Trade Union leader delivers Wolfe Tone commemoration address
Described by seasoned observers as a significant development, John Douglas, general secretary of Irish retail trade union Mandate, delivered the keynote speech at a commemoration for Wolfe Tone on in Bodenstown, Co Kildare. Widely regarded as the first theoretician of republicanism in Ireland, Wolfe Tone (1763–1798) is somewhat unique in that almost all republicans and socialists in Ireland honour him.
The event was organised by the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, under the slogan; unity of our people, unity of progressive forces, unity of our country. Consequently and for the first time in many years, communists, republicans and trade unionists came together to celebrate the life of the Irish patriot and democrat.
Mandate general secretary Douglas began by saying that Tone and his comrades defined freedom in terms of citizenship. This meant that the state had responsibilities to its citizens and where all citizens had responsibilities to each other. He expanded on this saying that the unification of Ireland is not a geographical project. Instead, it is the unification of the working class against the tyranny of colonialism, British imperialism and capitalism.
He continued by reminding those present that the vision of Wolfe Tone and the socialist revolutionary James Connolly has not been fulfilled. Ireland he said is subjugated by neo-liberalism and the country’s domestic sovereignty has been sacrificed to the needs of global capitalism. The recent experience in the Republic of Ireland of EU imposed austerity and the plunder of national wealth and the stripping bare of social provision should be a lesson to all and therefore a rallying cry to unite and mobilise.
Referring to the outworking of Brexit negotiations on Ireland, Douglas pointed out that argument about a hard or soft border is of little consequence to the oppressed and marginalised. The debate, as currently constructed, will be decided within the capitalist and neoliberal framework and that in the absence of a socialist narrative, the void will be filled by rhetoric and division. Warning against allowing the Brexit debate to become embroiled in sectarianism, he pointed to the dire situation in the United States. By pandering to the far-right, the Trump administration has given oxygen and confidence to the forces of fascism.
Mandate’s general secretary then emphasised that a new and better Ireland is possible. An Ireland of equals, of opportunities for all, of fraternity, an Ireland in which is constructed a united socialist republic compatible with the ideals of Wolfe Tone and James Connolly
However, to do so, the Left and other progressive forces in Ireland need to unite around a clear socialist republican vision. Highlighting the example of the recent successful Corbyn campaign in Britain, he said that the Left in Ireland should set out clearly what it is in favour of and not just what it is against. With such clarity, a movement can be built from the ground up that will grow in strength and confidence because there is a real thirst for change as capitalism sinks again into crisis.
John Douglas concluded by quoting a line from Wolfe Tone, who once wrote; ‘We will free ourselves by the aid of that large and respectable class of the community – the men of no property’
Just how important the Mandate general secretary’s participation is viewed by those in attendance can be gauged through comments made by one of the event organisers. ‘In the face of an ongoing assault on working class rights here in Ireland and elsewhere,’ he said, ‘it is encouraging to see a senior trade unionist address the vital work of building a broad progressive movement’. ‘For too long’, he added, ‘ Ireland’s trade union leadership had paid lip service to Connolly and Larkin but shied away from confronting the political establishment.
Thanks now to trade unionists such as John Douglas, this appears to be changing as over the last few years, radical sections of organised labour have played a prominent role in the struggle against austerity’.
Forum carrying out training
The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum has organised training sessions employing methodology of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philosopher
The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum – A forum for socialist republicans to discuss our ideology, to engage with, listen to and learn from our people and to forge the tools which are necessary to analyse our society, understand what oppresses us and construct a vision of the Ireland which we aim to build together.