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Before yesterdayLookLeft

When Labour called for a Workers’ Republic

By David Worth

David Worth looks back to when Labour’s radical words put them in the clerical firing line.

After the 1933 election, Labour was left with its lowest number of seats ever. Their spell in government as the junior partners of Fianna Fáil had seen much of their programme implemented. When Fianna Fáil called a snap election, voters left the Labour Party in droves in favour of de Valera’s party. Labour was left with a choice; either to lose its place as Ireland’s third party or adopt a new programme to try to win back the working class voters it lost to Fianna Fáil. This would lead to the party adopting the establishment of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ as its goal.

‘Workers’ Republic’ was the name of the magazine which James Connolly had produced before the Easter Rising of 1916. By adopting its title as their aim, they were harking back to their founder, but the beliefs of the membership of the party in the 1930s were very different to those of Connolly. One thing that they did have in common with Connolly was that they were often on the defensive against sustained attacks from the clergy who were suspicious of Labour’s use of class politics. William Norton often declared his Catholic faith loudly as he defended himself and his party from accusations of Communism and Atheism, declaring at the 1936 Labour Party conference that ‘as a Catholic worker’, admonitions warning Irish workers of the dangers of ‘Godless communism’ betrayed ‘a deplorable want of faith in the deep-seated religious convictions of the Irish working class’. 

The party’s adoption of their new constitution could not have come at a worse time for Labour. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 had seen the left-leaning Republican government of Spain face down a rebellion by a coalition of Monarchists, Fascists and Catholic Conservatives. The Church, firmly opposed to the secular agenda of the Republic, portrayed this as a struggle between good and evil. Sermons regularly denounced the left-wing government in Madrid and newspapers such as the Irish Catholic and the Irish Independent relished in giving its readers sensationalised accounts of Republican atrocities against the priests and nuns of Spain. 

“The Spanish Civil War exposed deep divisions between the party’s left and right wings”

The already fragile left in Ireland was now open to even greater attacks from their opponents. Although the Labour Party went to great lengths to distance itself from the Republican side, the Church used the war as an opportunity to attack any left-wing tendencies within the Labour movement. While Fearghal McGarry described Labour’s policy within the Dáil as ‘don’t mention the war’, this does not give us the whole picture on how the party’s diverse membership reacted to the conflict. The party’s leadership was not afraid to loudly denounce fascism, with William Norton designating a large portion of his address at the 1937 conference to ‘the menace of fascism’ and criticising those ‘who are enamoured of what they call a corporative state’. 

Although he was a member of the Knights of Columbanus, an organisation dedicated to the promulgation of Catholic teaching, this put Norton in direct conflict with the Catholic social teaching of the day which was detailed in the encyclical Quadragesimo anno

Conor Cruise O’Brien, then a young delegate from the Trinity Branch of the party, went even further by attacking the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War as a ‘clique of Fascist generals’ that were ‘wantonly waging a civil war against their own people for its own ends’. He would go on to say that the rebellious generals were backed by Spanish millionaires and by ‘International Fascism with German and Italian troops’. More controversially though, he finished by saying that ‘Every country which valued its freedom had a duty to hold out against the forces of Fascism in all their forms, even in Spain’. 

This provoked protests from other delegates to the conference, with Gerrard L. McGowan, one of the party’s TDs, saying that ‘he felt that he would be lacking in his duty as a citizen and as a Catholic if he did not enter a protest’. Another TD went even further in supporting the Francoist cause. Michael Keyes, TD for Limerick, had spoken at rallies for the Irish Christian Front which was founded in August 1936 by Alexander McCabe ‘to help the stricken people of Spain in their struggle against the forces of international Communism’. Keyes had praised the Irish Christian Front in its efforts to ‘bring into existence in this country a social and economic system based on the Christian ideals of life as expressed in the Papal encyclicals and thereby to overcome the evils of socialism which are altogether contrary to Christian principles. 

The Dublin North-West branch of the party submitted a resolution condemning Keyes at the next party conference for sharing a platform with the Irish Christian Front because they ‘called for the suppression of all bodies advocating the Irish Workers’ Republic- the declared objective of the Labour Party’. 

Here again the Spanish Civil War exposed deep divisions between the party’s left and right wings. The motion to censure Keyes was withdrawn after he implausibly claimed that he was unaware of the political programme of the Irish Christian Front even though it was well known that Patrick Belton, the group’s leader had said that ‘he took his hat off to Hitler’. 

Interestingly, the Tipperary branch of the party proposed an amendment to the resolution, saying that they approved of Deputy Keyes’ actions. Later, in a resolution condemning Fascism, they proposed to amend it with a condemnation of ‘Godless Communism’ because as ‘Fascism enslaved the body’ Communism went one step further by enslaving ‘the body and soul’. Norton, conscious of the anti-communist hysteria, which he said ‘has become fashionable over the last twelve months’, still dismissed this motion as there was really very little danger that the Irish working class would succumb to Communism. 

John Gill of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union wondered ‘Why, alone among all of the parties, was The Labour Party asked every day in the week and every week in the year, to condemn something which everyone knew it hated’. The constant attacks on the party’s tentative steps towards a socialist programme did not just come from within the party, but much vitriol was poured on the party from the Catholic press and clergymen who were particularly riled up because of the ongoing conflict in Spain. The party and its leadership would do their best to counter these attacks and try to pre-empt them by avoiding any controversies relating to religion or the Church.

The party’s reluctance to take a pro-Franco stance deepened the anti-communist press’ suspicions of it, while the clear evidence of internal division made it look like the party could be pressured to abandon its commitments to socialism. The party’s stated goal of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ now made it a target for the Irish press who had long been suspicious of Labour but now had a stick to beat them with as they abandoned bland pink rhetoric. Newspapers such as the Limerick Leader, Standard, the Irish Rosary and the Irish Catholic led the attack on Labour after the conference, with the Limerick Leader describing the party’s constitution as ‘Communistic in aim, origin and tendency’. 

“Horrified at the idea of the Holy Father hearing about his alleged plans to create a Soviet Ireland, Norton wrote a letter to the Papal Secretary of State”

These newspapers held considerable sway at the time with the Standard enjoying a circulation of 50,000 a week. Labour was apparently on the slippery slope towards Communism and the Irish Catholic wrote an exposé stating that 204,000 Irish workers affiliated to the ITUC were ‘tacit supporters of Communism’. What made matters worse for Labour was that this article was reprinted in the Vatican’s own newspaper Osservatore Romano. 

Horrified at the idea of the Holy Father hearing about his alleged plans to create a Soviet Ireland, Norton wrote a letter to the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli repudiating the claims made in the Irish Catholic. The article was eventually retracted after Norton’s pleading with the Cardinal to ‘consult a recognised Catholic authority qualified to interpret authoritatively such tendencies’. This invitation to the hierarchy to meddle with the party’s policy caused some annoyance to former leader Thomas Johnson who said that ‘I for one will have to reconsider my position as a member’ if it happened again.

The campaign against the Labour Party was not confined to the press but was also taken up by groups of anti-communist activists who saw no difference between the goals and beliefs of the Irish Labour Party and the Communist Parties of Europe. An anonymous report was circulated amongst these activists in the autumn of 1937. Most likely written by Fr. Denis Fahey, this report was an assessment of the threat posed by a variety of groups in Ireland from the Communist Party of Ireland to the so-called ‘Jewish Secret Societies’. 

The Labour Party and its affiliated trade unions came under particular scrutiny because, unlike the other groups named whose ‘revolutionary purpose is made plain to every member and publicly avowed’, the leadership of the Labour Party denies its ‘revolutionary character’ and ‘point to certain resolutions of fidelity to Christian teaching passed at their meetings as proof to the contrary’. 

Labour’s regular use of Catholic social teaching and quotations from encyclicals were to no avail, they would always be regarded with suspicion by those committed to destroying any organisation not committed to the preservation of the current class system. Labour would strike back at this report in its publication Labour News stating that ‘Religious poison pen links Labour, Communism, Nudism, Jewry, Freemasonry in this diabolical “report”. This rebuttal of the report was published in Labour News at the request of ‘clergymen who recognised low sectarian frenzy and pogrom-purpose in the authorship of this document’. This is unlikely to have been true as Labour News had a reputation with clashing with the clergy on a number of issues but the need they felt to show that they had at least some clerical approval before attacking this report shows the almost unassailable power of the clergy. Labour News would be forced to cease publication because its frequent belligerence against the clergy would become too much for a leadership fearful of the repercussions of the editor’s taste for controversy.

The goal of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ remained a point of contention throughout this and in 1938, at the request of Michael Linehan, treasurer of the INTO and a prominent Catholic Actionist, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church came to the conclusion that sections of the party’s constitution conflicted with Catholic teaching. Interestingly this was an example of the bishops assembling a ‘committee of experts’ at the behest of a member of the laity to investigate a matter such as this. 

At the 1939 annual conference of the Labour Party, the INTO put forward an amendment to delete the aim of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ and to replace it with the aim of creating a ‘Democratic Republic’ founded on ‘Christian principles’. In the debate that followed, some questioned the right of the bishops to force their will on the party and others pointed out that the hierarchy ‘had been against nearly all popular movements’. The debate had the potential to be extremely damaging as it set both wings of the party against each other, potentially leading to a split. The amendment to remove the ‘Workers’ Republic’ from the constitution was passed 89-25 and with it passed Labour’s last attempt to adopt socialist policies until the 1960s.

While the ‘intellectual terrorism’ of the 1930s can be blamed for Labour abandoning this shift to the left, this does not show the full picture as it was the party’s own members who appealed to the bishops to intervene and condemn the language used in the party’s 1936 constitution. While adopting left-wing language, the party’s policies and its members’ actions remained the same. These opportunist attempts to maintain a separate identity from Fianna Fáil after the party had adopted much of Labour’s social programme while in government should be treated with suspicion. Lenin had attacked the Second International for adopting radical slogans but not carrying out these slogans, saying that ‘the point is to test their sincerity, to compare their words with their deeds’. When the time came for Labour’s words to be tested they quickly abandoned their commitments to establishing a ‘Workers’ Republic’.

Ajamu Baraka: Race, Class & Protest in the United States Today

By admin

American anti-war activist Ajamu Baraka has urged the public to stay vigilant against US “attempts to control the narrative” of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Speaking at an event organised by the Workers’ Party, the national organiser of the Black Alliance for Peace and the 2016 Green Party candidate for vice president said that: “The current ongoing capitalist crisis has created the most serious crisis of legitimacy since the collapse of the capitalist economy during the years referred to as the Great Depression. We are now seeing, within the economy, the genocidal implications of economic conditions in which young black workers have more value as human generators of profit locked up in prisons than as participants in the economy as low wage workers.”

Founded in 2017, the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) seeks to recapture and redevelop the historic anti-war, anti-imperialist, and pro-peace positions of the radical black movement. Framing the current wave of protests across America as an unarticulated rebellion against “the dehumanisation and degradation of late stage capitalism, known as neoliberalism”, Baraka outlined attempts by the authorities to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement with photo opportunities and stories of white agitators.

Full text below. 

Ajamu Baraka: Race, Class & Protest in the United States Today

America’s Political Prisoners

I made a pledge that in all of my public presentations that I will acknowledge the existence of political prisoners in the US. We just had Delbert Africa – who had been incarcerated for 42 years – up until January when he was released. He passed the day before yesterday. We believe it is important that people in the US – but even more importantly that people outside of the US – be made aware that inside the US we have the longest serving political prisoners on the planet. People who are approaching their fifth decade in prison. Men – and, up until recently, women – who have been in the dungeons of the US for decades.

The Black Alliance of Peace

The motivation for launching the Alliance was based on the fact that on April 4th, 1967 Dr Martin Luther King reconnected with the radical black tradition by adding his voice of opposition to the murderous US war machine unleashed on the people of Vietnam. For Dr King his silence on the war in Vietnam had become an irreconcilable moral contradiction. 

He declared that it was hypocritical for him to proclaim the superiority of values of nonviolence as a life principle while the US remained the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. He thought it was a contradiction for him to remain silent as the US government engaged in genocidal violence against the people of Vietnam. We say Dr King reconciled and reconnected with the black radical tradition because, in fact, Dr King was lat. 

In 1967, when he embraced an oppositional position on Vietnam, it was years after other formations – including the Revolutionary Action Movement, Malcolm X, SNCC (the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee), and the Black Panthers – had taken a resolute stance against the war in Vietnam. 

The Black liberation movement that those organisations represented are worker based. They are anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and international. On April 4th, 2017, 50 years after that very famous speech in which Dr King broke with the US government, we launched the Black Alliance for Peace.

We saw that after more than three decades of pro-war commissioning by both corporate parties and the corporate media, coupled with cultural desensitisation from almost decades of unrelenting war, opposition to militarism and war was something that had almost disappeared in the US among the general population. The black public was not immune to those cultural and political changes. And with the ascendance of the corporatist President Barack Obama – during whose tenure the US continued on a militaristic bent unabated and, in fact, ratcheted up – that lack of opposition to and awareness of US militarism deepened even more. 

What we saw was an absolute necessity for us to attempt to recapture anti-war and anti-imperialist traditions. The black community, the black people, the black working class have been consistently – up until recently – the most anti-war and anti-imperialist communities in the US. And so the Black Alliance for Peace was launched to try to revive that spirit of opposition. But we have to make sure that people understand that the Black Alliance for Peace is a fighting organisation. We are clear. We say: no justice; no peace.

The Alliance is what we call a people-centred human rights project against war, repression and imperialism that, again, seeks to recapture, seeks to redevelop the anti-war, anti-imperialist spirit. 

We see our work as part of a broader effort. A broader effort to not only revive our antiwar traditions but to revive a broader anti-war, anti imperialist, pro-peace movement in the United States. We make the connections between domestic violence and repression and the global war machine.

We see, for example, the pivot to Asia. NATO and the rotating of NATO troops on the borders of Russia. The expansion of the US Africa command. Continued support for apartheid Israel. Police executions and impunity in the US. The carceral state with the mass incarceration of black and other colonised workers and poor people are elements and policies of one oppressive global system of colonial, capitalist, white supremicist power. So the context of struggle in the US must begin with a structural analysis. 

The current crisis

The current ongoing capitalist crisis has created the most serious crisis of legitimacy since the collapse of the capitalist economy during the years referred to as the Great Depression. The economic collapse comes on the heels of a deep crisis of the economy that occurred in 2007, 2008. With economic instability and the increasing competition between capitalist states, divisions have emerged among the nations that those of us in the Black Alliance for Peace refer to as the US/EU/NATO axis of domination.

The US has responded by moving toward a more confrontational posture, not only with its allies in Europe, but it has also elevated China and Russia as national security risks. Domestically, the black working class has never recovered from the collapse of 2007, 2008. The continual restructuring of the US economy to a low wage economy has resulted in the black working class being relegated to the lower rungs of the labour force, joining undocumented migrants, immigrants and other colonised workers. 

We are now seeing, within the economy, the genocidal implications of economic conditions in which young black workers have more value as human generators of profit locked up in prisons than as participants in the economy as low wage workers.

This reality is one of the factors driving the obscene phenomenon of black and brown incarceration in the largest prison system on the planet. Astronomical youth employment. Millions of African-Americans and white people without health care. Poisoned environments and crumbling schools make for conditions that, with Covid-19, are ravaging the black communities. This is the reality of the colonial, capitalist system in its neoliberal stage. The Corona pandemic has pulled the ideological curtain away from the system and has exposed the brutal realities of a rapacious system of greed, human exploitation and degradation, social insecurity, corruption, and the normalisation of coercive state violence.

Bipartisan support for neoliberal capitalist policies over the last four decades has had a devastating impact. The closing of public health care facilities. Turning hospitals into giant for-profit hospital chains. Millions of people – disproportionately black people – living precarious lives at the bottom of the labour market as gig workers with no benefits, no sick leave, no vacation, no security – ordered to shutter in place as a consequence of Covid-19.    

Hundreds of black people are dying unnecessarily from the virus because of conditions of colonial oppression. Which we say amounts to a situation of state sanctioned murder.

So the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – who was murdered by police in her bed – and Ahmaud Arbery who was murdered in Brunswick, George by non-state actors; white vigilantes… The whole phenomenon of vicious killer cops is just the tip of the iceberg. 

This is the context we have to bring to understand what is happening in the US. Connecting the pandemic and the ongoing structural contradictions of capitalism. The impact of the pandemic, not only on black people, on black worders, but on everyone, particularly the working class in the United States of America. 

In some ways George Floyd and the resistance is almost a metaphor for what is unfolding in the US. It’s a consequence of this pandemic. It’s a consequence of the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on the black working class. It’s a consequence of the clear message to workers from racial and ethnic backgrounds that their lives mean very little when it comes to the objective interests of capital. 

There has been a process of radicalisation among the people, particularly among the working class. The clear message from the rulers is that humanity and the safety and the health of workers mean almost nothing in comparison to the needs of capital. 

The knee on the neck of George Floyd that we saw became almost a metaphor for what millions of people are experiencing.  They are experiencing the knee on their neck from capital.

So while the cry was for justice for George Floyd and so called police reform, what some of us see is an unarticulated – unarticulated until this point – rebellion against the dehumanisation and degradation of late stage capitalism, known as neoliberalism. And that is responsible for bringing people to the streets. There is no other way that one can understand the breadth and intensity of the mobilisations we are seeing. LGBTQ. The unemployed youth from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Downsized petit bourgeois elements. Suburbanites. All sectors of the population have shown up in the streets in hundreds of cities and towns across the country. 

What has been the response from the state?

Many of us have seen an evolution take place. First there was clear repression. A heavy handed response from the authorities and from the militarised police. The calling up of what we call the state police and the national guard. 

Every state in the US has a national guard. These are civilians who also serve in the military. They do military maneuvers. They serve as active duty soldiers from time to time. During the period when the US was involved in a two-theatre war – in both Iraq and Afghanistan- it was the national guard that played a very important role in those wars. The national guard is one of the foundational elements in allowing the state to carry out two wars simultaneously. We’re talking about military personnel.

They were called up to various states and cities across the country. So repression was the first response. 

Then there was an attempt to co-opt. Some of you may have seen some of the images of the police kneeling with the protesters; sometimes even joining in with the marchers. We also saw – and it wasn’t disseminated as widely – police officers using the kneeling gesture as a way to lure protesters closer to them. And then they would attack. Those images were circulated but not so much in the international press.

After continued attempts to co-opt the resistance we saw a clever move on the part of the state. They began to criminalise the resistance. They began to raise the issue of the violence of some of the protesters. Calling on the protesters to police themselves. To make sure that the resistance would remain what they define as non-violent. Part of that criminalisation process was racial division. They used an interesting device, talking about the so-called outside agitators.

In this case it was the white outside agitator. They said it was the white outside agitators who were responsible for the looting and the escalation of violence. You might recall that President Trump then identified Antifa. The anti-fascist. This amorphous group of individuals – some part of other organisations – who emerged after the election of Donald Trump and who proclaimed that they were going to oppose what they saw as a neofascist movement developing in the country. 

Donald Trump said that this amorphous element were in fact domestic terrorists and that they were the ones responsible for the violence taking place across the country. So what we started seeing was suspicion on the part of the march organisers when it came to the participation of some white comrades. 

Then came an attempt to colonise the resistance by the Democrats. Over two weeks, there was a move away from a call for justice and police reform. (Policing) is a local issue, remember; we have almost 19,000 police forces in the US. Policing is a local responsibility. The opposition movement ended up being about Trump in some way. It was an anti-Trump movement and Trump played right into to that when he ordered the protesters outside of the White House to be pushed back so that he could engage in a photo op. 

Of course his bombastic rhetoric played right along to it too. So after seven days of resistance, it began to look like the resistance was anti-Trump and people started talking about the necessity of voting Trump out of office and started to articulate the talking points of the Democratic Party. 

All of these are attempts to control the opposition. I keep referring to so-called racial justice – not to belittle the notion of racial justice – but to suggest that it was in the interests of the state to keep the resistance on the subject of racial justice for an individual. For George Floyd. And for it to be seen to be moving towards police reform. 

They were scared to death that the images we all saw: of young black, white and brown people engaged in resistance. That is a nightmare scenario on the part of the rulers. A multinational, multiracial opposition under the leadership of radical black people emerging in the US. So they were desperate to keep the focus away from pivoting toward a critique of the system. And the nature of the state. And they were desperate to break up the emerging coalitions of progressive and radical elements among the people in this country. 

What will happen next? 

We believe they will continue to attempt to control the narrative. That’s what we saw with the so-called yellow vests in France. We all recall that what brought them to the streets in the first place was pension reform. It gradually began to morph into a general anti-neoliberal movement. THe US state is concerned with the same kind of trajectory. 

There will be an attempt to depoliticise the opposition. They are attempting to make sure there is no class analysis. They don’t want us to point to the ongoing plight of the working class. In particular the black and brown working class. The fact that it is workers – black and brown workers who they identify as so-called essential workers – who are attracting the virus and dying.

They don’t want us to make a connection with the healthcare system in the US in which 80 million people are without healthcare. They are concerned about the healthcare system being overwhelmed because it is an industrialised system. When the only way to handle a pandemic is to have nationaliised healthcare and a coordinated, sustainable system in the hands of the people. 

They want to keep the focus on the issue of race. We say we have to make sure a pivot takes place. That there has to be a focus on class and race issues. We need to connect what is unfolding in the US to US militarism and imperialism. We say to people making the cry to defund the police that if you don’t connect that slogan with defunding the military, then it becomes a reactionary slogan that drives the movement into a dead end.

We say it is a moral contradiction to advocate for a kinder, gentler police force domestically while the US is unleashing systematic violence against people around the world.

This situation is very interesting as it is generating international solidarity. The US will never be able, with a straight face, to talk about human rights in other countries.  The situation will prevent the US from pretending to be a state that is upholding international law. It is revealing to people around the world the true nature of the US, the plight of the working class and, in particular, the black and brown colonised working classes in the US.

The fundamental collapse of the global capitalist economy is creating a situation in which there is no telling what may unfold over the next few weeks and months. 

This is a situation that may be historical in its implications. 

The Marxist Guide to Coconuts

By Tara Brady

Tara Brady picks the best coconuts for the consumers who love coconuts and love pan-primate solidarity.

Coconuts have a million uses. They can make hair smell nice and make cake taste great. They can be splendid prizes should you find yourself at a turn-of-the-century fairground attraction. They can be clopped together in lieu of a horse. 

Coconuts are great. 

And, sad to say, they are also the most evil commodity to ever sprout from a palm tree. Coconut farmers across Sri Lanka and the Philippines are typically mono-crop producers working in a typhoon-stricken environment who sell to middlemen for $0.12 – $0.25 per nut. According to the Philippines-based news service Rappler, the average annual income for a coconut-farming household is around $355 a year; pickers work for less than a dollar a day. 

Voguish products like coconut water – Vita Coco was one of the first products to disappear from US supermarket shelves during the Covid-19 crisis – continue to put pressure on farmers to chop down rainforest and place international demands ahead of self-sufficiency. 

Most of our coconuts and coconut products come from Indonesia, where slavery is rife. In 2015, more than 1300 fisherman from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos were rescued from the Indonesian fishing industry alone. Many had been at sea for years.

Across the Philippines and Indonesia, pig-tailed macaques are chained by the neck and trained to pick coconuts

With coconuts, humans are not the only slave labourers. Connoisseurs of coconut products  will likely be familiar with an increasingly common logo, a standard that may well constitute the world’s lowest bar: ‘Not Picked By Monkeys’. Across the Philippines and Indonesia, pig-tailed macaques are chained by the neck and trained to pick coconuts. When not tethered, they are caged. They cannot socialise with other monkeys. As adept climbers, they can pick between 300 and 1000 nuts daily.

Just as Marx observed in The German Ideology, “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce.” But with tails. 

The importance of checking for coconut derivatives in your shopping basket cannot be overstated. Is that a pack of three dishcloths? Check for coconut ingredients. Is that a hammer? Check for coconut components. The importance of buying FairTrade coconut produce is, for thousands of small farmers, the difference between life and ruination. 

If only there were more FairTrade coconut products. Of the commonly-available coconut milk drinks – Alpro (nope) – Koko Dairy Free milk alternative isn’t the worst.

The product “isn’t FairTrade”, they say.  “But we believe that the company’s approach to the welfare of the people involved in the farming of the coconuts at our plantation is equivalent or exceeds their standards. The plantation and factory is located in a remote area of Indonesia, and 30,000 people are employed. The Company provides proper housing for employees and their families. It also provides medical facilities, a school, and places for worship, as well as a store for buying food and clothing. So employees have all the benefits of living in a village community.”

Lucy Bee coconut products include coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut milk drink and a skincare range. They are ethically sourced and produced in the Philippines, they are FairTrade, vegan, organic, and packaged in biodegradable, recyclable wrappings. The Lucy Bee line has been named Best Buy – as awarded by the Ethical Consumer Guide – for Coconut Oil, Coconut Milk, Creamed Coconut, Soap and Skincare. They are amazing products, although several lines have been hit by the Covid-19 crisis. 

Sourced from small-scale farmers and processed in the heart of Sri Lanka, Ma’s FairTrade Coconut Milk is 100% Organic, promises “Happy Life’ on the tin and delivers to the farmers involved. They are equal employers who provide accommodation and meals for their workers and school stationery and books to the children of all employees. 

Tiana FairTrade Organics, with its emphasis on sustainable agriculture, is another good pick. The company has run a Fairtrade coconut project in the Philippines since 2009 to produce a range of raw extra virgin coconut oils.

On the 50th anniversary of the Falls Curfew

By Liam McAnoy

Liam McAnoy looks back on the largest single engagement between armed Irish republicans and the British Army since 1916 and on the women who broke the Falls Curfew.

July 3rd 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the Falls Curfew, the largest single engagement between armed Irish republicans and the British Army since 1916. During the curfew, the British Army deployed 2,500 troops from the Royal Scots, the Black Watch, the Life Guards, the Devon and Dorset Regiment, the Gloucestershire and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, against small IRA and Na Fianna Éireann units on the Falls Road. The ending was a foregone conclusion. The excuse for this pre-planned attack was a search for weapons in Sean Maguire’s home; as the search came to an end, young men attacked the British soldiers with stones and petrol bombs on Albert Street.

As a member of Na Fianna Éireann I watched as the British Army responded with a salvo of CS gas and baton charges. Paddy Corrigan was one of the first to be arrested. The British fired thousands of rounds of live ammunition and 1,600 canisters of gas. A ‘grantapault’ was used from Land Rovers to launch salvos of 10 inch CS gas canisters into the area; many went through the roofs of houses, gassing women and children. I witnessed similar canisters of CR gas dropped from helicopters on prisoners in Long Kesh in 1974.  A soldier later interviewed recalled: “The Falls was saturated with CS gas. Children were coughing and crying, I remember the kids, the gas affected everyone but children especially”.

As the numbers of British troops mounted on the Falls Road, a few Provisionals threw blast bombs at soldiers in Raglan Street and then withdrew from the area. The Provisionals, as an organisation, were not active in the fighting. Brendan Hughes, in his own account in Voices from the Grave, said ‘the Provisionals were involved in a five or six minute gun battle before hunkering down and sitting it out’.  Buses were hijacked and made into burning barricades by Joe Curley and Toby Shannon, both republican activists. Local people also barricaded streets to keep the soldiers out. Billy McKee later confided in Sean Mateer, a veteran republican, that he had hoped the British Army would wipe out the IRA (Officials) in the Falls and thereby leave the Provisionals as the only opposition to the British.  This deepened the enmity between the IRA and the Provisionals, an enmity which has lasted for generations, and continues to this day. The IRA accused the Provisionals of ensuring that the British would invade the area in their search for the bombers.

Billy McMillen was the Belfast IRA Commander in charge of republican fighters during the curfew. McMillen had been the Republican candidate in the 1964 elections, when his Divis Street election office was attacked by the RUC and the Irish tricolour stolen.

Knowing the troops would launch a bigger raid, McMillen, together with his Adjutant, Jim Sullivan, instructed volunteers from Cumann na mBan to remove a large quantity of arms from the area. This was put into operation by Billy Sullivan and Oliver Quinn, commanding D company, the IRA unit in the Falls area. The volunteers also realised that they would have to fight and prepared to confront the troops. An IRA source later said, “The way we looked at it, we were not going to put up our hands and let them take our weapons. We didn’t want confrontation, but we wouldn’t surrender”. Many women from the Cumann na mBan, including Margaret McCorry and Margaret Green, Eilish and Phyliss Mateer and Mary Hughes, began removing weapons to Divis Flats, Clonard, and Beechmount. These same women marched with others down the Falls to break the curfew on Sunday morning.

At approximately 6pm as troops moved in from the main road, a squad of volunteers, led by Paddy McCann and Bap O’Neill opened fire at Balaclava Street. Jimmy Wylie and other volunteers took up positions on the roof of Raglan Street and Getty Street schools, this offered good sniping points down and up Leeson Street and down Raglan Street and Cyprus Street, where troops were massing. Volunteers Danny O’Neill, Joe McCann and James Corrigan moved out with weapons from the back of Michael Dwyer’s GAA club, including one Bren gun. They took up positions at Varna Street and Grosvenor Place. Danny was wounded on Saturday morning. Later, in the Dwyer’s, Billy Mc Millen, Andy McAnoy, and Una O’Neill were captured in possession of a large quantity of arms. Myself, together with Francie Scott and Joe Hughes from the Fianna were deployed to Panton Street; I was run over by a Ferret scout car during the gun battle on Saturday morning and arrested.  

Many of the fighters were younger members of Na Fianna Éireann. They included Bimbo Robb and Sam Smith who were positioned on top of Garvey’s roof at Grosvenor Place. Both were captured with automatic weapons on the Saturday morning and were ill-treated. Bimbo possibly witnessed the murder of Paddy Elliman as he heard two high velocity shots and overheard a soldier saying, ‘I just shot a blast bomber’. Paddy was shot as he smoked a cigarette. Robert Mateer and Jim Pollock were positioned in Osman Street as British snipers fired from the Divis Flats; they took refuge in Jim’s mother in law’s house. 

Although the Falls remained sealed off, by midday on Sunday 5th July women had begun to gather at various points to march down to the Falls area. The British knew that most of the armaments had been moved before the cordon was fully effective. The Curfew was broken when 3,000 women of all shades of political opinion and none, marched to the British lines with food and groceries for the people. The unprepared soldiers tried to hold back the crowd at first, using batons at first, they pushed on without fear.

By the time the battle was over, the troops had captured 52 pistols, 38 rifles, 8 sub machine guns and 14 shotguns, along with 100 home-made grenades, 250 pounds of explosives and 21,000 rounds of ammunition. 337 people were arrested and 80 were wounded, with 18 British soldiers wounded.

The curfew created a sea change in many ways. Whatever positive impact the arrival of British troops might have had on the streets of Belfast and Derry in 1969, the sheer brutality of the British Army during the curfew sowed the seeds for decades of violence with the Provisionals.  Nationalists had initially perceived the British Army as protecting them from the RUC and Unionist gangs. The curfew alienated these people, who had never been republicans but who now gave support to the Provisionals.

The treatment of the community also increased the view that Northern Ireland could not be reformed, undermining the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). NICRA was later dealt a fatal blow by the massacre on Bloody Sunday in Derry, which drove the civil rights movement off the streets of Northern Ireland. It also set back the work of Billy McMillen and other republicans who, throughout the 1960s had developed and renewed the republican movement’s understanding that physical force politics had failed to establish an Irish Republic in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The Provisionals’ campaign also failed to achieve that objective. Today Sinn Féin administer Northern Ireland as part of a partitionist state under British rule.

The brutality also displayed a colonial mentality by the British, viewing Northern Ireland as another field for the similar operations it had run in Malaya, Kenya, Aden and Cyprus and identifying Catholics as a suspect population, which required army camps positioned at the very heart of their communities in order to maintain control. Hence, during internment, or Operation Demetrius as it was called by the British, land reserved for local businesses, GAA pitches and local factories were commandeered and occupied by the British Army. Similar tactics were used by the Americans in Vietnam during their occupation.

Four civilians were killed by the British Army during the Falls Curfew. These were Charles O’Neill, William Burns and Patrick Elliman, all local men, and Zbigniew Uglik, a 23-year-old Polish man who lived in England. None had any connection with Irish Republicans. It was the first ‘massacre’ of Irish civilians in Northern Ireland in ‘The Troubles’.

The fact that the RUC made no real attempt to investigate the killings and woundings, led directly to the massacres in Ballymurphy in August 1971 when eleven civilians were murdered, Springhill in 1972 when five civilians were murdered, and Derry in 1972 when fourteen civilians were murdered. The precedent for murder was set. Just a year previously the RUC had machine gunned our community, killing people in consort with Unionist mobs. No police were charged on that occasion.

Not one soldier has served an hour in prison for any of these murders. The British Army effectively became immune from prosecution for the murder of Irish civilians, an immunity they still seek to maintain today by claiming that any investigations or prosecutions for their crimes constitute a witch-hunt.

A massacre can be defined as ‘killing multiple victims, especially when perpetrated by an army against unarmed civilians’. The word is a French term for “butchery” or “carnage” – that is what happened to our community between the 3rd – 5th July 1970.  We know because we were there, we lived, and we fought that experience.  

The Falls Curfew marked a political watershed in Northern Ireland. The early view of the conflict taken by the British, as a conflict between an entrenched and discriminatory majority and an oppressed minority, led to an underestimation of the depth of the ‘legitimacy crisis’ within Unionism generally. The British persisted with a policy that achieved the worst of both worlds, a Unionist regime incapable of stabilising itself and an increasingly alienated Catholic population that witnessed massacres in their communities, a military reaction force that murdered Catholics with seized IRA weapons, internment of almost twenty thousand people, army occupation of local communities, a shoot to kill policy, and supergrass trials.

Operation Banner, the British Army operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007, was the longest continuous deployment in British military history. According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving British military personnel died during Operation Banner, 722 of whom were killed in paramilitary attacks, and 719 of whom died as a result of other causes. The British military killed 307 people during the operation, 51% of whom were civilians and 42% of whom were allegedly members of republican paramilitaries.

The British and Unionist politicians, from the Falls Curfew onwards, were the best recruiting agents for the Provisional IRA. The Provisionals killed five Protestants in North Belfast and in Ballymacarrett over the weekend of the 27th and 28th of June 1970 and this no doubt greatly influenced the decision to impose the curfew in the Falls area. Unionist politicians clamoured for an invasion of the Falls Road.  It would be surprising if the hostile Unionist reaction to the Army’s handling of events during that weekend in June did not influence General Freeland’s reactions to impose the curfew and brutalise the local community.  When the Falls was subdued and the streets emptied of fighters, the British Army attempted to humiliate the people further by driving two Ulster Unionist Party government ministers, John Brooke and William Long, through the area in armoured vehicles.  

The IRA, Na Fianna, the Republican Clubs and local people were quite right to claim credit for their actions. It is clear that the curfew was a set-piece battle forced on the IRA in its Belfast heartland, involving many key figures in the history and development of the Republican Movement including Jim Sullivan, Billy McMillen, Joe McCann and many others. Would history have been different if the curfew had not happened?

Cultural Marxism: Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times

By Tara Brady

Tara Brady looks at the politics and the personal in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.

There was a renewed interest in Hollywood’s last silent production last year when Todd Phillips’ Joker curtseyed before the Chaplin film by programming Modern Times as the opening film at Wayne Hall. Presumably Batman’s billionaire family rather enjoyed revelling in the economic miseries of the Depression-era labourer. 

The final screen bow for Chaplin’s iconic Tramp character is an anxious, giddy satire of industrialisation that works its way through the four aspects of the alienation of labour in a capitalist society, as outlined by Marx in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.

As Modern Times opens, Chaplin is a bolt-tightener working at improbable speed on a conveyor belt at “Electro Steel Corp”. He is alienated from the product of his labour which disappears before we might gather what it is. He is alienated from the monotonous production work, so much so that his hands continue to twitch in bolt-tightening motions even when he is on break. He has no creative or human input into his work. 

His conversion into an object by the capitalist mode of production is visually rendered when he, and later a fellow labourer, gets caught up in the vast machinery of the factory. He is literally a cog. 

He also becomes the test subject for a “feeding machine” designed to feed labourers while they work, thereby eliminating the lunch hour. A lonely cigarette break in the lavatory, a sorry depiction of The Tramp’s alienation from other workers, is interrupted by the boss’s appearance on a giant video screen: “Quit stalling and get back to work.” he snaps. 

Finally, The Tramp breaks down,seeing bolts to be tightened everywhere. He is taken to hospital and discharged into a scene of civil unrest. Arrested as a Communist leader, he accidentally foils a prison escape plan and is, to his great disappointment, pardoned. Fired from a shipyard job, he meets Paulette Godard’s gamine, a motherless hustler who steals food from the docks for her siblings. Together, they dream of living in a house. The Tramp gets a job as a department store nightwatchman but is fired. She gets a job as a cabaret singer but – back to the fourth aspect of alienation – is recognised as a vagrant and is chased away by her colleagues. 

Chaplin’s clowning around automation dovetails with the writer-director’s own sense of obsolescence, an aspect he amplifies with a playful use of sound, including a memorably nonsensical song. (Modern Times was completed almost a decade after The Jazz Singer ushered in the era of the “talkies”.)  

Made four years ahead of his stinging anti-fascist satire, The Great Dictator, and his contemporaneous plea to a San Francisco war rally stressing the urgency of Russian war relief – during which he referred to the crowd as “comrades” – Modern Times appears at a crucial moment.

“Chaplin’s clowning around automation dovetails with the writer-director’s own sense of obsolescence”

Chaplin, who was born into grinding poverty in London, and was sent to the workhouse, aged seven, in 1896. He lost his father to alcoholism and his mother to psychosis, brought on by malnutrition and syphilis. His alter-ego, The Tramp, was simultaneously a Pierrot, an everyman, and an economic outsider. 

Aged 26, his $670,000 a year ($15.7 million, adjusted for inflation) with Mutual Film Corporation made Chaplin one of the highest-paid people in the world. And yet, even after he hung up The Tramp’s battered hat, he continued to portray the down-at-heel (Limelight) and the destitute (A King in New York). That was, in part, at least, rooted in his increasingly apparent politicisation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) investigated Chaplin from 1922 onwards for his ties to the Communist Party of the United States. Sure enough, Buster Keaton recalls a 1921 Hollywood gathering during which Chaplin talked “about something called communism” that “was going to change everything, abolish poverty.” 

“They say communism may spread out all over the world,” Chaplin told a New York City gathering in 1942. “And I say: so what?”

The Tramp’s final scene in Modern Times is not a fairytale ending, but the promise of struggles to come for the would-be workers. “What’s the use in trying?” asks his once-again jobless love interest. “Buck up,” replies The Tramp with a fist in the air. “Never say die! We’ll get along!”

Cultural Marxism: A Leftie Guide to Film Streaming

By Graham Seely

In this week’s Cultural Marxism Graham Seely provides cultural alternatives for socially (and budget) conscious lefties bored of Netflix’s homogenous and bland style and unwilling to prop up the Bezos behemoth.

As workers emerge blinking into the phase 2 sunlight, online streaming platforms will be lamenting the loss of an unprecedentedly large captive audience. With familiarity breeding contempt, and the looming post COVID recession, jaded viewers may soon start looking for alternatives to the major platforms. People on the left in particular would also be justified in the belief that the major corporate streaming sites neglect their interests. 

Netflix, still by far the most popular platform, has gradually shifted away from acquiring older films in favour of self production, with classic, experimental and foreign language films losing out in particular. While their library still has a lot to offer, the non-fiction in-house style has become homogenous and bland. Their documentaries increasingly lean toward a liberal, reformist view that eschews radicalism both aesthetically and politically, with a primary focus on individual miscarriages of justice rather than in-depth structural analysis. Class politics takes a back seat in favour of milquetoast musings on corporate malfeasance, conspiracy theories, and, of course, an endless parade of serial killers. The revolution, it seems, will not be streamed on Netflix. 

What about the alternatives? Amazon Prime, despite its extensive and eclectic library of classic and independent titles, is not an option for the many who are unwilling to prop up the Bezos behemoth and its despicable workplace practices. Similarly, viewers searching for a materialist critique of neoliberalism are unlikely to find it on Disney Plus. Mubi, with its curated programme of international and classic cinema, is undoubtedly the most Marxist friendly of the lot, but its limited library and esoteric selections mean it’s unlikely to serve as a one stop shop for most, despite its 10euro a month subscription fee.

So, where does the socially (and budget) conscious leftwing viewer get their fix? Surprisingly, the answer lies in that repressed id of the internet; YouTube. Hidden deep beneath the fashion vlogs, computer game streams and Ben Shapiro montages there’s a mine of films uploaded in their entirety. There is huge variance in quality, with films often incorrectly labelled, badly subbed or missing entire scenes. It’s also important to remember that piracy hurts workers in the film industry, so try and focus your efforts on finding older, copyright free, or obscure films that are difficult to source elsewhere. To start you off, we’ve compiled our list of five free films on YouTube for the discerning dialectician. 

Salt of the Earth

As an unashamedly Marxist work of socialist-realism, Salt of the Earth is an anomaly in American cinema. The setting is 1950s New Mexico. Mexican-American mine workers are treated as second class citizens; paid less than their “anglo” counterparts. Their wives toil at home raising children in appalling conditions, neglected by their husbands, the mine owners and the state. Living in company owned housing, on land once owned by their forefathers, and stuck in a perpetual cycle of debt, rumbles of dissent murmur through the mines.  When the workers organise and demand better pay and conditions, the mine owners refuse to negotiate, prompting a long, bitter strike. After several months  a court injunction outlaws the strikers picket  (gleefully imposed by the police, depicted here as lackeys for the bosses), prompting the women to exploit a loophole by continuing the picket in their husbands’ places. 

Funded by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, and with a cast and crew  made up largely of blacklisted victims of McCarthy’s witch-hunt, it’s not surprising that the film takes an overtly pro union, pro-worker approach to class politics. More surprising for its time is the elegant intersectionality of gender, ethnicity and labour issues: if the men can’t accept women as their equals, why should they expect equality with their white co-workers? The mixed cast of blacklisted Hollywood professionals and real life union activists is headed by Rosaura Revueltas, who gives a towering performance as Esperanza, the melancholic housewife whose burgeoning class-consciousness and feminism galvanises the workers towards victory. As the ultimate demonstration of the film’s militant power it was repressed for decades and denounced as ‘subversive’ by the US House of Representatives. I can think of no higher accolade. 

Z

A public act of police brutality launches a wave of protests as a once proud democracy lunges headlong into fascism. While not exactly escapist viewing at the moment, this prescient 1968 classic by Costa Grava retains its power and relevance over 50 years later. An urgent examination of political intimidation and suppression, Z explores in detail the lengths to which the capitalist state will go to silence an emergent leftwing opposition, and the intrinsic bond of fascism and thuggery. Although based loosely on the real life assassination of Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis, there’s a timelessness and universality to the proceedings; this is also the story of Lumumba and Guevara, Hampton and Jara. 

An Oscar-winning sensation upon release, Raoul Coutard’s kinetic photography and a stirring score by Mikos Theodorakis (himself imprisoned shortly after filming) propel the film with a drive and swagger more redolent of Scorsese or Sorrentino than your typical stuffy political drama. The opening slate brazenly declares “Any resemblance to real-life figures alive or dead is INTENTIONAL”. As America burns in protest, and far right thugs fight openly on the streets across Europe, the contemporary resemblance is all too clear.

Three Songs About Lenin

Though best remembered today for the dizzying 1928 masterpiece ‘Man With a Movie Camera’, this film, made for the 10th anniversary of Lenin’s death, was Dziga Vertov’s most popular during his lifetime. In the absence of a conventional narrative, the titular triptych of songs act as a springboard for the film’s digressive structure.  The first part shows the literal and metaphorical lifting of the veil of religion. The second focuses on the death and funeral of Lenin, and the third on the enormous infrastructural projects undertaken in the years following.  While the hagiographical tone may grate with modern viewers, the film nevertheless serves as an evocative depiction of the remarkable industrial advances of the period; airplanes swoop overhead as tractors plough through land that was worked by hand only a decade before. 

Typically of Vertov, montage is used in place of traditional structure to weave an associative, esoteric portrait of the Soviet collective. Uncommon techniques such as jump cuts, match cuts, time-lapses and superimpositions are utilised to create a unique, purely cinematic grammar. It’s a testament to the ambition and optimism of the early Soviet days that while Flaherty was still defining the fundamentals of the documentary format, Vertov and his comrades had already created the meta-cine essay. A brief glimpse of Roddy Connolly amongst the crowds in Petrograd calls to mind his father’s aphorism about revolutionary action in exceptional times. This is exceptional art in revolutionary times. 

Vivre sa Vie

Although politically tame by his later standards, the roots of Jean-Luc Godard’s Marxist philosophy can be found in this early feature. Brechtian distancing technqiues and modernist intertitles punctuate the ostensibly simple story of Nana, a retail worker who spirals into debt and prostitution. Despite representing the physical manifestation of commodity exchange, Nana, as played by Anna Karina, is no mere cypher. Rather, she’s a mass of contradictions; energetic and despondent, independent and enslaved, ultimately aware of her commodification but unable (or unwilling) to break free. The metaphor of sex work as the basic condition of labour under capitalism would be explored again in Godard’s ‘Two or Three Things I Know About Her’ but not with such playfulness and joie de vivre. This is the first bona fide masterpiece of his career, incredibly he’s still knocking them out 60 years later.

The Price of Coal

For the last number of years Ken Loach has been involved in a game of YouTube whack-a-mole,  uploading his filmography only to have it gradually removed by the copyright holders. Of the few that have survived the purge, this two-part  TV film is the pick of the bunch. The second of four films in his fruitful collaboration with novelist Barry Hynes, this is comfortable territory for Loach: A cast of non-professionals populate a sullen Yorkshire landscape, debating industrial democracy in accents so thick they could insulate your attic. 

It’s the year of the queen’s silver jubilee, and a planned visit by Prince Charles sends the pit-bosses at Milton Colliery into a flurry of excitement. Part One takes a wry look at the pomp and ceremony of the visit, with the mineworkers deployed to a series of increasingly absurd cosmetic tasks in anticipation; painting rusty cranes, planting flower beds and installing new signage. Some mild resistance is demonstrated when the paint is used to daub “Scargill Rules OK” in giant letters on the side of a building. A request to stop cursing goes gleefully unheeded. The longer second part, ominously titled ‘Back to Reality’, takes a darker turn as it’s revealed the money spent on the superficial improvements was originally intended for essential safety upgrades. A catastrophic accident traps eight mineworkers in the pit, and the gruelling rescue efforts, as well as the devastating impact on the workers’ families, are documented in masochistic detail. 

Typically for the Loach/Hines collaborations, there is plenty of light amidst the gloom, which serves to make the didacticism more palatable for a broad audience. There is a poignancy hearing the workers talk with pride about the 1970 and 1972 strikes, unaware they will be trampled by the Thatcher government a few short years later. A minor entry in Loach’s filmography, which still puts it head and shoulders above most of the competition.

A ‘just transition’ needs an abrupt rupture with neoliberal orthodoxy, not eco-platitudes and a recipe for austerity

By Michael Rafferty

Michael Rafferty calls for the Green Party to demand a break from economic and political orthodoxy.

“Any proposal must be transformative on climate action and commit to strong progress towards a more sustainable and fairer society,” the Green Party said when it entered talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in early May. Even the most generous reading of the Programme for Government being voted on by Green Party members across the island this week reveals that neither objective was secured in any meaningful way. 

The release of the document was trailed by an impressive media strategy and leaks describing somewhat nebulously the extent of concessions won by the Greens: a 7% annual reduction in carbon emissions, a ban on fracking, a referendum on housing and several other apparent major ‘wins’. 

When it took until last Monday afternoon for a leaked version of the 139-page document to be confirmed as the final one, suspicions were already palpable that Green members were being ‘bounced’ into supporting the Programme hours before a web-based special convention to debate the contents last Thursday, with members voting this week. 

Finally afforded the opportunity to interrogate the detailed product of lengthy negotiations against the optimism of the weekend press, the holes in the ‘transformative’ proposals began to appear: the 7% annual emissions to be paid for through regressive consumption taxes and through retrofitting of housing (cui bono?); the emptiness of a vague ‘right to housing’ referendum sometime in the future without any real departure from current housing policies or investment in public housing stock; the absence of any redistributive proposals which would tackle corporate tax-avoidance and chronic underfunding of public and health services. 

The long document avoided the use of committal language in favour of mere intentions to ‘review’ and ‘consider’, carefully avoiding getting bogged down in the numbers that might demonstrate that it doesn’t add up to ‘strong progress towards a more sustainable and fairer society’. 

The appendices showing the economic justification for the proposals, the statistical proof that they would achieve their objectives and not hit the poorest the hardest, the graphs showing that the climate data-modellers had crunched the numbers to ensure the policies were sound… weren’t there. The banal scientism of positivist economic data, a feature of many a greenwashed masterplan, would not be needed to sell this deal to the required two-thirds of Green members. Not just because it couldn’t, but because ‘there is no alternative’: rejection of the deal would lay the blame for the ensuing constitutional crisis at the Greens’ door, with an election nobody wants and further delays to the retirement holiday of a frankly inconvenienced Taoiseach. 

The Green Party should use the opportunity it has to actually achieve what it wants, not choose from a severely limited menu of ‘no alternatives’.

The bottom line from the negotiations is that some transition (but not transformation) towards a low-carbon economy is possible within this financialised capitalist frame, but only if it co-exists with the continuation of tax-haven status for corporates, and only if the costs are borne by consumers, workers and renters—certainly not by industry. The overall economic model—which emerged from the Celtic Tiger period, survived austerity and a neoliberal ‘recovery’ since 2016—is sacrosanct. Those on high incomes can continue to dodge tax and extract rent; overdue investments are put off or downplayed, while the “just transition” is funded by anybody who works more than a cycle-ride from their home. 

After some thirty years, it should be clear that the Irish version of neoliberalism cannot provide anything like a ‘just transition’ without major economic reorientation. Irish political economy shifted from modest state-entrepreneurialism before the Celtic Tiger to (ab)using Dublin as a magnet for attracting global financialised flows and service-firms. Now the Irish State badly needs to increase the scope of its role in its economy beyond being a carpet-bagger for transient corporate clients. 

The Irish State was never at the races in terms of healthcare, infrastructure and housing even before austerity and could be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic impact without a departure from the crisis-ridden ‘stability’ caused by building the national economy around a globally-relevant financial city. 

The formation of a government in these unprecedented conditions ought to have been an opportunity to break with the neoliberal orthodoxy of the last three decades, but the Greens instead find themselves prevaricating over a very poor proposal. The ‘alternative’ is not just about which other parliamentary coalitions can be built from the February 2020 General Election result; it is about finding consensus outside the Civil War parties to deconstruct this low-tax monolith. Without this break, other trajectories for Ireland (green, eco-socialist, or other) will continue to rely on external events. 

The Green Party should use the opportunity it has to actually achieve what it wants, not choose from a severely limited menu of ‘no alternatives’. That we need a ‘just transition’ is not in doubt—but it can’t happen without an abrupt rupture with the present neoliberal model. Few opportunities arise to do this democratically, but the Green Party holds one of them in its hands at this very moment.

William Drennan and Martial Law in Dublin

By Fergus Whelan

From historian and author Fergus Whelan, May Tyrants Tremble is a new and comprehensive biography of Society of United Irishmen founder and leader William Drennan. In an exclusive  extract, British authorities close in on  the leadership of the Society of United Irishmen and martial law is proclaimed in Dublin.

The Chancellor held a visitation to Trinity College from 19th to 21st of April 1798 on account of ‘rumours too well founded that principles of a treasonable nature have made their way within these walls’. Drennan informed Martha that nineteen students had been expelled. He felt that those who were suspected as United Irishmen chose not to appear ‘for fear of further prosecution. In fact, the first person called before the Chancellor was Robert Emmet. He was not present and was expelled. The Chancellor carried on his inquisition over three days and Drennan thought his lectures on morality and religion ironic, in the light of his conversation which is ‘a tissue of obscenity and blasphemy.’ 

John Browne (1779-1808), who was a native of Belfast and a firm friend of Robert Emmet, was also expelled. Brown carried messages for Drennan which he dared not trust to the postal system. When Drennan told his sister that she could get more details of the visitation from Brown he prudently omitted that Brown himself had been expelled. Drennan thought that Robert Emmet might accompany Browne to Belfast and told his sister that the young man was a wonderful orator, though modest and diffident in company. Within a week a warrant was out for Emmet. When Drennan heard the news, he called around to visit Emmet’s father but there was nobody home. 

The Castle now regarded Dublin as the headquarters of treason and the military were patrolling the streets. Drennan joked that if he met one of these patrols at night:

I could safely say it was not Cinna the conspirator but the poet, though they might treat meet to the touch of the bayonet for my bad verses. I should not like to be put to death yet a little, and therefore will keep myself as I have done the most politically innocent man in my conscience I do believe in this city, as yet the one most generally suspected.   

On 24th April Drennan arrived back at his Dame Street lodgings where he found a Mr. Wilkinson waiting  on him with a letter which read as follows: 

Dear Drennan

You most probably have heard of my being in custody under a charge of high treason for which I am to be tried on 30th of this month, at Maidstone in the county of Kent. My life being at stake, I trust no other apology for me entreating you to accompany the bearer of this letter to England, for the purposes of giving your evidence which my counsel are of opinion will be very material on my behalf. Yours ever most sincerely A. O’Connor

Maidstone 19th [17]98.   

It was most inconvenient for Drennan to go at that time and he knew that professionally the journey would be very considerably injurious to him. He also doubted his evidence would be of any use. Yet he immediately agreed to travel. He was compelled by a sense of duty to risk any injury to himself to do anything he could to help a man with whom he was very little acquainted. He was determined that the slightest omission on his part should be of any disservice to the life of a man.  He hoped his family in Belfast would agree with his decision. Martha assured him while they were surprised, the family were not at all dissatisfied that he should do his duty.

However, when he reached London he was advised by Thomas Erskine (1750-1823), the famous lawyer, that if he called Drennan to give evidence it could do more harm than good. In the event O’Connor was acquitted, but his co-accused, James Coigly (1761-1798), was hanged. Drennan’s journey into England was a waste of his time except that he got to see the English countryside and enjoy a very short time in London. When he reached Liverpool late on Sunday the smell of the docks reminded him of the slave-trade. But he enjoyed his coach journey across England.

His travelling companion was Henry Grattan who throughout the journey was civil, kind, courteous and accommodating. When they reached London they spent a lot of time together dining at the White Hart, Holborn and visiting the opera and Drury Lane. George Smith, one of O’Connor’s legal team, gave Drennan a seat in his carriage and they visited with the famous British radical, John Horne Tooke at Wimbledon. Drennan was impressed by Horn Tooke whom he felt ‘to be a person of superior mind’. 

Drennan returned to Dublin on 7May. A few days later he learnt that the authorities were offering a reward of £1,000 for the discovery of Lord Edward F[Fitzgerald]. Hearing that Lord Edward’s wife was anxious to know about his visit to England, he called on her and chatted for some time with her. Given the reward for her husband, Drennan must have known that Pamela Fitzgerald (1776-1831) was being closely watched by spies and informers. He believed that the administration was using talk of informers of high degree and low ‘to infuse distrust and complete division’. He told Martha:

Domiciliary visits are to be paid here every night as well as day, in search of strangers from the country who have taken refuge in town or for concealed arms. I suppose three or four people will be set as spies of each division or sub-division of the city. The County of Dublin including part of the city will be proclaimed during the next week, … I marvel much, standing untouched as I do that they have not raised the cry against me of an informer …

The author, Fergus Whelan, at the grave of William Drennan. Image courtesy of Fergus Whelan.

Just as Drennan had predicted, martial law was formally declared in Dublin city and county on 18th May.   Edward Fitzgerald was wounded during his capture on the 19th and died in great agony a few days later. Ruán O’Donnell describes the measures taken by the authorities when Dublin was proclaimed:

From that day the constant patrolling of the yeomanry and the posting of sentries on the Liffey and canal bridges brought an air of menace to daily life in the capital. Preparations were made to fit iron gates, in storage for over a month, to all the main bridges. This was intended to increase the efficiency of the curfew and impede illegal traffic. 

After the city was proclaimed Drennan wrote just one short note to his sister dated 2nd June merely assuring her he was well and had nothing to fear. That was his only communication with her for nearly two months until the end of August, by which time the rebellion had been mercilessly crushed. We have no details of how Drennan behaved in late May and June as the rebellion raged in Wicklow, Wexford, Kildare, Antrim and Down and as a reign of absolute terror was unleashed in Dublin city. He presumably obeyed the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. We may never know whether he saw the body of his old friend Francis Bacon along with dozens of others hanging from Carlyle bridge or the hundreds of rebel corpses thrown into the rubbish pit outside the Royal Barracks. Many of the homes of suspected rebels were torched in the city and the home of Drennan’s friend James Dixon at Kilmainham was occupied by the military. Drennan was fortunate that he was not among those caught up in the ‘vicious circle’ in Dublin who, ‘fearing courts martial and flogging, were driven from their homes with little option other than joining the rebels gathering in the woods, bogs and mountains of south Leinster.’   

Martha wrote three letters to her brother between late May and the end of June. She admonished him severely for not keeping in touch at such a time. She knew little of what was happening in the northern countryside except what she read in the papers. She did get a first hand account of the battle of Antrim from a woman who had taken the wounded Lord O’Neill from a street in the town. He died from his wounds on 18th June. She took some comfort from the fact that Belfast was being guarded by a yeomanry corps which included old friends of the Drennan family such as Dr. Bruce, Rev Vance and James Kennedy Trail. This should not be taken to mean that she was supporting the yeomanry and opposing the rebels. She had long feared that the Armagh Orangemen who were welcomed into the yeomanry by General Lake might burn the town of Belfast if they got the opportunity. Better to be guarded by New light Presbyterian ministers of her own congregation and a prosperous citizen with loyalty to the town than by its sworn bitter enemies.

Debenhams deserts employees

By admin

Debenhams workers have resisted attempts from the retail chain to move its remaining assets abroad.

Their union Mandate has described the action as an effort “to pressurise the Debenhams parent company in the UK to pay a fair union-negotiated redundancy package to their loyal staff in Ireland.”

Workers have been offered a statutory redundancy to be claimed from the Government, rather than from the retailer itself.

“They got a present off COVID-19” said Pamela Keating, a former employee who gave 33 years of service to the company. “They took this opportunity to up and abscond out of the country.”

“What we hope to achieve from this is that the company will actually pay our redundancy rather than the State having to foot the bill.”

Cultural Marxism: The Iron Heel by Jack London

By Tara Brady

In “Cultural Marxism” we excavate ideologically-sound artworks for the left-looking connoisseur. This week: Tara Brady reviews Jack London’s romantic, dystopian and eerily prescient The Iron Heel.

There has been revived interest in America’s most successful socialist author in recent months, as lockdown readers took note of Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague. “To revisit The Scarlet Plague now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, is to marvel at how much London understood—a century ago—about the challenges facing Californians now,” wrote journalist Joe Matthews in  Zócalo Public Square last month. In London’s pandemic tale, the titular illness breaks out in the summer of 2013, a time when the US president is appointed by a “board of magnates”. Within days, all societal structures are reduced “to foam” and the narrator, a Berkeley professor of English literature, is one of only a handful of survivors having chosen to self-isolate.

London had undoubtedly schooled himself in contemporaneous work on pathogens by scientists such as Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) and Robert Koch (1843–1910). How the adventurer and writer hit upon the eerie prescience of The Iron Heel, however, is harder to ascertain.

The dystopian novel, first published in 1908, begins in the year 2600 A.D. – or 419 years into the era of the Brotherhood of Man – when a scholar discovers an unfinished manuscript written centuries before by Avis Everhard, the wife and cadre of revolutionary leader Ernest Everhard. Avis’ father, a Stanford professor, is immediately taken with Ernest, a charismatic labour leader. Avis herself is slower to come around to the romantic revolutionary and his bleak account of the exploitation of labour and a predicted future under the jackboot of an oligarchic dictatorship, known as the Iron Heel.

The Everhard manuscript covers the years 1912 through 1932 in which the Iron Heel comes to power, years characterised by socialist cells, counterespionage, and crushed insurrection, powered along by London’s consummate gifts as a storyteller.  (Even the footnotes are delightful.) Marx’s theory of surplus value has seldom sounded so swashbuckling as it does in Ernest’s mouth.

“I have demonstrated to you mathematically the inevitable breakdown of the capitalist system,” he announces to a gobsmacked gathering of middle class businessmen in chapter nine. “When every country stands with an unconsumed and unsalable surplus on its hands, the capitalist system will break down under the terrific structure of profits that it itself has reared.”

Many of the early chapters are composed in the manner of chapter nine’s ‘mathematical dream’. Just as the New Testament’s Sermon of the Mount is built from blocks of narrative and discourse, The Iron Heel is Marxist theory, dashingly delivered, and then admired by the adoring Avis.

“There are glimmers of hope in Avis’s increasingly brutal manuscript”

There are glimmers of hope in Avis’s increasingly brutal  manuscript. War between the US oligarchs –  in possession of a surplus – and Germany is averted by a General Strike in 1912. Few, however, are not crushed by the Heel. Various trusts hoover up and bankrupt small businesses. Socialist converts, including Avis’s physicist father and a conscientious bishop, are destroyed, both socially and economically, by agents of the ruling class. Mercenary armies mow down dissenters. Ernest and Avis watch trains packed with slave labourers en route to a ruined Chicago so the passengers might replace those lost slaves in an ill-fated rebellion.

Mid-twentieth century readers might have consoled themselves that London was wrong about the monopolistic trusts. They might have noted the advances labour made under the New Deal. The contemporary reader, however, will see parallels between the Iron Heel’s retaliation against the General Strike and various CIA coups, notably in Chile and Venezuela. They will note the current stripping of labour rights, the shrinking ‘middle class’, unbridled economic disparity, and the emergence of newer, grander monopolies, far beyond the Trusts described by Ernest Everhard.

“Do you remember how, in six months, the Tobacco Trust squeezed out over four hundred cigar stores in New York City alone?”, he says. “Where are the old-time owners of the coal fields? You know today, without my telling you, that the Railroad Trust owns or controls the entire anthracite and bituminous coal fields. Doesn’t the Standard Oil Trust own a score of the ocean lines? And does it not also control copper, to say nothing of running a smelter trust as a little side enterprise?”

There is, too, an accidental (and chilling) consideration of the contemporary echo chamber facilitated by social media.

“Each of you dwells in a cosmos of his own making, created out of his own fancies and desires,” explains Ernest. “You do not know the real world in which you live, and your thinking has no place in the real world except in so far as it is phenomena of mental aberration.”

The end times brought about by the Heel’s suppression looks chaotic and Abrahamic. Terrorist sects with names the ‘The Valkyres’ abduct and torture; religious sects like the ‘Wrath of God’ fragment the resistance.

Though it has been adapted twice for the screen in Russia – in 1919 and 1999 respectively – The Iron Heel is not as well known as London’s wonderful dog stories, The Call of the Wild and White Fang. But it’s the romantic, dystopian account of historical materialism you need in your life right now. The book is in the public domain and is available at Project Gutenberg; the audiobook is available through LibriVox.

Working from home is no domestic bliss

By Padraig Mannion

The corporate embrace of working from home will hurt workers, especially women workers, and trade unions must adapt, writes Padraig Mannion.

CSO figures show that at the end of 2019 there were over 2,360,000 in employment in the Republic of Ireland. Unemployment was less than 5%, 118,000 people. 

Four months later, after the Coronavirus restrictions and lockdown of certain sectors of the economy, the situation was radically transformed for 50% of the workforce. Roughly 600,000 were unemployed because their sectors were shut down, and a further 600,000 workers approximately were having their wages heavily subsidised by the government. 

A third cohort of workers affected by the Coronavirus restrictions are those who are now working full-time or mostly from home when previously they would have worked in a central location with their co-workers. 

On 19th May the CSO published the results of a comprehensive survey which gives us a close approximation of the numbers working remotely. Just under 16% of workers (377,600) have been transferred to full-time working from home while another 12% (283,200) are either working from home part-time or were already doing some work from home but have had their home working hours extended. This just over one quarter of all workers in the Republic of Ireland are now working either full or part-time from home.

This massive surge in the numbers working from home raises serious issues for workers, their families, employers and society at large.

Some large multinational firms are obviously reasonably happy with the shift to remote working and clearly see potential in this development for cutting costs and increasing profits. On May 21st, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s adoption of permanent remote work. Zuckerberg predicted that half of Facebook’s workforce will take him up on the offer over the next five to ten years. 

The sting in the tail for workers who adopt this work model is a reduction in wages “to reflect the local cost of living”. In other words, workers cannot bring their Silicon Valley wage with them to Detroit or Delaware. Obviously, there is an immediate payroll saving for the company, plus a reduction in the amount of office space needed. A win-win scenario for company profits.

“Difficulties in working from home affect women more than men.”

On the other hand, workers are not so universally enamoured with the change to working from home. On May 19th the CSO report ‘The Social Impact of COVID-19 Survey’ found that of those new to working from home, almost half (48.6%) of the women reported that they would like to return to their workplace after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. This compares to less than one in three (31.7%) of male respondents.

Among the issues highlighted by women who wish to end the working from home arrangements are worries about maintaining social ties, childcare responsibilities, caring responsibility for another relative, and the difficulties of working while sharing family space with children. The survey itself was taken up during the last week of April. It would be interesting if the CSO carried out a follow-up survey to examine if, or in what direction, the results might change.

An online survey conducted in the first week of May by NUIG and the Whitaker Institute also looked at the issue of remote working but from a somewhat different angle and without using the same representative sampling techniques used by the CSO, and without giving a gender breakdown for results. However, we are told that of the 7,241 survey participants that 77.5% were female. Here, only 22% of respondents wanted to discontinue home-working, 

Results from the whole group highlighted three major problems faced in working from home: not being able to switch off from work; that collaboration and communication with colleagues and co-workers was harder; and poor physical workspace. We can see that the last two issues, in particular, would be heightened for lone parents, for workers living in crowded or indeed overcrowded accommodation, and for workers who also act as carers for parents or other relatives. In other words, these difficulties in working from home affect women more than men.

The Financial Services Union, in a survey of their members who are homeworking, found that: 44% feel pressure to answer calls and emails outside of working hours; 56% have seen an increase in work intensity; and 66% report an increase in work-related stress. As a response to this the FSU are calling for workers to have the right “to disconnect”.  

Remote working also raises fundamental questions for the trade union movement. How can trade union organisation, union recruitment, workers’ representation in disputes with management, and collective bargaining evolve and adapt if remote working becomes standard across large sectors of the economy which are now office-based. 

Already, in many sectors like accountancy, financial services, and technology, trade union density is low and management has a virulent anti-trade union approach. If workers employed in firms here are, in the future, to be dispersed across the country, or indeed outside the country, then where can unions gain a foothold? 

This is a challenge which some trade unions have already recognised, as even before Covid-19 a small minority of workers had sought, or had volunteered for, remote-working. Thus, unions (like SIPTU, FSU, Fórsa) have already greatly increased and refocused their social media presence. Unions’ social media presence is increasingly being developed as a vital communication and recruitment tool rather than as merely an add-on to traditional media as an outlet for press releases. 

Technology for online recruiting, online training, online meetings is being increasingly used and adapted by the union movement to suit their needs and provide maximum security to their members. This is a process that will continue and expand greatly over the next few years.

The Marxist’s Guide to Peanut Butter

By Tara Brady

Worried about the ethics of palm oil? In the first of a series of ‘The Marxist’s Guide to’ Tara Brady writes about the peanut butter brands that have sound policies and go well with toast.

In recent years, there has been much chatter and news coverage given over to palm oil, that insidious goop found in 50% of supermarket products, from boot polish to lipstick. The spectacle of watching displaced, burned orangutans – who face extinction having lost 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years – has pricked the collective conscience of most right-minded consumers.

In health stores and supermarkets, the average peanut butter shopper will, accordingly, be greeted by a vast array of “No Palm Oil” assurances. Good news for our great ape chums. Not so for other closely related species.

Nuts are a nutritional marvel, packed with essential fats, vitamin E, magnesium, protein, selenium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, fibre, and deliciousness. They are also an ethical nightmare. Californian almonds are linked with water shortages; almond cultivation consumes about 10% of the state’s water. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s hazelnuts come from Turkey where they are harvested by migrants, including children. (The biggest buyer is Ferrero, maker of Nutella.)

There is, in fact, only one product line that ensures our peanut-picking comrades abroad are getting a decent wage

Peanuts use relatively little water and are a sustainable crop. Indeed, Dr. George Washington Carver introduced peanuts to the US as a way to improve soil fertility and reduce erosion in the south-east. Thus, most brands trumpeting “No Palm Oil” can equally slap something about “sustainability” on the label.

Superficially, Manílife peanut butter, which is available online and at branches of Holland and Barrett, looks like a more ethical prospect. Their nuts are “sourced from one farm in Córdoba, Argentina” and the butter is “blended in small batches”, we are told. In common with many companies, their website features many smiling faces and no information regarding labour practices.

There is, in fact, only one product line that ensures our peanut-picking comrades abroad are getting a decent wage, and those are found at Liberation Foods.

Liberation is the UK’s first and only Fairtrade nut company, meaning the nut producers get paid at least the Fairtrade minimum price for their nuts and that they receive a Fairtrade premium for every kilogram they sell. It is 44% owned by smallholder nut producers.

The company made headlines a decade ago when it partnered with comedian and nut-fan Harry Hill to produce Harry’s Nuts, a line which allowed small farmers in Malawi, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and elsewhere to sell their crops in the UK. (Hill received no payment for his role as product ambassador.)

This Fairtrade programme, which has subsequently rebranded as Liberation nuts, has continued to benefit rural communities and, on occasion, elephants. In 2012, the Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) invested the Fairtrade premium on solar panels to power electrified fencing in order to keep trampling elephants away without injuring them. 

Liberation Crunchy Peanut Butter is available online through Traidcraft and Ethical Superstore and is very good with toast. Finding a rival brand with similarly sound policies has, thus far, yielded no results. Nuts to that.

Reframing the Recovery Debate

By Michael Taft

Progressives need to reframe the discussion on recovering from the pandemic around a new, public-driven business model, writes Michael Taft.

The public debate is being limited to a very narrow space – reducing the policy options to increasing taxation or reducing public spending (or both), because as we all know: ‘we can’t keep borrowing forever’. Of course, progressives must enter this debate. The resources needed for social and economic investment cannot be sustained on our current narrow tax base. And while the income supports are welcome we will need policies to ensure people can return to work (reducing unemployment costs) and, just as importantly, return to quality jobs (reducing the prevalence of low-road employment). 

Therefore, we need to reframe the debate. And for progressives, this new frame should be rooted in driving a new business model. The projections are necessarily tentative but nonetheless grim. The ESRI projects that even under their benign scenario nearly 250,000 jobs could be lost this year, while a worst case scenario would see 350,000 jobs lost. The Fiscal Council projects that nearly 500,000 jobs will be lost in the second quarter this year, with only half of them returning by the end of 2021. 

It’s not just job losses. The worst impact will be experienced in the low-paid sectors such as hospitality and retail. We should expect downward pressure on wages and working conditions as these sectors recover, with a rise in precariousness and in-work poverty.  Quite simply, with demand for jobs outstripping supply of jobs, working conditions can potentially deteriorate.

“By focusing on the transformation of the current business model, progressives can open up a new front in the economic debate.”

Driving quality employment is one aspect of a new business model. The crisis has crystallised the role of enterprise (along with public services, social protection and investment). We are now seeing what was always evident but hidden by ideology and orthodox managerialism: that enterprises are social assets; that business is (or should be) accountable not only to its owner but to the wider social interest. Actually, this was articulated by Seán Lemass as far back as the 1950s. This calls for a new public-driven business model that cuts across the public and private sectors. 

This is a big canvas with at least three distinct elements.

First, the expansion of current public enterprises and the creation of new ones. This is about driving employment, investment and value-added in the market economy which, in turn, will drive private sector activity. Public enterprises are essentially investment-driven vehicles. Released from the logic of shareholder value, they are free to maximise the social utility of profits; namely, investment. 

When we refer to public enterprise we understandably think of the big ones: ESB, Bord na Móna, CIE, Eirgrid, etc. But do we know of Abargrove (catering), Advanced Environmental Solutions (waste collection), or Greener Ideas (a joint energy venture)? The CSO lists over 200 public commercial companies in the non-financial sector and nearly 40 such companies in the financial sector. Many of these are subsidiaries of larger public enterprise companies, while some are project-specific (e.g. a wind farm). Nonetheless, there are a considerable number of companies which can become instruments of growth – and this doesn’t include a number of non-market public agencies which nonetheless support market activity such as Bord Bia and Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

Nor should we see public enterprises as only national bodies. We can carve out a new role for local public enterprises that are supported by local and regional government and agencies. This would require institutional reform but, as the National Economic and Social Council pointed out in its recent proposals regarding ‘Just Transition’, the best response is local because local communities and economies have different needs, strengths and abilities.

Second, a public-driven model should not be reduced to an exclusively state response. Democratic models such as labour-managed enterprises, civil society enterprises, hybrid enterprise models (local public enterprises that are labour-managed or local community managed) and other forms of democratic business models can play an important part in, especially, local-based policy. Again, this requires stronger local and regional governments and agencies. And given the small to almost non-existent presence of cooperatives in Ireland, considerable resources will be needed to publicise and support such initiatives. 

Third, we need to find ways to transform private enterprise practices. The legal right to collective bargaining and regulation, as well as traditional incentives (tax relief, grants) all have important roles in transforming our current business model. These can be supplemented with an explicit state policy to promote what can be called ‘public purpose enterprises’ – businesses that can avail of an advanced suite of state supports on the basis that they promote collective bargaining and employee participation, prioritise investment (in R&D, new skills, market expansion), reduce inequalities in wages and the gender pay gap, and promote environmental sustainability. In this way we can demonstrate the competitive advantage of market enterprises that commit to greater democracy, investment and climate justice.

By focusing on the transformation of the current business model, progressives can open up a new front in the economic debate. While we will need to fully participate in the fiscal debate (borrowing, deficits and debt, taxation, etc.), we must also show that the fiscal is a reflection of enterprise quality, and that enterprise quality is a function of democracy. The increasing participation of people in the generation of employment and value-added can launch the Irish economy on to the high road. 

To paraphrase Keynes when he referred to unemployment – look after enterprise quality and the budget will look after itself.

Defending the frontline: protecting nurses, protecting patients

By Eoghan Gardiner

The pandemic has stretched and stressed our already under-resourced healthcare system. Eoghan Gardiner talks to Phil Ní Sheaghda to learn about how the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is fighting to protect the workers at the frontline.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) represents upwards of thirty thousand nurses and midwives who are working on the frontline against COVID-19. 

Frontline workers have received a wide level of support from the general public for their role in combating the virus. However, the response from the Government has been “disappointing”, according to INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, in a recent interview with LookLeft. 

“We cannot ever again let our health services and the funding of it run down to the state that it has been.”

Ní Sheaghdha said that this crisis has indeed been ‘very difficult’ for nurses, explaining how the coronavirus has changed up parts of their job. “It requires them to provide nursing care to their patients while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), which cuts down a lot of your communication.” 

“A lot of our job involves nonverbal communication but that’s been very difficult. Also, the service has been divided in two. So you have services for COVID and non-COVID patients. That requires a lot more staff, and they just aren’t there.” 

Recruiting more nurses than what we’ve got at the moment is key to running an effective healthcare system, says Ní Sheaghdha. 

“From our perspective, what we’ve been looking to the Government to do is to ensure that they do as much as we can to recruit more right now into the system.” She also wants the Government to give a “very clean, clear assurance that an embargo on nursing and midwifery will not be introduced regardless of the state finances at the end of this year.” 

Ní Sheaghdha expressed her disappointment with the outsourcing of the ‘Ireland’s call’ initiative, a campaign that has seen tens of thousands of unemployed healthcare workers register for the frontlines with the HSE. 

The Irish Daily Mail revealed that applicants to the initiative were being employed on three month contracts by CPL resources, a private outsourcing agency, with less employment rights than their directly-employed colleagues.

“We believe that if you’re working in a pandemic, you have the right to be directly hired and have all that goes with a directly hired job.”

She also criticised the Government for ignoring the concerns of healthcare workers surrounding PPE. 

“The infection rate among health care workers is steadily growing, and they’re at a point now where [the Irish rates] are the highest in Europe. 32% of all COVID cases in Ireland among health care workers. We started asking questions of the Government at the very early stages when we saw these figures because we were concerned. We’ve asked a series of questions and we still haven’t got answers and we’re very disappointed with that.” 

“To find out if people are properly protected, you need to know how they are getting infected. So we know, for example, that some have contracted the virus at work. That needs to be examined because if it is an issue that the PPE that they’re supplied with isn’t sufficient, well, then we have to correct that. We don’t know that that is the case, but we don’t know that it isn’t either because we haven’t got the information we need.” The INMO has written to the Minister for Health requesting an independent inquiry into this, “because right now the number of healthcare workers that are infected are alarmingly high, well over seven and a half thousand.” 

“We need to be able to reassure our members that they are not at risk when they’re wearing PPE, and that the PPE that’s provided to them has been quality tested to ensure it provides the relevant and necessary protection. In order to do that we need the detailed statistics that we have sought.” 

Phil Ní Sheaghda with members of the INMO. Credit: Lisa Moyles/INMO.

Pictures of healthcare workers bruised from wearing PPE over long-periods of time have sprung up on social media recently. This, coupled with the increase of infection rates as a result of fatigue, concerns Ní Sheaghdha. 

“We need to have a formal system whereby nurses and midwives can get periods of time, in addition to their normal time away. They have to have a formalized system of having a reprieve from this type of work.” 

The issue of childcare has also been amplified by COVID-19. 

“Childcare has to be addressed. It is absolutely disgraceful that up to today, we still don’t have a system to provide suitable childcare for nurses and midwives. We need them to go to work. They’re experts at what they do and their expertise is needed now more than ever, and the Government hasn’t put any plan in place that actually meets their needs.” 

There are a number of messages in public health that we need to take away moving forward, says Ní Sheaghdha, citing that we must “learn a real lesson” from privatisation of care of the elderly. 

“We cannot ever again let our health services and the funding of it run down to the state that it has been. We have to ensure we learn a real lesson from the privatization and the outsourcing of care of the older person. It is now 82% private providers and we saw what happened as a result. We have to provide care of the older person services in the public sector.”


Writedown debt to rebuild the economy

By Conor McCabe

A debt jubilee is needed to ensure a just recovery, writes Conor McCabe.

Debt is a creature of accountancy and the law. It has no physical presence but has a coercive power due to state enforcement of its mechanisms. Rent, for its part, is essentially parasitic.

In times of crisis it is folly for the state to privilege such profit over the survival of the real economy.

We have been here before. We cannot do the same again.

We need to introduce a debt, rent, and utility bill moratorium and subsequent write-down for the coronavirus months, coordinated by government and the state, and tied into the liquidity response that the European Central Bank (ECB) has already undertaken.

These measures are needed to ensure that people get through this crisis somewhat in one piece, and that the State has the resources going forward to tackle the housing and health issues that dominated the recent election, as well as to ensure we can implement a green new deal that is vital to our future.

The signs so far, however, are not good. 

The government has put in place a moratorium on evictions – the absolute bare minimum needed in a pandemic – but has refused to deal with the payment itself outside of a ban on rent increases. 

This is in spite of the fact that unaffordable rent is a key issue that dominated the recent election. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and tens of thousands of businesses have shut down. It is unlikely that all will be able to open up once the current restrictions are lifted.

Despite headline initiatives such as a Covid-19 payment of €350 per week and the (temporary) public administration of the entire health service, the Government’s response is actually not that different from that of the previous recession – protect banks and landlords over the real economy.

We cannot afford to make the same mistake this time. To make an analogy, significant sections of the economy have been put into a state-induced coma so that our medical services can fight this infection. Countries across the EU, including our own, are purposely shutting down economic activity in order to save lives.

In Ireland it means that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have a reduced income, but under current arrangements they are being treated for the purposes of rent, debt and utilities as if nothing has happened. 

At the end of all of this we need a debt jubilee – a writedown of loan and rent payments that were due during the coronavirus months.

The message from government is clear: protect people in the short-term but make no structural changes.

The Government response so far, however, has been to ask banks to defer loan repayments, not to get rid of them. Similarly, it has asked landlords to show some ‘understanding’ with regard to rent payments.

It has not, however, given itself legal powers to enforce these requests. This merely straddles people with debt for the months during which they were told to stay at home and not do anything.

It has increased welfare payments, but done nothing – absolutely nothing – to tackle high rents and low supply. 

The collapse in Airbnb rentals should have been used by the state to introduce a long-term solution to the housing crisis. Instead, it has taken out short-term leases at full rent with corporate landlords to house homeless families until such time as hotels open back up again. 

The message from government is clear: protect people in the short-term but make no structural changes.

The question, then, is what should be done and how to achieve it.

At a minimum, the following is needed:

– Full moratorium on domestic rents and mortgage repayments for people affected

– Full moratorium on commercial rents and loan repayments for businesses affected

– Full moratorium on utility bills for businesses affected

– Legislation to ensure that claims for rent, mortgage, and loan repayments, as well as utility bills missed during the crisis, are not legally enforceable

– Legislation to ensure credit history is not affected by missed payments during the crisis

– Interest-free loans and overdraft facilities for businesses to pay suppliers and contractors

 – Negative interest-rate loans for non-commercial and arts bodies/collectives/ venues/facilities.

The suspension of rent, mortgage, and debt repayments would take a significant burden off people’s shoulders, and enable affected households to get through this crisis on the announced payment of €350 per week.

We need to push the debt of the coronavirus breakout into the world of finance, which is where the significant and almost unlimited support measures announced by the ECB will come into play.

It is the role of the ECB — not renters — to ensure that otherwise healthy banks and utility companies remain solvent. The ECB, for its part, has made it clear it is willing to honour its responsibilities.

At that stage it is then possible to look at either write-downs or the quarantining of coronavirus debt by placing as much of it onto the balance sheet of the ECB or through a bad bank fully funded by the ECB. There it can be parked for decades while we go about restructuring our society on environmentally and socially sustainable lines. 

None of what has been proposed here is outside the realm of possibility. It can be done. The mechanisms are there. It is all about whether the political will is there. 

That is a question for our progressive parties to answer. At this time of political flux, it remains to be seen whether they are willing or able to step up to the plate.


Essential but unprotected

By Eoghan Gardiner

Despite upwards of one thousand deaths as a result of COVID-19, some employers continue to operate while completely snubbing public health guidelines. 

One essential worker employed in a Dublin warehouse told LookLeft that social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) are “non-existent” in his workplace. 

Explaining the lack of PPE, he said that workers are “not given masks or gloves or anything like that when they enter the warehouse”, and that if workers want to protect themselves they are told “bring it in yourself.” Only hand sanitiser is offered by the employer. 

In addition, this worker claims that no efforts have been made to provide a safe working environment through social distancing, and that it “has not been mentioned once.” 

“I’m not sure what to say other than that. You can make your own effort to social distance, but I don’t think I’ve heard it discussed or recommended. It’s non-existent.” 

Many workers feel that they have no choice but to put up with these conditions despite the risks. “If I wasn’t working here, I would be at a lower risk of contracting the virus. I try not to let it linger on my mind. It’s just one of those things that I can’t exactly go in and change myself … unless I quit!” He laughs after finishing that sentence, showing how far-fetched the idea of prioritising one’s health can be to many workers. 

He goes on to claim that “the fact that the government has to enforce the closure of places that refuse to protect their workers” goes to show “the callousness in the system, and we have to put up with that if we want to sustain an income.” 

This general operative feels that he cannot raise the issue with his employer, presumably out of the fear of losing his job or receiving less hours. 

“It is in the back of your mind that you would be a lot safer if you weren’t working here. It’d be nice to have proper PPE and all of the measures enforced. I feel I can’t bring it up for fear of upsetting or almost speaking out of place.” 

He says that this is “not really much of a surprise”, and that “there’s many similar examples, even before the pandemic, of people working in dangerous conditions and not being able to speak up about it.” 

Health minister Simon Harris wrongly claims “there has been 18 other coronaviruses”

By Eoghan Gardiner

Minister for Health Simon Harris has wrongly claimed that there have been eighteen coronaviruses before Covid-19.

Harris said on RTÉ 2FM that there “has been 18 other coronaviruses”, implying that the current pandemic was given its name because it is the 19th coronavirus.

Attempting to dismiss the blunder, he attributed what he described as “an awful boo boo” to being “an awful auld idiot at times” on a video uploaded to his Twitter account.

In actuality, the number in Covid-19 refers to 2019, the year when cases of the virus were first reported, not the number of coronaviruses as the health minister initially claimed.

The incident joins a list of controversies surrounding Harris since taking up his post, including the cervical cancer scandal, a record number of hospital patients on trollies and his mishandling of costs associated with the National Children’s Hospital.

Harris holds no formal medical qualifications, instead studying journalism and French in college, before he dropped out to become a politician on a full-time basis.

Campaign for Donohoe to drop the debt

By Administrator

Financial Justice Ireland is calling on the public to contact Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe saying that Ireland wants the IMF and World Bank to “drop the debt”.

Under the title of #DropDebtSaveLives, Financial Justice Ireland is one of over 200 organisations across the world which has joined an urgent call for the cancellation of all external debt payments due to be made in 2020 and for the provision of emergency additional finance which does not create debt for low-income countries.

The Irish public is being asked to tweet or email the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, saying that Ireland should support the call for cancelling the debt payments of low income countries so as to ensure money stays in those countries and goes to tackling the health, social and economic crises caused by the pandemic.

While Irish campaigners have welcomed the IMF’s announcement on Tuesday that it will cancel $215 million of debt payments for 25 countries over the next six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they say it falls short of what is required.

“Some of the debts cancelled today will be loans received in response to the 2014 Ebola pandemic,” said the Director of Financial Justice Ireland, Maeve Batement. “Three of the top five recipients are Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, who all received loans from the IMF in response to Ebola.

“The debt hangover from the Ebola crisis demonstrates that we must respond to global health crises with aid – not loans. The coronavirus response will require upwards of $70 billion in aid, if countries are to escape a new debt crisis.”

She continued: “The debt hangover from the Ebola crisis also demonstrates the need to go beyond an ad hoc response and look at a systemic reworking of the debt system, particularly the need for a UN-led debt workout process.

The debt write-off announced on Tuesday represents less than 1% of all debt repayments owed by low-income countries this year, according to Financial Justice Ireland.

Mandate calls for suspension of ‘cynical’ Debenhams liquidation

By Roisin Ni Dhalaigh

Mandate Trade Union has called for the immediate suspension of the decision by Debenhams management to put the company into voluntary liquidation in the Republic of Ireland, calling the move “opportunistic” and “cynical.”

Debenhams shocked almost 2,000 workers in 11 stores last Thursday by announcing that its Irish stores “are not expected to reopen.”

The company had already suspended trading due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Mandate believes the timing of this liquidation is cynical and an abuse of power.

Mandate General Secretary, John Douglas, said “This decision to enter liquidation without any consultation with the workers or their representatives is a hammer blow for workers who were already trying to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. All Debenhams workers are in lockdown and have no ability to travel to attend meetings and discuss the key issues with their union.

“This doesn’t appear to be a normal ‘compulsory’ liquidation. If, as we suspect, it has been entered into freely by the Directors of the company, there should have been discussions with their workers who built this company and have given them loyal service for decades,” added Douglas.

“We want to see what the finances of the company are, establish whether there is a credible way any of the Irish Debenhams stores could be saved and protect jobs where possible. If this is not possible, we want to negotiate the best solutions for our members,” he said.

Mr Douglas also questions the involvement of Bank of Ireland in the process.

“Bank of Ireland is a part owner of the business, along with Barclays, Silver Point Capital and GoldenTree. It beggers belief that an Irish bank, bailed out by the Irish taxpayer, would deliberately and cynically place a company into liquidation without any negotiations with workers and costing up to 2,000 jobs,” said Mr Douglas.

“Debenhams management should suspend their decision to enter voluntary liquidation and immediately commence discussions with its workers through their representatives, Mandate Trade Union,” he added.

Mandate has now written to the Minister for Business, Heather Humphreys, asking her Department to intervene to prevent the appointment of a Liquidator.

In the letter, Mr Douglas asks the Minister to “demand that the appointment of a liquidator is not made until there is full engagement with staff and their union as to the future of the Irish business and pending the ending of the COVID-19 Crisis and a return to normality. This will, we believe, allow for a genuine engagement with Debenhams Management to discuss all options open including the possibility of saving some of the jobs involved.”

Another costly failure?

By Administrator

The Irish state’s ‘bad bank’, NAMA, has only spent a little over one third of the €4.5bn which it had committed to new home building in 2015, according to figures released over the weekend.

In October 2015 the then Minister for Finance Michael Noonan announced in his Budget speech that NAMA would use €4.5bn in funding to deliver 20,000 homes by the end of 2020. It was to support 30,000 house-building and ancillary jobs.

However, the Business Post has now reported that NAMA has spent only €1.7bn of the funding and delivered 11,700 homes, of which 2,000 were built on NAMA-owned land before the October 2015 speech.

NAMA is seeking to include an additional 5,100 homes in its figures on the basis that the body funded them indirectly through contributions to planning permission, legal costs, holding costs, or enabling works but would not provide the Business Post with how much these costs actually came to.

The response of the bad bank to the Business Post was to say that the funding was essentially a back-up if developers and receivers who owned the sites could not get their own finance and that “It did not represent a commitment by NAMA to directly fund all aspects of the construction and delivery of 20,000 units”.

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