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Before yesterdaySocialist Party (Ireland)

Precarity- Why a new generation of workers must organise

By Eddie McCabe

From fast food workers getting organised to fight for a living wage, to Uber drivers fighting a company infamous for its use of bogus self-employment models, to McDonalds’ workers in the US saying ‘No More’ to sexual harassment, a section of workers traditionally seen as “hard to organise” are proving their willingness to fight. Katia Hancke looks at what this trend represents.

The growth of precarious working conditions has been significant over the last ten years. An ICTU report published in December 2017 highlights just how much people across all sectors, both North and South, have been pushed into forms of precarious work since the crisis of 2008 – whether that’s involuntary part-time work, temporary employment, banded hours contracts or bogus self-employment.1

For those familiar with Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” the story sounds familiar. The economic crash and dramatic increase in unemployment was used to undermine working conditions and pay, and to force workers to accept precarious working arrangements and take-home pay well below the living wage. Services were out-sourced and agency work shot up.

Since then unemployment has fallen significantly, profits are up, we hear no end of touting of an economic recovery by the establishment, but the reality is that working conditions are not improving, and that precarious work is a generalised reality for a new generation of workers. The economic crisis was used to force a race to the bottom in working conditions both in Ireland and internationally, while the 1% at the top accumulates wealth at unprecedented levels – wealth inequality is more extreme than ever before.

A precarious existence

The working class globally has grown massively in size. Between 1980 and 2005 the global workforce doubled, mainly spurred on by globalisation and the industrialisation of neo-colonial countries. India is a case in point. Despite very high levels of economic growth for the last 20 years, more than 80% of India’s workers scramble to earn a precarious living in the informal sector.2 The richest 1% of the population, meanwhile, cream off more than 70% of all wealth generated in the economy. This is what neo liberal capitalism has to offer to the working class today: casualisation and a relentless driving down of wages, while the very few at the top hoard obscene amounts of wealth.

In Ireland, workers in the hospitality sector are most at risk of precarious working conditions, but education and health are also heavily affected. Workers in sectors in which informal employment has long been a scourge – such as construction – are more reliant on agency firms than ever. Stories of low pay, dangerous working conditions and breaches of health and safety abound. From crane operators to cleaners, to third level lecturers, precarity of employment is on the rise.

The effects on workers’ lives are far reaching – not knowing what hours you will be working from week to week or sometimes from day to day does not just affect your work life and your social life. Precarious work means precarious income and that leads to precarious workers being at the sharp edge of the housing crisis, as they can’t access a mortgage and are stuck in overpriced rental accommodation or at home with their parents. People in precarious employment find it very difficult to plan their own future, leave alone plan starting a family.

Precarious workers’ health (mental and physical) is negatively affected. Low-paid workers can’t afford to pay for a doctor’s visit, and because they don’t have sick pay entitlements, workers feel they have to go to work even when they are sick. A recent study in the UK found that those in temporary jobs are 29% more likely to experience poor mental health. Precarious working conditions lead to precarious lives, causing increased stress, depression and anxiety.3

Sexual harassment

Precarity also makes workers more vulnerable to other forms of exploitation. A TUC study from 2016 into sexual harassment in the workplace highlights the link between the prevalence of sexual harassment for younger women and precarious forms of work, such as zero-hour contracts and agency work. The figures in the study are alarming: 63% of 18 to 24 year old women workers reported they had experienced sexual harassment; 69% of manufacturing workers and 67% of hospitality workers were directly affected. A study regarding the experiences of hospitality workers in the US produced similar results.4 There are no figures regarding workers’ experiences in the South of Ireland, as the SAVI report has not been produced since 2002 due to government cutbacks, but refusing to look into the problem doesn’t mean the issue is any less pressing.

On the 1 November over 20,000 Google employees walked off the job in protest against the company’s handling of sexual harassment in the workplace. Their action drew attention across the globe and even the mainstream media were quick to link it to a growing anger of a new generation of workers in countries right across the globe.

The enthusiastic response to the recent Google strike in Ireland is a first example of how these issues of oppression cannot be separated from the class struggle in general – in fact, they are now brought right back into the general need for workers to get organised on a class basis; and when they do so, social as well as economic demands are intertwined in their struggles. Any fight against sexism in the workplace is directly linked with the need to fight for secure employment, a living wage and strong trade union organisation.

However, those over-represented in precarious work are under-represented in the trade union movement: young people, migrants, low-paid workers, people without a degree are less likely to be unionised than other sections of workers.

Precarious workers get organised

Given all that, the recent developments of precarious workers internationally getting organised and taking militant action is all the more significant. Uber is a highly profitable company that forces their 70,000 drivers to work as bogus self-employed. This means Uber drivers are not entitled to basic workers’ rights such as holiday pay, sick pay and the minimum wage. Despite the tactics of the company, using their technology to divide and isolate their employees, drivers got organised and combined to take the company to court with militant strike action.

At the start of November 500 precarious workers marched in London to highlight Uber’s Court of Appeal case. Uber workers marched from the Court to the University of London where outsourced workers are currently on strike and then on to show solidarity with NHS couriers who are fighting for a living wage.

Recent strike action of hospitality workers – in McDonalds, TGI Fridays and other fast food chains – showed a similar level of solidarity and combativity. In the North, Unite have set up a new branch of hospitality workers on the back of struggle by Boojum workers against their employer. A new generation of workers are starting to move into action and are showing a willingness to take determined industrial action, including strike action, to force their employers to make concessions.

The internationally co-ordinated strike action by Ryanair workers over the summer is another powerful example. Ryanair is a notorious union-busting company. The CEO, Michael O’Leary, has infamously stated that he would rather cut off his hand than deal with unions. The company, throughout its existence, has actively fought against workers getting organised. In the face of this, both cabin crew and pilots organised repeated days of strike action across six or seven countries. While the fight for union recognition in Ryanair is ongoing, the level of international solidarity displayed by workers traditionally not organised is impressive.

The way in which this new generation of precarious workers is looking to get organised is still in an early phase and has found different expressions in different countries. Sometimes new unions have been set up from scratch. In some cases, the trade union movement realise their responsibility to organise these workers and put the resources in to unionise workplaces. But a lot more could and should be done. In the South, unions such as Mandate have tried to organise precarious workers, especially in the retail sector, and industrial action in workplaces such as Tesco, Dunnes and most recently Lloyds has not led to victories for workers.

The months long campaign by Lloyds workers, for which they should be commended for the principled stance they took, is an example worth exploring. Lloyds is a pharmaceutical multinational with 17,000 workers across Europe and the US. In Ireland, they employ over 1,000 workers across nearly 100 stores. They routinely use banded hour contracts and low pay. Two hundred workers got organised, exasperated by the poor treatment by the company, joined a trade union and decided to take strike action. The company’s response was hardnosed – they locked out workers in some of the shops and point blank refused to engage with the union.

Organising a new generation

The complications that precarious workers face, especially in the retail and hospitality sector, in taking on this type of employer are numerous. In order to be able to win such a dispute an immediate recruitment campaign to expand the strike and close as many shops as possible was essential. A quick escalation of industrial action, a broader trade union boycott of the company and international solidarity would have been other important aspects of a determined strategy to take on what was clearly going to be a hard battle. The trade union movement has a responsibility to do everything in its power to assist workers moving into industrial struggle for the first time against such a well-resourced enemy.

Clearly, the growing anger amongst precarious workers about the impossible living conditions they are faced with will lead to further explosive actions. There is an interest in getting organised to win. But that involves more than just signing up to a union. It means workers organising their own workplaces, collectively deciding the key demands they want to win and what is the best strategy to win them. It involves building networks of solidarity across sectors and uniting workers around demands that will provide a tangible improvement to their lives. The $15 Now campaign across the US was one example of such a unifying demand, as it got to the heart of the poverty so many fast food workers experienced despite working long hours.

For a new generation of workers, something has to give: they want to work to live, not just to exist. Under neo-liberal capitalism that means taking on the powerful interests of profit-hungry multinationals, getting organised is an essential first step in that process. The trade union movement could be transformed if this generation of radicalised workers becomes the beating heart of a re-energised trade unionism, reviving the legacy of Connolly and Larkin, based on militant action and working-class solidarity.

In the United States, we have seen how a new generation, radicalised by the Occupy movement and the movement in support of Bernie Sanders in 2016, are moving to get organised in the trade union movement. 2017 saw a modest but significant increase in the numbers joining trade unions, 76% of whom were under the age of 35. This is a section of the working class that has displayed an openness towards socialist ideas and a rejection of the political and economic status quo.

Such experiences will not and have not been confined to the US, as shown by the repeal movement here in the South, where a section of those active in this movement are stepping into activity around the question of the right to housing. Combined with a radical leftward and developing political outlook, as well as a new level of organisation in the workplace and beyond, this new generation of youth will be a key force in the building of a mass socialist movement to challenge the rule of capitalism.n

 

Notes

1   ‘Insecure and Uncertain’: Precarious Work in the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland, ICTU, Winter 2017 l 2  Alf Gunvald Nilsen, 5 November 2018, ‘The future of work and the future of poverty’, www.opendemocracy.net l 3 Living With Uncertainty, TASC, April 2018 l 4 Still just a bit of banter? Sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016, TUC, 2016, www.tuc.org.uk

 

The post Precarity- Why a new generation of workers must organise appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).

Opposing racism and the far right

By Eddie McCabe

The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s Presidential election is an important warning of the growth in support for the far right and right-populism across the world. His election by a 10% margin will mean the formation of the first far-right government in the country since the military junta ended in 1985. Kevin Henry looks at how the threat of racism and the far right can be challenged and defeated.

Bolsonaro’s ultra-reactionary ideas speak for themselves. The former army captain under the military junta has claimed that both the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile (responsible for the murder of at least 3,000 people, possibly even multiples of that figure), and the Brazilian junta itself (renowned for its use of torture), did not kill enough people. In interviews, he is quoted as saying, “I’ve got five kids, but on the fifth I had a moment of weakness and it came out a woman”, and that he “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son”. Adding that he “would prefer that my son die in an accident” than be gay.1

At the same time, Bolsonaro is pushing forward an aggressively neo-liberal programme that involves attacks on the living standards of the poor and the working class in Brazil. Scientists have also expressed concern about his intention to kick environmental NGOs out of the country. He wants to plough through Brazil’s Amazon, Earth’s biggest and most diverse tropical rainforest, which helps absorb CO2 emissions. As the Brazilian sister organisation of the Socialist Party – Freedom, Socialism & Revolution (LSR) – put it, “Bolsonaro represents the unity of radical neo-liberal policies and proto-fascist practices, the worst possible combination for the vast majority.”2

A global threat

Bolsonaro, of course, is not an isolated phenomenon. Since the election of Trump, in particular, there have been important electoral victories for the racist right and far right in Europe. In Hungary, the general election earlier this year saw the re-election of Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz party, winning 49.8%, and the outright fascist Jobbik party winning 19%. In Austria, the 2017 election was won by the right-wing Austrian People’s Party, led by Sebastian Kurtz, with 31.5%. They formed a government with the far-right Freedom Party, which won 26%. This has already had the effect of significantly whipping up Islamophobia in Austria, including attacks on its Muslim population.

In Italy, the 2018 general election saw the League, led by Matteo Salvini, come out on top with 37%, followed by the populist Five Star Movement with 32%. Salvini has spoken of the need to increase the level of deportations and the government has refused to allow an NGO-operated rescue ship for refugees crossing the Mediterranean to dock in Italy.

In these countries, the far right has become not simply a prominent force of opposition, it is now a player in government. In other countries, the far right have also made important breakthroughs. In September, the racist Sweden Democrats increased their vote to 17.9% in the general election, their highest vote ever. The German election a year earlier saw the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) enter the Bundestag for the first time as the third-largest party. The danger of this growth was illustrated by a recent protest in the city centre of Chemnitz, where the right wing mobilised thousands, cynically using the murder of a young worker to whip up tension around immigration.

Why the growth?

In order to combat the growth of these far-right and racist forces, it is essential we have a clear understanding, not just of the nature of these parties but, crucially, of the basis for their growth. A key reason for this is the crisis of and demise in support for the “extreme-centre”, the main establishment parties in the form of the traditional right and the former parties of social democracy, such as the Labour Party in the south of Ireland.

These parties are paying a political price for the implementation of austerity over a long period of time and, in the case of the latter, their historic sell-out to neo-liberal capitalism in the early 1990s. The rise of the Sweden Democrats this year coincided with the Social Democrats in Sweden having their worst election result for more than 100 years, while the main right-wing party, the Moderates, did even worse.

This process was demonstrated graphically in the French presidential elections in 2017, which saw the ruling Socialist Party getting only 6.9%. The second round saw a run-off between the current President Emmanuel Macron, who presented himself as a break with the politics of the past, and the far-right Marine Le Pen. Le Pen was able to win millions of votes from angry workers and young people with her anti-establishment and protectionist rhetoric, constantly claiming that she represented “the people” and a new approach, while at the same time playing the anti-immigration and Islamophobia cards.

This is also an important feature in Brazil. As LSR pointed out, “An important part of Bolsonaro’s vote comes from a social and economic elite which has learned its whole life to hate the poor, black people, women, North-Easterners and LGBT people.” However, they go on to say that, “the vote given to the far-right also reflects in a terribly deformed way, the indignation and tiredness of a section of the population, lacking in political alternatives and totally disillusioned with the political system and direction of the country.” Brazil is in the midst of a sharp economic crisis, alongside corruption scandals which implicated the whole political establishment and were used as a pretext for a parliamentary coup which put a right-wing president, Michel Temer, in power.

The ideologues of the “centre”, i.e. the capitalist establishment, respond to this phenomenon by equating the growth of the forces of the left and the growth of far-right and right-populist forces. This was summed up in the recent speech of ‘anti-Brexit campaigner’ Gina Miller to the British Liberal Democrat conference: “The fascism of the left is every bit as terrifying as the destructive fascism of the right.” Similar points have been made elsewhere by prominent figures, including Leo Varadkar.

Such a notion completely understates the real effect that the far-right are having on the lives of refugees, immigrants, LGBTQ and working-class people in general. More fundamentally, it ignores the role of the political establishment in creating fertile ground for these forces, in terms of their destructive austerity policies, but also the racism they are prepared to inject into the situation when it suits their interests. This doesn’t undercut the far right, but only serves to embolden them. Recently, Islamophobic comments by Boris Johnson, comparing women who wear the Burka to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”, have led to a rise in Islamophobic attacks on women.3

Left challenge needed

Comments such as Gina Miller’s also illustrate that capitalist politicians’ real fear is the growth of a socialist challenge to their system. The Marxist revolutionary, Antonio Gramsci, commented that, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”4 This is pertinent today. To simply look at the question of the growth of the far right without also seeing the important re-growth in support for left forces would be to draw unnecessarily pessimistic solutions. It is important to have a sense of proportion and, most importantly, an assessment of the real balance of forces in society, which in general is favourable to the left.

In Britain, the far right have been able to organise their largest demonstrations in decades, involving up to 15,000 people, under the banner of the Football Lads Alliance led by Tommy Robinson. Yet these demonstrations are dwarfed in comparison to the 250,000 who took to the streets of London when Trump visited, in large part to reject his racist agenda, or protests of a similar size that have taken place to defend the NHS. In Brazil, an opinion poll showed that 69% of people think democracy is the best form of government, compared to only 12% who said that in certain circumstances a dictatorship is best. We can expect that Bolsonaro’s agenda will be resisted on the streets.

The far right are also on the back foot when it comes to the important mobilisations and shifts in attitudes that have happened as a result of the global women’s movement and struggle for LGBTQ rights. A section of the far-right attempt to cynically use these issues; for example, claiming to stand up for the rights of women, while in reality whipping up racism, particularly Islamophobia. However, it is more common now for the far right, particularly the ‘Alt-right’, to attack these progressive movements.

This can be seen with figures like Jordan Peterson and Milo Yiannopoulos, who have come to prominence by speaking against feminism and “cultural Marxism.” They particularly attack trans* people, including through the dangerous practice of ‘doxxing’, outing people, particularly at universities. Such practices make them extremely dangerous and will assist them in recruiting a minority of transphobic, homophobic and sexist individuals. However, it also important to recognise they are taking these issues up from a position of weakness, not strength, given the shift in attitudes that has taken place in society, particularly among young people.

Why a left challenge is needed

A combative, socialist left is best placed to politically take on right populism and the far right. The fact that Jeremy Corbyn was successful in winning back a section of the Labour vote that went to UKIP is an indication of that. Similarly, Bernie Sanders would have been better positioned to challenge Trump’s claim to stand up for ordinary people than were the establishment politics of Hillary Clinton.

This can also be seen in its negative sense – where the radical left is seen to be part of the establishment, they can lose support to the far right. This is true in Germany, where Die Linke (the Left party) has lost support in the eastern part of the country and AfD have increased their vote. This has provoked an important debate in Die Linke. One of its leaders, Sahra Wagenknecht, has launched a new project called ‘Aufstehen’ (Standing Up). She has drawn the wrong conclusions as to why workers have not supported the left but have given their electoral support to organisations like the AfD.

She fails to recognise that a key reason for Die Linke losing support in the east is its involvement in local government coalitions that have implemented austerity. Wagenknecht’s focus is on calling for restrictions on migration and she has distanced herself from large anti-racist demonstrations. Such an approach will not defeat the AfD. It is absolutely necessary for socialists to be sensitive to concerns some workers have in relation to immigration and not broadly label them as being racist, as some on the left do. This means putting forward a programme that demands investment in homes, jobs with decent pay and conditions and public services to meet the needs of all working-class people, migrant and non-migrant alike. Alongside a principled opposition to racism, such a programme argued by a mass left party can cut across support for the racist and populist right.

A confident approach by the socialist left means to challenge racism and the far right in all its forms. Mass mobilisations can play an important role. The rise of Trump and the confidence given to the Alt-right as a result means that the far right looks to the US for inspiration and guidance, but so should those serious about challenging racism and fascism.

Last year’s Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville was a show of strength by the Alt-right. One anti-fascist was killed and the events of that day, as well as Trump’s response of equating the violence of the Alt-right with anti-fascists, provoked serious mobilisations. In Boston, 40,000 marched at short notice against another mobilisation of the Alt-right. The same happened in other major cities. While the threat of the Alt-right has not gone away, this year’s Unite the Right event was tiny. Alt-right organisations are in crisis and figures associated with them, most notably Steve Bannon, have been removed from Trump’s administration.

It was the tactic of mass mobilisation, not of street fighting ‘AntiFa’ groups, which was key to this development (though physically confronting fascists can be a necessary tactic in preventing them from organising). The same is true in Germany, where tens of thousands have mobilised to challenge the far right. Linked with that is the need to provide an alternative to the far right and the system of racism that drives it.

Ireland and the threat of racism

Ireland is not immune from the dangers posed by the growth in support for right-wing populism. The increase in support for Peter Casey from 1% to 23% in the Southern presidential elections is an important indication of this. A key reason for his increased support was his reactionary comments about Travellers and, to a lesser degree, those on social welfare. In reality, Casey was echoing similar attacks that have been made on both these groups in society by prominent figures in the capitalist establishment.5

A Red C exit poll found that 34% indicated that the main reason that they voted for him was due to his stances on “political and social issues”, while 32% voted for him because of his “ability to stand up for ordinary people.” This shows how the cynical demagoguery of Casey and his ilk can gain a foothold in society if a left-wing alternative is not built. As the Socialist Party has pointed out, such an opportunity was missed in late 2014, when those trade unions linked with the anti-water charges movement refused to launch a new left force at the height of this battle.

In the North, the dangers can be seen in the activities of group like Britain First. Coinciding with protests by the Football Lads Alliance in Britain, several hundred have marched in Belfast in a protest organised by Britain First and loyalist councillor Jolene Bunting. These demonstrations have comically attempted to portray themselves as cross-community, with Irish tricolours appearing on the demonstrations alongside the Union flag.

However, to build a base, these organisations will come down on one side of the sectarian divide. Britain First will naturally focus on attempting to build in Protestant working-class communities. More recently, they have focused their campaigning efforts in Ballymena, claiming to “stand up for the silent majority” and, in particular, playing on people’s concerns over the lack of jobs and of housing. In the North, anti-racists need to be firmly cross-community and be able to intervene in both communities. The intervention of dissident republican organisations in these protests has been to attempt to turn this issue into a sectarian battleground. This will only assist the far right.

The trade unions, which organise Protestant and Catholic working-class people, have a responsibility to play a central role in resisting the far-right. It is particularly welcome that NIPSA, one of the largest unions in the North, has taken an initiative to organise a trade union network against racism and fascism. Important mobilisations have taken place against the far right. This is important to send the clear message that they will not go unchallenged.

However, if these forces are to be defeated, confronting them on the streets is not enough. This is as true here as it is across the globe. Capitalism offers only a future of increased exploitation and an assault on our living standards. A socialist alternative that unites all working-class and young people in a common struggle against this system is needed so that racist and right-wing forces are prevented from rearing their ugly head.n

 

Notes

1 Benjamin Butterworth, “Jair Bolsonaro: 17 quotes that explain the views of Brazil’s fascist president-elect”, www.inews.co.uk l 2  LSR (CWI in Brazil) statement, “Brazil: Mobilise to defeat Bolsonaro and re-build a Socialist Left!, www.socialistworld.net l 3 Lizzie Dearden, “’Letterbox’ insults against Muslim women spike in wake of Boris Johnson comments”, www.independent.co.uk l 4 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Lawrence & Wishart, 1971, p276 l 5 For more on Peter Casey read the Socialist Party statement: “Presidential election result the socialist alternative to racist populism”, www.socialistparty.ie

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Review: Nae Pasaran

By Eddie McCabe

Nae Pasaran 

Director: Felipe Bustos Sierra

Debasers Filums, 2018

Reviewed by Neil Moore

On the 45th anniversary of the Chilean coup d’état, a new documentary tells the story of a group of Scottish factory workers and their incredible act of solidarity with the Chilean people against a brutal right-wing dictatorship.

Chile, the 11 September 1973 – a military coup backed by the CIA is launched against Salvador Allende’s left-wing government, elected three years prior on an extensive programme radical social reform. Workers wanting to defend these gains gathered in their factories – but were pacified by their leadership as fighter jets flew frighteningly low across Santiago, the Chilean capital, eventually bombing the Presidential palace allowing a brutal military junta led by General Pinochet to seize power.

Once in power, Pinochet’s military unleashed a bloody era of repression and slaughter – cruel and clinical in targeting the most politically conscious – trade unionists, local workers’ leaders and youth brutally rounding them up for systemic murder of thousands in stadia, town squares and concentration camps. This effectively beheaded Pinochet’s final opposition within Chile – the workers’ movement.

It paved the way for a sick experiment which has not only had a devastating effect on the Chilean working class but impacted internationally as well. Chile became the sandbox for the “Chicago boys”, the ideologues of neo-liberalism most notably Milton Friedman that were based on the University of Chicago. The Chilean regime refined neo-liberal policies for the likes of Thatcher and Reagan to unleash upon their own working classes.

Nae Pasaran begins with the same images of the brutal overthrow of Allende’s government that were beamed across the world in 1973. These images brought condemnation internationally within the labour movement but for a group of union shop stewards in a Rolls Royce plant in East Kilbride they particularly resonated. For the low flying jets bombing the presidential palace were ex-RAF Hawker Hunter jets – the main stay of Chile’s air force and their factory was, by that time, the only one in the world that serviced the engines of these jets.

When a consignment of Chilean engines arrived at the plant a year later to be repaired; Bob Fulton, an engine inspector refused to allow the engine through – citing his union’s opposition to Pinochet’s regime. When a factory inspector overruled Fulton and let the consignment of engines go through, the local union committee formalised an official boycott within hours.

For the next four years, all 3,000 workers at the factory would refuse to touch any “blacked” equipment associated with the Chilean dictatorship leaving the engines to rust at the hands of the Scottish weather.  Four years later, the engines disappeared in the middle of the night –with strong evidence the British military were involved – leaving the workers in the dark about what happened to them for decades. They eventually began to believe that their actions had been meaningless.

Their stand was widely celebrated by the Chilean solidarity movement at the time and captured the imagination of Nae Pasaran’s director, Felipe Bustos Sierra. He was the son of Chilean exiles in Belgium and remembers the stories amongst his family and the wider solidarity movement of these Scottish workers grounding the jets, which were a strong icon of the coup years earlier.

The film itself is a stroke of genius, pulling together the stories of three of the men key to the boycott in what becomes a heart-warming and inspiring story of solidarity with the detail of the boycott intertwined with archive footage and interviews. The film delves into the impact of the “blacking,” and films the often-emotional reactions of not only the shop stewards in Scotland but those in Chile interviewed as well.

One of those who gave a clear insight into this act of solidarity and its’ impact is General Fernando Rojas Vender, a former Commander in Chief of the Chilean air force and a Hunter Hawker pilot who was involved in the assault on the Moneda palace during the coup. He reveals that as a result of the boycott the Chilean air force, for a period, had no jets in service.

Today the story of these workers and their stand reads like the plot of a fictional quirky comedy – a group of Scottish workers take on a dictatorship. This was a time when unions wielded great power and most sectors were well organised – this wasn’t a small group but an entire factory of 3,000 workers that endorsed the action. It demonstrates the importance of rebuilding a fighting trade union movement that can not only represent the class interests of the workers it represents at home but also can lend genuine international solidarity. It is clear that fighting, well organised and politically engaged union movement could once again lead effective campaigns blacking goods at their source of production– not tokenistic broad stroke boycotts aimed at a minority of consumers.

The post Review: Nae Pasaran appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).

Brexit and the border: A warning to the workers movement

By Eddie McCabe

By Socialist Party reporter 

On March 29th 2019 the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union. For seventeen months the British government and the EU negotiators have been struggling to reach a legally binding “withdrawal agreement” to govern the terms of UK withdrawal, including the “divorce bill” or the sum the UK pays to settle its obligations to the EU, and a “political declaration” outlining the basic shape of a final deal after further negotiations.

On November 13th a draft deal was finally agreed and immediately a storm broke around Tory Prime Minister Teresa May. Her proposed way forward seems to please almost no-one. She pushed the deal through her cabinet without taking a formal vote and within hours three ministers had resigned, including Brexit Minister Dominic Rabb. When she defended the draft deal in the House of Commons it was a full hour before a single MP stood up to endorse her position. Both the hard Brexiteers and the Remainers in her own party declared their intention to vote against, as did the Labour Party, the SNP, and the DUP, effectively her partners in coalition.

The Brexiteers went further than verbal opposition to the deal. The leader of the European Research Group, Jabob Rees Mogg, launched a bid to remove her from the Tory party leadership by declaring his own intention to submit a letter calling for a vote of no confidence. Within 48 hours of the publication of the draft deal it appeared to be all but dead, and Teresa May appeared to be finished.

Yet May survives, at the time of writing, and the draft deal will almost certainly be put to a parliamentary vote in the coming weeks. Whether she does survive, and what the consequences of the last week’s tumultuous events are remain to be determined. Meanwhile the draft deal has come under intense scrutiny and has been criticised from every angle.

A draft which pleases no-one

The draft Brexit agreement accepts that the UK will remain in the EU until at least December 2020. It outlines how the UK and the EU will “use their best endeavours” to have a future trade agreement concluded six months before the end of the transition period in December 2020, but that if this is not achieved the EU and the UK could “jointly extend the transition period” for a as yet unspecified period. If a free trade deal is not agreed, or an extension is not put in place, than a backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland aimed at preventing the creation of a hard border would come into force.

The backstop, consisting of “a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom”, would apply from the end of the transition period “unless and until … a subsequent agreement becomes applicable”. The single customs territory would cover all goods except fishery products, and would “include the corresponding level playing field commitments and appropriate enforcement mechanisms to ensure fair competition between the EU27 and the UK”.

Crucially in this scenario there would be extra non-customs checks on some types of goods passing between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK: in other words an ’East-West” border could begin to emerge as early as December 2020. This is what the DUP are objecting to so vehemently-a set of circumstances in which a border between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales would be put in place and would harden over time. And even worse in their view, the Southern government would have more say over these developments that the UK government. There is an element of truth in this as under the draft agreement clauses the EU will continue to make new rules which may apply to the North but over which the UK government has no say. All this will be unfolding as unionists mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of Northern Ireland after partition. The symbolism for unionism is profound.

It is suggested that inspections of goods do not necessarily have to take place at Irish Sea ports or airports but all such suggestions are doing little to “sugar-coat he pill” for the DUP. Any separate status for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK is anathema to the DUP. The DUP, have repeatedly said they would not accept any additional Northern Ireland-only checks no matter where or how they take place.

Tory Brexiteers are raising the same issues as the DUP, in part for cynical, tactical reasons, but focus their opposition on other aspects of the draft agreement. For example, the agreement says that if “either side considers the backstop is no longer necessary, it can notify the other” setting out its reasons. A joint committee must then meet within six months, and both sides must agree jointly to end the backstop. This means that the UK cannot unilaterally pull out of the backstop. This has enraged Brexiteers who demand the right for the UK to exit any all-UK customs union as and when it wants in order to be able to pursue free-trade deals around the world.

Brexiteers are also opposed to the backstop arrangements which state that the UK must observe “level playing field” commitments on competition, state aid, employment and environmental standards and tax. All of this is designed to ensure that UK businesses are not able to undercut EU industry. Brussels has also demanded “dynamic alignment” on state aid, which would oblige the UK parliament to simply cut and paste EU regulations as they are issued. “Non-regression clauses” will prevent the UK from bringing in lower standards on social, environmental and labour regulations such as working hours. These requirements are anathema to Tory Brexiteers, for whom leaving the EU represents an opportunity to head towards a low-tax, light-regulation economy such as that seen in Singapore.

Socialists oppose these clauses for the opposite reasons. The EU is trying to severely limit the room for manoeuvre of a Corbyn-lead Labour government, especially with regards to its ability to nationalise industry or banks. This is nothing to do with the EU seeking to protect workers’ rights after Brexit must be exposed. Workers’ rights have been won through struggle, and will be defended through struggle. The EU cares nothing for workers’ rights, as the people of Greece know to their cost.

Fears of a “Hard Brexit”

The crisis of the last few days has dramatically increased the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, in which the UK simply crashes out. Many millions of working class people across Ireland and Britain, are fearful of the consequences of such a chaotic outcome. Whilst there is exaggeration on both sides of the debate, with “Remainers” predicting Armageddon and “Brexiteers” looking forward to the sunny uplands of a UK “freed from the shackles of Europe”, not all the fears regarding the possibility of a no-deal Brexit are irrational. A sudden and sharp economic shock would result. There would be real impediments to trade, probably most visible where long queues of lorries build up at the Channel ports.

An economic recession would almost certainly follow. The Bank of England has signalled its intentions in advance to lower interest rates again and pour money into the economy in order to ward of recession but it is widely accepted that its room for manoeuvre is very limited as interest rates are already so low and the economy is awash with the colossal sums injected since the 2007-2008 financial crisis. A fall in living standards would be most likely, as inflation would rise and wages fall in real terms. If the hard-right Brexiteers are by then the dominant force in the Tory government workers are right to fear a race to the bottom and attempts to create a low-tax, low-wage, unregulated economy.

If there is a chaotic Brexit the EU and the Irish government will have to decide what happens at the border. At present goods and services are traded between North and South with few restrictions. As the UK and Ireland are currently part of the EU single market and customs union. After a hard Brexit the logic of the workings of the EU is that a hard border would have to be put in place, and even this possibility is causing anger in the Catholic community.

Teresa May is arguing forcibly that the only way to avoid such a calamitous scenario is her way. She has the backing of most business organisations and most of the big corporations. Since last week she has had the backing of most of the right-wing and pro-Brexit press. She is the ‘safe pair of hands’ for British capitalism. On the other side of the negotiating table were her equivalents, acting in the interests of the dominant business interests of the EU 27. It is not as simple as that of course. The negotiators of the ruling class will seek in the first instance to protect trade and profit but are hamstrung by other considerations, of national interest, and of political pressure and electoral arithmetic.

The UK Tory government has been weak and fractured since the 2017 General Election. Teresa May is in an extremely precarious position- her government is on a political cleft stick. She feared a rebellion from her hard-right pro-Brexit MPs and an open attempt to remove her if she conceded too much to the EU and was not seen to deliver on a clean break with Europe. Boris Johnston and other are as sharks circling her in the water, waiting for the first scent of blood before striking. Her negotiating strategy was shaped by this consideration. She also had to look over her other shoulder however. There are a small but not insignificant number of anti-Brexit Tory MPs who also threatened to withhold their votes if they thought a proposed deal was too hard. And she knew that she would lose ten DUP votes if she in any way was seen to weaken the link between Northern Ireland and Britain. She must have thought that she was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, potentially losing votes on either flank, and sought to chart a middle course and please both wings. It hasn’t worked.

In part this is because the EU drove a hard bargain. The EU is concerned to allow May wriggle-room, as it would much prefer her government to survive and deliver an orderly withdrawal. It fears the alternative scenarios of a hard Brexiteer- led government or a Corbyn-led government. The EU negotiators wanted a deal which kept May in power but above all it is concerned to protect the European project. It cannot concede on the core “four freedoms”-free movement of people, capital, goods and services –without inviting EU-sceptic parties in a host of European countries to seek to take advantage. If the UK is allowed the benefits of free trade, but without free movement of people, there will be a revolt. It will open a Pandora ’s Box as both existing governments, such as the ultra-right Hungarian regime, and rising right-populist movements in most European countries, demand the right to opt out of whatever aspect of EU rules they wish to.

What next?

The draft agreement will be put to the Westminster parliament for ratification in December. Achieving a majority in favour will be extremely difficult. May probably initially calculated that she would lose the 10 DUP votes and a swathe of hard Brexiteer votes but at the same time gain votes from a layer of Labour party MPs and squeeze through. It now appears as if she has lost the DUP, more Brexiteers beyond the hard core, Tory MPs who are firmly in favour of the softest possible Brexit, and all Labour votes.

Despite this May’s preferred way forward has not changed-all the indications are that she will push ahead and put the draft agreement before MPs, even in the expectation of losing first time around. She then might be hoping for a successful second vote if a period of political chaos and developing economic crisis (as the pound and shares fall) opens up, and this then forces a re-think by a sufficient number of MPs. In this context the EU27 might come forward with minor concessions, and this might just see the deal over the line. The possibility of such concessions has been hinted at, even when EU negotiators are stating in the same breath that no further change to the draft agreement is possible.

This scenario-the draft agreement winning parliamentary approval, and May surviving as leader for a period-is possible but far from assured. For now it does not seem likely that the required 48 Tory MPs will write to the chair of the 1922 Committee to force a leadership contest, but this may yet happen. Five Tory pro-Brexit cabinet ministers have formed an alliance and are pushing for changes in the draft agreement. If they are unsuccessful they could then pull the rug from under May and resign from the cabinet, her position would become untenable and it is most likely that she would resign. In such a scenario and then Boris Johnston or another Brexiteer will challenge for the leadership. Alternatively a compromise candidate may emerge-an “anyone but Boris” candidate. For now however, the cabinet are “united” and the five pro-Brexit ministers are concentrating their efforts on achieving changes in the draft agreement.

A second option for May is that she accepts that no deal is possible. This could occur before the first parliamentary vote, but is more likely after an attempt has failed. May might simply then throw her hands up and prepare for a no-deal Brexit. If she does the EU27 will most likely cooperate, pull it all together and seek to avoid chaos that would hurt both sides.

A third way forward is a general election. May could choose this option, posing as the only figure who can “deliver the country from chaos” and appealing for votes “in the national interest.” The purpose of an election from May’s perspective would be to return to power with a sufficiently large majority to be in a position to ignore the Brexiteers and the DUP, and such an outcome is extremely difficult to envisage. Labour are ahead in the polls and in this time of tumult and uncertainty the Tories will avoid an election at all costs, fearing a Corbyn victory. An election thus remains less likely, but such is the turmoil inherent in the situation this could change quickly.

A Labour victory, and the return of a Corbyn-lead Labour government, would open up an entirely new vista and would be a hugely positive development. A Labour government should seek to re-open negotiations and demand an entirely different relationship with the EU, based on the interests of working-class people, not the 1%.

If no agreement is voted through, and an election is not called, a fourth option for May is to call a second referendum. For now she has ruled this option out completely, but it may yet emerge as the “only alternative” as she struggles to find any way forward. When all other options have failed the unthinkable becomes unthinkable.

The problem of the backstop

The reasons why May and the EU are stuck at this point on the journey are many, but key is the question of the border on the island of Ireland. For weeks Teresa May and the EU have both been declaring with confidence that “95%” of the contentious issues were agreed. They admitted that they were stuck on the other 5%-the need to agree a backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland. The backstop is a position of last resort, to protect an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal.

The complicated clauses of the draft agreement have much in common with the methods applied in the peace process. The peace process has been characterised by what has become known as “creative ambiguity”, as every difficult issue has been fudged, layered over with obfuscation or “kicked down the road”. This process initially disguised the truth about the peace process but it is now apparent to most that every major “agreement” is in fact an agreement to disagree. The injection of a large dose of “creative ambiguity” into the Brexit process has been designed to allow the May government to survive and enter the next phase of negotiations.

There is widespread disbelief that such a seemingly “minor” issue could be preventing an agreement which would allow a solution which would satisfy all sides to emerge. In order to “explain” the lack of an agreement many commentators argue that the Tory government is being “held to ransom” by the DUP. There is some truth in this of course, but it is an argument which ignores or downplays the difficulties which would have come into play in any case. Focusing on the DUP-Tory arrangement is a way of avoiding the real issues. It is not just an accident of electoral history which is the problem. Even if the parliamentary arithmetic had been different after the last general election, and the DUP and the Tories had not entered into a “confidence and supply” arrangement, the ruling class would have still have to weigh up the opposition of Northern Ireland Protestants to any perception of an East-West border being created.

The real reasons for the difficulties in reaching agreement on Brexit are not because of the accident of political history which has left the DUP holding the balance of power at Westminster but are a fundamentally a consequence of the inability of capitalism to achieve a lasting solution to the national question in Ireland. In the 1980’s the “Economist” magazine wrote that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were “a problem without a solution”. This seemed a rational conclusion at the time but then the 1998 Good Friday Agreement gave the appearance of falsifying this prognosis. In fact the Good Friday Agreement did not represent a solution then or now. This has become more than apparent in the nearly two years since the collapse of the power-sharing Executive in January 2017. Northern Ireland now holds the world record for the longest period of time any political entity has stumbled on in the absence of an elected government (though its status as a devolved region within the UK means that it is not without any form of decision-making process).

Today the national question in Ireland is not just a headache for the British ruling class but a thumping migraine for the EU 27. One hundred years ago the arch-imperialist Winston Churchill (February 16, 1922) pointed wearily to the seemingly unsolvable problem of the national question in Ireland: “The whole map of Europe has been changed … but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.” Churchill and his ilk caused the “quarrel” in the first place, through a policy of colonial exploitation and deliberate “divide and rule”. Now the “dreary steeples” are haunting his political heirs, and they are visible across Europe. Negotiating Brexit was never going to be easy, but with the addition of the Gordian knot of the border has become to seem close to an impossible task.

Brexit as a sectarian issue

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein deliberately inflame sectarian tensions every day of the week-it is their political DNA. Both parties are using Brexit in order to widen divisions: the Brexit debate has become inextricably entwined with the ongoing war of attrition between sectarian forces in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein has become the champion of the EU and fierce opponents of Brexit. The fact that Sinn Fein was an opponent of the EU until a few years ago is now largely forgotten (until 1998 Sinn Fein was in favour of EU withdrawal). Today of course Sinn Fein has overturned many of its previous positions. Any veneer of socialist radicalism has long worn off. It is not only in favour of remaining in the capitalist EU but it is a proponent of a dramatic cut in corporation tax rates for big business. In order to deliver this cut it moved to cut over 20,000 public sector jobs in the North alongside its then coalition partners in the DUP.

Northern Ireland voted against withdrawing from Europe in the 2016 referendum by 56% to 44%. There was a clear difference in attitudes between Catholics and Protestants: Catholics voted overwhelmingly voted to stay by a proportion of 85% to 15% while Protestants voted to leave by a proportion of 60% to 40%. As in Britain there was a class divide evident in the vote-almost 80 percent of those classed as “professionals” voted to remain while approximately half of manual workers and those on state benefits did so.

The Catholic vote for “remain” requires analysis and explanation. Many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain. Catholics are often convinced that the EU has brought real material benefits to their lives, through new roads and other infrastructure, and that it has granted rights which otherwise would not be available. It is important to state clearly that the EU is not the guarantor of anyone’s rights in any real sense (unless we count the right of bankers to be bailed out at any cost). Nor is a body which acts in the interests of ordinary people. Perceptions are important however, and now many Catholics consider the EU to act as a bulwark “protecting” their rights. Furthermore the EU has become associated with the disappearance of the border as a physical barrier for many Catholics, and by extension now belonging to the EU has an important expression of their national aspirations.

The extent to which the peace process diminished the reality of the border has been exaggerated. The border still exists, with different currencies, laws and regulations on each sides and some border checks still occur, not just on agricultural products, but also on people. Nevertheless the border has disappeared in the sense of an everyday impediment, and this has had an impact on the consciousness of Catholics over the last twenty years. There is thus real opposition in the Catholic community to any hardening of the border between North and South. The degree to which the border will be “hardened” in the context of a no-deal scenario has been exaggerated but for Catholics, especially those living along the border, the memory of army watchtowers and listening posts is raw, and even the possibility of border checks is causing intense anger and real fear.

Paradoxically the disappearance of the border as a physical barrier has been one factor in allowing many Catholics to become more reconciled to the existence of the Northern Ireland state-that is, to the reality of the border. The possibility of the hardening of the border is now having the opposite effect, and is contributing to the rapid stripping away of the acceptance of no change in Northern Ireland’s status which Catholics largely acquiesced to for a period after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Brexit is injecting new instability into an unstable situation.

If a withdrawal agreement which is seen to be detrimental to the rights of Catholics is pushed through there will be genuine anger in Catholic areas. Threats to pull down any new border infrastructure are not empty threats. Even in the context of a chaotic Brexit the prospects of any actual border checkpoints are very slight, so actual conflict or violence on the border is unlikely, but even the perception of a hardening of the border will alienate Catholics. Dissident republicans would seek to exploit any border infrastructure, targeting buildings and border staff with bomb and bullet.

The equal and opposite process is at work in the Protestant community. Protestants recognise the benefits of the absence of a visible border they would prefer no hardening of the border in the future too. They are however utterly opposed to anything which suggests the creation of an East-West border down the Irish Sea. This opposition is very real, despite the fact of an already existing “border” of sorts-there are East-West checks on agricultural products.

Any East-West border, no matter how minor, has come to represent a threat to the union between Northern Ireland and Britain. If an agreement is voted through at Westminster which allows for East-West checks after December 2020 against the opposition of the DUP, there will be widespread anger in the Protestant community. In 1985 the Anglo-Irish Agreement was agreed between the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Garrett Fitzgerald without the involvement of unionist political parties. As far as most Protestants were concerned cross-border institutions had been undemocratically imposed on them and mass protests and an upsurge in violence resulted. In December 2012 widespread disorder broke out when a mere emblem of the “Britishness” of Northern Ireland-the union flag over the City Hall in Belfast-was removed. If there is a perception in the coming months and years that the British identity of Northern Ireland is being diminished street protests and street violence cannot be ruled out. All of Europe may look on in astonishment and confusion as anti-EU and anti-British government riots break out in Protestant areas of the North. In this context a marriage of convenience between the Brexiteer wing of the Tories and the DUP would act to magnify political crisis and increase tensions.

The draft agreement outlines a scenario in which there will be a developing East-West border. This will inflame opinion in Protestant working class areas. The opposite scenario, in which there is a hardening of the North-South border, will cause anger in Catholic areas. Either “solution” is no solution, and will cause harm to the cause of working class unity.

The socialist position on the draft agreement

This is the context in which the Socialist Party has considered the draft agreement. It is first and foremost a question of weighing up the impact of any political development on divisions in the North and across the island of Ireland. The Socialist Party strives to build support in working class communities across Ireland, including in both Protestant and Catholic areas of the North. We base our party on the organic unity of the working-class: Catholics and Protestants have more in common than divides them. This unity is strengthened through the shared struggle for a better life-in industrial disputes in the workplaces, in campaigns in local communities to defend our services, and in the struggles for abortion rights and the right to an equal marriage. This unity has to be fought for and cannot be taken for granted. Sectarian forces consciously strive to increase division and must be countered at all times. The unity of working class people is our over-riding priority and we oppose any moves which tend to weaken that unity.

The draft agreement outlines a scenario in which there will be a developing East-West border. We oppose any hardening of borders, either North-South or East-West. Any hardening of borders is unnecessary and will increase sectarian tension. We are thus opposed to the draft agreement on the basis of the threat it poses to the unity of working class people.

The Socialist Party will always oppose any deal which is agreed in the interests of capitalism. The draft agreement has been negotiated and agreed in the interests of big business. The Socialist Party is opposed to the EU, which is an institution created in the interests of capitalism. It is no friend of any worker in Ireland, North or South, or of any worker in England, Scotland or Wales, or across Europe. Working class people cannot and should not rely on the EU to deliver a brighter future, any more than they should rely on the anti-working class governments of Leo Varadkar, of Teresa May, or on the DUP-Sinn Fein Executive if and when it returns to power.

We thus oppose this draft agreement for a second reason: it acts against the economic and social interests of the working class and is designed to protect profit and the interests of the 1%.

A programme for the workers’ movement

We do not take an abstentionist position and we believe that it is vitally important that the workers’ movement-the trade unions and genuine left political forces-intervenes at this time with an independent and left programme. The workers movement should draw its own “red lines” on the key issues.

For years the Socialist Party has stood with workers in opposition to all attacks on jobs, wages, and conditions, whether these attacks result from the directives of the EU, or from governments North or South. We do not recognise any hierarchy of bosses or capitalist governments, in which some are “less bad” than others. The Socialist Party will now stand with workers resisting any attacks resulting from the process of the UK withdrawal from the EU.

Trade unionists in Ireland are organised together in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and are linked with their fellow trade unionists across England, Scotland and Wales in the TUC. The workers movement must mobilise to defend the wider interest of working class people across these islands.

• The trade unions must defend the economic interests of the working class in Ireland North and South, and in Britain, and resolutely oppose any “race to the bottom” with regards to workers’ rights or standards (of food production, for example). The workers movement must prepare for industrial action to defend workers’ jobs, wages, conditions, and rights.
• The workers movement must also act to defend the unity of the working class, and must not come down in favour of any agreement which widens divisions. It is also necessary to counter any increase in sectarian tension and sectarian conflict, and to prepare for protests and demonstrations, and industrial action to challenge sectarian forces.
• An emergency conference, with the widest participation of workers representatives from workplaces across Ireland, North and South, must be convened, in order to allow a full democratic discussion on how to best oppose both the EU and the attacks of the Fine Gael and Tory governments. If the ICTU will not convene such a conference those trade union bodies who are prepared to do so much take the lead. Trade unionists in England, Scotland and Wales should be asked to send representatives to this conference. The workers movement must also link out to trade unionists across Europe who also facing attacks originating from the EU.
• Socialists in Ireland would welcome the return of a Labour government in Britain. If such a government were to adopt a position of socialist opposition to the EU this would transform the situation. A Labour government should seek to re-open negotiations and demand an entirely different relationship with the EU, including new trade and customs arrangements, based on the interests of working-class people, not the 1%. This means a rejection of any EU restrictions on the ability of a Labour government to reverse privatisation or nationalise key sectors of the economy.
• Corbyn should speak over the heads of the Commission, reaching out to working class people across Europe in rejecting neo-liberal rules, calling for co-ordinated action for Green Energy on a Europe wide basis, and popularising a socialist vision of Europe. A left Labour government would be able to call on workers throughout the continent to fight the ‘race to the bottom’ in their own countries and mobilise against attempts by their own governments or the EU to pursue punitive measures against other workers whether in Britain or elsewhere. The workers’ movement in Ireland should mobilise its resources to build a cross-Europe fight back. A Labour victory, and the return of a Corbyn-lead Labour government, would open up an entirely new vista and would be a hugely positive development. If Brexit threatens workers’ jobs or pay taking enterprises into public ownership, under working class democratic control and management, should be the reaction of a left-led government. In that way, all jobs can be safeguarded and, if necessary, production changed to more socially needed products.
• Workers in Northern Ireland have no political voice. We need a new, mass political party which represents the interests of working class people and fights for a socialist future and the election of a Labour government would add great momentum to the struggle for such a party.
• Socialists are in favour of a genuinely united Europe. This will only possible when the socialist transformation of society allows the coming together of nations of Europe in a democratic, European-wide confederation. We fight for a Socialist Ireland, with full democratic rights for the Protestant community. We are in favour of a socialist federation of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales in a free and voluntary federation and a Socialist United States of Europe.

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#ThisIsNotConsent: Victim-blaming in rape trial provokes mass anger

By Eddie McCabe

By Socialist Party reporter

“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

These comments from defence barrister Elizabeth O’Connell in a Cork rape trial have sparked outrage throughout the island of Ireland and internationally. Made about a 17-year-old woman, and without any objection from the judge, the remarks were a clear example of victim-blaming and rape myths being used in open court. This is in a state where the majority of rapes and sexual assault are unreported, and only 10% of reports end in a conviction.

Protests across Ireland

Under the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent, women have been posting photos of their underwear. Angry protests have now taken place in cities across Ireland at very short notice and during work hours. In Cork, 500 marched to the courthouse where the comments were made, many leaving underwear on the steps and railings of the building. 500 also protested in central Dublin, 250 in Belfast, 50 in Limerick and 40 in Galway. Most of these protests were called on the initiative of ROSA – the Socialist Feminist Movement, of which the Socialist Party is a central part.

This explosion of anger reflects the fact that, increasingly, women and young people are not willing to accept victim-blaming and misogyny in society. In March/April this year, thousands took to the streets after the acquittals of Ulster rugby players in a rape trial in Belfast where similar victim-blaming tactics were used. Huge numbers got active in the referendum campaign to achieve repeal and abortion rights.

Two weeks ago, Google workers in Dublin walked out of work as part of a global action against sexual harassment. The latter example shows the potential for workers to get organised in their workplaces against such manifestations of sexism, an issue that the trade union movement must take up in a serious way.

Thong in the Dáil

Solidarity TD and Socialist Party member Ruth Coppinger reflected the mood when she questioned Leo Varadkar in the Dáil, demanding action from the government on victim-blaming in the courts and holding up a thong in the chamber. This is probably a first in Dáil history, and cameras quickly panned away from the “offending item”. However, as Ruth pointed out, if this is incongruous in the national parliament, it’s even more so for underwear to be used in a court as evidence against a woman.

Ruth’s bold intervention has garnered huge attention from the national media, along with the protests that have taken place. Significantly, it has also gotten coverage in media outlets in countries as diverse as New Zealand, Australia, India, Turkey, Canada, the US (including the New York Times, Newsweek and CNN) and in many countries across Europe.

International Women’s Day walkouts

There is potential for a new movement around the issue of victim-blaming and gender-based violence. ROSA are calling for mass protests and walkouts on International Women’s Day 2019, drawing inspiration from the Spanish example, where a ‘feminist strike’ brought millions out of work and onto the streets this year.

This movement must absolutely demand and fight for changes such as compulsory training for judges and juries in cases of sexual violence and education about consent in schools. However, the case in Cork is not an isolated example.  Victim-blaming and misogyny are endemic in the court system, the state and in society generally under a capitalist system which has sexism and inequality at its core. We need to build a movement of women, young and LGBTQ people and all sections of the working class around an anti-capitalist and socialist-feminist programme which challenges this system and all the injustices it perpetuates.

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Maurice McCabe and the rot inside the state

By Eddie McCabe

By James McCabe

Whistleblower Maurice McCabe’s efforts to expose corruption in the local Garda force in Cavan was met with vicious reprisals from the national leadership of An Garda Síochána.

Misconduct and corruption are nothing new for the police force of this state, but even so, many were shocked to discover that the top echelons of the Gardaí conducted a widespread smear campaign of false accusations of child sexual abuse against McCabe. The findings of the Disclosures Tribunal, released in October, vindicated McCabe and heavily criticised the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.

Wall of silence

Evidence was presented that Callinan had told at least four people, including RTE’s Philip Boucher-Hayes, that McCabe was a sex-abuser. The tribunal was met with a wall of silence from the ranks of the Gardaí, however. The tribunal sent letters to 430 individuals of different ranks to gather evidence and received only two replies.

Many pundits in the media have spoken about how justice has been served by this Tribunal and that it will work to “restore faith in the Gardaí”. There’s a constant rewriting of history by the corporate and state sponsored media in Ireland. In the mid-1970s, Amnesty International demanded an independent inquiry into sections of the Gardaí due to the regular use of beatings and torture methods by members of the force to extract confessions from suspects.

In recent years, we’ve seen a litany of Garda scandals, from the spying on water protestors through Operation Mizen, the bugging of GSOC, the secret taping of phone calls between arrested persons and their solicitors and of course the Jobstown frame-up. Apart from the scandals and corruption, the establishment would have us believe that the Gardaí and other state institutions, despite their defects, generally exist and act to serve the best interests of the public and “stand above” politics.

Role of Gardaí

The mask of political and class neutrality slipped in Frederick Street, Dublin back in September. Here we witnessed masked Gardaí protecting balaclava-wearing private security guards as they forcibly removed peaceful protestors occupying a vacant apartment which was owned by a major landlord who owns over forty commercial properties.

The police watched on as the injured housing activists were dragged out of the property by the private security, who left in a van which had been illegally parked and had no tax or insurance certs displayed on it. This example highlights the reality that in the last analysis, the Gardaí, the courts, the judges and the unaccountable, highly-paid top civil servants of this state all represent the interests of the capitalist system.

Political policing

To much fanfare, the media have trumpeted the Disclosures Tribunal’s view that former Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, apparently had nothing to do with the smear campaign against McCabe.  O’Sullivan has been absolved on this issue, but her tenure as Garda Commissioner was anything but a model of political and economic impartiality. O’Sullivan is alleged to have asked an interviewee for the position of Deputy Commissioner in 2015 as to their opinion on “left-wing political extremism in Ireland.”

The major problem with the Gardaí isn’t confined to a bad ‘management culture’ or certain immoral individuals in the leadership. In many ways these problems stem from the fact that the Gardaí are a force that exist to defend the super-rich and corporations. To transform the role of policing, we must fight for the creation of a community-controlled policing organisation that is genuinely run, controlled and accountable to working-class communities.

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Project fear and Brexit: How should trade unions should respond?

By Eddie McCabe

By Kevin Henry

The trade union movement, which claims 800,000 members north and south have a responsibility to oppose any aspect of a Brexit deal which is not in the interests of their members. For example, the Central Bank has warned of potential of 20,000 job losses in the South.

In the North, various figures point toward a serious recession.  Big business is preparing to use a Tory Brexit to implement “shock and awe” style attacks on workers’ rights, particularly on sectors such as Agri-business that are reliant on exports to Britain.

The nature of the EU

Trade unionists should have no trust in any capitalist politicians at the negotiating table, whether from the North, South, Britain or the EU. Unfortunately, the approach of many trade union leaders is to perpetuate the myth that important workers’ rights were handed down by a benevolent EU.  This turns reality on its head.

The European Union has been central to waging a war on workers, particularly given its role in Troika austerity programmes. The truth is that workers fought for these rights. For example, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Ford workers’ strike in Dagenham, which was central to forcing the then British government to concede equal pay.

In Britain, some trade union leaders have attempted to align the TUC with the idea of a “peoples’ vote”.  A principled approach from the trade unions would instead be to demand and organise mass mobilisation for a general election – in order to take down the Tories and elect a Corbyn led-government.

Make the bosses pay

In Ireland, trade unions should now put the bosses on warning that they will resist attacks on their members.  A starting point would be to organise a conference of workers’ representatives from Britain and Ireland to discuss what coordinated action can be taken and built for against attacks on pay and conditions or shedding of jobs flowing from Brexit. If someone has to take a hit- it, should be the profits of the capitalists.

The movement must also be clear in taking up the other central issues linked with Brexit. That means a clear stand of defending immigrants. Trade unions as force that unites workers in Northern Ireland has a role to play in resisting any hardening of the border or any border on the Irish Sea. It also has a key role to play in opposing those political forces who will use Brexit in order to push their sectarian agenda.

 

 

 

The post Project fear and Brexit: How should trade unions should respond? appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).

Review: Mistaken Identity – Race and Class in the Age of Trump

By Laura Fitzgerald

Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump

 By Asad Haider

Published by Verso Books, 2018

Reviewed by Laura Fitzgerald

…. when the liberal language of rights is used to defend a concrete identity group from injury, physical or verbal, that group ends up defined by its victimhood and individuals end up reduced to their victimized belonging.

Asad Haider’s insightful critique of Identity Politics focuses on the question of racial division in US capitalism. Haider’s central thesis is that identity politics fails to recognise the historical roots of racial division a division that is entirely socially constructed and has no biological basis. From this it limits its anti-racism to seeking recognition and inclusion on an individual basis and ends up reinforcing the structures that serve to perpetuate that very racism.

Of course, recognition and inclusion for oppressed groupings is very important, but an approach that seeks to achieve this on an individual basis fundamentally eschews collective struggle, the only way in which a structural challenge to the roots of oppression can be mounted. Haider contends that if the “victimized belonging” of an oppressed grouping is to an identity that is the creation of capitalism, then the reinforcing of a solely identitarian consciousness serves to perpetuate the oppression itself, as the capitalist framework that created the oppressed identity is reinforced.

Haider deems Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, in which European indentured servants and African slaves rose up together against the elite planters, as a “watershed moment” in US history. One from which the ruling class consciously ‘invented’ the white identity, or ‘whiteness’, including by legally codifying this divide and rule policy with those of African descent always the most marginalised and oppressed. Haider sees this as the root of what developed into a central tenet of US capitalism: namely the state sponsored, structural oppression of African Americans. In many ways this is a basic point from the perspective of class politics every ruling class needs to foster division amongst the exploited classes in an effort to maintain its supremacy. Haider’s identifying of this ‘divide and rule’ strategy on behalf of the capitalist establishment is very important nonetheless, precisely because it’s something that does not tend to be recognised in an Identity Politics framework.

Nancy Fraser, author of Fortunes of Feminism, has made the point that the radical and mass struggles of second wave feminism achieved very important legal and cultural advances for women. However, because the framework of the capitalist system remained intact, these reforms resulted in women from the elite class being able to advance to top positions of power (as CEOs, as head of the IMF etc.), but that the reality for working class and poor women under the ravages of neoliberal capitalism has been quite the opposite.

Haider makes a similar point in relation to the black freedom movement in the US. Essentially, off the back of the radical black civil rights mass struggles of the past, there is now at least a section of the African American population represented in positions of authority and power, while the majority of African Americans experience disproportionate levels of poverty, low pay, police brutality, lack of access to healthcare and incarceration. For Haider, the ideas of Identity Politics are perpetuated by a section of middle and elite class African Americans, essentially to maintain their positions.

Haider cites the desperately cynical, ahistorical and backward ideas of “Afro-pessimism” (the notion that white people’s enjoyment of black people’s suffering is the prime mover in history and society) in order to illustrate this. Haider contends that “Afro-pessimism has served as an ideological ballast for the emergent bureaucracies in Ferguson and beyond.” This relates to where important struggles against racist state violence have occurred and is an implicit critique of some of the more conservative elements that emerged in leadership positions that tended to funnel the movement into the orbit of the establishment, pro-capitalist Democratic Party in other words away from the path of struggle.

The other side of this reality, however, is that precisely because ‘representation’ in some positions of power has not changed things for the majority of African Americans, there is a real opening for revolutionary politics. To indicate this potential, Haider quotes Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor about the murder of Freddie Gray by police in Baltimore:

When a Black mayor, governing a largely Black city, aids in the mobilisation of a military unit led by a Black woman to suppress a Black rebellion, we are in a new period of the Black freedom struggle.

Haider looks to the civil rights movement in the US of the 1950s and 1960s as an example of the approach of mass struggle that challenged the oppression of African Americans and increasingly, the economic injustices of capitalism as a system. Haider also references the role of black Marxists in the Communist Party in the US in the 1920s who pushed for the working-class movement to challenge racist ideas, while building solidarity and struggle within the working class. He also seeks inspiration from the Black Panther Party that resolutely put solidarity of all the oppressed and exploited, as well as implacable opposition to the capitalist system, at the heart of their programme.

Haider’s critique of Identity Politics is rooted in support for mass struggles against oppression, and an optimism about the potential for solidarity that can overcome divisions within the working class that exist on the basis of race, gender identity, sexual orientation etc. This is significant because it means it’s a critique that can have an impact on a new generation of workers and young people who wish to fight oppression and exploitation in all its forms, who in many cases have themselves come up against the problems of a strategy that boils down to inclusion on an individual basis within the framework of the status quo, rather than a collective struggle for a structural challenge to the status quo.

However, Mistaken Identity would have been considerably strengthened by more references to the role of organised labour in US history that the, albeit short, book underplays. Furthermore, while it’s completely correct to emanate the fighting spirit of the Combahee River Collective (a group of African American lesbian women in Boston in the 1960s, who were anti-capitalist and socialist and showed solidarity with many labour and social struggles in the city at the time), the quote from their manifesto that Haider references positively is problematic, namely:

We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.

While the fighting spirit and solidarity that these women showed is a million miles away from the liberal Identity Politics that cuts across struggle, that Haider eloquently exposes in his book, it’s also the case that this aspect of the Combahee statement is certainly used today to reinforce some of those very same liberal Identity Politics methods. Of course, what we have to remember is the context in which this statement was drafted i.e. the sexist and racist marginalising and dismissal that the Combahee women themselves had experienced within the New Left that they were reacting against.

Finally, while referencing the need to challenge capitalism, Mistaken Identity does not give a sense of the potential power of the multi-racial, all gendered etc. working class as a whole  if it’s organised and conscious  to play the key role alongside radicalised oppressed groupings, to challenge that system, given that capitalism’s profits emanate from the unpaid labour of the working class. In the words of James Connolly, “none so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter… But whosoever carries the outworks of the citadel of oppression, the working class alone can raze it to the ground.”

 

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Devastating IPCC report on climate change: Capitalism must be challenged!

By Eddie McCabe

The debate on the reality of human-caused climate change is over, now is the time to act. The recent report issued by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) showed that dramatic change is required before 2030 to prevent a catastrophic climate scenario.

Worse than thought

The study outlined the extremely dangerous consequences for the Earth’s climate and ecosystem unless drastic measures are taken to prevent the global temperature exceeding the 1.5°C increase threshold, with the study stating that the planet “is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it [emission output] continues to increase at the current rate“.

Recent findings by climate scientists, including those outlined in the IPCC report, have shown that if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to halt the temperature rise at 1.5°C rather than the previously thought 2°C threshold which was the target agreed at the Paris Climate Summit.

The IPCC report actually met with criticism from some climate scientists claiming the projections were too conservative! (Because it failed to fully realise how far along the planet is in this heating process). Nevertheless there is clear agreement by all on the urgency of action required to prevent this impending global disaster.

The pollution effects

We have seen a shocking increase in the intensity and occurence of hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and flash floods across the world. In the US, the 2017 hurricane season was the most expensive on record, with more than 200 billion dollars worth of damage from 17 named storms, including Hurricane Maria which devastated Puerto Rico with winds exceeding 155mph.

The changes that are occuring in our environment are already causing the complete destruction of ecosystems across the planet and leading to rampant species extinction. The spillage and dumping of toxic chemicals as a result of fracking, oil drilling and other such endeavours, and the colossal amount of plastic dumping in our oceans (which have literally formed plastic islands) are all causing untold damage to life on Earth.

Biologists now believe we are living in the sixth mass extinction event of this planet’s 4.5 billion year life cycle, and the cause is not a matter of debate – it is the capitalist system, which puts profits for businesses ahead of all other concerns, including the environment.

System change now!

But we can change this course, if we act decisively. The fact that 90 companies have caused two-thirds of all human-made emissions, and currently only 150 companies are responsible for 70% of CO2 emissions, demonstrates who is responsible for this crisis.

The IPCC report is clear that fundamental aspects of our society need to change to achieve the 1.5°C target. These fundamental changes can only be achieved through wholesale system change. Capitalism has to go. Only by ripping the power of the economy away from the oil barons, vulture funds, arms dealers etc. can we transition away from a carbon-based economy to a green renewable economy.

This can only be achieved through the building of a mass environmental movement with socialism at its heart and by bringing these polluting companies into public ownership as part of a democratically planned economy.

 

 

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Review of Paddy Breathnach’s Rosie

By Eddie McCabe

Rosie, Tiff, 2018, Directed by Paddy Breathnach

Reviewed by Grace Gageby

The housing crisis in Ireland today has created an increasing precarity for an entire generation. The Fine Gael government has presided over the normalisation of sky rocketing rents, slum landlordism, young people locked out of the housing market, people sleeping rough on the street with emergency accommodation services at breaking point, and, as poignantly depicted in this film, Rosie, families forced to sleep in their car. Penned by renowned author Roddy Doyle and directed by Paddy Breathnach, this film spans 36 hours in the life of a young family at the sharp edge of the housing crisis after they are evicted by their landlord.

Rosie tells a story which is an all too common reality in the lives of a relatively small but shamefully growing number of working-class people in Ireland today. Forced to move from hotel to hotel with four children in tow, Sarah Greene’s Rosie is an unflinching and powerful portrait of a mother pushed to her limits, yet still an anchor of the family. Crammed into a car with four children, each day spent searching for emergency accommodation, or simply a place to feel safe, the claustrophobia and panic the film captures is palpable and difficult to watch at times.

While her partner John Paul works full time in the service industry, this isn’t enough to provide for a family against the backdrop of the brutal Dublin housing market. Tensions reach breaking point when the eldest child, Kayleigh disappears after school, spiralling the already strained, tense atmosphere of the film into daunting disarray. The performances from the children (from an angry teenager to a younger child bullied at school) are portrayed will striking authenticity and skill.

However, it is Greene’s performance that steals the show. Her relentless and agonizing search for “someplace safe” for her family is interspersed with the everyday affection and joy of family life. Rosie is heartbreaking in its realism: the repetitive phone calls searching for somewhere, anywhere, just for the night, the belongings packed in plastic bags, the youngest child’s beloved toy rabbit and even the shaky camera shots inside the car, giving the viewer the feeling they are right there themselves.

Rosie is a film that puts the urgency of the housing crisis in sharp focus. The deeply harrowing, yet sadly routine situation that the film portrays leaves the viewer wondering if there are any solutions. The emergence of the Take Back The City movement, in which activists have occupied vacant properties (often the property of slum landlords) has highlighted the disgraceful fact that people are sleeping rough or in hubs or hotels when houses lie vacant. The success of the Raise The Roof protest on 3 October has also demonstrated that after the water charges movement and the repeal the eighth movement, a generation of young people have been politicised around issues of social injustice, and are looking for solutions to the depravity of the capitalist system as it exists in Ireland today.

The recent budget, and its’ failures to alleviate the problems ordinary people face has indicated once again that the current Fine Gael government (a third of these TDs being landlords) are unwilling to take the radical action needed to solve the housing crisis. As a result, it is vital that working and young people join an anti capitalist and socialist struggle to demand that housing be a right, not a privilege.

While the housing crisis is a pressing issue in Ireland today, and there is a general awareness about the statistics on homelessness (with the number currently at 10,000),  Rosie humanises this topic, and puts a human face on the crisis. Especially given the conscious attempts to vilify the most vulnerable in society (such as Varadkar’s comments about ‘welfare cheats’ or Conor Skeehan’s assertions that people in emergency accommodation are ‘gaming the system’), Rosie is an important film which drives home the horrendous nature of neo-liberal capitalism as it exists today.

In short, Rosie is a timely and salient film which casts light on the reality of the housing crisis. Outstanding performances from the small cast carry the film which is gripping and tragic to its very core. Rosie is not just a superb piece of cinema, but a rallying cry to action to all those searching for an alternative to the brutality of the housing crisis. Writer Roddy Doyle commented that he would ‘much rather the story wasn’t there’.

For anyone that this rings true for, it is vital to engage in a struggle that cuts across the logic of the capitalist market and eliminates the profit motive from housing. The recent explosions in the Take Back the City movement, such as occupying O’Connell bridge, are a small indication of the power of grassroots movements and their power in bringing about radical change to end the housing crisis and the misery it breeds, as poignantly portrayed in this not to be missed film.

 

 

 

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Bring #MeToo into the workplace

By Eddie McCabe

By Harper Cleves

The #MeToo movement has gained traction globally since October 2017 following the allegations made by prominent Hollywood actors against media mogul Harvey Weinstein. In the wake of these accusations, actor Alyssa Milano posted a tweet calling on fellow survivors to post ‘me too’ in solidarity. Within 12 hours she had half a million replies.

Furthermore, by the end of the year, a report released by Facebook revealed that 45% of users in the United States had a friend who posted using the me too hashtag. Seemingly overnight, what started as a conversation between elites had trickled down into the lives of ordinary people, revealing the prevalence of the problem.

“McStrikes” in the US

The McDonald’s strike in the United States this past September illuminates the ways in which the consciousness generated by #Metoo has affected workers across different sectors. This strike marked the first ever action aimed specifically at highlighting sexual assault in the workplace, and it was led primarily by working class women of colour. McDonald’s workers staged lunchtime walk-outs in ten major US cities.

They highlighted systemic issues and made demands to that end, calling for structural changes in the reporting process and the creation of committees that included restaurant workers to address these problems. The mobilisation of worker power proved effective. In the end McDonald’s responded, agreeing to work with ‘Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) and the legal-compliance firm Seyfarth Shaw at Work’ in order to address worker demands.

The need to organise

In Ireland similar approaches must be taken by trade unions in order to address workplace sexual assault. Irish women and LGBTQ people are done accepting abuse. This was made evident following both the repeal referendum and the spontaneous #IBelieveHer demonstrations of support that arose just following the Belfast rugby rape trial. Workplace sexual harassment is no exception.

Sexism permeates workplaces not only through management structures, but also through the power it affords customers in social relation. Sexual harassment under these conditions stems from the same profit-driven inhumanity that favours zero-hour contracts and unlivable wages. It is vital that the trade union movement take up this issue.

Growing potential

The interest and human potential for such strike action is there. 32% of women in the Republic are union members. Furthermore, membership on the island is generally high, with density hovering between 29 and 35% depending on the source. The repeal and water charges campaigns proved to young people and workers that concentrated and organised pressure placed on the establishment can lead to systemic gains.

This can be seen recently in Belfast, where the staff at a pizza parlour called “Pizza Punks” all handed in their resignations effective immediately if an abusive manager was not removed. This was after attempting to report through official structures. The management caved. Trade union leadership must follow suit, uniting workers in actions against all forms of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace.

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INTO members reject bogus proposal to end two-tier pay

By Eddie McCabe

We spoke to two Socialist Party teacher activists about the ballot results on the government’s proposal to supposedly address two-tier pay.

Kate Relihan, a member of the INTO reacted to the news that the proposal was rejected by 53% vote to 47%.

“Myself and other rank and file activists opposed this offer given that it would have perpetuated inequalities for those who entered the profession post 2011 resulting in tens of thousands of euro more in career wages lost, but also because it represented a sell-out of future entrants thus repeating the betrayal of 2011.

“Frankly there was uncertainty on the outcome. Previous bad deals had been voted through despite campaigns of opposition by the rank and file activist group Glór. The past acceptance of bad deals mainly happened on the basis of recommendations from the leadership and an absence of confidence among the wider membership that a course of struggle would yield better results, a sentiment encouraged by the union leaders.

“On this occasion the INTO leadership did not make a recommendation but clearly hoped it would be accepted. There was a real deficit of organised about the offer at branch level.  However a layer of young teacher activists stepped forward and ran a visible and spirited campaign against this offer.”

By contrast the Teachers Union of Ireland ballot resulted in acceptance by 53% to 47%, on a 38% turnout. Diarmuid Naessans Chair of the Dublin City branch and an active participant in the TUI Grassroots group which campaigned against the offer gave his take on this.

“Unlike the INTO the TUI leadership disgracefully recommended this offer and furthermore ran a campaign of misinformation and scaremongering by basically saying that if the deal was rejected there would be dire consequences in terms of frozen increments etc. Completely untrue

“Coupled with this they took an authoritarian turn with the deputy general secretary without any reference to the democratic structures threatening legal action against TUI Grassroots for their use of ‘TUI’ in their name! We take that as a sign of nervousness on their part and rightly so because we ran them close in the end.

“The INTO result is extremely welcome. The ASTI still have to ballot and I hope the INTO vote as well as that of the nurses unions which have also rejected will spur them on to likewise reject.  In my opinion the terms of motions passed at all the teachers unions at the conferences earlier this which mandated industrial action if pay equality wasn’t obtained should be acted upon including by the TUI regardless of the recent ballot.

Kate Relihan summed up:

“This rejection by the INTO doesn’t by itself trigger industrial action. A ballot for action has to be conducted and according to INTO rules a two thirds majority required. The INTO leadership should get off the fence and campaign strongly for maximum participation in the ballot and the highest possible endorsement for action

“The crisis of recruitment and retention of teachers and nurses is an opportunity for us to run a co-ordinated strike campaign to bury two tier pay once and for all.”

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Private profiteering leads to school closures

By Eddie McCabe

By Councillor Matt Waine

The school crisis that has emerged in the last week is a disaster. 1,200 pupils now have nowhere to go, parents have been left in limbo wondering how they will manage and all the vital sports, childcare and community groups, including Foroige services, are now homeless, unable to provide the services that so many rely on. This is a crisis of national proportions with two other local schools, Scoil Choilm and Luttrelstown Community College also on the list with 40 others around the country potentially affected.

Cutting costs 

But there is nothing natural or unavoidable about this disaster. It is a direct result of gross profiteering by cowboy developers cutting corners, in order to squeeze as much profit as possible. The Government are also complicit. Their negligence and ‘light-touch’ regulation, whereby builders and developers were able to ‘self-certify’ their work, put the lives of thousands of children in danger. While this race to the bottom in safety standards, wages and conditions was unfolding, former Education Minister, Batt O’Keeffe, welcomed the 30% reduction in construction costs. It begs the question of  where they thought these ‘savings’ would come from.

It is this profiteering and corner-cutting that has given us Grenfell, Priory Hall and Longboat Quay. For these developers, the lives of ordinary people mean nothing, as long as they can cream off massive profits.

Western Building Systems were known in the industry as ‘bottom-feeders’ – a shady outfit that only employs 45 staff. How then did they build over 20 schools in the last 5 years? Because their operation is based on bogus self employment and sub-contracting, where there is little or no oversight.

It has come to light that the Department were aware of major fire and structure defects in Western built schools as early as 2014. Why has it taken this long for the other Western projects to be investigated? And more, why were lucrative state contracts continually awarded to an outfit that was known to scrimp and cut corners in terms of quality and safety?

End reliance on private sector 

This shows the sinister nexus between big business and the state. It’s not just Fianna Fáil who have a long and dirty history with unscrupulous developers – the whole system is guilty.

We need to break with the policy of relying on private developers to deliver vital state infrastructure. If anything, this scandal puts front and centre the need for a state owned, funded and controlled construction company, with proper health and safety, and proper oversight measures locked in. The construction industry should be brought into democratic public ownership. This would immediately improve safety standards and reduce costs, as the profiteering of private developers would not be a factor anymore. And of course, such a state company could also deliver affordable homes on a not-for-profit basis.

 

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Presidential elections & Casey result- The socialist alternative to right wing populism

By Eddie McCabe

By Oisin Kelly

The news that Peter Casey rose from 1% in opinion polls to receive 23% in the presidential election has shocked many. Casey used despicable anti-Traveller racism to boost his profile. The racist prejudices that exist in Irish society and that he tapped into and stirred up have been fostered and nurtured by the Irish capitalist establishment over decades. He also tapped into support amongst those that are alienated from this same establishment and its political representatives.

Anti-Traveller racism is a common method used by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians and right-wing independents to whip up division and gain some support, typically at a local election. Casey’s vote marks the first time this tactic was used so openly in a national election.

Casey’s politics

Peter Casey was failing in the opinion polls and was coming last up to a week out from polling day. He attempted, on a number of occasions, to explode open the debate with right-wing populism. However, his remarks against feminism failed to gain traction and were even met with derision. He then switched to vile anti-Traveller racism.

When Casey was asked about housing in an interview, he made a particular attack on a Traveller family in Tipperary who are still awaiting the delivery of commitments the local authority made about their housing. He even went to visit the site of the new housing, and was followed by a media posse.

Despite being a millionaire who has rarely paid tax in Ireland, Casey repeated racist myths about Travellers not paying tax. Casey, like Donald Trump, refused to outline his income or the level of taxation he has paid.

Casey not only attacked the Traveller family in Tipperary but also went on to say that Travellers are not an ethnic minority and that they should not be recognised as such. In the last week, in debates and in initial interviews after the results, Casey has gone further, remarking far more explicitly that Travellers are not an ethnic minority, while other groups in Ireland are.

The extreme “centre”.

There is nothing new about what Casey represents. The so-called ‘centre’ of Irish politics has used similar methods. Casey made remarks against people receiving welfare payments. He has taken some inspiration from Leo Varadkar who used a campaign against ‘welfare cheats’ to boost his own campaign to become Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach last year. Casey even borrowed Varadkar’s line about wanting to represent ‘people who get up early in the morning’. He has tried to go beyond just attacking Travellers by extending his attacks to include lone parents, the disabled, the unemployed and those on housing waiting lists.

Recently Leo Varadkar stated in the Dáil that he represents those who ‘pay for everything, and are eligible for nothing’, while hinting that Solidarity TDs represent those that pay for nothing. Councillors and council candidates from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil regularly use anti-Traveller bigotry to boost themselves. In the run up to the 2014 local elections, Josepha Madigan called the building of a Traveller halting site in her ward ‘a waste of valuable resources’ and openly advocated that Travellers be housed outside of areas with high house prices. She is now a senior Minister and close ally of the Taoiseach.

Travellers

Travellers are a marginalised and discriminated against group in Irish society. They face daily discrimination and victimisation that is endemic, widespread and shameful. Unemployment for Travellers is in the region of 87%. One-third do not have access to sanitation, 55% leave school by 15 and 1% have third level education. Suicide rates for Traveller men are seven times higher than the rate for the Irish population as a whole. A 2007 survey showed that half of Travellers are dead by the age of 39; the infant mortality rate is four times higher than rest of the Irish population; the mortality rate for under 25s is 32% while the figure for Ireland as a whole is 2.6%; 80% of Travellers die before reaching 65.

The Labour Party and Fine Gael who backed Higgins as a candidate, cut the Traveller specific accommodation budget from a low €35m, down to €4.3m. Many councils refuse to spend a penny of the Traveller accommodation budgets allocated to them. It is no surprise that the councils nominating the ‘Dragons’ also have poor records on Traveller housing. Labour and Fine Gael in government also slashed the Traveller education budget by 86%.

Understandably many Travellers will feel dismayed by the outcome of this election.  All attempts to use it to further stir up anti-Traveller sentiment or racist division generally must be actively resisted. This should involve mass protests that unite all working and young people and take a clear opposition to racism being fuelled by politicians like Casey and from the racism of the Irish state.

The presidential election

The establishment wanted to have a coronation of the incumbent, Michael D. Higgins, and he received the support of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Green Party, the Social Democrats and even the Workers’ Party. Higgins is an establishment figure who served in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led governments in the 1990s, which oversaw economic inequality, tax amnesties for the super wealthy, and sowed the seeds for the housing crisis we have today.

The presidential election nomination process is designed to restrict the ability of left wing and small party candidates from being nominated. The coalescence of the establishment parties around Michael D. Higgins, opened up a gap where three millionaire businessmen secured nominations from local councils, usually from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors. There was no left-wing candidate in the election.

Sinn Féin is working to make itself more acceptable to the ruling class in the south and to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as future coalition partners. This is seen on a daily basis in the Dáil, and Sinn Féin pitched Liadh Ní Riada as a candidate who would not take any clear left positions. In the course of the election, details of Sinn Féin’s pay arrangements emerged which shows that Sinn Féin do not operate an average industrial wage policy for public representatives. Ní Riada claimed that her net wage of €47,000 was an average wage.

The election was bland and working-class people were not engaged in the debates or the campaigns. This election had the lowest turnout for a presidential election in history. This is in sharp contrast to the Repeal referendum last May, which saw the mobilisations of thousands of activists into canvassing and political activity to achieve a Yes vote.

Political vacuum

Internationally we have seen right-wing populism emerging, from Trump in the United States, to Bolsonaro in Brazil. Around Europe anti-immigrant and anti-refugee parties and candidates have gained support. This is due to the policies of the ruling class which sow racism and division, and to the growing alienation from the traditional establishment parties. This is particularly the case with those parties such as Labour in Ireland, who in the past claimed to represent the interests of working-class people but have now embraced the ruthless logic of neo-liberal capitalism.

In 2011, many working-class people desperate for an alternative to austerity and the rigged economy voted for Labour and its promise that it would be “Labour’s way not Frankfurt’s [referring to the European Central Bank who represent the interests of bankers] way”. After taking office in 2011, in a coalition government with Fine Gael, they dutifully implemented a vicious programme of cuts, while banks were bailed out to the tune of €64 billion. This was accompanied by the failure of the leadership of the trade union movement to take a stand against this austerity over the course of the crisis.

This experience undoubtedly knocked and confused many working-class people. In this context people were encouraged to criticise the failings of individual politicians rather than the economic system. Public sectors workers were rounded upon for bringing about the crisis as opposed to bankers and big business. The vote for Casey is illustrative of how a historic sell-out of so-called “centre-left” parties such as Labour and the leadership of the official workers’ movement, has created an enormous vacuum that has allowed demagogic forces of the racist right to emerge.

Right-wing populism

At this stage, no party in Ireland has emerged to tap into a right-populist trend. It is still open whether any such party would have electoral success in a general election or local election, although those seeking to emulate the successes of the likes of Trump internationally here in Ireland will be emboldened by this result. Casey has made apparently confused and contradictory statements about continuing an electoral project. At the time of writing he has even suggested that he might run for Fianna Fáil.

Casey picked up a vote of 23% nationally, with him performing stronger in particularly marginalised rural communities such as Longford, West County Limerick and Donegal. These are communities where there are little prospects for young people, with most leaving for work and study. Employment and infrastructure such as transport and broadband are neglected by the State.

Right-wing and racist populism is fundamentally hollow in its nature and offers no answers to the problems confronting working-class people. Behind its rhetoric it refuses to oppose the economic status quo and cynically seeks to create division by scapegoating the most vulnerable sections of society for the problems created capitalism.

Of course, there is nothing inevitable about such forces garnering significant support. The water charges movement showed the willingness of working-class people to engage in mass struggle against the impact of eight years of austerity. This could have created the basis for a new left movement to emerge had the lead been given by the unions involved in the Right2Water initiative at the height of this struggle in December 2014, a call that was made by the Socialist Party at the time.  Unfortunately, this opportunity was not taken.

Ultimately this system is not capable of meeting our needs, as the housing crisis acutely demonstrates, which is fuelling an underlying discontent in society. Workers, women and young people must organise in a new party that is based around socialist policies that challenge this capitalist system that puts profit before all else. The growth in support for left figures such as Corbyn in Britain and Sanders in the US shows the outlines of how such a left can challenge racist, right-wing figures and groupings.

Fighting racism and capitalism

In recent months, we have seen the emergence of the potential for a new housing movement as shown by the occupations and demonstrations organised by Take Back the City and the Raise the Roof campaign. A new housing movement should fight for a public home building programme to build tens of thousands of new homes, including Traveller specific housing as well student accommodation. Trade unions can play a critical role by using their weight in society to build such a movement. They also must use their power to actively combat any attempts to stir up racist division and attacks on vulnerable minorities.

The best way to fight racism is by building anti-racist campaigns in communities and in workplaces which oppose division and fight for investment decent homes and properly funded public services for all. Such a movements must be based on working-class people, young people and the oppressed, the very forces that delivered marriage equality and abortion rights, as well the abolition of the water charges. These were battles that showed that there is desire for progressive change in Ireland and opposition to the economic and social inequalities that exist in Ireland.

Malcom X remarked that “you can’t have capitalism without racism”. This is very true. Capitalism creates massive inequalities and sows the seeds of division between sections of society. Casey wanted to divide settled people from Travellers; those seeking to buy a home from those on council waiting lists; those who are working from those who are seeking work.

Travellers and settled people, and all sections of the working class and oppressed, have a common interest in challenging a capitalist system that has inequality and discrimination built into its DNA. Together we must build a powerful anti-capitalist and socialist left that rejects the racist populism of Casey and his ilk, as well the establishment parties that faithfully support this rotten system.

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Landlord & big business Government must go

By Eddie McCabe

By Paul Murphy TD

With Denis Naughten forced to resign as a Minister as a result of multiple undeclared meetings with big businessman David McCourt, the government appears to be on its last legs.

Even with Fianna Fáil abstaining, the government is now effectively reliant on the votes of Michael Lowry TD to continue. Depending on a convicted corrupt politician to survive, after a scandal involving Ministers’ accessibility to big business and reliance on a venture capitalist to provide rural broadband, is a fitting end for the government!

Confidence and supply

Talks about a review and possible extension of the “confidence and supply” agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have commenced. If it was simply a matter of policy, they could reach agreement tomorrow, given they agree on all the essentials of the neo-liberal tax haven model of Irish capitalism.

However, given that this is largely about preparation for an upcoming general election, the talks are likely to involve rhetorical positioning by both parties. Fianna Fáil in particular is anxious to try to portray itself as a party championing the need for action on the housing crisis. The gross hypocrisy of this was revealed in the last month, where on 4 October, they supported a motion on housing calling for a relatively modest increase in the budget for housing. Five days later, they agreed to allow the government’s budget to pass, despite it allocating effectively no new funds for the building of public housing!

Posturing

The other area of posturing is around who is more responsible for the interests of Irish capitalism on the issue of Brexit. Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin has indicated that, regardless of the outcome of the talks with Fine Gael, he will not bring the government down before a Brexit deal is done. Meanwhile, Varadkar ridiculed that suggestion, seeking to leave himself room for manoeuvre to call an election when it suits him.

What the outcome of these talks will be is not clear. An extension of the agreement is possible. However, given the precarious nature of the government’s position and the prospect of an end to the current stage of the Brexit process in the coming months, the odds of a general election in the first half of next year are shortening.

The abortion legislation should be fast-tracked and the government must go. The latest scandal only served to underline the reality of how it serves the interests of big business. No government which is based on the continuation of the rule of capitalism can resolve the multiple crises facing working class people.

Housing crisis

This is most evident on the issue of housing. The crisis worsens on a daily basis, yet the government’s policy was exposed once again when it came to the budget. This was a landlords’ budget delivered by a landlords’ government, based on funnelling money to landlords through Housing Assistance Payments and tax breaks, instead of investing to deliver public housing.

Instead of a landlords’ and big business’ government, a government that serves the needs of working class people is needed. Such a government would end the failed reliance on the free market to deliver housing.

A left socialist government

Similarly, the crises of cost of living and the unsustainable model of the Irish economy cannot be resolved on the basis of the capitalist market and big business interests. Democratic public ownership under workers’ control of the key sections of the economy is needed in order to allow economic planning to meet the needs of ordinary people and protect the environment.

To make a government that serves the needs of working class people possible, a mass socialist party is needed. This would place on the agenda a left government committed to breaking with capitalism and implementing socialist policies.

 

 

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Enough is enough: Mass movement needed to win housing for all

By Eddie McCabe

By Matthew Waine

“The Land Development Agency is a Government intervention that is 50 years overdue and which, in time, I believe will be seen to be as significant as the decision to establish the ESB, Aer Lingus or the IDA.”

These are the words of Leo Varadkar announcing the launch of the Land Development Agency. It is a fitting epitaph, given that all the main semi-state agencies were fattened up and sold off to private interests. That is the essence of what the LDA is – handing up to 70% of state-owned land over to private interests. But it is also a call to action for all those who are shocked and disgusted at the ever-growing humanitarian disaster of the housing crisis.

Explosion of anger

The government is not reckoning with the emergence of the social movement around Take Back the City and Raise the Roof. The occupations across Dublin City, the mass ‘Raise the Roof’ demonstration on 3 October, with thousands of students leaving college and workers leaving their workplaces to join the rally, all demonstrate a huge potential to build a movement.

Ireland has always had a housing crisis, but it has been the scale of this most recent crisis that re-emerged five years ago that has fuelled the growing anger in this moment. Virtually every family in Ireland has been affected in some way. What is more, it is a microcosm of the so-called recovery – a bonanza for the elites and a precarious existence for hundreds of thousands.

Young people

Repeal was a movement whose time had come. The result showed the scale of sweeping change in social opinions. But it was a result that had to be fought for inch by inch with a political establishment resistent to progress. If we want to tackle the housing crisis, we need a similarly determined and active campaign to force real change.

The Socialist Party supports the occupation movement and salutes the activists that have taken part, many involved in their first campaign, and many more having come from the repeal movement. Those actions need to be emulated across the country.

But this work needs to be broadened still further. The Socialsit Party is calling on the students’ unions across the state to call a national day of action; staging occupations, demonsrations and walkouts in all third level institutions.

Role of trade unions

Similarly the trade unions, with their 750,000 members need to be mobilised. Not just naming the day for a national demonstration, but actively going into the workplaces and mobilising their members. The unions should also seek to organise the unorganised, the tens of thousands of young people scraping a living in precarious jobs with no prospect of a future. If they seriously tried to unionise these workers and link their struggle to the struggle for a state-led solution to the housing crisis, they would get an electric response.

As we go to press, discussions of a major demonstration on 1 December are advancing. Everyone should get behind this demo and as a step to building a mass movement of resistance to this government of landlords and developers.

 

 

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Corruption, rural broadband & the disaster of privatisation

By Eddie McCabe

By Dave Murphy

A minister should know that having dinner with a businessman involved in bidding for a state-contract can seriously shorten their ministerial careers.

Denis Naughten, on the other hand, apparently didn’t see the harm in having numerous meetings and dinners with David McCourt, a billionaire American businessman, who was the last remaining bidder in the state’s failing National Broadband Plan. In fact, aside from having dinner in New York and a meeting in the businessman’s home in which the broadband deal was discussed, he even arranged a dinner and drinks in the Dail bar for the McCourt family!

Business & politics- the rotten link

These revelations came just months after news broke that Naughten, in a meeting with a representative for Independent News & Media (INM), let-slip commercially sensitive information around a potential merger the company was involved in.

What the Naughten case shows once again is the intricate links between big business and politics. If you are rich and powerful, access to Ministers and top politicians is just a phone call away – indeed when McCourt wanted to meet Naughten he simply picked up the phone to Fine Gael TD Pat Breen who facilitated the first meeting. Or as the INM example shows, if you’re Denis O Brien a minister’s ‘slip of the tongue’ can be worth a fortune to you.

Privatisation disaster

While Fine Gael have been quick to replace Naughten in an attempt to hold together a functioning government, for people in rural Ireland this is another setback in getting high speed internet connectivity – which they have been promised since 2002.

Access to broadband is now a necessity for most people, the ability to supply it is a basic infrastructure. But in Ireland, 542,000 homes, schools and small businesses cannot access it. This represents 40% of the population, and means it is not available in over 90% of the geographical area of the country.

The root of this situation lies in the decision of the Fianna Fail government to privatise Telecom Eireann in 1999. At the time, Telecom Eireann were moving towards being at the forefront of the digital revolution, with much investment in moving from analogue to digital.

Asset stripped & debt ridden

The political establishment said that privatisation would result in more investment and better services – the opposite is the truth. When Telecom Eireann was first floated on the Stock Exchange it was valued at €8.4 billion, since then it has been bought and sold numerous times.

All the private consortiums which bought it did so to maximise profits – they asset stripped the company, withdrew profits for themselves and loaded the company with their private debts. For example, a consortium led by Tony O’Reilly bought it for €3 billion. They went on to sell off its mobile arm. Another sold off the phone masts. Even the company headquarters was sold off. One of the last sales of the company saw it bought for just €39 million – it was valued at €3.94 billion, but had debts of €3.87 billion.

Public ownership

To develop strategic infrastructure like broadband, the privatisation of Telecom Eireann must be reversed. Despite the asset stripping, Eir (the current brand name for Telecom Eireann) now has a mobile network, broadband, and television packages but most importantly it owns cables and infrastructure across the country.

The company should be nationalised and taken back into public ownership. The government should refuse to pay the debts of vulture funds and billionaires who have loaded their debts on it. Instead, they should invest in the company to develop broadband infrastructure across the country.  It would allow, in a relatively short space of time, to develop a communications and technology company that could drive forward the economy and create well-paid jobs for workers.

 

 

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Our crisis. Their profits- Protests shine light on housing crisis

By Socialist Party Reporter

By Solidarity TD and Socialist Party member Mick Barry

Ten thousand people attended a lunchtime protest outside the Dáil on Wednesday, Oct 3 to protest Government inaction on the growing housing crisis and demand change.

The protest was called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the National Homeless and Housing coalition  –  a coalition of student unions, Housing campaigners, political parties including Solidarity, trade unions and others.

Locked out generation

A very significant part of the protest was made up of young students, members of what in Ireland is now being called the “locked out generation”.

Inspired by the successful campaigns for marriage equality, repeal of the anti-abortion laws and abortion rights significant numbers from the locked out generation are now beginning to turn their attention towards activism on the housing issue.

Many of these young people have also been inspired to take action by the audacious Take Back The City campaign which has organised several occupations of vacant properties owned by big landlords in Dublin City Centre.

A violent raid in September on an occupied building by private security wearing balaclavas, backed up by Gardai wearing ski masks has only served to increase determination to make a stand despite arrests and people being hospitalized.

Rising rents, record homelessness, half a million young people locked out of the housing market, all this has created a mood for change on the issue.

Record profits for land hoarding developers and greedy landlords has only hardened that mood.  Ireland’s largest corporate landlord IRES Reit recently announced that profits for the first six months had doubled over the previous period for last year.

Government inaction

All of this is presided over by a Fine Gael led minority Government which refuses to learn the lessons of the 2008 property crash and remains utterly devoted to the “market” – and refuses to take any actions which significantly curtails its operation.

Government worship of the market is only copperfastened by the fact that 36% of Fine Gael TDs are themselves landlords while 33% of Fianna Fáil TDs are landlords too.

The Socialist Party and Solidarity demands 100,000 units of public housing be built over the next five years. Housing analyst Mel Reynolds estimates that there is enough State lands zoned for residential use in the hands of the local authorities and the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) to build 114,000 public homes.

Invest in public housing
This can be paid for without resorting to increasing tax on working people.  Recently Apple were found by the European Commission to have benefitted to the tune of €13 billion plus interest from sweetheart deals with the Irish State and were forced to lodge €14.3 billion into an escrow bank account pending an appeal (by Apple AND the Irish State!).

The State should drop this outrageous appeal and announce its intention to spend all monies on social investment. It is estimated by academics in Maynooth University that the State could save €23.8 billion over 30 years by building public housing rather than enriching landlords via HAP (Housing Assistance Payment).

The surge in homelessness is coming first and foremost from the issuing of notices to quit by private landlords.  It is literally insane to allow such evictions continue apace in the middle of the greatest housing crisis in the history of the State.  The demand for an outright ban on economic evictions is a potentially powerful magnet for a developing mass campaign.

The government’s “rent controls” have proven to be a cruel hoax.  Rent real controls should mean not just a slowing of rent inflation or even a freeze on rent.  When rent is as high as it currently is, real rent control must mean measures which slash the price of rent.

What next?

The Socialist Party and Solidarity support a stepping up of action on housing.We will continue to support civil disobedience in the form of the Take Back the City campaign and will encourage similar resistance to evictions in communities.

The unions must take off the gloves with the Government.  The Government are not “social partners” and a Fianna Fáil Government would be no better.

The unions and the housing movement should seize the initiative and now name the date for a major national Saturday demonstration in November.  If this is done alongside sharpening the demands for public housing, a ban on economic evictions and real rent controls a major step forward in building a movement can be taken.

The Socialist Party and Solidarity will strive to build such a movement while fighting to build a strong socialist Left to challenge the rule of the capitalist market at the root of this crisis.

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Dublin Fringe Festival: Artists’ rights undermined

By Eddie McCabe

By Síofra Nic Liam

With the beginning of Dublin Fringe Festival, the unpaid “heroes” are being highlighted and thanked. Unfortunately, this gratitude doesn’t pay the bills of struggling artists.

This, however, is the norm, with many young artists and arts administration workers taking unpaid work in exchange for exposure, or else experience, despite these unpaid roles not necessarily providing any training or learning experiences and often requiring them to work in excess of eight to ten hours per day.

Many of these young people do not have the confidence to call out the employers, particularly because the industry is network based and those looking for work don’t want to have a bad reputation with other potential employers, and self-employed and freelance work can isolate workers from organising.

This experience is not unique to Ireland and an independent survey in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival found that one in three workers were not being paid, that 48% worked more than 49 hours a week – despite only 16% being contracted to do so – and only 54% of staff had an employment contract; the rest being hired as volunteers or treated as freelance/self-employed. Furthermore, out of 190 respondents who were paid an hourly wage, 54% were paid less than £7.50 per hour while the living wage is £8.75.

Fair Fringe Campaign

Last year, in response to the exploitative conditions, the Fair Fringe campaign was launched, which is an alliance of workers, campaign groups and unions which shames employers and fight for employee rights and union recognition in Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

There are some arts unions, under SIPTU, in Ireland, but they are divided based on arts discipline despite the fact that different types of artists having in more in common than not and often work together in the same spaces, performance or exhibition.

These unions do little to mobilise their members and many arts workers neglect to join in the first place as the unions are seen to do so little.

Last year a pilot scheme was launched to allow writers and visual artists to receive social welfare while being self-employed, but one condition was to prove that at least 50% of their income from the previous year came from their art – a difficulty for young and new artists, and mothers who struggle to retain a creative income after having children.

Getting organised

In February, only 24 people had availed of this scheme, which was welcomed by many artists’ representative organisations with little criticism.

A campaign led by arts workers that does not pander to the establishment is desperately needed to fight for fair wages and working conditions. The arts give a platform to many issues, with an explosion of pro-choice art in the run up to the Repeal referendum, and the housing crisis is a recurring theme in this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival.

These festivals absolutely would not survive without people doing unpaid work, and Irish artists should take inspiration of Edinburgh’s Fair Fringe Campaign, and other precarious workers struggles, such as the Deliveroo strikes, and organise to fight for paid work and worker’s rights in festivals in Ireland.

 

 

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Dublin Bus on the chopping block

By Socialist Party Reporter

By Councillor Matt Waine

The National Transport Authority (NTA) has now published a report by US transport consultancy firm, Jarret Walker, that drastically overhauls Dublin Bus.

The claim is that this will significantly improve connectivity and frequency. However, reading the small print we see that this is simply a re-rationing of Dublin Bus’s existing stock, which will actually worsen the service in the suburbs.

A plan for chaos

The proposed plan is based around establishing eight ‘spine routes’ which will have, it is claimed, a significantly higher frequency, serving new ‘bus hubs’ in the main population centres, like Swords, Blanchardstown and Tallaght. These will be supplemented with additional orbital, east-west and feeder routes to serve nearby communities.

Over 200,000 commuters in total use Dublin Bus to travel into the city centre each day. Under this new plan, tens of thousands will be obliged to get two buses. They will be forced to get a local bus from their community to one of the main ‘bus hubs’, where they will have to get off and wait for another ‘spine’ bus to take them into the city centre.

The madness of this idea is clear to everyone, except the NTA. Thousands of commuters arriving in the same place scrambling to get on a bus going into the city centre. Imagine what it will be like for parents with buggies, wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility?

Provoking outrage 

Already the proposal has provoked outrage among commuters. They correctly see this as simply re-rationing existing stock and another step down the road towards further privatisation. Such a situation will lead to the creation of an inferior transport system and attacks on workers rights.

Large and angry meetings have taken place in communities across the city. Over 300 people attended a meeting in Greenhills with 600 in Drimnagh. Two hundred irate locals marched to one of the NTA ‘information stalls’ in Crumlin to register their opposition to this plan. Solidarity and the Socialist Party have organised meetings in Edenmore, Tallaght and Dublin West.

Invest in public transport

While the consultation process ends on 28 September, the many local campaigns must continue to put pressure on the politicians. Many Fianna Fáil politicians are opportunistically holding meetings on the issue. They need to be pressurised into insisting that Transport Minister, Shane Ross, directs the NTA to scrap the plans. We need an active campaign in every community. SIPTU and the NBRU – who represent bus drivers – should call a city-wide demonstration to the Dáil.

But this isn’t enough. Commuting to and from work in Dublin is a daily nightmare for hundreds of thousands of workers and students. The cause is chronic underfunding of and lack of capital investment in public transport. What is needed is a properly funded public transport system that is run on a non-profit basis to serve the interests of its workforce, commuters and our environment.

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