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(en) Ireland, WSM position paper The crisis in capitalism and the anarchist response

Date Wed, 29 Apr 2009 14:11:19 +0300



At our Spring national conference earlier this month the WSM debated and voted on a number
of documents on the capitalist crisis and the resistance to it. This text is the agreed
collective position of the WSM and looks at the causes of the crisis, how it impacts
workers in Ireland, what resistance there has been and what hope there is for the future.
Section 1 - The crisis in capitalism, its causes, effects and 'recovery' ---- 1.1 The
crisis represents the collapse of the neo-liberal project which began in the 1970s.
Neoliberalism aimed to remove as many restrictions on capital as possible, driven on one
hand by the ideological belief that the "free-market" was the most efficient means of
allocating investment, and on the other by the practical reality that those with wealth
consider the fact that they should be allowed to do whatever the hell the want with it to
be the first principle of natural justice.

1.2 The roots of the crisis can be said to lie in the same mechanisms that made possible
the globalisation of capital over the last decades. This perspective is important because
it means that instruments like Credit Default Swaps were not foolish scams but rather part
of the oil keeping the machinery of global finance in motion. Their failure represents not
just a huge loss of profit in the short term but also a fundamental break in the machine
that kept globalisation functioning.

1.3 This crisis does not however mark the end of capitalism but merely brings to an end
the neo-liberal phase of the capitalist project. Capitalism has been forced to re-trench
and re-group but there is no evidence to suggest that it won't be able to do so successfully.

Section 2 - The crisis in the Republic of Ireland and what it means for sector by sector

2.1 For most of the 1990's and early 2000's the Republic of Ireland competed with
Singapore for the title of 'most globalised economy'. What this meant in practice was that
the Republic of Ireland oriented its economy towards offering services to the newly
liberated international flows of capital. These services principally consisted of
tax-arbitrage (i.e. offering lower corporate tax rates than the rest of the EU) and
regulation-arbitrage (i.e. offering a regulation free zone in which capital flows could
disappear into tax-havens and reappear as clean money).

2.2 The combination of a low/no tax economy, a practically regulation-free banking sector
and a spectacular property speculation 'bubble' meant that the crash in the Republic of
Ireland was much more sudden and severe than in most of the world's economies. As the
global flows of capital dried up, the crash meant not just the loss of the sectors of the
economy based on providing services for them but also those areas like construction based
on the speculation made possible by the profits and wages they generated. The reforms
afoot in the global financial architecture mean that these flows are likely to
progressively lessen and even disappear in the coming years as tax-rates are harmonised
and tax-havens are closed down. This makes it certain that the crash will hit the Irish
economy far harder then it will hit many other economies.

2.3 The neoliberal strategy of giving workers tax cuts rather than wage increases during
the 'social partnership' of the boom years relied on revenue from property transactions to
continue to fund public services. The crash has mean not only the loss of the taxes on
wages and profits from that sector but also the loss of those transaction taxes (VAT,
stamp duty) etc creating a huge deficit in public finances. This deficit has in turn been
used to justify the initial wave of attacks on public sector workers and cuts in public
services.

2.4 In the private sector the reliance on a few massive global companies like Dell to
generate significant sections of GDP and employment has meant that as those companies cut
their Irish operations the knock on effect on employment is massive as apart from the
direct employment up to 10 times the workforce were employed in suppliers and logistics
operations serving those companies.

2.5 A huge sector of the workforce had come to be employed in construction including very
large number of migrant workers. The size of the construction bubble is such that a huge
surplus of housing exists, a surplus made worse by the drop in demand both due to three
factors, the migration of many workers out of the country, the loss of jobs and wages that
means housing has become even less affordable despite the drop in prices and the much
greater difficulty in obtaining mortgages.

2.6 In the services sector a significant drop in demand flows out of the above as there
are fewer people to buy stuff, disposable income has dropped for the rest of the
population and easy credit to buy on tick has dried up.

2.7 In short every significant section of the working class is seeing a drop in wages,
conditions and in most cases employment. This in turn means a drop in spending and in tax
revenue leading to further difficulties for each sector.

The situation in Northern Ireland

2.8 The North is also facing similar effects due to the global recession. This is
compounded by the fact that wages and cost of living are lower here than other parts of
the UK. The recession has increased the gradual erosion of the manufacturing sector and
impacted particularly on the construction industry. In the month of April, 2% of the
sector was lost in four days with further job losses announced at Bombardier, Nortel and
FG Wilson.

2.9 Since its inception, the northern state has accounted for around two thirds of
economic output and employment. However, there has been a gradual shift from the state to
the private sector due to ‘security normalisation’, and a Stormont administration which is
wedded to neo-liberal privatisation polices such as Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) and
Private Public Partnerships (PPPs).

Section 3 - Resistance to the crisis to date and what it tells us

3.1 It was of considerable significance that the first attack the Republic of Ireland
government tried to launch in response to the crisis, the removal of the medical card from
many retired people, quickly failed in reaction to the mobilisations against this attack.
This demonstrated that even minor resistance could be successful and that the government
was unprepared for opposition.

3.2 The reaction to this was a delay in rolling out further cuts and very considerable
media preparation for the implementation of these cuts. In particular the campaign against
public sector workers that went on for months before details of the pay cut were revealed.
Likewise the reintroduction of university fees saw a months long media campaign. This
media campaign has resulted in the majority of working class people accepting the notion
that we must all 'share the pain', that we all 'lost the run of ourselves'/'lived beyond
our means' during the boom. The extent of the divide that currently exists between public
and private sector workers as a result of this media campaign should not be
underestimated. It has become common parlance that we have a 'bloated' public sector and
that public sector workers have a 'generous' pension entitlement which 'cannot be afforded'.

3.3 The decision to go ahead with the cuts without ICTU, therefore bringing two decades of
social partnership to a temporary end, represented a hardening of state and employer
preparation and a determination to face down the unions. To a very limited extent the
employers retreated from that position to avoid the March 30 strike but ICTU got nothing
in return except for the resumption of talks in the context where the public sector pay
cut was a reality.

3.3 In the Republic of Ireland, social partnership provided a political cover for
neo-liberal politics for the past 20 years. While the boom lasted it was possible for the
trade union leadership to sell the idea that we were all 'in it together'. However the
crash has made the selling of this notion much more difficult. The majority of the trade
union leadership remain ideologically wedded to the concept of social partnership and take
the view that by being part of 'partnership' they can ameliorate the worst effects of
government policy. When the talks 'broke down' on 2nd February on the issue of the public
sector pension levy, it emerged that it was ICTU leaders Peter McLoone and Dan Murphy who
had proposed the pension levy to government as being 'more sellable' than a pay cut.
ICTU's walkout from the talks allowed the government to announce and impose the levy
supposedly outside of social partnership but within two months talks resumed with the levy
firmly in place. It's clear that there has been a hardening of government and employer
attitude towards the trade unions and that government would quite happily do away with
social partnership at this time but the trade union leadership are desperately hanging on
to the remnants of the 'partnership' idea.

3.4 The first months of the crisis impacting living conditions represented a period when
there was a possibility of a sudden semi-spontaneous upsurge in struggle as a mass
reaction to the speed at which hopes were dashed. The highpoints of that potential were
the response to the withdrawal of the over-70s medical card, the series of large national
demonstrations against education cuts, the occupation of their workplace by Waterford
Crystal workers in reaction to its closure, the ICTU-organised 140,000 strong march on
21st February and the call for a national strike on 30th March. However it was clear that
with their attachment to social partnership ICTU was never interested in properly
organising for 30th March. This, combined with the massive media campaign referred to in
3.2 above, negated the potential for this struggle. ICTU was able to cancel March 30th
without a whimper of protest (see section on state of the unions below). It made sense in
this period for us to put a concentrated and sustained effort in to do the little we could
to push that possibility as far as it goes. This can be compared with a sprint. That
movement did not emerge, ICTU successfully canceled March 30 on the weakest of excuses
with almost no reaction. We now need to shift to a strategy aimed at sustained activity in
the months and years of the crisis to come.

Section 4 - the state of the left, anarchist and republican movement

4.1 In general we can say that no section of the left, including the anarchist movement,
was in any way prepared for the crisis. Reaction to it has generally been too little, too
late and lacking in direction.

4.2 The crisis has also revealed in stark terms that the great bulk of the working class
is ideologically distant from the left. Although many people undoubtedly want a fairer,
more just and more equal society, anti-capitalist alternatives have virtually zero
credibility amongst the population. The exception to this is that a layer of trade union
and NGO activists is emerging who are questioning the status quo and who provide an
audience for anti-capitalist ideas

4.3 Hence, the crisis, rising unemployment, insecurity and falling wages have seen very
little or no growth in support for anti-capitalist groups. Attempts to build broad
left-wing networks of militants to oppose the attacks on workers' living standards have
generally failed to attract anybody beyond the existing, tiny, far left.

4.4 WSM developed an analysis of what was happening to capitalism early in the crisis and
have put considerable work into disseminating it.

4.5 We attempted to use the crisis to build resistance to the cuts, but, given the
prevailing ideological climate, have met with very limited success. Much of this failure
was due to an under-estimation on our part of the degree to which basic socialist ideas
such as the importance of economic class, solidarity and the need for struggle have waned.

4.6 We now need to shift to a multi pronged approach aimed at preparing our membership for
more effective intervention in community and workplace struggles on the one hand and on
the other of creating a convincing model or models of an alternative to capitalism and a
road map of getting to that alternative.

Section 5 - the state of the unions

5.1 The crisis has revealed for all to see how weak the unions have become at the
grassroots level. A majority of WSM union members found themselves in situations where
their local branches could not be called functional in any real sense. Our current
position paper assumes a functioning union structure at the local level and is entirely
based around this which meant that those members had little or no guidance about what they
should be doing that could actually be implemented in the time frame.

5.2 The attempt to build a network of militants across public sector unions failed after a
lack luster but not insignificant start at the meeting of public sector workers in the
Davenport hotel. The cause of that failure is a mixture of only token involvement by the
left and the undemocratic & bureaucratic informal organisation it started from and the
high levels of dis-engagement with unions that exists even within unionised workplaces.

5.3 In terms of workplace organising we can identify three situations
a) Unionised workplaces where there is a reasonable level of rank & file activity. That is
where people have contact with their union rep and there are general meetings to discuss
issues of importance where workers can enter into debate with their fellow workers as a group.
b) Unionised workplaces where for whatever reason there is little or no rank and file
activity as yet. In these cases the methods of involvement we advocate members carry out
in the position paper may not be at all easy to implement in reality as they often presume
such activity.
c) Unorganised workplaces where unions do not exist. Again there is a major hole in our
existing position paper on the unions here probably because we have the expectation that
recruitment is the work of the unions rather than revolutionaries. However the experience
of unorganised members and contacts is that attempts to join unions frequently result in
unanswered calls or letters and that even in unionised workplaces it is not that unusual
for attempting to join taking long periods and requiring follow up calls.

5.4 In the last months members who found themselves in situation a) were in a position to
implement policy in a way that influenced events and are relatively buoyed up from this
experience. However members in situation b) and c) were in a very different situation and
in some cases have been demoralised by the experience. Steps are being made to address
this through a workplace dayschool but it seems obvious that at all levels, including
policy making, we need to put much more focus on addressing these situations and
developing a working strategy for members to implement.

5.5 This is a general description of where the Irish working class finds itself in
relation to workplace organisation. We can hope that much of this will be resolved
spontaneously as the crisis forces people to organise. It is clear that huge work is
needed at grassroots level in terms of equipping people with the skills to go about
'workplace organising', part of our immediate role must be to move on from semi-rhetorical
calls to 'organise your workplace' and push the concrete questions of how to organise up
the agenda.

5.6 We should be prepared to investigate and explore all options in terms of workplace
organising - working in existing unions where possible but looking to build alternative
structures if and where necessary.

5.7 As part of this process we should be escalating our goals of building networks of
libertarian workers by industry. The great increase in workplace activity means the
possibility of doing this has been both increased and become something more achievable in
the short to medium term. This does not mean it will be an easy process but it is one we
can escalate.

Section 6 - community organisation & building resistance

6.1 In the community sector an early indication of the crisis was the collapse of the
public private partnership redevelopment of run down public housing in Dublin. When the
property crash removed the ability to make super profits through the part privatisation of
the land this 'regeneration' was to happen on, the developer simply walked away. The
attempts by the community sector to resist this were too small and too isolated to have
any impact and soon fizzled out.

6.2 Many workers in the community sector are facing huge increases in workload due to
rising poverty being created by job losses. At the same time their wages are being frozen
or cut as a result of the pensions levy. Winning support for the March 30th strike proved
particularly difficult in this sector due in part to the feeling of social responsibility
felt by many workers and the fact that they are divided into very small work units where
frequently the manager is in the same union (if not the union rep) as the rest of the workers.

6.3 With a massive number of people on the dole for the first time the issue of organising
the unemployed needs to be seriously considered. The Irish National Organisation of the
Unemployed was established in the 1980s as part of the process of 'incorporation' of
resistance to the mass unemployment of the time. Like ICTU, it is ideologically wedded to
'social partnership'. It sees its role as being to influence government through lobbying
and to deliver services to the unemployed. No meaningful or independent organisations of
the unemployed will emerge from this source. New structures and organisations will need to
be built as part of the process of organising the unemployed.

6.4 It is certain that cuts of community services including transportation will continue
and there may be an attempt to raise additional revenue through additional service charges
(a water tax seems likely) or property tax. In addition higher unemployment means more
people who will be spending time where they live rather than where they work and for whom
locally based services become very much more important. There may be a considerable
increase in neighborhood organising opportunities of which the unemployed may be an
important component.

6.5 Where we have a concentration of unemployed members we should target local dole
offices for regular distribution of Workers Solidarity & other political activity. It may
also make sense to look at holding other types of local activity including meetings & film
showings in conjunction with this to start the construction of anti-authoritarian
neighborhood groups that may over time be in a position to found neighborhood centers.
After conference each branch/region will meet to identify if and where such an initiative
may make sense.

Section 7 - the 'movement' & the 'organisation' - what do we try to build and where

7.1 Our attempts to use March 30 to build momentum within the wider anti-authoritarian
movement failed to get an echo. The same can be said of our attempt to do the same at the
Cork Grassroots Gathering back in the autumn and virtually all of our attempts to involve
the movement in struggles that relate to practical and economic matters. All the
anti-authoritarian material produced in relation to the crisis has been produced by the
WSM and almost all the people circulating this material have been WSM members.

7.2 This is due to the fact that much of the movement was predicated on the strength of
the capitalist economic system. It saw itself as a movement in resistance to the
capitalist juggernaut. Much of its activity was focused on attempting to curb the system's
worst excesses or of finding alternative spaces outside of, yet dependant upon, the
system's strength. The movement is united in terms of opposing the current system and
organising along anti-authoritarian lines. But it doesn't have an agreed vision of an
alternative to the capitalist system.

7.3 The easy path, and perhaps the most effective, would be to abandon any real attempt to
influence the anti-authoritarian movement and rely on our own resources and the few
individuals who will help us in this work. This would have the advantage of freeing up
time and resources for a more broad left approach. However we know from Mayday 2004 and
the Shannon protests that a successful mobilization of the movement can have a much
greater impact that that of our efforts alone.

7.4 Our challenge is to come up with a concrete economic alternative that appears
plausible to people. As the crisis deepens and persists, objective circumstances will push
more and more people to consider alternatives that lie outside of a capitalist framework.
Our principle task in the coming months will be to develop and deepen our analysis of the
crisis and to formulate alternative ways in which people can respond to it that appear
plausible to ordinary people while setting them on an anti-capitalist trajectory.

7.5 We should produce analysis of the crisis which can talk to ordinary people and reflect
the ways in which the crisis is impacting on their lives. This can best be done through
'Workers Solidarity' and through producing leaflets on specific aspects of the crisis e.g.
education cuts/bus strike etc. We should also step up our use of mainstream media both
through issuing of press statements and writing of 'letters to the editor'. We should
publish our material as broadly as possible on the internet, as this will maintain our
visibility and allow us to take advantage of any turns towards radicalisation amongst the
masses.

7.6 In tandem with this we should where possible get involved in agitational/fighting back
initiatives. Our capacity for kicking off such initiatives ourselves is limited but where
particular groups of workers or members of particular communities do take action, we
should provide whatever support we can and should attempt to influence/encourage such
initiatives towards anti-authoritarian/anarchist politics.

7.7 We should also realise however that we have a very limited capacity for influencing
the mass of the working class. We should therefore focus more heavily on
a) Developing a more detailed plan as to how we could get from this society to the society
that we propose. In particular, we need to provide a realistic and plausible answer to
"what do we do once we've occupied the factory".
b) Disseminating these ideas to as wide an audience as possible, with particular focus on
persuading people in a position to be ideologically influential if and when the crisis
reaches such a stage where mass resistance breaks out.
c) Attempting to position ourselves in our communities, workplaces and unions in such a
way so as that when and if mass resistance breaks out, we and our ideas are already known
and respected

7.8 One major weakness we face is our very limited ability to rapidly communicate with
large number of people, in particular when it comes to making detailed arguments. In that
context it would make sense for us to re-engage with indymedia.ie as an existing outlet
that has a readership of 100,000 per week with a max of 10k reading a particular article
in a month in comparison with a readership of 3,000 per week with a max of 600 reading a
particular article in a month for the WSM site. It is essential that a high traffic single
activists news site exists over the next two or three years. Until we can be sure of
successful creation of an alternative we need to ensure the survival of indymedia.

7.9 We will continue to build the WSM website and communication resources. Branches are
encouraged to put 'article writing' on their weekly agenda and ensure that at least one
member writes a 'personal opinion' piece each week. This should first be published to
indymedia.ie. The editorial group will ensure articles are republished on the WSM site and
that a weekly listing of new articles is sent to the WSM announcement list and social
networking resources. Branches are strongly encouraged to collect email addressees at any
event they are organising or at stalls etc and ensure they addresses are added to
Ainriail, the WSM announcement list.

7.10 Workers Solidarity and Ideas & Action both have an essential role to play in this
work. At the moment the WS editorial group can choose to produce up to 20,000 of any issue
and must produce 6 a year. This limit will be upped to 30,000 and the committee is
encouraged to consider this volume in the event of major demonstrations, strikes or other
struggles emerging. At times of crisis the committee is also encouraged to move to a
monthly production and then pull back to bi-monthly in quieter periods.

7.11 Unbranded stickers will be produced and distributed in large quantities that will be
generally identifiable, as anarchist and which will highlight key slogans along the lines
of the 'They didn't share the wealth, why should we share the pain'. 800 euro will be
allocated to the purchase of a color lazer printer to enable rapid and constant production
of such 'silent agitators' on demand for branches.

Section 8 - the possibility of turning resistance into revolution

8.1 The depth of the crisis remains uncertain but nevertheless the attacks that the bosses
need to launch on the working class to get capitalism in Ireland back on the road to
recovery are massive. Already many workers have not only faced pay cuts and job losses but
have seen their net worth wiped out as house prices crashed, plunging many into negative
equity. There is a possibility that the depth of the cuts themselves will force workers to
take radical action as the most logical solution to the problems the crisis creates for
them. We have already seen that in the Waterford Glass and Visteon workplace occupations.

8.2 Important in the process will be the production of convincing model(s) of an
alternative society and how we might reach it. A number of members are already working on
this, at the end of conference we will form a working group from a few such members to
produce a collective draft that can be brought to a special conference of the WSM for
agreement by September. As well as agreeing that draft this special conference will draw
up plans to produce and distribute it through publications, meetings etc.

8.3 The question of putting revolution on the agenda can then be considered to have two
components. Both are essential. The first is the spread of militant direct action as a way
of tackling and even solving immediate problems. The second is the spreading of the idea
that there is a viable alternative to capitalism that can be achieved and that this
achievement is of such a value as to be worth the inevitable risks involved. Either or
both of these things could happen quite quickly, over months, or they may not happen at
all. Our task is to identify the points at which our input into either and both processes
can be most effective.

8.4 This question cannot be divorced from the question of organisational growth. The
heightened activity of the Feb-March 2009 period saw us very quickly run up against the
limitations of our current size. This is not a question that can be answered through
either qualitative improvement / training or through greater effort of individual members
although both are of course relevant. If the crisis generates a revolutionary situation we
need to enter that period with a membership in the low thousands as an absolute minimum or
as part of an organised anti-authoritarian alliance of organisations of a similar level of
organisation and resources as our own with somewhat greater numbers.
Passed at April 2009 WSM National Conference

Related Link: http://www.wsm.ie
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