Why we need a Triple Movement!

Posted on May 18, 2023

Dr. Mary Murphy (Lecturer in Irish Politics and Society) why you should attend the conference BROKEN POLITICS


The recent election and government formation process tells us much about the challenges Irish civil society faces in playing its role in generating a new politics. Likewise the Right2Water and Right2Change movement offers us interesting lessons to learn from and move forward.

Polanyi in his seminal work 'The Great Transformation' put forward the theory that when a market or economy no longer meets the need of society and begins to destroy social well being, society inevitably responds with a ‘double movement’ to pressure the state to regulate the economy to serve the needs of society. Depending on the political dynamics of the moment that pressure can create different types of responses, for example the 1930’s response to the last great depression created the social democratic New Deal in the US but fascism in Europe.

We can understand the Right to Water movement as a response from society to the damage caused by austerity, water became the rallying point for a mobilisation that was always about more than water. The response was first expressed as a defensive anti-cuts, anti-charges and anti-taxation campaign, a frame that had perhaps limited capacity to develop broader alliances. However over time this refocused to become a more offensive Right to Change campaign for a new politics and a focus on demanding human rights across a broad range of areas. This offensive framing – focusing on what we stand for - was an outcome of leadership by key actors in trade unions, civil society and political society. It mirrored the type of alliance and coalition building seen in the formation of a new left in Latin America and Europe.

Three months post GE 2016 Right to Water has had a clear political legacy not only in policy outcomes but also in influencing how people might mobilise for change. However the legacy from the momentum of Right to Change is harder to read. While tactically successful, it has been difficult to manage a longer term alliance building project of civil society in the context of the shorter term electoral focus of political parties or those pursuing electoral strategies. It is clearly too soon to call, but post-election 2016, there seems little political dynamic of an offensive and progressive new politics in the left. Indeed post GE 2016 the left is no bigger than before but more fragmented than ever, there seems to be only limited capacity of political society and civil society to collaborate, and within civil society the environmental, feminist and anti neo liberal campaigners struggle to identify common struggles.

Massey (2016) argues a new politics must stretch across political society and civil society, it focuses on a language of hope, on uniting people around alternatives for wellbeing. The challenge Right to Change embraced, building a new politics based on alternatives that can unite a broad left, remains a central challenge.  Fraser (2014) offers us a critical conceptual framework to interpret the ongoing crisis as a triple crisis across the economy, environment, and care/social reproduction. What we all have in common is the need to defend ourselves against a ‘self-regulating market’ that left alone will destroy our environment, the quality of our working lives, our society and the very essence of our common humanity. We are all, regardless of where we sit in progressive civil society or political society, obliged to think harder about how we can creatively work together to imagine and demand the alternatives that can create that better future for us all. The June 18th event can help us focus on this collective challenge.

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