Working class protesters mobilise against far right election candidate

Monday evening, 27 January, saw a vibrant, local protest take place in Balbriggan, north county Dublin, against far-right general election candidate for the area, Gemma O’Doherty, and the public meeting she was hosting.

O’Doherty’s decision to run in one of the most diverse and multicultural towns in the country was clearly designed to provide a platform for her racist rhetoric, in order to stoke divisions in the local area. The protest was attended by up to 100 people, mostly locals, with an overwhelmingly working-class composition.

In advance of the meeting, O’Doherty had done herself no favours as she posted videos commenting on the number of shops run by people presumed by her to be non-Irish and highlighting non-Irish names in a children’s art display.

The speakers at O’Doherty’s public event were to include John Waters, a homophobic former journalist who campaigned against marriage equality in 2015, and the Repeal of the 8th amendment to allow for abortion legislation in 2018. They were to be joined by Justin Barrett, leader of the National Party, well-known for the poisonous role he played in the past through the anti-abortion lobby, Youth Defence. Barrett has been a guest speaker at numerous fascist and neo-Nazi events in Italy and Germany and promotes extreme hard-right ideology.

In an attempt to frustrate attempts to organise protests, the venue for the O’Doherty event – a disused gym in a back lane – was only disclosed hours before the event. Protesters who had gathered were greeted by closed gates, protected by masked thugs who policed the ‘public’ meeting. A handful of far-right supporters attempted to enter the meeting but the security detail was put in a predicament with the arrival of well-known far-right activist, Grand Torino. He was prevented from entering the meeting for a long period because the gates could not be opened without the protesters swarming in, so Grand Torino had to stand and listen to chants of “racists out” until he eventually gained entry.

The protesters allowed the traffic of people coming home from work to pass, but when Justin Barrett tried to drive into the meeting the response was a spontaneous rush to blockade his car. Barrett attempted to drive forward over protesters but their numbers stopped him. The Gardai (police) eventually arrived on the scene, by which time the streets echoed to of “Nazis scum off our street”, “Racists out” and “Balbriggan united will never be defeated”. The protesters agreed that they would move away if Barrett left Balbriggan. He drove off to singing, cheers and jeers.

The mood at the protest was extremely determined and there was a broad mix of people there. There was plenty of singing, from the Italian anti-fascist song, Bella Ciao, to songs about the Irish revolutionary socialist, James Connolly, accompanied by a protestor playing the mouth organ. At one stage, almost the entire protest was chanting the anti-fascist Spanish civil war slogan, “no pasaran”.

Jobs and housing

Committee for a Workers International (CWI) Ireland members raised issues that are affecting working class people, like jobs and housing, which are being used by the far right to sow division within the working class. We need to tackle these issues head-on.

Capitalism relies upon job insecurity, the existence of a reserve army of labour and shortage over basic necessities, such as housing, to weaken working-class resistance. The housing crisis and growth of workplace precarity, coupled with twelve years of austerity, bank bailouts and the collapsing health service, combined to create a bleak reality for working-class people and especially for young people.

The constant narrative of the far-right seeks to tap into this insecurity by scapegoating migrants and refugees as the cause of the crisis, rather than the inherently crisis-ridden and exploitative nature of capitalism. This is an agenda that they share with the bosses, the establishment politicians and the right wing press. These forces seek to turn workers’ indignation and anger at those even more vulnerable and exploited instead of upwards at a system whose only answer to the economic crisis is to further ratchet up the exploitation of workers.

The role of the working-class in securing socialist change

The best way to ensure homes, jobs and facilities, for everyone, is for the working class, of all nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities and genders, to unite and build a powerful movement for change. The ability of the working-class to take on the establishment and to challenge capitalism is very significantly weakened through divisions whether they be racial, gender-based or on the issue of sexual orientation.

CWI Ireland activists set out the demand that the trade union movement, which represents over 600,000 workers in Ireland, take leadership in this campaign against the far-right. The organised working-class has the power to mobilise thousands, not just to secure jobs and housing but to go further and fight for a socialist transformation of society. Only such an approach will cut across the long-term growth of the far-right.

Engaging with others

Young socialists in CWI Ireland have been engaging with young activists drawn to this fight about our ideas. Discussions on how best to organise against the far right in Balbriggan must necessarily be about how to build a broader movement that can unite our class and fight for socialism which will deliver a decent life for us all.

Gemma O’Doherty made a return visit to Balbriggan on Thursday, 30 January, at the same venue. The meeting was billed as a talk on why climate change is a hoax, another belief held by O’Doherty and the wider far-right. They are clearly attempting to gain a hearing from working-class people who fear that climate change will be another pretext to introduce regressive taxes and charges, while the capitalist class, who produce the overwhelming bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, remain untouched.

CWI Ireland activists protested again on 30 January against O’Doherty. We challenge her reactionary agenda with a message that recognises the reality of the environmental crisis but which also speaks to workers’ needs. Any genuine sustainable environmental vision must begin and end with socialist policies – the only way to make the drastic changes necessary for the global economy. These include the nationalisation of the big polluting industries who profit from the existing carbon economy; the introduction of a planned approach to growth and a transition to a post-carbon economy (including no loss of jobs in the fossil fuels and other environmentally-damaging industries but converting them to socially useful employment); as well as a major programme of public works, offering the promise a boom in quality green jobs and improved housing. This entails the democratic public ownership, management and control of the major planks of the economy, both in Ireland and internationally – a socialist society.

Because of our unflinching focus on building a genuine base among the working-class, CWI Ireland activists stand in the vanguard of the fight to halt the far-right – and increasing numbers are attracted by our clear line and resolute stance.

Whatever comes, the mood in Balbriggan is clear! Far-right racists are not welcome here! No pasaran!

(January 31st 2020)

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