The Workers’ Party

Easter Oration, Sunday 21st April 2019

The following speech was delivered at Workers’ Party commemorations in Dublin, Cork and Waterford.

Comrades and friends,

For generations now republicans and socialists have gathered on the anniversary of the Easter Rising to remember Ireland’s blow for freedom and independence.

We proudly continue that tradition today to defend and celebrate the sacrifice and vision of the men and women who fought in that famous week in 1916 against the army of the British Empire.

We recognise the importance of the progressive and democratic ideals of Pearse and Connolly and of the Easter Proclamation, and we seek to build on them in our quest for a socialist Ireland.

Cathie Shiels speaking in Arbour Hill Cemetery

In particular today, we remember James Connolly, trade union leader and socialist revolutionary. In doing so we seek to ensure that his ideas and spirit live on in the modern era. Despite the best efforts of both the British Empire and William Martin Murphy, who thought that by killing him they could kill his ideas, and indeed of our own establishment who sought to forget them, we must always bring into the light of day the clear socialist ideas and vision that Connolly had for Ireland.

For in the Ireland of today, Connolly’s socialist ideas are as relevant as ever. From housing to health to transport, neo-liberal capitalism seeks to commodify every aspect of our lives under the cover of choice and flexibility. As Karl Marx prophesied two centuries ago, capitalism ‘’has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”.

James Connolly was a Marxist, and an Irish socialist republican, and he correctly saw no contradiction in that. His vision was both national and international, and he saw the workers of every country as his fellow patriots. He deeply understood the importance of internationalism, having witnessed the pointless bloodshed of World War One turn worker against worker, while tearing the international socialist movement apart.

International solidarity remains as important as ever, as today, across many parts of Europe and the western world, the rising radical movement amongst working people is that of the far right. Ireland will not be immune to their hate. Already we can see the emergence in embryonic form of an indigenous extremist right. In the struggle against fascism and the far-right, it has always been the socialists and the labour movement who have been to the forefront of fighting for democracy and socialism. That remains the case today – liberal hand-wringing will not set the far-right back, it will merely feed them.

Only working class politics, defending the rights of all workers, combined with the articulation of a clear alternative vision to both the politics of hate and the greed of the liberal capitalist class, will succeed in doing so. In facing this challenge, socialists cannot tie their hands, we must intervene in every arena of life where working people participate – and in particular in communities, in trade unions, and in elections – to put forward a socialist vision that explains how we can build a better life and a better future for all.

For as we know, once the poison of division emerges and flourishes, it is hard to defeat.

In the north, we have sought for decades now to articulate a secular, anti-sectarian class-based politics. We have worked to undermine the toxic sectarianism, encouraged by both the British state and our native capitalist class, which smothers our society, turning worker against fellow worker. In the local elections in May we will once again put forward our secular, socialist alternative to the austerity and division of the Sinn Féin/DUP agenda.

Sectarian hatred remains an obstacle to the building of a socialist republic. The Workers’ Party will continue to fight for the true, modern republican vision, in which class unites where creed once divided. We understand that not only is our island partitioned but our working class too, and that class unity would represent real progress in the struggle for a socialist republic.

Fighting for class unity does not mean lowering our politics, denying our traditions or isolating ourselves. It means being actively involved with the people and their struggles, identifying those issues which can build class consciousness, and getting our hands dirty in the struggle to draw workers away from narrow dead-end ideologies, whatever they may be.

In Dublin, our candidates for May’s local elections will put forward an alternative vision for local government – a radically altered system which shifts the burden of taxation to the corporations and landlords to help fund the provision of public housing, waste collection and childcare. We want to see major reform so that local government is genuinely democratic, and provides for the needs of working class people in Dublin not the wealthy elite. We will fight the trend which is transforming our city into the plaything of multinationals, privatising our public spaces, and turning Dublin into a conglomeration of office blocks, hotels and overpriced student apartments, rather than a living city for working people.

Small as our party is, our ideas impact on political life. We have been to the forefront of pushing for mixed-income public housing, now becoming known as the ‘Vienna model’, and which is gradually becoming accepted as the solution to our appalling housing crisis. We have recently witnessed the grotesque hypocrisy of Dublin City Council officials and parties who voted down our plan for such housing in Dublin, and who have overseen the dramatic rise in homelessness, now trumpeting the Vienna model as the next big thing. We will hold these hypocrites to account inside and outside the council chambers.

We are also contesting the European elections in Dublin for the first time since 1994, when Tomas Mac Giolla stood. This decision is both reflective of the hard work done by Councillor Eilis Ryan in fighting for working people in Dublin City and of the increasing number of young people attracted to our socialist message. Contesting this election is a difficult task for a small party but an important one – it gives us a crucial opportunity to put forward our socialist politics on a wider scale than we have been able to do so for a number of decades, and in doing so to build the party and popularise class politics. It is also an opportunity to articulate the unpopular truth that, rather than being a vehicle of social progress, the European Union has emerged as an unvarnished champion of the capitalist elite. The fight for socialism in Europe is necessarily a fight against the neoliberal EU.

In Waterford, we continue the slow and steady process of rebuilding the Party. While we will not contest the upcoming local elections we are committed to working with old and new comrades to maintain and build on the proud Workers’ Party presence there. In a city with such a long radical tradition, it is vital that the Party is able to offer an effective for the working class of Waterford. The south-east region is badly affected by unemployment, by health cuts, and by the appalling housing crisis. Only a state-led intervention to create sustainable jobs and industry, to build public housing and to properly fund a single-tier health system, will improve the living standards of working people. We will continue to campaign for such a programme of investment for Waterford and the south east.

Colour party at the grave of Irish Citizen Army member Thomas “Corkie” Walsh in Cork

In Cork, we are fighting the upcoming local elections in the Cork City North East and West constituencies. We are building on the decades of campaigning work that we have done on behalf of working people in the city. In recent years we have been actively involved in the campaign against the water charges, in fighting against damage to our environment, and in the struggle for public housing. We will stand on that record of principled opposition to the right-wing agenda. We believe that Cork needs investment in public transport, housing, and services and we will continue the fight for a city that is run in the interests of working people.

We do not underestimate the challenges facing us. We are a small party and face a long road. We believe, however, that we offer something different, something lacking in Irish political life – the ability to offer a transformative vision to working people and a clear articulation of how society could function if the public good was the main impulse ruling our society. If we are to outline that vision effectively, we must increase our numbers and I would appeal to working people to join us as we grow our Party and face the battles ahead.

In 1962 Cathal Goulding took leadership of a shattered and defeated Republican Movement. He, and many others like him, set about the decades long task of reorganising and reorienting towards socialist politics. Today as we rebuild, we face different challenges but perhaps a longer road. The tasks ahead will require commitment and sacrifice but we should take heart from our past successes that we have the right approach.

The looming climate crisis, the housing crisis, increasing precarity and inequality all combine to push working people and young people towards radical politics – to bring them into the Workers’ Party is the challenge and the opportunity that we face in the coming years.

Finally, comrades, today we not only remember those who fought in Easter 1916 but we also pay tribute to Sean Garland, our comrade and leader who passed away in December.

To remember Sean Garland today is fitting. Not only did Sean deeply admire, celebrate, and defend from those who would besmirch it, the vision and sacrifice of the men and women of Easter week 1916 – of Connolly, Pearse, and Casement – but Sean stands alongside them as someone who sought with his unrelenting drive and energy to transform the divided and unequal Ireland that we know.

Many of us will have exchanged memories, stories and words about Sean over the last few months, but it is vital that in remembering Sean we also learn from him. Sean understood more than anyone that the missing ingredient in the struggles that had gone before him had been the presence of a mass organisation of the men and women of no property.

Where Tone identified the need for unity of Catholic, Protestant, and Dissenter under the common name of Irishman, and Connolly understood that true freedom for Ireland meant freedom for the Irish working class, Sean’s key insight was to grasp that only through the construction of a mass party of the working class could both of those tasks be completed.

He knew that to build such an organisation of the people we could never be elitist in our approach but must be embedded in every community and workplace across the island, bringing our message to working people, and bringing working people into our party. Only such a disciplined and united workers’ party could bring the vision of Tone and Connolly to fruition, and Sean dedicated his life’s work to building it.

It is our task to continue to build the Workers’ Party – the Party that can lead the struggle for a united working class, and an independent Irish socialist republic.

David Gardiner, chairing the commemoration at Arbour Hill Cemetery.