into the union and fighting for a new agreement." Although a number of unions had said they supported the march it was only really the teachers unions that mobilized any number of rank & file members. They comprised almost half the total number of people marching. It would be well worth other unions activists looking at the methods some of the teachers unions branches are using to get such a high and sustained level of engagement from their members as their turn outs on all the anti-cuts demonstrations have been significant.
The comparison with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions demonstration of last year when 100,000 marched is in some ways an unfair one to make as the resources of DCTU are very much less than those of the ICTU. ICTU can take out ads in papers, hire advertising bill boards and run dozens of coaches. The DCTU on the other hand doesn't have much in the way of resources beyond the credibility that activists attach to it based on its record. There are certainly aspects of the way the march was built for that could be criticized but while a different poster etc might have made for a somewhat large turnout the difference would not have been significant.
The protracted and divisive argument that ran over 10 or so days at the Occupy Dame Street assembly certainly had some impact on numbers but again would not have been that significant. DCTU had invited ODS to participate in the march and offered to host a ODS speaker from the platform but unfortunately the possibility of ODS taking up that offer was vetoed at the final General Assembly on the question by a number of people with ideological problems with unions in general. That decision probably did a lot to damage the ability of ODS to act as a focus for building resistance around but its unlikely it had much of an impact on the number turning out to march.
In fact quite a number of people involved in ODS put a fair bit of effort into building for the march as individuals and there were significant continents from Occupy Cork & Occupy Waterford. The turnout of individuals from ODS was however small, it is probably the case that the bitterness of the debate meant those who didn't have strong opinions on the question found it easier to stay away. Either way the small turnout on Saturday and the rapid decline in the size of turnouts for ODS marches demonstrates the urgent need to look for ways to include rather than exclude people into the assemblies even if (and really especially if) they happen to be members of political organizations and unions.
As part of our work towards preparing for Saturday's demonstration we published two articles We need to develop a new strategy in the unions and A general strike requires organisation not just rhetoric as we anticipated a weak turnout and wanted to get beyond the tendency of the left to emphasize the silver lining, no matter how slight. That said the actual number who marched was at the bottom end of the pessimistic estimates we expected a few days beforehand so there is really no room for complacency about the true state of the movement in opposition to the ECB austerity deal.
People are angry and that anger can only deepen as details of the deeply unjust cuts planned in the budget continue to be leaked. But if the well rewarded Joe Duffy's and Pat Kenny's of the world are going to be prevented from turning that anger into the dog eat dog nonsense of the last couple of years we need to offer a convincing alternative to the inevitability of a race to the bottom to reassure the bond holders of the wealthy 1%.
WORDS & IMAGES: Andrew Flood
For a more complete set of photos from the march see our DCTU March Facebook album