Spectacle of Defiance and Hope, Dublin, Dec 3

The week following a “subdued protest” (Irish Times) by several thousand Dublin trade unionists and leftists against the Fine Gael-Labour coalition’s austerity measures, members of community organisations held a protest called the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope on December 3.  The Spectacle assembled by City Hall before very slowly moving up Dame Street, College Green, Westmoreland St and up O’Connell Street to the GPO for a rally.  Although smaller than the November 26 march, with maybe 1000-1500 participants, it seemed to me much more noisy, colourful and militant.

I’d normally be put off by just a title like “Spectacle of Defiance and Hope” and the idea of dress-up, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been because this was no middle class spectacle but  reflective of the poorer end of the working class in Dublin.  These were people for whom belt-tightening is more a life-and-death matter.  They simply can’t be marched up the hill and down again and sent home, as a lot of Irish trade union members seem to accept having done to them by the top union bureaucrats.  Moreover, by the looks of it, a lot of the participants had been involved in organising the event.  This was very much the marchers’ event, not an action called from on-high.

The Spectacle, as it moved along the streets, was driven by an incessant beat accompanied by the sung words “Arise! Arise! Arise!”, recalling Larkin’s admonition “The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise.” (Although I think he got it from a progressive French philosopher of the late 1700s, Condorcet).  In any case, the Spectacle portrayed an upper-class twenty-six county society as decadent as that overthrown in France in 1789, complete with a float of a pair of Marie Antoinettes telling the starving masses to eat cake.

At the GPO an updated version of the Easter Proclamation was read out.  In itself, this was an interesting indication of the republicanism that is deeply-rooted in the Dublin working class, not that the gas-and-water socialist left have ever been able to grasp the significance of that fact.  At the rally, individuals from various working class communities were invited onstage to read from their books of grievances and hopes.  Several young Dublin rappers provided lively entertainment.

What was missing, however, was speakers who could actually talk about *why* the attacks on workers and working class communities were taking place and how these attacks might be effectively resisted.  For instance, there’s nothing wrong with people reading to a rally like like this about what their hopes are – but their hopes are the same as everyone else’s there, so it doesn’t actually advance anyone’s knowledge or consciousness.  There’s a limited point in telling people what they already know and calling on the rich to pay their “fair share” (whatever that means) of tax.

While I tended to think the crowd on December 3 involved social forces that are more likely to storm the citadels of power than the march on November 3, both protests seemed oddly lacking in political focus.  I also wondered whether the two protests might have been better being brought together.  Employed workers fighting one fight and the most deprived (and often unemployed) section of workers fighting another fight is not a recipe for success.

Posted on December 18, 2011, in Economy and workers' resistance, Irish politics today, twenty-six counties. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Spectacle of Defiance and Hope, Dublin, Dec 3.

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