The Rise of People Power

There is now widespread understanding among ordinary people in Ireland that if you want anything done in this country the way to go is People Power.

Socialist Worker

The Rise of People Power

John Molyneux

If you don’t want to pay unjust water charges no amount of letter writing and debate in the Dáil or on RTE will do the trick. You have to block the installation of meters, put hundreds of thousands on the streets and refuse to pay.

If you want something done about homelessness don’t wait for the politicians or the government – you’ll be waiting for ever. Take action, occupy a NAMA building; then they may take some notice.

If you are a LUAS worker or a bus driver and you need a pay increase, don’t just wait for union officials to negotiate it for you, take action – stop the trams or buses! You’ll get lots of abuse but you will also get a pay rise.


Even that most unlikely advocate of people power, Fine Gael Chief Whip, Regina Doherty, seems to have grasped this point – at least when the issue is in her backyard and ‘the people’ concerned are landowners and farmers.

Faced with the decision to go ahead with the erection of electricity pylons through her Meath constituency she said, “We are about to enter into a phase of civil disobedience to hamper the decision made by An Bord Pleanála and I fully support the landowners and farmers in that action.”

In general the establishment – the rich, the bosses, the main politicians and their hangers on in the media – hate this.

They see it as the entry into politics of people who don’t belong there: the ‘rabble’, ‘the mob’ etc’; people who are unruly and uncouth and who should know their place, which is sitting at home watching Fair City and voting every five years for the parties they are supposed to vote for, Fine Gael. Fianna Fail or Labour. Meanwhile, they think, politics should be left to the professionals, the politicians, who are responsible and understand that ‘hard’ decisions have to be taken like cutting single parents allowance or SNAs in Schools.

And any ‘politician’ who thinks differently they dismiss as ‘populist’ as if Richard Boyd Barrett and Paul Murphy were the same as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage.

They also believe that people power is a threat to democracy. This is because they identify democracy only with parliament.

Socialists disagree with this completely. We welcome the rise of people power because we think that so-called parliamentary democracy is not democracy at all but just a talking-shop masking the rule of the rich.

We are delighted to see ordinary people ‘interfering’ in the business-as-usual of politicians and the Dáil and have far more faith in them than in Government Ministers, newspaper editors or hired columnists.

Mob rule

We would agree with James Connolly when, in 1910, he replied to a priest who denounced ‘mob rule’:

In the course of [its] upward march the mob has transformed and humanised the world… The mob, “the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all”, with one sweep of its grimy, toil-worn hand, swept the stocks, the thumbscrew, the wheel, the boots of burning oil, the torturer’s vice and the stake into the oblivion of history… there is not in history a record of any movement for abolishing torture, preventing war, establishing popular suffrage, or shortening the hours of labour led by the hierarchy…All hail, then, to the mob, the incarnation of progress!

And we would remind the establishment Ministers and journalists that even the very limited and weak democracy we have in Ireland today, even the very existence of this state as an independent entity, was won by people power both in 1916 and in the War of Independence when 100,000 people joined the IRA and workers’ went on strike and formed workers’ councils like the Limerick Soviet.

Moreover we see in the rise of people power not just away of achieving things in the here and now and winning important reforms and not a threat to democracy but also the embryo of a much fuller and more genuine democracy than we have at the moment.

Precisely by involving the mass of ordinary people in decision making in their communities and, crucially, their workplaces we can create forms of political representation that really embody ‘people’s rule’.

This is because such people’s assemblies will bring in the principle of recall and accountability of all representatives and combine it with control over what happens in production and the economy.

This is the very essence of real democracy and real socialism.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login