Today is May 2nd. This means that yesterday was May 1st – it’s cunning how dates follow each other isn’t it? May 1st is also known as May Day. It has been adopted as International Workers’ Day by trade unions and socialists. In many countries it is an important national holiday where the labourer enjoys a much deserved day of rest – France; Germany; Italy and Russia among many others. Not in Ireland of course. The frugality with which we are dealt days off is a constant disappointment – it’s not quite as appalling as the Netherlands (where – like in other uncivilised countries – if the holiday falls at the weekend then you lose it) but it is certainly not generous.
Each year however the various unions and left-wing political parties organise a rally and a march in Dublin to call on improved workers’ rights.
Despite the fact that I am a corporate minion in a for-profit company, I am in fact rather Bolshevik in my outlook. An armchair socialist if you will – I like to have a nice standard of living. While I won’t barricade myself to the ramparts, I am well aware that a major world problem is an unequal distribution of wealth. I believe that anyone who is worth billions is automatically a morally dubious person as they are actively benefiting from a system of exploitation, designed to protect a tiny minority of people. That wars are largely fought for profit – certainly not for ‘freedom’; and that multinational corporations are a force for the destruction of democracy and human rights. That there is no such thing as a free market – that is merely an excuse for rich corporations to gain access and control over developing countries, but woe betide any undocumented worker who wants to travel to a rich country to avail of the free market of labour – suddenly the ‘free market’ is closed to them.
I still like a nice meal out and foreign travel and decent way of life though. I’m probably a hypocrite.
This year’s march began at the headquarters of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) on Parnell Square and made its way to Liberty Hall on the quays – the home of SIPTU – the country’s largest union.
I decided to participate – not because I agree with all the unions’ objectives; more to do with the fact that I love a good march or protest; and I love the view from the middle of O’Connell Street. Yesterday’s march promised to be a three-pronged protest against the housing catastrophe engulfing Ireland – it is government policy to keep house prices artificially high, which is leading to emergency levels of homelessness; the disaster that is the Irish health service; and the demand for abortion rights in Ireland – this last one will hopefully be resolved within three weeks when a referendum to remove the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution occurs.
These are all issues I would support.
The turnout was disappointing and predictable. The usual trade union heads were present – in their aging glory. Sadly these unions seem to represent people who don’t need representation as desperately as others. The political parties were represented – Sinn Fein, who never miss a bandwagon to jump on; and the Communist Party of Ireland – selling its Marxist newspaper. The various miscreants who turn up at any protest, in their dreadlocks; tie-dyed shirts and comfortable hessian shoes, smelling vaguely of marijuana were also floating around. No animals were harmed in the creation of any of the clothes; shoes; or cosmetics. The clothes and shoes were all vegan. No make-up was being worn.
The Labour Party – the political party that once pretended to care about workers was not present of course. They seem to have stopped their pretence that they care about anything other than keeping their own piggy little snouts in the trough.
The group with the most life was the one that actually had most to benefit from the march – the undocumented domestic workers. Sadly I don’t think our unions care about them. They can’t pay their annual dues. Noticeable by their absence also, was fast food workers; supermarket and kitchen staff and other people on minimum wage, zero hour contracts – the very people who would be fired with no redress were their employer ever to hear about their presence on a union march.
It all felt very stale. And dreary. And unnecessary.
It’s so bizarre that in our increasingly precarious society where automation is a huge threat to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands; where unfettered, unregulated capitalism allows the existence of zero-hour, minimum wage contracts – designed to keep the low paid in permanent, full time employment, yet below the poverty line while their employers earn huge profits; that the only people shouting about workers’ rights are the old trade unions who represent a very specific, aging type of worker.
I have no idea how to address this. I mean I’m OK for the moment– until I am replaced by a robot I guess.