The Workers’ Party
Easter Oration, Sunday 1st April 2018
The following speech was delivered at Workers’ Party commemorations in Dublin, Cork and Waterford.
Welcome Comrades and Friends,
We stand here today on the 102nd anniversary of the Easter Rising – that momentous event in Irish history, when the brave men and women who fought in Easter Week struck a blow for freedom against the might and brutality of Empire, and for the establishment of an independent egalitarian Republic.
Easter offers us the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice of those who have gone before us in the struggle for a Socialist Republic and on what we can learn from their struggle. It offers us an opportunity to re-state our aims, to reassert our claim to the true Republican tradition, and to put forward our vision – the vision of Connolly and the Citizen Army – of a new Republic, a united, democratic, secular Socialist Republic.
Comrades, it would be remiss of us to mark this event without taking a moment to remember our comrade and friend May Mac Giolla, who sadly passed away last week. Indeed, in many ways there is no event more fitting at which to remember May than this: our annual commemoration of the Easter Rising. For May, and her socialist republican politics, were forged from that very same Dublin working-class tradition of radical republicanism that the Irish Citizen Army sprang from. And how could they not be. For May had a direct link to the men and women of the Citizen Army – her parents, Lawrence and Maud McLoughlin, were both members of the workers’ army who we celebrate today.
May’s dedication to the cause, her unceasing commitment to the very end, her loyalty to the Party throughout its history should inspire each and every one of us who stand here today to redouble our efforts in the struggle for socialism.
Comrades, as we pass through the so-called decade of centenaries there are many important events to be marked and remembered. 2018 marks 100 years since women in Ireland won the right to vote, albeit limited suffrage. It is perhaps fitting that 100 years later on the 25th May 2018 we will have the opportunity to vote to remove the anti-woman 8th amendment from our constitution.
Our Party opposed the introduction of the 8th amendment in the bitterly hostile and sectarian atmosphere of 1983 and have been steadfast in their opposition to it since. The 8th has caused untold damage to the lives and health of women in this country since its introduction. But it has not stopped, and could never stop, abortion from taking place in Ireland. Over 170,000 women from Ireland have gone abroad to have an abortion over the last 40 years. It is past time for this hypocrisy to end. We call for a Yes vote in the referendum and for the introduction of a free, safe, legal and accessible abortion service.
The 8th is symbolic of the powerful grip that the Catholic Church has had on our society for the last century. From the Magdalene Laundries to the 8th amendment, women in Ireland have been treated as second class citizens, leaving a dark stain on our history. Repealing the 8th amendment offers us the opportunity to declare that women are no longer to be seen as second-class citizens in Ireland, and can mark a watershed moment in shaking off the chains off religious intolerance and control that have dominated our society.
It can act as the impetus to finally and completely break with the legacy of a sectarian, misogynistic state and begin the construction of a secular society, based on the republican values of citizenship and equality.
Nor are the rights of women respected in Northern Ireland. The struggle over reproductive rights there goes on, with no sign that this issue will be addressed through legislation any time soon.
As the recent court case and reaction to it across the island have shown so vividly, we remain in a culture where women are discriminated against and all too often treated with contempt. The struggle for equality for women must and will remain central to our political programme.
In his work, The Reconquest of Ireland, James Connolly wrote of the struggle against the oppression of women, saying:
‘’None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom, the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who, feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages, have arisen to strike them off, and cheer all the louder if in its hatred of thraldom and passion for freedom the women’s army forges ahead of the militant army of Labour. But whosoever carries the outworks of the citadel of oppression, the working class alone can raze it to the ground.’’
This year marks 150 years since the birth of James Connolly and these words of his ring as true as ever today. As we attempt to finally break the grip of the Catholic Church over our society we must remember that there is much work to be done to make good the totality of Connolly’s vision. Nowhere are the working class organised sufficiently to strike the decisive blow for freedom and class power.
Connolly and his ideas remain central and relevant to the politics of the Workers’ Party today. He was forthright in his condemnation of the scourge of landlordism and profiteering and identified it clearly as the cause of the housing problems facing the working class of his day. Over a century later and still one of the clearest indicators of the inability of the capitalist system to provide for the majority, is its failure to provide that most basic of rights – secure, quality and affordable housing.
In Ireland, the grip of the banker, speculator, developer and landlord remains unbroken to this day. The class that almost bankrupted the country 10 years ago has emerged untouched from that crisis to begin a fresh round of speculation, while after almost a decade of austerity, workers and their families now face ever greater difficulties in finding suitable housing.
The Workers’ Party has been to the forefront of campaigning for a public solution to the housing crisis. We know that the provision of universally accessible public housing is the only lasting and just solution to the ongoing crisis. Such a system would decisively break with the rack-renting landlordism that has plagued Ireland through its history and would take housing out of the hands of developers and the private market.
Make no mistake: it is the private market system which sees housing merely as an asset for speculation and which makes the right to a home secondary to the right to profiteer that has left us with the shameful situation of over 100,000 households waiting for a local authority house, and of 4,000 children homeless, in a country where the rich are richer than ever.
Many of these factors also apply in Northern Ireland, where the Housing Executive remains a target and the state, and the major parties, continue to seek to withdraw from the provision of public housing, reversing one of the major gains of NICRA, 50 years after the beginning of the campaigns in the street in which our members played so important a part. The reactionary nature of Northern Ireland’s political class is therefore especially evident in its attitude to housing.
The housing crisis in Ireland speaks to the broader political situation in Ireland and this cannot be understood in isolation to that of the rest of the world. Not only is the Irish economy deeply embedded in the global capitalist system, but the state itself has continued its post-1922 tradition of subservience to the major capitalist powers.
The only difference is that it is no longer solely Britain to which Ireland is subordinated but now also to American and European capital. Having forgone the opportunity to develop an independent economic strategy, we are at the mercy of the whims of Wall Street, the Bundesbank and the City of London. Given it was their colossal ineptitude that made the collapse of the 2008 possible we have grave cause to be worried.
In particular, the ruling class seemed to have forgotten everything and learned nothing from the 2008 crash. Having accumulated masses of capital, the wealthy elite struggle to find enough profitable investments, let alone useful profitable investments. Instead we are treated to anti-social speculation on property and gambling in financial products that do nothing to increase the total social wealth. They are nothing other than systems of a system approaching an advanced state of decay.
In order to keep the rate of profit up, the capitalists have to resort to suppressing the working class at home through permanent austerity and by shifting production abroad in order to engage in hyper-exploitation in the far east. The capitalist class is not a unified class, no more than the working class. It is riven with internal division, division which is brought to the fore by the very weakness of the working class as they complacently consider the socialist movement a spent force.
The election of Trump in the leading centre of world capitalism illustrates how careless the ruling elite have become and how the competition between the different factions within them are heating up. Trump is a gasp not only of alienated voters but the protectionist wing of the American ruling class. But the USA, as the leading imperial power necessarily requires a hyper-globalised capitalist economy, and this brings the majority of the ruling class into conflict with Trump.
The increasing social division within the United States is leading to severe levels of social instability as witnessed by the recurring mass shootings, police violence against blacks and immigrants and the breakdown between the liberals and the new alt-right. The reaction of the American security state has been to up the ante in its international conflicts, in particular by goading Russia into a confrontation. Increasing militarism is a result of the slowing growth rate in the core capitalist countries as the USA in particular seeks to replace its previous economic dominance with the mailed fist of overt coercion as we see in the Middle East time and again.
And it is no coincidence therefore that the Irish state is step-by-step moving closer to NATO. The daily use of Shannon airport to facilitate American militarism is well known. NATO warships visit our ports and now the government are happy to expel diplomats on the word of the British Foreign Office.
Ireland’s neoliberal turn to unbridled capitalism is therefore part of a larger international pattern of western capitalism. In this the European Union is not an obstacle but an enabler, as the diktats about the bank bailouts and the Fiscal Treaty illustrate. Nevertheless, though we oppose the ultra-capitalist measures of both the Irish state and the EU, we recognise that in today’s world, as socialists since the time of Marx have recognised, the solution lies in international cooperation not in national isolation. Only the international working class, uniting against common enemies, can put a stop to the capitalist march of exploitation, environmental degradation, and war.
In Northern Ireland, the Workers’ Party condemns the failures of unionism and nationalism in their refusal to restore local democracy. While the major parties sham fight, austerity rolls on, public services and working conditions in the public sector remain under attack through austerity and plans for privatisation, and the only vision for the future of the economy we are offered is one of tax-dodging and low-paid jobs of the call centre type. It is in the interests of all workers that democracy is restored, that a strong Bill of Rights is enacted, and that all aspects of the Belfast Agreement are implemented.
As always, our Party will fight for the anti-sectarian, socialist alternative.
The ongoing crisis of capitalism, and the impending environmental catastrophe caused by it, offer bleak prospects to the youth of today. As a generation they are faced with worsening living standards – with precarious work, low wages, unaffordable housing and increasing costs for education.
As a Party we must seek to mobilise and politicise this generation of young people and offer them hope as they begin to question the legitimacy of the capitalist system. We must show to them the necessity of organising for systemic change and the creation of a truly democratic society where the wealth and the means of production are publicly owned and controlled. A society which can offer the right to a secure, well-paid job, access to healthcare and education, access to secure and affordable housing.
Such change can never be achieved without the construction of a class conscious party of the working class: a mass party that seeks to organise the working class to fight for the socialist transformation of society.
As Marxists, we also know that we must – through education, through struggle, and through slow, patient work – convince the working class of the necessity to transform society. Not only that but we must show them that their collective power expressed through the Party is the only weapon which can defeat the capitalist class and its allies and build the Socialist Republic.
The Workers’ Party is that Party – the Party which unites all workers, regardless of religion, race or sex, behind its banner. We aim to be the political voice of the working class in Ireland – to be the party of the masses, for the masses.
But advancing further our Party requires sacrifice and dedication. It is a long and, at times, hard road, that requires us to be amongst the people every day, listening to their concerns and guiding them in their battles and their struggles. In the words of Sean Garland,
“As the vanguard party we must continually act as the vanguard. It is not enough, as Lenin has said, to attach revolutionary sounding names or labels to ourselves. We must be with the people in every area of struggle”.
Great efforts, Comrades, are required of us all if we are to continue to build the Workers’ Party. And just as the men and women who fought in Easter Week did not baulk in the face of enormous adversity, today we as socialists face an equally uncompromising enemy – global capitalism. And in this neo-liberal era it is at its most powerful in its drive to find profit; to commodify and to privatise everything in sight.
In the face of such an enemy, we should also remember the Irish Citizen Army as they were before and after Easter Week in 1916 – as workers, trade unionists, socialists. These were the men and women who built the ITGWU and the Irish Women Workers’ Union, who faced down William Martin Murphy during the lockout and who established the Citizen Army as a workers’ army to defend themselves against state and employer in that great battle to defend their right to collective organisation.
Their working class tradition is our tradition and we should be proud of it, and proudly fly their flag as ours.
Today, we reaffirm the centrality of the age old Republican tradition to the Workers’ Party, from Tone and the United Irishmen, to the Fenians and Davitt, and to Pearse, Connolly and the Citizen Army.
We recognise that socialism is the modern embodiment of the radical republican tradition and that to make good on the ideas of socialism we must build a class conscious and disciplined vanguard party of the working class.
Comrades and friends, today as we remember the men and women who so bravely fought Empire, the Workers’ Party once again commits itself to the achievement of a united, democratic, secular and socialist republic on the island of Ireland – free from all oppression, free from sectarian division, free from class exploitation.
This is the vision that Connolly died for – let us endeavour to bring that vision to fruition at last.