Irish workers and the Celtic Tiger : The reality behind the neoliberal 'success story'


This is the second of three talks I delivered at the Prague S26 counter summit. This one was given as part of the forum "Trade unions and workers' movement" at the Aero Cinema on Saturday 23rd September. On the day itself a shortage of time meant I had to cut large sections of this, most notably most of the first third went. I should also point out that large sections are taken from material produced for SIPTU Fightback by Irish trade union activists.

When I left school in Ireland the first job I applied for was in McDonalds. They didn't advertise jobs, there was no need but instead whenever they needed people they mailed out to a list of those who had called into the joint in the last couple of weeks. They interviewed about 60 people for four or five jobs. I didn't get one! On Friday as I got the bus to the airport in Dublin I noticed a bus shelter where McDonalds were advertising for workers and boasting they were paying over the minimum wage. Like all low paid service sector employments they now have massive problems finding enough people to work for them.

This is a trivial example of the turn around in the Irish economy. Up to a decade ago a third of school and college leavers immediately left the country in search of work, many of the remainder spent long periods of time on unemployment assistance, government training schemes and various government 'make work' schemes designed to keep the unemployment figures down. This managed to keep the official figures under 20% by this method but most people guessed real unemployment was far higher and for young people and in certain areas it probably approached 50%. This had been the pattern in the Irish economy not only for decades but in fact for centuries. Except for a brief period in the late 1960's the last economic boom we had was in the early 1800's. This forced economic migration is why so many people in America, Australia and New Zealand can claim Irish ancestors. My school history book had a cartoon from the 1950's in which a farmer is telling a tourist that the children like the cattle are being raised for export.

Ten or so years into an economic boom that has seen GDP increase by as much as 10% a year a lot has changed. Large number of migrants have returned to the country, unemployment is below 5% leading government ministers to boast that there are more members of golf clubs then unemployed in the country. Dublin's vast wastelands of derelict sites have been replaced with hotels, office blocks and new apartments. It's hardly surprising that the pundits of neo liberalism are so found of the Irish 'success story' or indeed that it is being held up as an example to workers in the Czech Republic and elsewhere as a promise of the opportunity presented by excepting the dictates of the World Bank or the European Investment bank.

None of this is of course what you want to hear but I think its important to start by recognising that the Celtic Tiger is real and not simply the result of massaging figures or European grants. A lot of the left in Ireland and internationally took this sort of approach which increasingly defies the reality that greets anyone who steps off the plane in Dublin after a decade away.

But what I am going to talk about are the realities behind the Celtic Tiger, in two or possible three sections. As I reckon people lose their concentration after 20 minutes I'm going to stop after each section and take a few minutes of questions / comments from the floor. Basically I'm going to try and answer these three questions

1. Where did the Celtic Tiger come from (and can it be copied)

2. Have Irish workers gained from the Celtic Tiger

3. What effect has it has on workers organisations and in particular the Irish trade union movement.

I should also point out that I'm talking about the economy of the 26 southern counties and not the north eastern 6 counties ruled from Britain.

Part 1

Ireland's economy differs from our European neighbours in a number of ways. Firstly, since 1993 it has had an average annual growth rate greater than 8%, that makes it one of the fastest growing economies in the western world. Secondly, while in Europe employment in manufacturing has decreased, in Ireland it has to proved to be one of the main areas of growth. Employment growth is double that of the US and four times that of the EU.

Where did this boom come from and how long will it last?

There is little agreement on these questions, there is even confusion about how big the boom is. The factors that are cited as the cause of the Celtic Tiger seem to depend more on the political outlook of who is talking, than on any objective analysis. So many of the reformist 'left' will refer to the social partnership deals between bosses and unions as the key, while the neo-liberal right prefer to point to "an economy exceptionally open to trade", or to very low public borrowing.

Most people are lost by the jargon used in these debates but one picture can be worth a thousand words, in the context of a European market and products that are easily transportable, explain the Tiger's growth. They show that companies investing here pay the lowest corporate tax in Europe in Manufacturing and Internationally Traded Services, and get workers cheaper than in almost any other European country. For companies exporting services or goods with a high value per kg, this is what attracts them to Ireland*

This is the reason why the computer sector is at the core of the Celtic Tiger. Nearly one third of PCs sold in Europe are now made in Ireland. Pharmaceuticals, telemarketing and financial services also follow this pattern. In 1996 Irish 'traditional exports' of food and live animals had fallen to 15% of total exports, computer related exports on the other hand had risen to 40% of the total. In the last thirty years manufactured exports have risen from 20% to 70% of total exports. The basis of the Irish economy has fundamentally changed. (overhead)

The European basis of these exports is underlined as only 30% go outside Europe. In the six years from 1990 to 1995 exports rose from just over 50% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the total value of production in the economy) to over 70% of GDP. By 1998 Ireland ranked as the third largest world exporter on a per capita basis. (Behind Singapore and Belgium/Luxemburg.) We have now overtaken Belgium (overhead)

In particular Ireland is attractive to US investment.. OECD figures at the end of 1994 showed direct US investment into Ireland running at $3,000 per head, Spain was receiving just $200. The $3,000 alone is higher then the per capita GDP of many countries. Total inward investment in 1998 was at IR£3,000 million a year. This year with 1.5% of the European population Ireland is receiving 27% of US investment into Europe. 'The Economist' estimates that trans-national firms account for 30% of the economy and 40% of exports.

So why do they come?

The most important part of the story is the low tax regime and the low pay in particular in comparison with high productivity of Irish workers. Taking productivity into account Irish workers are half the price of those in Germany.

Both Trans-national and native business receive massive subsidies from the state in the form of grants, tax relieves and tax amnesties. Apart from these massive legal subsidies, the politicians are very much in the pockets of business, a constant sequence of tribunals have investigated one scandal after another where prominent politicians had been bribed by business to pass favourable laws, rezone land or distribute export grants. This in particular effects the native construction trade as we shall see has severe consequences for the living standards of Irish workers.

If Irish business people are taking money from the Irish state, then who paid for the Tiger. That is, who created the conditions where there can simultaneously be corporate tax rates as low as 10%, unemployment payments to 11% of the workforce and money to train "a young, skilled, well educated workforce". From our point of view these last two should not only be better funded but paid for by the rich. As they obviously are not paying, who is? The answer to this was given in Portraits of a "Partnership" which pointed out that

"In 1987, PAYE workers contributed 80% of all income tax revenue. By 1995, the PAYE sector contributed 87% of all income tax revenue, farmers contributed 1.7% and other self-employed 11.6%. Since 1987, the total PAYE income tax contribution has increased by almost one third, adjusted for inflation. Indirect taxes, (VAT plus Customs and Excise duties) which fall primarily on the working population and unemployed, increased by over 40% in real terms between 1987 and 1996. Average real earnings increased by less than 10% over the same period."

In short, whether it's cash handouts to multinationals, favours to Irish bosses or supporting the infrastructure the Celtic Tiger requires, it's Ireland's PAYE workers, who are paying for it. We are paying for it twice, firstly through our taxes and secondly by working at pay rates well below many other EU workers. Indeed while Irish bosses seem to be getting greedier and greedier we are working harder and harder to make life easy for them.

"The annual index of unit wages costs has dropped from 87.9 in 1990 to 72.1 in 1995, while output per person rose from 145.4 in 1990 to 214.1 in 1995". From 1990 to1997 the cost to the bosses of the average employee has dropped by 18% mean while the average output per worker has increased by 47%. Little wonder then that in 1997 profits rose by 15%, well in excess of wages

This tax bonanza for Irish and multinational business is far more important than the EU subsidises so often talked about. In reality the vast bulk of these are either going on infrastructure projects like motorways (which again we also pay for) or to prop up the farming sector, in which only 10% of the population are now employed.

What's wrong with the figures?

Our very low corporation tax has attracted TNC's who can generate extraordinary profits by importing pieces from high tax zones, assembling them and exporting again to these high tax zones. A simple example is found in soft drinks where the parent company sells the syrup cheap to the Irish company who simply add water and re-export at a greatly inflated price. This of course inflates GDP and is the source of the argument over how real the GDP figures are. There are indications that this is happening in Ireland, Trans-National profit rates are far higher in Ireland than elsewhere for the same processes, and when compared with similar Irish owned companies. Secondly, there is a low ratio between investment and profits.

Finally, many of the jobs in the 'high tech' computer sector are in reality 'low tech' assembly and packing of components manufactured elsewhere. The cynic may argue that profit is profit but the point is that the presence of such companies here is dependant on low corporation tax rates. One of the consequences of European convergence will be the elimination of such differences between EU countries.

Will it last

In its major analysis 'The Economist' points out that many of the conditions which created the Celtic Tiger are starting to vanish as Ireland catches up with Europe. It concludes "If Ireland has another decade as successful as the last one, it will be a miracle economy indeed". Elsewhere it points out that Ireland's comparatively high growth "owes much to the slowdown elsewhere in Europe".

Another side of the story is that many industrial jobs producing heavier goods have been lost. 'Fruit of the Loom' textile plants employed over 5,000 at one stage. These jobs have done over the last few years, mostly to Morocco. The 'Irish Times' revealed that the average earnings of the 700 workers in Buncrana are £200 a week. In Morocco 'Fruit of the Loom' is operating a similar operation with average wages of £30 a week.

The Celtic Tiger could survive for a number of years in the absence of a world crash. Such a crash would finish it off overnight because of our massive dependency on exports. But in any case as wage costs rise in Ireland on the one hand and countries with even lower wages gain access to the European market on the other the Tiger will grind to a halt.

I'll take questions now before I go on to looking whether Irish workers have managed to 'make hay while the sun shines'.

 

Part 2 - the reality for Irish workers

Stripping everything away I can say the reality for workers in the Celtic Tiger is similar to workers elsewhere under neo liberal booms. Work is plentiful profits are high but wages are low and the cost of living is rising. There have been very moderate real increases in wages under the Tiger but these rises are nothing in comparison with the rise in profits and are eroded by a serious rise in the cost of living, in particular the cost of housing.

Between 1987 and 1997 corporate profits increased by 267%, self employed income by 169% and wages by 104%. . For the worst paid 10% hourly pay has either stagnated or fallen between 1987 and 1997 although growing labor shortages since then have probably resulted in a net gain by now.

Kieran Crilly, of the Cork Institute of Technology, found, "in 1987 wages were 52.2% of GNP. By 1997 the percentage had fallen back to 39.5% of GNP. This fall of a quarter in the share of wages in GNP over a period of ten years is unprecedented in the industrialised world This reflects a reality that a tiny layer at the top of Irish society are scooping nearly all the benefits of the Tiger economy.

A good example is the Chief Executive of Ryanair Michael O'Leary. He sold six million of his own shares in this anti-union airline which earned him a £37.8 million. Before this sale he had essentially defeated a unionisation drive amongst baggage handlers in his airline. A Ryan air baggage handler would have to work for more than 2,900 years at the then rate of pay to equal the case Micheal took in a day.

After six years of massive house price increases it is now almost impossible for the average worker to buy a house in Ireland. Average house prices in Ireland rose from 11.3 times the average income in 1989 to 18.2 times income in 1999. The increases in rent and house prices have, for many workers, completely wiped out any gain made from tax cuts in our take home pay. And for the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the working class the housing crisis is becoming a disaster as the rapidly growing number of young people sleeping on the streets demonstrates. [Graph]

The other side of this coin is a handful of people making enormous sums of money. At the top a tiny group of ten individuals own almost all the land in Dublin that is zoned for housing. Their 7,000 acres are worth £3 billion, a figure that has been increasing by 20% every year. In 1998 55% of the cost of an average new house in Dublin went to the landowner/developer.

The bosses' magazine 'Business and Finance' calculates, using a Construction Industry Federation report, that "the Dublin land speculators would have taken in £957m in 1999 alone. Given that much of the land was acquired without zoning over thirty years ago much of that money is straight profit for the speculator".

In this case literally tens of thousands of ordinary workers are seeing the modest wage gains they made completely wiped out by rising rents and house prices In 1997-98 average new home values rose by 14% to 19% nationally. with Dublin leading the market in terms of price, with 26% increases in some cases.

Residential rents in Dublin tracked the overall increase in property prices, going up 15% to 20%. This at a time when workers were getting under 4% increases in wages before inflation.

This particularly hit low earners and students, one report published at the time said

"The usual £50 per room/person for those sharing a property changed during the year, with room-sharing getting more common, and one agent commented "we see students sleeping virtually head to toe in some shared rooms: landlords will be looking to let apartments as dormitories soon. There is a wave of greed evident right now.""

These house prices increases have continued every year since, it's a subject close to my heart as this year my rent saw a 96% increase!

Work and pay

Working conditions for those paying for the Celtic Tiger are becoming worse, particularly for those at the heart of the beast. The computer sector is notorious for its long and often unpaid hours of overtime, its high pressure working environment, its lack of job security and, in case you want to do anything about this, its hostile anti-union environment. Although some people in this sector are well paid the vast majority are not. The multinational Seagate which closed in 1998 had wages as low as £160 or £180 a week..

Alongside the growth in services has been the increase in all forms of what is known as "atypical employment". Part-time workers now constitute over 10% of the workforce, while those on temporary contracts account for another 10%. These people are more difficult to organise. It is estimated that just 20% of part-time workers are in unions.

It soon becomes clear that the gains of the Celtic Tiger for ordinary Irish workers are somewhat elusive. We may have a better chance of a job, particularly if we are willing to move to Dublin and live in an expensive shoe box, but in this job we will have little or no control of our working conditions. We may have extra money, but this will be gained not through higher pay, but rather through longer hours and lower taxes.

One indication of this is that huge amounts of Trans-National profits are exported from the country, nearly 15% of GDP. This is only possible because Irish workers have seen so little benefit in terms of wages from these high profits or, as 'The Economist' puts it, "why the Irish still own fewer phones, cars, washing machines..".

Here is the right point to return to what happens when the Celtic Tiger collapses. The figures above show the gains for the working class who were already employed have been marginal if they exist at all. And a lot of the wage gains under social partnership are in tax cuts.

Lower taxes would be great if they were funded by higher taxes on the rich but in the last budget the rich gained the most from tax cuts. By 1998 the proportion of income paid in tax has increased by 7.86% for the bottom ten percent of earners. Tax has increased by more than 12% for the lowest thirty percent of earners. Yet it has decreased by almost 6% for the top thirty percent of earners. This means that in a future slump money will not be available to maintain or improve social welfare, or public health/education without again raising PAYE taxes.

Capitalism is prone to such slumps, where growth rapidly turns into collapse.

And as I mentioned in the first part such a collapse will be automatic if the international economy goes into recession. As 'The Economist' put is "Pessimists would emphasise the economy's extreme dependence on relatively few industries. A global contraction in computers or financial services, for instance, would hit very hard".

More critical economists like Denis O'Hearn have pointed out that "it is barely an exaggeration...to say that the difference...boils down to a few US corporations in computers and pharmaceuticals". In 1994, research shows, ten large Trans-National Corporations accounted for 75% of all value added to goods (in assembly, etc) in 26 county manufacturing. Manufacturing accounted for 40% of the economic growth. And in 1999 over 30% of chemical exports were accounted for not only by one US company but in fact by only one of its products. The raw material of the anti-impotence drug Viagra is manufactured in Cork before being exported world wide. Forty-five percent of Irish (manufacting?) workers are now employed by Trans- National Companies such as Intel, IBM, Compaq and Sandoz.

Outside of certain sectors there has been very little resistance to this reality. Irish workers have been sold a 'pig in a poke' by the trade union bureaucracy. We have been told the 'poke' (bag) contains future jobs, and gradually but constantly increasing wages. The reality is that business believes it would take a 'miracle' for the boom to continue for another decade and, far from re-investing the profits here, large percentages are being exported for investment elsewhere. In the next section I will look at the Irish Trade union movement, social partnership with the bosses and the sort of alternative we need.

 

SECTION 3 Union and worker organisation

Many social democratic commentators have sought to lay the source of the boom at the feet of the intensive co-operation between the union movements, the employers and the government. For the last 15 years every three years these groups have sat down and worked out a national plan which includes setting the amounts wages can increase by in each of the next years. The unions part of the deal is to prevent strikes over basic issues like wages. Each of these deals is then voted on by the individual - often by the union members. These votes have all been carried although there is a consistent 1/3 opposition to these deals.

Irelands model of trade union organisation is similar to the British model. That is there is only one trade union federation of which almost all unions are members. The unions don't have prominent political affiliation although in most cases they pay a 'political levy' to the social democratic model. Union membership particularly in the public sector is high, even now it remains at about 75% there and 35% in the private sector.

As I've already argued other reasons are also key to the boom but the successful discipling of the workers by the union officials has been vital in preventing workers getting a larger share of the boom. According to 'Source: A New Agenda for Economic Power Sharing, ATGWU, Dublin, 1999 - .Over the period of national agreements to 1999 labour's share of income has declined by over 13% while profits increased by 46% as a percentage of the national wealth. Tax cuts gave a single high earner 36.1% and a single low earner 18.8% .

Despite partnership for 'social inclusion' the boom has left large numbers behind. Many of the new jobs are out of their league or, at the other end, not worth taking. The Combat Poverty Agency says that "up to one third of the population (is) at risk of poverty" and that "Ireland has the second highest national level of child poverty in the EU."

Astonishing amounts of net new jobs have been created. But jobs as such as not an end; they are a crucial and grinding means to a livelihood. We need to ask as well, what are the jobs and who has them ? Congress' entry into the first Programme in 1987 was heralded principally as their response to the jobs crisis.

Many hundreds of thousands of ICTU members who voted for the Programmes to secure their job and promote 'competitiveness' have been made redundant since 1987. Many of the new multinational jobs which partnership attracted are non-union. Throughout the period of social partnership union membership has declined. According to official union figures it was over 60% in 1980, its now at 50%

So for the unions even if the Celtic Tiger has increased the number of jobs it has replaced secure unionised jobs with insecure and largely non if not anti-union jobs in the private sector. Privatisation which was also part of the partnership deals has seen the loss of thousands of well paid, unionised public sector jobs, particularly with the privatisation of Telecom, the Telephone company.

The system before social partnership was free collective bargaining (FCB). In the years of free collective bargaining between 1982 and 1987 average industrial earning rose by 1.6 times the inflation figures. This despite worsening economic conditions. While unemployment rose from 156,000 in 1982 to 247,300 in 1987, by January 1992 (after four years of partnership) it had risen further to 276,700.

Social partnership has given the union officials access to the corridors of power and largely taken decision making out of the hands of the membership - apart from the ballots every three years on a new deal. The settling of all important issues in the national deals mean that on the rank and file level workplace activity has all but vanished. The role of a shop steward has become like that of a social worker - sorting out individual members problems rather then being a delegate of all the members in putting their demands on management. This means few workers bother going to union meetings (what is there to discuss!). Attendance at Branch general meetings is low as one per cent of the membership. In 2000 no region in SIPTU is to hold an election for the incoming Regional Committees, because nominations have not exceeded places. In some cases the number of nominations was less than the number of places, necessitating co-options to fill up places

In a feature in Industrial Relations News (IRN) back in early 1993, Norman Croke, a full-time SIPTU official, admitted that centralised bargaining is eroding trade union democracy.

"When negotiations take place in camera through the aegis of the Social Partners, active trade union membership participation is severely curtailed. Trade union members and lay officials are relegated to the position of passive observer within their own organisation and workplace."

If anything the bureaucracy have encouraged this process as the last thing they want is awkward workplaces that try and go beyond the national deals. Strong shop floor organisation was either 'sorted out' by the unions or got blown away with a closure - many of Dublin's most militant and well organised plants were simply shut down with no real fight beyond the local level against these closures..

Solidarity and the strength of the picket has declined. Blacking and sympathetic action are in danger of becoming a thing of the past. Important recognition disputes with small employers that should have been easily defeated, like Pat the Baker, ended in crushing defeat for the Union.

Volunteers were scarce for shop stewards positions. Trade union consciousness among young people and the general public is becoming a memory. The unprecedented expansion of the workforce was accompanied by a decline in the density of trade union membership, especially in the private sector. Massive state-of-the-art multinational factories, whose advent was a chief aim of the 'high skills, high wages' strategists of partnership, remain solidly non-union. In the boom year of 1997 financial membership of SIPTU declined by 88. The Dublin Private Sector Region declined by 4%.

Social Partnership has also meant the acceptance of new anti-union laws most notable the 1990 Industrial Relations Act which makes basic strategies like secondary picketing and blacking illegal or at least impossible to effectively implement. The Programmes were only part of the reason and the similar things happened elsewhere. But the labour architects of social partnership would be the first to proclaim their 'new agenda' and their determination to leave the old 'adversarial' ways behind.

In many ways social partnership while it may appear to go against the neo liberal agenda in some ways was only possible because the trade union officials have been ideologically defeated by neoliberalism. Twenty years ago many would have had a social democratic ideology heavily influenced by the idea that countries like the Czech Republic were 'actually existing socialism'. With the collapse of this ideology in the 1980's they truly came to believe that 'there is no alternative' and were not only defeated by neo liberalism but have become the most effective advocates of 'neo liberalism with a human face' in the workplace.

This account should be a clear warning to all union activists of the costs of imagining that the Social partnership model of Irish trade unionism is a model for them. If you're an official with a union pension to look after it might make sense, for the union activist it is clearly a disaster that threatens to turn once radical and large unions into advice bureau's.

Although the Irish and British models are different from many others this relationship between the union activist and the bureaucracy is one we all face. As all trade union activists know, unions are dominated by an all-embracing bureaucracy. This is a collection of (usually unelected) full-time officials with too much power and undue influence. They are only responsible to the members in the most formal sense. They may - when it suits them - take the side of the members, but they do not have to. They are not under the control of the members, they earn much more than those they 'represent' (Billy Attley, general president of SIPTU(2) earns £85,000 per annum, while a SIPTU member in the catering industry can earn as little as £4.40 an hour).

Or they may sit alongside the bosses and the government on commissions and on the boards of semi-state companies (Philip Flynn, former general secretary of Impact(3), has been appointed by the government as chairman of the state-owned ICC Bank; David Begg, general secretary of the CWU(4), is a member of the board of directors of the Central Bank). In short, they enjoy a lifestyle quite different to that of the people they are supposed to be working for.

More and more, the job of a trade union official is seen as a career, with many of the newer officials having come through college with a degree in 'industrial relations' and never having worked in an ordinary job. More than a few of them change sides during their careers, taking jobs with employers' or state organisations. For example, the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, is a former general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI). These officials - especially now in the context of 'social partnership' - see their role as that of conciliator, "fixer", negotiator - the term representative does not seem to appear in the job description. Peter Cassells, ICTU general secretary, is regularly called in to disputes to force a settlement on workers.

Members of the bureaucracy rarely lead or initiate strikes but are more often found pulling out all the stops to avoid any action. They will drag groups of workers back and forth to the Labour Court, the Employer-Labour Conference, the Labour Relations Commission, Rights Commissioners and every other talking shop they can find. They will negotiate forever in the hope of finding a 'reasonable' solution. Striking, in their book, is very much a last resort.

Indeed Joe O'Toole, general secretary of the INTO(5), is on record as saying that he views it as a defeat to have to resort to the strike weapon. And, of course, unofficial action - action which has not been sanctioned by them - will be condemned out of hand by all bureaucrats.

It is not that the current crop of officials are a nasty bunch of individuals. Rather the old adage comes into play : "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The structure of the unions gives far too much power to the bureaucrats and it is inevitable that no matter how radical or left-wing they might be when they get the job their role sucks them into the business of conciliation. After all, the officials must be able to prove that they control their members - in other words, stop them fighting the bosses - if they are to have anything to sell at the negotiating table. If such control cannot be promised, why should an employer bother to negotiate?

As a whole, the bureaucracy swings between the position of mediator and that of defender of the status quo. As a grouping they can't obviously go over completely to defending the bosses' interests. To at least some degree they have to respond to the members' demands because they are after all employed by workers' organisations. Likewise, they cannot become totally responsive to their members' demands because that would see the end of their role, their power and their careers. There may be a few individual exceptions to this rule but, as a collective grouping, this remains the case. By its very nature, the bureaucracy has to be opposed to workers' self-activity on most occasions. It is without doubt authoritarian in its very structures.

Our perspectives for activity within the unions need to be centred on encouraging workers to take up the fight against the bosses , against state interference and against the trade union bureaucracy. Therefore the most important area of our activity is at rank-and-file level. members on all issues.

Within the current structure of the trade union movement, the most effective way of building an effective opposition to the bureaucrats is through the building of a rank-and-file movement - a movement within the unions of militant workers who are prepared to fight independently of the bureaucracy and against it if necessary. Such a movement cannot however be willed into existence. If it could be so, or if ritualistic calls for its creation were sufficient, a rank-and-file movement capable of taking on the bureaucracy would surely exist in Ireland. Practically all groups/parties on the left have at one time or another issued strident calls for the creation of a rank-and-file movement. However, particularly at times such as this when the level of rank-and-file activity is probably at an all-time low, there is a need to do more than simply issue calls for its creation.

What is needed in the here-and-now is the building of a solidarity network, in essence the laying of the foundation for a rank-and-file movement. A political reality which is often ignored is the fact that a rank-and-file movement - one with real bite and a genuine base - only comes about as a result of rank-and-file activity and confidence, not the other way around.

It's on that note I'd like to end my contribution on Ireland - I believe such a strategy is applicable in almost all countries but more importantly in the context of this counter summit such movements mush build real international links in order to resist and defeat powerful multi nationals that will otherwise play workers of one region off against another. These international links are already being built and the magnificent international rank and file solidarity around the struggle of the Liverpool Dockers in particular remains an example of how we are already bringing such a network into existence


More articles on Prague and international opposition to capitalist globalisation


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