The Reclaim the Streets was taking place at 5pm on European 'Car Free' day because the organisers wanted to break a mould they felt was developing where they were organising parties for others to turn up to. This event aimed to require more involvement and rather then a party was to be based around painting a new pedestrian crossing on O'Connell st Bridge, a very busy but also very dangerous crossing point right in the city centre.
En route from work I missed the initial form up, around 200 people must have been there. However right at the start the Gardai swooped on those carrying the paint and confiscated paints and brushes. One activist demanded, and got a receipt for, the paint he was carrying. Quite whether he'll actually go to Store Street Gardai station to recover them is another question.
As I was missing the start I was a bit concerned it might take a while to locate Reclaim the Streets. I need not have worried as from a long way off I could see a police helicopter hovering over what I correctly assumed was the RTS. I caught up with it as it turned the triangle at College green onto Westmoreland st.
It was immediately obvious that there were a very heavy police presence for this RTS complete with a camera laden surveillance van, cops mounted on horses, motor bikes and bicycles and lots and lots of foot cops. Dotted around town were vans full of re-enforcements. And (badly) hidden in with the crowd were secret police trying to look like protesters. Just after I joined I saw a couple of them and some uniformed cops swoop on a young couple at the back of the demonstration and go through their rucksack with great fascination. Indymedia.ie has carried reports of up to 10 more secret police with cameras filming the demonstration and pictures of two of them on the roof of the GPO.
The RTS went down Westmoreland Street and then turned left along the Quays. It lost me briefly when I cycled ahead to get some pictures at Butt Bridge only to turn and see it had vanished into Temple bar. I found it again at the intersection of Dame Street and Georges street. Here the RTS lingered for quite a while, maybe because Dame Street was the site of the anti-RTS police riot of May 6th 2002. A rap was performed in the middle of the street outside the Central Bank. It then headed onto O'Connell st.
It's worth noting the although the Gardai were not making arrests it was obvious that they were treating the event as an intelligence gathering operation in advance of the European summits. An activist who peered through the windows of the surveillance van said that there were two Gardai inside in front of flat screen TV's happily zooming in on peoples faces while jiggling joysticks. One hilarious secret police man was drifting from group to group listening in on people's conversations. His idea of a disguise was a rugby top and a beanie pulled down over his ears (and the headphone in them). Best of all when challenged he first snuck off and then returned to insult one of the people who had pointed him out.
A number of people involved in RTS are also involved in the anti-bin tax campaign so it was natural that we would seek to link up the two. As we headed up O'Connell Street others joined us en route to the anti-bin tax demonstration which was to start from Parnell Square. Near the top of O'Connell Street we stopped to announce the fact that we intended to go part in this demonstration and to say we hoped that everyone else there would join us in doing so. Most did.
The 'Homes not Jails' banner was unfurled and around 150 RTSers headed up to the entrance of the Garden of Remembrance. As we arrived we got a good cheer though I could see some of the bin-tax protesters already there were made a bit nervous, probably because some of the RTS crowd were wearing masks. Mind you if they'd spent the last couple of hours being filmed by the cops they might have understood. It's worth noting that the surveillance van followed us but turned its camera to the wall once we reached the bin-tax protest. An attempt to maintain (for now) a rather odd 'good protester, bad protester' distinction?
At the Garden of Remembrance there were already around 1,000 people, this would rise to 3,000* by the time the march departed. The sun was setting and it was getting chilly but we were in for the usual round of speeches explaining why we there before departing for Mountjoy. Ruth Coppinger spoke first and chaired followed by Mick O'Reilly of the ATGWU. His was the most useful contribution focusing on the need for the unions to take action in support of the protests, something that unfortunately the leaders of the main bin workers unions SIPTU and MANDATE (sic, should be IMPACT) have already been ruling out. He was followed by a speaker from the SP's sister party in Britain, Dave Nellis who went on for a little too long about socialism and international solidarity. When he finished and it was announced we were moving off a cheer went up from a section of the crowd!
The march started a little oddly by heading down towards O'Connell st (in the opposite direction to the jail) but I guess we were just following the traffic flows for some reason. We then turned left onto Parnell Street which is fast becoming one of the most multi ethnic areas of Dublin. Quite a few Chinese and African people came out onto apartment balconies or from shops to look and wave as we went by. Few joined in but the gesture of solidarity was appreciated
We then turned left up Gardener Street before heading down Dorset Street for the bottom of the North Circular road. At this point I went ahead on my bicycle as people from my area had marched straight to the jail rather then heading to the main meeting up spot (which was on the other side of the jail). Around 400 people were there, mostly from Cabra. They had been waiting for something like an hour both for the speeches to finish at Parnell square and for the march to make its way up so it's possible some had left at this point.
There was real enthusiasm when the main march came into view and lots of cheering and chanting as the two met up outside the gates of the Joy. The noise should have been clearly heard by all those inside, in particular Joy Higgins and Clare Daly, the two bin tax protesters jailed there for one month.
Outside Mountjoy jail there were more speeches. These included Rosie Kane of the Scottish Socialist Party. Brid Smith of the SWP (and also the Dublin city campaigns PRO) spoke at Mountjoy, as did Kevin MacLoughlin of the SP, Denis Keane of SP (but speaking for the CPSU), and Tom Ryan of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. There was some murmuring afterwards about 3 of the 8 speakers being Irish SP members and one being from the CWI, the international the SP is part of. I guess SP members feel that this was justified because both bin-tax activists currently in Mountjoy are leaders of their party.
Organisational bickering has always been a major problem within the campaign, in particular the rivalry between the two main Leninist groups. As usual in these situations these are the two groups with the closest politics to each other fighting it out to prove they alone are the 'authentic vanguard of the Irish working class'. This crass behaviour is already damaging the campaign, lets hope it does not end up wrecking it altogether.
That said nothing can take away from the popular nature of the movement against the bin taxes. Paper sellers and 'professional' activists were a tiny minority in last night's crowd even if they were allowed to dominate the platform. The vast bulk was made up of ordinary working class people outraged by the treatment they have received at the hands of the government. The activists have played a vital role in building the movement however we badly need to recognise that real power of decision making has to come from the base, the local groups, and not from the various party HQ's.
More then one speaker eluded to the different treatments the rich con men and tax dodgers have received in comparison with Joe and Clare. Liam Lawlor may have finally received some time in prison but all the rest of the land speculators and Ansbacher account holders will never see the inside of Mountjoy. The Gardai have been giving sweeping powers to arrest and detain protesters across Fingal for engaging in the sorts of forms of protest that wealthy farmers have carried out for decades. As I write this news is coming in that over a dozen further arrests have been made with the activists to be dragged before the High Court in the next hours.
The next couple of weeks are a key time for the campaign. Internal decision making structures are in disarray, in part because of their abuse by one of the Leninist parties involved in the campaign. The answer to this cannot be to pass decision-making power to a tiny existing leadership (drawn almost entirely from the ranks of far left organisations). Instead what are needed are meetings of mandated delegates from local groups, answerable to local groups and not to one or the other Leninist party. This should help create citywide meetings that are both accurate and useful in terms of decision making.
There is not much time to achieve this. The latest arrests confirm that the gloves are off for the state and they are trying to break the spirit of the movement. If Fingal stands alone they may well be able to do this. There is also little purpose in just one or two city areas acting in isolation, I know out of frustration some are already preparing to do this. We need a decisions making structure everyone can have confidence in.
What is needed is for all the campaigns to launch co-ordinated blockades facing the state with the issue of arresting hundreds at a time rather then handfuls. And we should make it clear that such mass arrests will be greeted not with passive acceptance but with mass civil disobedience aimed at bring the city to a halt. Strumpet city is currently been shown on RTE. We must act as they did in 1913, if they target some we must all step into the gap, if they try to limit the struggle to one area we must widen the struggle to all areas. They want to box us off and wear us down one by one, area by area; we must not allow them to do this.
* - discussions of the number present can be found at Indymedia.ie
[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement members of an event they took part in or attended, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.
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