Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cork: thousands on the streets

Cork:Thousands on the Streets
Tens of thousands march against exploitationWorkers march to secure their rightsAt 12 O'Clock myself and Traolach stood on the bridge chatting as Cork city passed us by. By 1.30 we were swamped by thousands of our fellow corkonians. By 2.00 you could not hope to count the crowd.
The President of the IWU said to me there were more than at the tax marches in 1979. Workers spilled onto the streets. What traffic there was ground to a halt. In our thousands we fell in behind the banners of our unions. TEEU, SIPTU, IMPACT, IWU, CWU. etc a few Starry Ploughs, Anarchist flags, Socialist party banner, Labour, Shinners.... The speakers on Connolly Hall played Luke Kelly. People shook hands met old friends made new ones. Men and women who had know hard struggle to beat poverty and oppression mingled with the children of the Celtic Tiger. There was grim determination on faces all around.
Before the march as we stood around before the crowds properly gathered, I spoke with many passersby people I had known from campaigns and issues down the years bus workers, factory workers old stalwarts and cynical young guys all worried about the turnout. It was dispelled by the flow of people like a river.
The march formed up outside Connolly Hall and on the South Mall, we joked about Mayday marches of 50 people. It took over half an hour for the first section to move off as those of us on the South Mall watched. A SIPTU steward next to me talked to one at the head of the march it stretched all the way along Merchants Quay down Pana to Daunt Square and we hadn't budged. At last we set off no chanting, no music, just banter and a feeling of confidence. Patrick Street was quieter than a wet Monday in January. The first time in a long time there were more marchers on the road than pedestrians.
We finally reached Connolly Hall. People spilled over the bridge occupied every vantage point and we listened to speeches. Trade union officials emboldened by the turnout talked tough about a battle to save our employment standards, to protect wages, to unionise immigrants , to oppose racism. The said what people had come to hear the unions live we are not brow beaten, we are strong, we are united and we will fight. Joe O Flynn SIPTU attacked IBEC, the Bank of Ireland, the government and he tore into Irish Ferries. We finished with Amhran na Fhian piped on the platform and we dispersed talking, arguing, debating a liittle spark lighted.
Now the real struggle begins between those willing to trust the trade union leadership with this and those who want to struggle to bring the unions back under the control of the members to set an agenda for not just defensive gestures but a counter offensive against the exploiters. Many workers disappointed in the past by union bureaucrats stung by the failure of their unions were there to argue for fighting unions for democracy for hope. In many hearts partnership was dead, but to make this a reality a fight for the soul of the unions will have to be fought.

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