Lisbon No: A Class Act


As the morning of Friday 13th of June grew towards midday, the government watched and ... realised with mounting horror that they had not only lost the referendum for the Lisbon treaty, but had lost badly. In the end, with a turnout higher than both Nice referendums and European elections, the Irish electorate had cast more No votes, than the number that elected the FF government last year.

In the days that followed the media commentators in press, radio and television, groped around blindly for arguments or reasons why the people have rejected the appeals of the united front of political parties and bosses to "do the right thing" and rubber-stamp this treaty.

But amongst all the outpouring of words from the chatterati, one theme, indeed Friday the 13th's most strking and historic theme, has been missing. A wise man once said "listen for the silences". In this deluge of punditry there has been an almost total silence over "the big C".

As in class, not cancer. The results of this referendum show a vote split along class lines that has not been seen so clearly since the founding of the Republic. Indeed, given that the referendum basically came down to a question of "do you believe that your interests are the same as those of the political elites who have concocted this treaty and grown rich on the back of EU expansion and the celtic tiger?", the result is no mystery at all. The middle class have mostly agreed - why wouldn't they. The working class are naturally more sceptical and unwilling to sign a blank cheque for those who have plundered while leaving our schools, hospitals and infrastructure to crumble.

So in the face of the remarkable unity of the European ruling classes behind this initiative that we remarked upon before the referendum, the Irish working class has responded with it's own unity in a clear-sighted refusal to give legitimacy to a treaty that sought to trick it's way past democratic accountability by shrouding its real designs in a deliberately impenetrable fog of bureaucratic gobbledegook.

It's an old cliche to say that Dev would be spinning in his grave, but the event that is the referendum result has broken the post civil-war bipartisan consensus that, no matter what else, class politics was the one thing that had to be avoided at all costs in this state.

Of course one swallow does not make a summer, but this event is like the sudden spark in the night that illuminates a scene for a brief instant and reveals a hitherto hidden scene. A very different social picture from the smug triumphalism of the FF 2007 election victory. The referendum result is not only a crisis for the constitution of a bosses Europe, but also the beginnings of a political breakdown of the FF/FG excommunication of class politics from Irish society.


From Workers Solidarity 104 July August 2008