A Dilemma On Dame Street


Journalist Miriam Cotton visited the Occupy Dame Street settlement outside the Central Bank to see how group decisions at the camp are reached. When it came to a proposed affiliation with a trade union the answer was painstakingly.

Last week’s Occupy Dame Street (ODS) General Assembly was significant for the movement now six weeks old.  From the outset a core principle of ODS has been that it would not associate with any particular party or march under political or organisational banners.

Intending supporters of the movement are asked to leave their afiliations at the door and join in a spirit of solidarity to the core objectives which are, among other things, an end to austerity and a recalibrating of the economic system to ensure equity and justice for all: a straightforward, uncomplicated representation of the perspective of the ‘99%’ suffering at the hands of the wealthiest 1%.

If only life was like that.

In recent weeks a dilemma presented itself for ODS in the shape of an invitiation from the Dublin Council of Trade Unions to join the forthcoming DCTU march against austerity.  Now, it is fair to say that because of their elective impotence in the face of the crisis the astonishingly well-paid trade union leadership is justifiably among the most reviled of the perceived culprits for the savage iniquity being heaped on entirely innocent people.  Accordingly ODS supporters at the camp and many other people besides are increasingly reluctant to be seen to do or say anything that would endorse the union leaderships’ continuing tenure at the head of a movement which they have irreversibly neutered over the last two decades.

This sense of disgust at how the trade unions helped to divert public anger at Fianna Fail’s incompetent policies (now religiously followed by the new Labour/FG ‘change’ coalition) – was abundantly clear at the assembly.  “James Connolly would be revolving in his grave at what the unions have not done,” said one speaker.  Another said that organising marches for the sole purpose of taking the steam out of public anger was neither forgiven nor forgotten and that he did not want to go on a march, be patted on the head by union leaders and sent home with the message ‘job done’ as before.

Kieran Allen (SWP and SIPTU) argued that he was as concerned by the trade union leadership as anyone but that ordinary rank and file union membership – 500,000-strong – who are also the victims of the crisis, should be the priority and that joining the DCTU march was therefore the right thing to do.  And indeed there was a lot of sympathy for that perspective from ODS supporters.   Speaker ‘Lee’ said that ‘civil Obedience is the problem in this country’.  He suggested ODS join the march and make it a family affair to avoid the tendency to seeming aggression on traditional marches.  ‘Let’s take a leap of faith’ he said ‘we have to reach out – we’ll still have our principles and come back to Dame Street with our own minds intact’. Lee also suggested that some within the ODs movement were being ‘insular’.  ‘We don’t own the idea of assemblies’ said ‘Vanessa’. ‘Occupy your trade union’ yelled somebody from within the crowd to general approval.

So, to march or not to march?  The process of consensus-based decision making was applied painstakingly to four distinct proposals:

1. ODS participates in the march and: – in the process, makes sure that the march has some of the ODS characteristics (e.g. human mic, carnival atmosphere, family march etc.)

AND/OR – that there is a separate ODS ‘contingent’ in the march (reason for that being that pariticipation in the march does not mean that ODS becomes part of anything

AND/OR – there is input from ODS about the demands of the march.

2. That ODS does not take part in the march.

3. People from ODS participate in the march but as individuals, not as ODS.

4.  ODS has its usual march on 26th November on its usual terms.

Over two and half hours of debate a conensus was duly reached, arguably somewhat skewed by the ‘blocking’ position taken up by a relatively small number of people who felt particularly strongly that participation in the DCTU march as ‘ODS’ was fundamentally at odds with what the occupy movement was supposed to be about.   Their position was summed up by ‘Eoghan’ who put it like this:

“The occupy movement evolved out of a sense of disgust of the way the system is acting against us – including the trade unions.  We came because we believed this was a new way.  We need unity not unions, we need quality not quantity – and whatever about the 500,000 membership of Irish trade unions, the occupy movement is millions of people-strong around the world…if the rank and file membership are fed up with their trade unions then let them join us to do things a different way.”

In effect, this was the proposal that was adopted.  However the conclusion is not as final as it may seem.  As is their ordinary right anyone who supports ODS is of course free to attend the DCTU march but not as an ODS representative or under ODS banners.  Since the decision many ODS participators have been actively supporting the DCTU in its preparations for the march which takes place this coming Saturday November 26.

Despite the consensus that the trade union leadership have abjectly failed their membership, the DCTU is seen by many as being a different because it represents the rank and file.


Earlier: Dame Street Eviction?

Heads Up Everyone: Here Comes The 1%

Thanks Miriam Cotton
(Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)
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