James Connolly Commemoration, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

Address by Eugene McCartan, general secretary, CPI
13 May 2018

     I would like to thank Colm, Dessie and Séamus of Unite No. 102 Branch for the invitation to address this 2018 James Connolly Commemoration here in Kilmainham. I would also like to express my solidarity with the Dublin Council of Trade Unions for this opportunity to address the delegates from the Council who made the effort to attend, and to the trade union and community activists here today.
     We gather here this afternoon on the 102nd anniversary of James Connolly’s execution by the forces of British imperialism. British imperialism thought by his execution that it would silence his idea, that his influence would go with him to his grave.
     That was also the hope of the Irish ruling class when the Irish Independent called for his execution. Their class hatred for Connolly and for our class and our labour movement has never waned down the decades.
     Despite them, we gather here to honour him. He remains to us gathered here today and to many more working people across our country, from Belfast to Cork, from Dublin to Galway, an inspiration, a figure of courage, an intellectual fount of knowledge for struggles that our class faces today.
     His writings still give us insights not just into the past but into how to understand our world today, and the lessons we need to learn for today.
     In the ensuing decades James Connolly has fallen in and out of favour within the labour and republican movements, depending on the prevailing domestic and international political climate and the strength of reaction within the country. Connolly’s role in the history of our people’s struggle for social and national emancipation has been consistently played down, has been hidden by the establishment and their tame academics. They damn him with false praise.
     But within the working class his role in laying the foundations of the Irish trade union movement and his central role in the events of 1916 are well understood, despite the official attempts to play down that role and to obscure his politics.
     Our people are still proud of their history, they are proud of 1916, they continue to honour the women and men of 1916 despite decades of relentless criticism and the undermining of the goals and aspirations of those who give there lives in 1916.
     Some have asked the question, What would Connolly do today? It might be better to ask the question, Would Connolly or Pearse, the two great intellects of the national revolutionary forces, recognise what the Irish establishment have constructed in the two failed states resulting from British-imposed partition?
     Does this state in particular bear any resemblance to what the 1916 Proclamation or the Democratic Programme of 1919 aspired to? Unionism never declared any democratic aspirations.
     Of course no part of our country is the same as it was in 1916. Certainly, working people have made progress over the decades, decades of hard struggle, bitter battles, and much sacrifice. As in Connolly’s day, nothing has been given or won by our class without intense struggle.
     He most certainly would have understood the forces at play in our country that unleashed the “carnival of reaction” upon our people. He would have recognised the conservative social class that emerged from the victory of the pro-imperialist counter-revolutionary forces in 1922, forces that set about the weakening and then pushing back of the workers’ and women’s movements, which were so central to the struggles for national independence.
     They deliberately set aside the great social, political and democratic objectives contained within the 1916 Proclamation and the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil because it was not in their class interests to implement them. More importantly, it was not in the interests of their imperial allies to see such radical democratic change. They have deliberately driven millions from our country through mass emigration over the decades.
     Those same social forces have waged a relentless war against the poor, against working people; they drove women back from the position won by the actions of thousands of courageous women who took part in 1913–1916 and the War of Independence struggles. They have marginalised and demonised those who stood up against them. The industrial schools, Magdalene laundries etc. were all part of the infrastructure of that war.
     Connolly certainly would have recognised the Orange state constructed by Unionism, with its use of institutionalised sectarianism, discrimination and the use of official and unofficial violence to subdue and divide the people, as he knew from direct experience in Belfast during the 1907 strike. The Orange state may be gone, but the northern statelet or colony is now polarising into a bizonal sectarian entity.
     He would certainly recognise the why and who of the growing number of evictions taking place across the country and in particular in this city. The most recent took place last Thursday in Mountjoy Square. He would recognise the role and the greed of the slum landlords, both domestic and foreign.
     He resisted the stranglehold that the moneylender had on the poor and on workers in his day. Today we call them banks and financial institutions, which our people have to turn to in order to get a roof over their heads—a lifelong choke chain. Or the borrowings to make up the gap between their workers’ wage and what they need to feed and clothe themselves and their families, taking on a lifetime of debt—a case of too many weeks and not enough wages in the month.
     The housing crisis is not an accident or the result of a policy failure but rather it is the working out of the current and past governments’ (regardless of who made up the numbers) strategy to privatise the provision of shelter, a means to provide vast profits for banks, financial institutions, builders, and speculators. Their strategy is working for their class and not ours. The recent housing march in Dublin is to be welcomed; but one demonstration will not push this government and the forces it represents back.
     We need to build a new coalition similar to the Right2Water campaign—a coalition of those experiencing rip-off rents, those sleeping on their friends’ or parents’ couches or forced back home, the thousands living in temporary accommodation. It is clear that the only solution is a universal public housing system for everyone. That is the only was we can break the landlords, break the power of banks over workers’ lives, remove the stranglehold of debt from workers’ lives. Social housing is based upon income, thereby ghettoising the poor and low-paid workers. The demand for a cost-rental model is a retreat and in compliance with the EU fiscal control their economic straitjacket.
     Connolly would certainly recognise the plight of the hundreds of thousand of low-paid workers, workers on temporary contracts, workers on zero-hour contracts, or “I’ll call you when I need you,” contracts.
     Here we need to ask, What did Connolly do when faced with similar conditions imposed upon the Irish working class? Would he have said, “Sure it’s the best we can do”? How many times have you heard those words uttered? In all my reading of Connolly he never uttered or took that type of defeatist approach. He would have set about organising, organising, organising. That was the constant theme and refrain in his speeches and in his writings. The working class needs to be organised.
     Connolly would certainly recognise after nearly a century of so-called independence that workers, then and now, have not got the right to be represented by their trade union. The bosses are not compelled to engage or do much while workers are emasculated in a complex web of legal controls and fetters, mechanisms of control.
     These legal mechanisms, like the 1990 Industrial Relations Act and the anti-trade union laws in the Six Counties, are about preventing or weakening the capacity of workers to defend themselves or advance their interests. They are for crippling and controlling our class while strengthening the power of capital, both domestic and foreign, leaving our movement powerless, and are a significant factor in discouraging workers in the private sector from joining a trade union.
     Here I would like to express our solidarity with workers across the country engaged in struggle to defend themselves, our solidarity with workers and their representative in Dunne’s Stores, Tesco, Lloyd’s Pharmacy, Irish Life, Coca-Cola, and many others.
     Today workers across large sections of the economy, north and south, are prevented and coerced into not joining a trade union. Where workers have been able to combine, their shop stewards are targeted for disciplinary action or for sacking.
     Today, 105 years after the great class battle of 1913, trade unions are still being barred from entering employers’ premises to represent their members. Decades of “social partnership,” the cold embrace of class collaboration, have gravely weakened our movement. The great bulk of workers in the private sector are unorganised, thereby weakening our movement and depleting our strength. It has blunted our understanding of what side we are on, or that there are different sides.
     Today our movement must put the “P” back into economics—that we need to understand that we are about political economy. Some appear to have lost sight of the fact that there are two sides, one the bosses and the other workers, that there are two separate and distinct interests at work within society. That was the message constantly made by Connolly.
     James Connolly in his writing clearly laid out the inextricable link and unbreakable relationship between the social and the national struggles. When Connolly wrote that “the cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour” it was true then and even more so today. We need to keep those words and the politics within them if we are to understand “Brexit” and the class forces and interests at play.
     It would appear that much of the republican and labour movement have forgotten the politics of that slogan, that the needs and interests of the Irish ruling class, or of British imperialism or the European Union imperialist bloc, are not the same as our class interests, nor of the British or German or French working class.
     The political representative of German monopoly capital, i.e. the German government, wants to launch a massive assault on the welfare state. As Angela Merkel has put it, Europe has 7 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of its GDP, and 50 per cent of its social spending; and “it cannot continue to be so generous.” A former German government minister and now president of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, stated that “the ‘overgenerous’ European social model is no longer sustainable and has to be ditched” in order to make Europe “competitive.”
     Workers know what being “more competitive” means. The European Union is not only a prison house of nations but has increasingly become the slaughterhouse of all the gains made by the working class in the postwar period.
     We have only a few short weeks to mobilise and organise to get working people out to vote Repeal. Women’s rights cannot and must not be reduced to their biological role, treated as just an incubator. For far to long this state has supported the Ryanair solution: exporting what the establishment and the anti-choice forces call the “problem” of women seeking medical solutions to challenges and difficulties that they face.
     Connolly was courageous in his defence of women and women’s rights. We need to follow his example today. Connolly recognised, as did the women he struggled alongside, what where the fetters controlling them. This generation must recognise that the 8th Amendment is a fetter controlling our sisters.
     Capitalism is incapable of providing security to working people. It is incapable of providing a decent society. It is incapable of producing a humane and inclusive culture. It is driven by the pursuit of profit—nothing more and nothing less. It is capitalism that is driving us into a global environmental abyss.
     We are starting once again into another, possibly greater economic crisis than the last one of 2008. Imperialism can only offer us permanent wars; and this state is complicit in those wars, in the deaths of millions of workers and poor people by allowing Shannon to be used by the US war machine and our deepening involvement in European Union military expansion.
     Yes, James Connolly is still relevant one hundred and two years later, because what he wrote about, what he struggled against and struggled for remain with us. Imperialism still controls part of our country and ensures partition. This state has little independence, beholden as it is to the EU and US imperialist interests.
     Our labour movement needs to shed the politics that control and shackle it to the current economic and political orthodoxy. We need a more radical labour movement, a movement to build struggle and resistance for the battles ahead. We need to be more radical or become redundant to workers. We need to be preparing now and deepening our understanding of what our class faces tomorrow. An understanding of James Connolly is a essential part of that understanding.

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