The changing face of Ireland and growing class-consciousness

Statement by the Communist Party of Ireland 
12 February 2020

The results of the general election for the 33rd Dáil have confirmed the growing frustrations within the working class and the need for alternative social and economic policies. It is a reflection of an important growth in class-consciousness, which needs to be nurtured and further developed. 
      The decline of the two main establishment parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have dominated the political life of this state for more than eight decades, is of seismic importance. They were defeated by the presentation of a left alternative economic and social platform. 
      This election result has grown on the rejection of EU-imposed austerity and the polices that give priority to the needs of capital, of the rich and powerful, at the expense of workers, policies promoted by all the establishment parties, including the Labour Party, and the establishment media. It follows from the mass struggles on water, housing, health, Repeal the 8th, and marriage equality. 
      The election only confirmed that housing, health, pensions and child care were central questions that have had a great impact on the working class. 
      The decades of EU-Troika austerity have taken a heavy toll on the lives of working people, in savage cuts in health, housing and social spending in general and with working conditions becoming more difficult and strenuous. 
      Working people have delivered a significant political blow to the establishment parties and have clearly stated that they want real transformation, that they require social and economic changes that benefit them, their families, and communities. They are demanding the implementation of more profound economic policies that transform the real material conditions that they experience daily and not slick PR hand-outs. 
      The working class are angry at the precarious nature of their lives and the spread of precarious employment practices by employers, both large and small, of standing in a queue to receive urgent medical attention or lying on trolleys in hospital corridors, while those who can afford private health jump the queue. 
      That Sinn Féin may have temporarily won the majority of the popular vote and pushed the two main establishment parties into second and third place is an important step forward and should be welcomed by all left and progressive forces. But its role in the Northern Executive and the imposition of social and economic policies promoted by the British state, which have resulted in great hardship on the working class in the north of Ireland, just as harsh as any imposed by the establishment parties in the southern state, does not bode well for any radical departure from the existing politically and morally bankrupt system. 
      Over the last eight decades the two main establishment parties commanded more than 80 per cent of electoral support; now they can barely muster 40 per cent between them. Clearly the working class used the election to maximise the left voice in the Dáil, which is another indication of the growth in class-consciousness.
      The political formations of Solidarity and People Before Profit owe the return of their TDs in no small measure to the massive surplus and transfers of votes from Sinn Féin. The political sectarianism and opportunism of these groups has proved to be their undoing and is a significant factor in the decline of their first-preference votes. 
      Another factor that is driving people away from the establishment parties and to look for a serious response from a left government is the growing awareness of the environmental crisis and the knowledge that the Government would never challenge powerful entrenched economic and political interests. This resulted in increased support for the Green Party. 
      Sinn Féin has managed to capture this anger by presenting itself as the party that can deliver real and meaningful improvements that our people so desperately require, in such areas as housing, health, and workers’ rights—this despite the role of the establishment media and their concentrated attacks on any possible alternative economic policies. The establishment political parties and mass media continue their attempts to trivialise or demonise national democratic aspirations, including the reunification of Ireland. 
      The election result has the potential to bring to the top of the political agenda the central question of who has control of political and economic power in Ireland. 
      Over the coming months members and supporters of Sinn Féin and the working class in general will witness the unfolding strategy of the establishment to incorporate Sinn Féin in the system, to make it responsible and act in the “national interest,” and do its duty to those who have wealth and economic power. 
      We have seen what happens to left and radical parties when they enter coalition governments with establishment parties. It can only revitalise the establishment party and demoralise workers, sowing confusion and defeatism. 
      Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may well attempt to salvage their declining power and political influence through some form of coalition. It is for the left within the Dáil, and Sinn Féin as its largest component, to mobilise the working class to ensure that the alternative of a progressive left government so demanded by the working class is secured. 
      In the next few weeks we will witness the behind-the-scenes negotiations and back-room deals being pulled together to see which combination of parties will form the next Government. The opportunism of the Labour Party, Social Democrats and Green Party will make them very amenable to forming or supporting a Government with Fianna Fáil. 
      While Irish communists welcome these progressive developments, we are mindful of the history of class struggles and the fight for national independence and sovereignty, of how easily the demands and the energy of working people have been smothered in the past, promoting the blind faith that the electoral system alone can deliver real or lasting change. 
      Working people cannot afford to sit back and allow our future to be decided by back-room deals. We know from recent struggle how the energy and demands regarding water were marginalised and buried in the dark corridors of the outgoing Dáil. The people were not defeated on the streets but lost authority to those institutions that control our lives, institutions over which we have very little control. 
      Whatever limited control Irish working people have over Dáil Éireann, we have none at all over the institutions of the European Union. Any progressive Government will face opposition from these powerful economic and political forces, which it can only withstand with a popular mobilisation. 
      The new conditions created by the election result must be used as an opportunity for a renewal of popular struggles on a whole range of issues. The time is clearly right for more vigorous and militant trade union and class struggle. 
      All left and progressive forces need to mobilise to ensure that the promised social and economic changes materialise; and the only guarantee that this will happen is the people’s struggle itself. The challenge now is for whether the aspirations and the demand for real change can be consolidated into long-term structural changes and advances. 
      The election showed clearly that our people want a democratic transformation of our society, a society in which the people are sovereign, not one in which the greater good is sacrificed to meet the needs and interests of private property and vested interests. The people clearly want democratic change that transforms the controlling power structures at all levels, a democratic transformation that allows the participation and contribution by working people in all decisions, at all levels of economic and political life. 
      We know that the adoption of the necessary social, economic and political changes requires a mobilised working class and the building and strengthening of its organisational capacity and its ideological class-consciousness. Our class needs to develop the necessary political clarity and strength to challenge and push back the imperialist interests represented by the European Union, the United States and Britain, and their allies in the subservient Irish capitalist class, if the working class is to advance and secure its own interests. 
      In the immediate period workers need to present their demands, such as: 
• the repeal of all anti-worker laws, including the Industrial Relations Act (1990) 
• legislative and constitutional guarantees to give workers the right to collective bargaining 
• a full, comprehensive range of policies to protect and advance workers’ rights 
• constitutional provision for the people’s ownership of water and all natural resources 
• the adoption of a housing strategy that changes the rules of ownership, including turning the vacant housing stock into state-owned stock 
• massive investment in a universal public housing programme 
• ending the two-tier health system by forbidding the private health sector to use the public health system 
• the provision of a free and expanded public transport system throughout the country 
• repudiation of the odious EU banking debt imposed on our people 
• the adoption of a progressive strategy for bringing about national unity 
• the end of the use of Shannon Airport as a US and NATO war hub 
• enshrining neutrality in the Constitution of Ireland 
• withdrawing from PESCO and all military engagements with the EU 
• the building of an alternative economic strategy to break the power of the transnational corporations.