Potential 20,000 daily personal interactions in sector
July 12th: Unite, which represents driving instructors throughout Ireland, today (Sunday) warned that both instructors and learners could be at risk unless rigorous safety protocols are developed which take account of conditions specific to the sector. The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted prior to being included in Phase 3 of the re-opening ‘roadmap’, and asking the Minister to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in order to develop sector-specific safety protocols.
Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Jean O’Dowd said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have focused attention on the challenges faced by different sectors in keeping those providing and using services safe.
“Driving instructors face particular issues given that their work is carried out within the small enclosed space of a car, and involves close interaction with learners. Our members estimate that there could be up to 20,000 personal interactions in the sector every day. Both the confined space and the close interaction pose an obvious risk for both instructors and users.
“Unite has written to Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting these issues and asking him to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in the sector to develop safety protocols which will keep everyone safe and ensure that the sector does not contribute to spreading the virus.
“We are now at a critical juncture in our management of this emergency, and workers must be fully involved in developing safe working practices to protect all of us”, Ms O’Dowd concluded.
Today in Dublin, there were three solidarity protests with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United (Disunited) States.
Thank you for your continuing support and sharing information about COVID-19. Below are some communications updates for you.
Phase 3 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business - Ireland is now in Phase 3 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, which began on Monday 29th June. You can view the measures that form part of Phase 3 here.
David Worth looks back to when Labour’s radical words put them in the clerical firing line.
After the 1933 election, Labour was left with its lowest number of seats ever. Their spell in government as the junior partners of Fianna Fáil had seen much of their programme implemented. When Fianna Fáil called a snap election, voters left the Labour Party in droves in favour of de Valera’s party. Labour was left with a choice; either to lose its place as Ireland’s third party or adopt a new programme to try to win back the working class voters it lost to Fianna Fáil. This would lead to the party adopting the establishment of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ as its goal.
‘Workers’ Republic’ was the name of the magazine which James Connolly had produced before the Easter Rising of 1916. By adopting its title as their aim, they were harking back to their founder, but the beliefs of the membership of the party in the 1930s were very different to those of Connolly. One thing that they did have in common with Connolly was that they were often on the defensive against sustained attacks from the clergy who were suspicious of Labour’s use of class politics. William Norton often declared his Catholic faith loudly as he defended himself and his party from accusations of Communism and Atheism, declaring at the 1936 Labour Party conference that ‘as a Catholic worker’, admonitions warning Irish workers of the dangers of ‘Godless communism’ betrayed ‘a deplorable want of faith in the deep-seated religious convictions of the Irish working class’.
The party’s adoption of their new constitution could not have come at a worse time for Labour. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 had seen the left-leaning Republican government of Spain face down a rebellion by a coalition of Monarchists, Fascists and Catholic Conservatives. The Church, firmly opposed to the secular agenda of the Republic, portrayed this as a struggle between good and evil. Sermons regularly denounced the left-wing government in Madrid and newspapers such as the Irish Catholic and the Irish Independent relished in giving its readers sensationalised accounts of Republican atrocities against the priests and nuns of Spain.
“The Spanish Civil War exposed deep divisions between the party’s left and right wings”
The already fragile left in Ireland was now open to even greater attacks from their opponents. Although the Labour Party went to great lengths to distance itself from the Republican side, the Church used the war as an opportunity to attack any left-wing tendencies within the Labour movement. While Fearghal McGarry described Labour’s policy within the Dáil as ‘don’t mention the war’, this does not give us the whole picture on how the party’s diverse membership reacted to the conflict. The party’s leadership was not afraid to loudly denounce fascism, with William Norton designating a large portion of his address at the 1937 conference to ‘the menace of fascism’ and criticising those ‘who are enamoured of what they call a corporative state’.
Although he was a member of the Knights of Columbanus, an organisation dedicated to the promulgation of Catholic teaching, this put Norton in direct conflict with the Catholic social teaching of the day which was detailed in the encyclical Quadragesimo anno.
Conor Cruise O’Brien, then a young delegate from the Trinity Branch of the party, went even further by attacking the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War as a ‘clique of Fascist generals’ that were ‘wantonly waging a civil war against their own people for its own ends’. He would go on to say that the rebellious generals were backed by Spanish millionaires and by ‘International Fascism with German and Italian troops’. More controversially though, he finished by saying that ‘Every country which valued its freedom had a duty to hold out against the forces of Fascism in all their forms, even in Spain’.
This provoked protests from other delegates to the conference, with Gerrard L. McGowan, one of the party’s TDs, saying that ‘he felt that he would be lacking in his duty as a citizen and as a Catholic if he did not enter a protest’. Another TD went even further in supporting the Francoist cause. Michael Keyes, TD for Limerick, had spoken at rallies for the Irish Christian Front which was founded in August 1936 by Alexander McCabe ‘to help the stricken people of Spain in their struggle against the forces of international Communism’. Keyes had praised the Irish Christian Front in its efforts to ‘bring into existence in this country a social and economic system based on the Christian ideals of life as expressed in the Papal encyclicals and thereby to overcome the evils of socialism which are altogether contrary to Christian principles.
The Dublin North-West branch of the party submitted a resolution condemning Keyes at the next party conference for sharing a platform with the Irish Christian Front because they ‘called for the suppression of all bodies advocating the Irish Workers’ Republic- the declared objective of the Labour Party’.
Here again the Spanish Civil War exposed deep divisions between the party’s left and right wings. The motion to censure Keyes was withdrawn after he implausibly claimed that he was unaware of the political programme of the Irish Christian Front even though it was well known that Patrick Belton, the group’s leader had said that ‘he took his hat off to Hitler’.
Interestingly, the Tipperary branch of the party proposed an amendment to the resolution, saying that they approved of Deputy Keyes’ actions. Later, in a resolution condemning Fascism, they proposed to amend it with a condemnation of ‘Godless Communism’ because as ‘Fascism enslaved the body’ Communism went one step further by enslaving ‘the body and soul’. Norton, conscious of the anti-communist hysteria, which he said ‘has become fashionable over the last twelve months’, still dismissed this motion as there was really very little danger that the Irish working class would succumb to Communism.
John Gill of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union wondered ‘Why, alone among all of the parties, was The Labour Party asked every day in the week and every week in the year, to condemn something which everyone knew it hated’. The constant attacks on the party’s tentative steps towards a socialist programme did not just come from within the party, but much vitriol was poured on the party from the Catholic press and clergymen who were particularly riled up because of the ongoing conflict in Spain. The party and its leadership would do their best to counter these attacks and try to pre-empt them by avoiding any controversies relating to religion or the Church.
The party’s reluctance to take a pro-Franco stance deepened the anti-communist press’ suspicions of it, while the clear evidence of internal division made it look like the party could be pressured to abandon its commitments to socialism. The party’s stated goal of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ now made it a target for the Irish press who had long been suspicious of Labour but now had a stick to beat them with as they abandoned bland pink rhetoric. Newspapers such as the Limerick Leader, Standard, the Irish Rosary and the Irish Catholic led the attack on Labour after the conference, with the Limerick Leader describing the party’s constitution as ‘Communistic in aim, origin and tendency’.
“Horrified at the idea of the Holy Father hearing about his alleged plans to create a Soviet Ireland, Norton wrote a letter to the Papal Secretary of State”
These newspapers held considerable sway at the time with the Standard enjoying a circulation of 50,000 a week. Labour was apparently on the slippery slope towards Communism and the Irish Catholic wrote an exposé stating that 204,000 Irish workers affiliated to the ITUC were ‘tacit supporters of Communism’. What made matters worse for Labour was that this article was reprinted in the Vatican’s own newspaper Osservatore Romano.
Horrified at the idea of the Holy Father hearing about his alleged plans to create a Soviet Ireland, Norton wrote a letter to the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli repudiating the claims made in the Irish Catholic. The article was eventually retracted after Norton’s pleading with the Cardinal to ‘consult a recognised Catholic authority qualified to interpret authoritatively such tendencies’. This invitation to the hierarchy to meddle with the party’s policy caused some annoyance to former leader Thomas Johnson who said that ‘I for one will have to reconsider my position as a member’ if it happened again.
The campaign against the Labour Party was not confined to the press but was also taken up by groups of anti-communist activists who saw no difference between the goals and beliefs of the Irish Labour Party and the Communist Parties of Europe. An anonymous report was circulated amongst these activists in the autumn of 1937. Most likely written by Fr. Denis Fahey, this report was an assessment of the threat posed by a variety of groups in Ireland from the Communist Party of Ireland to the so-called ‘Jewish Secret Societies’.
The Labour Party and its affiliated trade unions came under particular scrutiny because, unlike the other groups named whose ‘revolutionary purpose is made plain to every member and publicly avowed’, the leadership of the Labour Party denies its ‘revolutionary character’ and ‘point to certain resolutions of fidelity to Christian teaching passed at their meetings as proof to the contrary’.
Labour’s regular use of Catholic social teaching and quotations from encyclicals were to no avail, they would always be regarded with suspicion by those committed to destroying any organisation not committed to the preservation of the current class system. Labour would strike back at this report in its publication Labour News stating that ‘Religious poison pen links Labour, Communism, Nudism, Jewry, Freemasonry in this diabolical “report”. This rebuttal of the report was published in Labour News at the request of ‘clergymen who recognised low sectarian frenzy and pogrom-purpose in the authorship of this document’. This is unlikely to have been true as Labour News had a reputation with clashing with the clergy on a number of issues but the need they felt to show that they had at least some clerical approval before attacking this report shows the almost unassailable power of the clergy. Labour News would be forced to cease publication because its frequent belligerence against the clergy would become too much for a leadership fearful of the repercussions of the editor’s taste for controversy.
The goal of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ remained a point of contention throughout this and in 1938, at the request of Michael Linehan, treasurer of the INTO and a prominent Catholic Actionist, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church came to the conclusion that sections of the party’s constitution conflicted with Catholic teaching. Interestingly this was an example of the bishops assembling a ‘committee of experts’ at the behest of a member of the laity to investigate a matter such as this.
At the 1939 annual conference of the Labour Party, the INTO put forward an amendment to delete the aim of a ‘Workers’ Republic’ and to replace it with the aim of creating a ‘Democratic Republic’ founded on ‘Christian principles’. In the debate that followed, some questioned the right of the bishops to force their will on the party and others pointed out that the hierarchy ‘had been against nearly all popular movements’. The debate had the potential to be extremely damaging as it set both wings of the party against each other, potentially leading to a split. The amendment to remove the ‘Workers’ Republic’ from the constitution was passed 89-25 and with it passed Labour’s last attempt to adopt socialist policies until the 1960s.
While the ‘intellectual terrorism’ of the 1930s can be blamed for Labour abandoning this shift to the left, this does not show the full picture as it was the party’s own members who appealed to the bishops to intervene and condemn the language used in the party’s 1936 constitution. While adopting left-wing language, the party’s policies and its members’ actions remained the same. These opportunist attempts to maintain a separate identity from Fianna Fáil after the party had adopted much of Labour’s social programme while in government should be treated with suspicion. Lenin had attacked the Second International for adopting radical slogans but not carrying out these slogans, saying that ‘the point is to test their sincerity, to compare their words with their deeds’. When the time came for Labour’s words to be tested they quickly abandoned their commitments to establishing a ‘Workers’ Republic’.
Unite accuses company of failing to engage and breaching agreement
July 8th: Unite, which represents workers at Drogheda magnesia plant Premier Periclase, has announced that its members are set to take strike action from Monday July 20th.
Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Willie Quigley said:
“Despite a long-standing collective agreement, management have not meaningfully engaged with us on their proposals for what they have called a ‘Temporary Shut-down of the Plant’.
“The company proposes to lay off our members or put them on reduced hours, while transferring work to non-union labour and retaining contractors on site.
“We have made a number of unsuccessful attempts to avoid arriving at this point. However, management did not seem interested in meaningful discussion on issues surrounding the ‘temporary shutdown’. As a result our members have voted to take strike action from Monday July 20th.
“Unite remains available for meaningful engagement”, Mr Quigley concluded.
American anti-war activist Ajamu Baraka has urged the public to stay vigilant against US “attempts to control the narrative” of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Speaking at an event organised by the Workers’ Party, the national organiser of the Black Alliance for Peace and the 2016 Green Party candidate for vice president said that: “The current ongoing capitalist crisis has created the most serious crisis of legitimacy since the collapse of the capitalist economy during the years referred to as the Great Depression. We are now seeing, within the economy, the genocidal implications of economic conditions in which young black workers have more value as human generators of profit locked up in prisons than as participants in the economy as low wage workers.”
Founded in 2017, the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) seeks to recapture and redevelop the historic anti-war, anti-imperialist, and pro-peace positions of the radical black movement. Framing the current wave of protests across America as an unarticulated rebellion against “the dehumanisation and degradation of late stage capitalism, known as neoliberalism”, Baraka outlined attempts by the authorities to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement with photo opportunities and stories of white agitators.
Full text below.
Ajamu Baraka: Race, Class & Protest in the United States Today
America’s Political Prisoners
I made a pledge that in all of my public presentations that I will acknowledge the existence of political prisoners in the US. We just had Delbert Africa – who had been incarcerated for 42 years – up until January when he was released. He passed the day before yesterday. We believe it is important that people in the US – but even more importantly that people outside of the US – be made aware that inside the US we have the longest serving political prisoners on the planet. People who are approaching their fifth decade in prison. Men – and, up until recently, women – who have been in the dungeons of the US for decades.
The Black Alliance of Peace
The motivation for launching the Alliance was based on the fact that on April 4th, 1967 Dr Martin Luther King reconnected with the radical black tradition by adding his voice of opposition to the murderous US war machine unleashed on the people of Vietnam. For Dr King his silence on the war in Vietnam had become an irreconcilable moral contradiction.
He declared that it was hypocritical for him to proclaim the superiority of values of nonviolence as a life principle while the US remained the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. He thought it was a contradiction for him to remain silent as the US government engaged in genocidal violence against the people of Vietnam. We say Dr King reconciled and reconnected with the black radical tradition because, in fact, Dr King was lat.
In 1967, when he embraced an oppositional position on Vietnam, it was years after other formations – including the Revolutionary Action Movement, Malcolm X, SNCC (the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee), and the Black Panthers – had taken a resolute stance against the war in Vietnam.
The Black liberation movement that those organisations represented are worker based. They are anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and international. On April 4th, 2017, 50 years after that very famous speech in which Dr King broke with the US government, we launched the Black Alliance for Peace.
We saw that after more than three decades of pro-war commissioning by both corporate parties and the corporate media, coupled with cultural desensitisation from almost decades of unrelenting war, opposition to militarism and war was something that had almost disappeared in the US among the general population. The black public was not immune to those cultural and political changes. And with the ascendance of the corporatist President Barack Obama – during whose tenure the US continued on a militaristic bent unabated and, in fact, ratcheted up – that lack of opposition to and awareness of US militarism deepened even more.
What we saw was an absolute necessity for us to attempt to recapture anti-war and anti-imperialist traditions. The black community, the black people, the black working class have been consistently – up until recently – the most anti-war and anti-imperialist communities in the US. And so the Black Alliance for Peace was launched to try to revive that spirit of opposition. But we have to make sure that people understand that the Black Alliance for Peace is a fighting organisation. We are clear. We say: no justice; no peace.
The Alliance is what we call a people-centred human rights project against war, repression and imperialism that, again, seeks to recapture, seeks to redevelop the anti-war, anti-imperialist spirit.
We see our work as part of a broader effort. A broader effort to not only revive our antiwar traditions but to revive a broader anti-war, anti imperialist, pro-peace movement in the United States. We make the connections between domestic violence and repression and the global war machine.
We see, for example, the pivot to Asia. NATO and the rotating of NATO troops on the borders of Russia. The expansion of the US Africa command. Continued support for apartheid Israel. Police executions and impunity in the US. The carceral state with the mass incarceration of black and other colonised workers and poor people are elements and policies of one oppressive global system of colonial, capitalist, white supremicist power. So the context of struggle in the US must begin with a structural analysis.
The current crisis
The current ongoing capitalist crisis has created the most serious crisis of legitimacy since the collapse of the capitalist economy during the years referred to as the Great Depression. The economic collapse comes on the heels of a deep crisis of the economy that occurred in 2007, 2008. With economic instability and the increasing competition between capitalist states, divisions have emerged among the nations that those of us in the Black Alliance for Peace refer to as the US/EU/NATO axis of domination.
The US has responded by moving toward a more confrontational posture, not only with its allies in Europe, but it has also elevated China and Russia as national security risks. Domestically, the black working class has never recovered from the collapse of 2007, 2008. The continual restructuring of the US economy to a low wage economy has resulted in the black working class being relegated to the lower rungs of the labour force, joining undocumented migrants, immigrants and other colonised workers.
We are now seeing, within the economy, the genocidal implications of economic conditions in which young black workers have more value as human generators of profit locked up in prisons than as participants in the economy as low wage workers.
This reality is one of the factors driving the obscene phenomenon of black and brown incarceration in the largest prison system on the planet. Astronomical youth employment. Millions of African-Americans and white people without health care. Poisoned environments and crumbling schools make for conditions that, with Covid-19, are ravaging the black communities. This is the reality of the colonial, capitalist system in its neoliberal stage. The Corona pandemic has pulled the ideological curtain away from the system and has exposed the brutal realities of a rapacious system of greed, human exploitation and degradation, social insecurity, corruption, and the normalisation of coercive state violence.
Bipartisan support for neoliberal capitalist policies over the last four decades has had a devastating impact. The closing of public health care facilities. Turning hospitals into giant for-profit hospital chains. Millions of people – disproportionately black people – living precarious lives at the bottom of the labour market as gig workers with no benefits, no sick leave, no vacation, no security – ordered to shutter in place as a consequence of Covid-19.
Hundreds of black people are dying unnecessarily from the virus because of conditions of colonial oppression. Which we say amounts to a situation of state sanctioned murder.
So the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – who was murdered by police in her bed – and Ahmaud Arbery who was murdered in Brunswick, George by non-state actors; white vigilantes… The whole phenomenon of vicious killer cops is just the tip of the iceberg.
This is the context we have to bring to understand what is happening in the US. Connecting the pandemic and the ongoing structural contradictions of capitalism. The impact of the pandemic, not only on black people, on black worders, but on everyone, particularly the working class in the United States of America.
In some ways George Floyd and the resistance is almost a metaphor for what is unfolding in the US. It’s a consequence of this pandemic. It’s a consequence of the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on the black working class. It’s a consequence of the clear message to workers from racial and ethnic backgrounds that their lives mean very little when it comes to the objective interests of capital.
There has been a process of radicalisation among the people, particularly among the working class. The clear message from the rulers is that humanity and the safety and the health of workers mean almost nothing in comparison to the needs of capital.
The knee on the neck of George Floyd that we saw became almost a metaphor for what millions of people are experiencing. They are experiencing the knee on their neck from capital.
So while the cry was for justice for George Floyd and so called police reform, what some of us see is an unarticulated – unarticulated until this point – rebellion against the dehumanisation and degradation of late stage capitalism, known as neoliberalism. And that is responsible for bringing people to the streets. There is no other way that one can understand the breadth and intensity of the mobilisations we are seeing. LGBTQ. The unemployed youth from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Downsized petit bourgeois elements. Suburbanites. All sectors of the population have shown up in the streets in hundreds of cities and towns across the country.
What has been the response from the state?
Many of us have seen an evolution take place. First there was clear repression. A heavy handed response from the authorities and from the militarised police. The calling up of what we call the state police and the national guard.
Every state in the US has a national guard. These are civilians who also serve in the military. They do military maneuvers. They serve as active duty soldiers from time to time. During the period when the US was involved in a two-theatre war – in both Iraq and Afghanistan- it was the national guard that played a very important role in those wars. The national guard is one of the foundational elements in allowing the state to carry out two wars simultaneously. We’re talking about military personnel.
They were called up to various states and cities across the country. So repression was the first response.
Then there was an attempt to co-opt. Some of you may have seen some of the images of the police kneeling with the protesters; sometimes even joining in with the marchers. We also saw – and it wasn’t disseminated as widely – police officers using the kneeling gesture as a way to lure protesters closer to them. And then they would attack. Those images were circulated but not so much in the international press.
After continued attempts to co-opt the resistance we saw a clever move on the part of the state. They began to criminalise the resistance. They began to raise the issue of the violence of some of the protesters. Calling on the protesters to police themselves. To make sure that the resistance would remain what they define as non-violent. Part of that criminalisation process was racial division. They used an interesting device, talking about the so-called outside agitators.
In this case it was the white outside agitator. They said it was the white outside agitators who were responsible for the looting and the escalation of violence. You might recall that President Trump then identified Antifa. The anti-fascist. This amorphous group of individuals – some part of other organisations – who emerged after the election of Donald Trump and who proclaimed that they were going to oppose what they saw as a neofascist movement developing in the country.
Donald Trump said that this amorphous element were in fact domestic terrorists and that they were the ones responsible for the violence taking place across the country. So what we started seeing was suspicion on the part of the march organisers when it came to the participation of some white comrades.
Then came an attempt to colonise the resistance by the Democrats. Over two weeks, there was a move away from a call for justice and police reform. (Policing) is a local issue, remember; we have almost 19,000 police forces in the US. Policing is a local responsibility. The opposition movement ended up being about Trump in some way. It was an anti-Trump movement and Trump played right into to that when he ordered the protesters outside of the White House to be pushed back so that he could engage in a photo op.
Of course his bombastic rhetoric played right along to it too. So after seven days of resistance, it began to look like the resistance was anti-Trump and people started talking about the necessity of voting Trump out of office and started to articulate the talking points of the Democratic Party.
All of these are attempts to control the opposition. I keep referring to so-called racial justice – not to belittle the notion of racial justice – but to suggest that it was in the interests of the state to keep the resistance on the subject of racial justice for an individual. For George Floyd. And for it to be seen to be moving towards police reform.
They were scared to death that the images we all saw: of young black, white and brown people engaged in resistance. That is a nightmare scenario on the part of the rulers. A multinational, multiracial opposition under the leadership of radical black people emerging in the US. So they were desperate to keep the focus away from pivoting toward a critique of the system. And the nature of the state. And they were desperate to break up the emerging coalitions of progressive and radical elements among the people in this country.
What will happen next?
We believe they will continue to attempt to control the narrative. That’s what we saw with the so-called yellow vests in France. We all recall that what brought them to the streets in the first place was pension reform. It gradually began to morph into a general anti-neoliberal movement. THe US state is concerned with the same kind of trajectory.
There will be an attempt to depoliticise the opposition. They are attempting to make sure there is no class analysis. They don’t want us to point to the ongoing plight of the working class. In particular the black and brown working class. The fact that it is workers – black and brown workers who they identify as so-called essential workers – who are attracting the virus and dying.
They don’t want us to make a connection with the healthcare system in the US in which 80 million people are without healthcare. They are concerned about the healthcare system being overwhelmed because it is an industrialised system. When the only way to handle a pandemic is to have nationaliised healthcare and a coordinated, sustainable system in the hands of the people.
They want to keep the focus on the issue of race. We say we have to make sure a pivot takes place. That there has to be a focus on class and race issues. We need to connect what is unfolding in the US to US militarism and imperialism. We say to people making the cry to defund the police that if you don’t connect that slogan with defunding the military, then it becomes a reactionary slogan that drives the movement into a dead end.
We say it is a moral contradiction to advocate for a kinder, gentler police force domestically while the US is unleashing systematic violence against people around the world.
This situation is very interesting as it is generating international solidarity. The US will never be able, with a straight face, to talk about human rights in other countries. The situation will prevent the US from pretending to be a state that is upholding international law. It is revealing to people around the world the true nature of the US, the plight of the working class and, in particular, the black and brown colonised working classes in the US.
The fundamental collapse of the global capitalist economy is creating a situation in which there is no telling what may unfold over the next few weeks and months.
This is a situation that may be historical in its implications.
The issue of reopening schools in Ireland has been pushed front and center over the past week, with establishment mouthpieces all over the media demanding the full reopening of the schools in September. People like Dr. Ciara Kelly who appeared on the Tonight Show last week with well known former right wing Fine Gael politician Ivan Yates to vilify teachers, accusing them of “not wanting to pull their weight” or wanting preferential treatment to other groups of workers. This is the same person who called for cancellation of the leaving cert exams while at the same time calling for primary schools to reopen in June!
Just as happened with the nurses, gone is the applause for teachers who worked around the clock providing online courses while many also homeschooled their own children. Now they want to turn the public against teachers and their unions in order to force a full return to school so that big business can get back to making big profits regardless of the risks involved.
People Before Profit understand the anxiety that workers and small business have about getting back to work as soon as possible this is why we pressure the government to continue to fully support workers and small business throughout this pandemic. But this must not be achieved at the expense of people’s lives.
By trying to blame teachers as the obstacle to reopening the schools these right wing media hacks are obscuring the real issues involved, namely that the state refuses to invest in making schools safe for teachers, students, their families and their communities.
Teachers as much as any other group in society want a return to school, they have children suffering social isolation too. Working in isolation trying to relate to students online is demoralising and labour intensive, especially with inadequate digital resources.
And what are these stubborn selfish teachers unions demanding that is so outrageous to the establishment? Well there is the hiring of extra teachers to reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing! Oh now isn’t that terribly selfish of them and to think that students might benefit from a lower teacher pupil ratio, which by the way is currently one of the highest in the EU!
Then there is mandatory temperature checking, what!? How dare they? And wait…. they’ve called for mandatory wearing of face masks to be provided freely by the state – oh the cheek of those pedagogical pests! Never mind the fact that masks are mandatory on public transport!
The government published their “interim recommendations” document last week which completely goes against the public health advice and WHO guidelines for social distancing and the use of PPE. Inferior social distancing of “1 metre if possible” is to be applied in classrooms, masks are not recommended and neither is regular temperature checking.
Teachers unions have rightly rejected this reckless policy to fully reopen the schools without key safety measures in place. Many teachers and students are vulnerable or have family members who are vulnerable to Covid-19 and they have a right to be protected. It is vital to bear in mind that a second wave will be even more deadly in terms of lives lost but also more devastating in terms of social and economic hardship. A cautious and safe reopening of schools is paramount to preventing this second wave.
It looks like the teacher union leaders are prepared to take a serious stand on this. In a response to People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny’s question “What will classrooms of over 30 students look like in September?” Kieran Christie the General Secretary of the ASTI replied “They’ll look empty because our members won’t be there without adequate safety measures”. This is a good sign and we would encourage all teachers to join a union and get active inside it to build resistance from below to protect yourselves and society at large.
But why is the state taking this high risk approach? There are two main reasons, firstly the state refuses to meet the costs of making schools Covid-19 safe for teachers and students. This new right wing stitch up government will never tax the huge wealth of the top 5% or the corporations, vultures, developers, or banking elites to protect ordinary working people. They will in fact force the cost of the pandemic onto workers.
Compare this to the ease with which the state forked out €115 million per month to private hospital owners like Denis O’Brien and Larry Goodman while the new Health Minister Stephen Donnelly refused to release the details of this deal.
Secondly, the Irish state is acting directly on behalf of IBEC, the bosses union and lobbyist in chief for the Irish capitalist class who are under the competitive compulsion of the global market. The Irish elites are afraid of losing out on their share of global markets if they don’t get the economy up and running alongside their competitor nations. So, in the final analysis the profit motive is driving this reckless policy of reopening the schools unsafely.
Once again the problems caused by the pandemic have highlighted the complete inability of the chaotic profit driven system to meet the needs of working people. It exposes the class biased nature of the state and has deepened the inequalities already existing in society.
If we are to avoid a second more deadly wave of the virus we need to mobilise the productive forces of society to reopen society safely, this will mean public ownership and democratic control of all facilities capable of producing PPE, thermometers, and vaccines. Instead of mass unemployment the state should be hiring workers directly and investing directly in public services. All private hospitals should be taken into the public system and run for medical need not profit on the basis of an all Ireland National Health Service.
But let’s not kid ourselves to realise this will take a massive working class revolt on the streets and in our workplaces. We call on all working people to support teachers and students in leading this struggle.
Tara Brady picks the best coconuts for the consumers who love coconuts and love pan-primate solidarity.
Coconuts have a million uses. They can make hair smell nice and make cake taste great. They can be splendid prizes should you find yourself at a turn-of-the-century fairground attraction. They can be clopped together in lieu of a horse.
Coconuts are great.
And, sad to say, they are also the most evil commodity to ever sprout from a palm tree. Coconut farmers across Sri Lanka and the Philippines are typically mono-crop producers working in a typhoon-stricken environment who sell to middlemen for $0.12 – $0.25 per nut. According to the Philippines-based news service Rappler, the average annual income for a coconut-farming household is around $355 a year; pickers work for less than a dollar a day.
Voguish products like coconut water – Vita Coco was one of the first products to disappear from US supermarket shelves during the Covid-19 crisis – continue to put pressure on farmers to chop down rainforest and place international demands ahead of self-sufficiency.
Most of our coconuts and coconut products come from Indonesia, where slavery is rife. In 2015, more than 1300 fisherman from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos were rescued from the Indonesian fishing industry alone. Many had been at sea for years.
Across the Philippines and Indonesia, pig-tailed macaques are chained by the neck and trained to pick coconuts
With coconuts, humans are not the only slave labourers. Connoisseurs of coconut products will likely be familiar with an increasingly common logo, a standard that may well constitute the world’s lowest bar: ‘Not Picked By Monkeys’. Across the Philippines and Indonesia, pig-tailed macaques are chained by the neck and trained to pick coconuts. When not tethered, they are caged. They cannot socialise with other monkeys. As adept climbers, they can pick between 300 and 1000 nuts daily.
Just as Marx observed in The German Ideology, “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce.” But with tails.
The importance of checking for coconut derivatives in your shopping basket cannot be overstated. Is that a pack of three dishcloths? Check for coconut ingredients. Is that a hammer? Check for coconut components. The importance of buying FairTrade coconut produce is, for thousands of small farmers, the difference between life and ruination.
If only there were more FairTrade coconut products. Of the commonly-available coconut milk drinks – Alpro (nope) – Koko Dairy Free milk alternative isn’t the worst.
The product “isn’t FairTrade”, they say. “But we believe that the company’s approach to the welfare of the people involved in the farming of the coconuts at our plantation is equivalent or exceeds their standards. The plantation and factory is located in a remote area of Indonesia, and 30,000 people are employed. The Company provides proper housing for employees and their families. It also provides medical facilities, a school, and places for worship, as well as a store for buying food and clothing. So employees have all the benefits of living in a village community.”
Lucy Bee coconut products include coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut milk drink and a skincare range. They are ethically sourced and produced in the Philippines, they are FairTrade, vegan, organic, and packaged in biodegradable, recyclable wrappings. The Lucy Bee line has been named Best Buy – as awarded by the Ethical Consumer Guide – for Coconut Oil, Coconut Milk, Creamed Coconut, Soap and Skincare. They are amazing products, although several lines have been hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
Sourced from small-scale farmers and processed in the heart of Sri Lanka, Ma’s FairTrade Coconut Milk is 100% Organic, promises “Happy Life’ on the tin and delivers to the farmers involved. They are equal employers who provide accommodation and meals for their workers and school stationery and books to the children of all employees.
Tiana FairTrade Organics, with its emphasis on sustainable agriculture, is another good pick. The company has run a Fairtrade coconut project in the Philippines since 2009 to produce a range of raw extra virgin coconut oils.
People Before Profit unequivocally condemns the Israeli Apartheid state’s proposed annexation of 30% of the Palestinian West Bank.
This latest act of Zionist violence and oppression against the Palestinian people has clearly been given the green light by the US and President Trump in his misnamed ‘peace plan’ proclaimed earlier this year. It marks a significant escalation in the ongoing genocidal policy of occupation and ethnic cleansing inaugurated by Israel in the Nakba of 1948.
By further drastically reducing the size, coherence and viability of the territory even nominally in the hands of Palestinians this illegal annexation makes an absolute mockery of any notion of a future independent Palestinian state or so-called ‘two state solution’. It reinforces the point long made by People Before Profit and many other opponents of Zionism that the only road to justice and freedom for the Palestinian people lies through a single democratic secular state based on the defeat of apartheid and Zionism.
Netanyahu’s planned annexation is so outrageous and such a flagrant violation of international law that even long standing loyal allies of the Israeli state Like Boris Johnson and Simon Coveney have felt obliged to deplore it. But we in People Before Profit do not trust these purely formal declarations.
In Ireland we call, as a bare minimum for a) outright condemnation of the annexation by the Taoiseach; b) the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador; c) the passing of the Occupied Territories Bill and the boycott of Israeli goods.
We urge support for the following Irish-Palestine Solidarity Campaign protests across Ireland:
Saturday 4 July
Dublin 1pm The Spire, O’Connell Street
Omagh 12pm Town Centre
Ennis 1pm O’Connell Square
Derry 2pm Free Derry Corner
Limerick 2pm Thomas Street.
PLEASE NOTE These will be socially distanced protests and people are asked to wear masks and bring hand sanitizer if possible.
Liam McAnoy looks back on the largest single engagement between armed Irish republicans and the British Army since 1916 and on the women who broke the Falls Curfew.
July 3rd 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the Falls Curfew, the largest single engagement between armed Irish republicans and the British Army since 1916. During the curfew, the British Army deployed 2,500 troops from the Royal Scots, the Black Watch, the Life Guards, the Devon and Dorset Regiment, the Gloucestershire and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, against small IRA and Na Fianna Éireann units on the Falls Road. The ending was a foregone conclusion. The excuse for this pre-planned attack was a search for weapons in Sean Maguire’s home; as the search came to an end, young men attacked the British soldiers with stones and petrol bombs on Albert Street.
As a member of Na Fianna Éireann I watched as the British Army responded with a salvo of CS gas and baton charges. Paddy Corrigan was one of the first to be arrested. The British fired thousands of rounds of live ammunition and 1,600 canisters of gas. A ‘grantapault’ was used from Land Rovers to launch salvos of 10 inch CS gas canisters into the area; many went through the roofs of houses, gassing women and children. I witnessed similar canisters of CR gas dropped from helicopters on prisoners in Long Kesh in 1974. A soldier later interviewed recalled: “The Falls was saturated with CS gas. Children were coughing and crying, I remember the kids, the gas affected everyone but children especially”.
As the numbers of British troops mounted on the Falls Road, a few Provisionals threw blast bombs at soldiers in Raglan Street and then withdrew from the area. The Provisionals, as an organisation, were not active in the fighting. Brendan Hughes, in his own account in Voices from the Grave, said ‘the Provisionals were involved in a five or six minute gun battle before hunkering down and sitting it out’. Buses were hijacked and made into burning barricades by Joe Curley and Toby Shannon, both republican activists. Local people also barricaded streets to keep the soldiers out. Billy McKee later confided in Sean Mateer, a veteran republican, that he had hoped the British Army would wipe out the IRA (Officials) in the Falls and thereby leave the Provisionals as the only opposition to the British. This deepened the enmity between the IRA and the Provisionals, an enmity which has lasted for generations, and continues to this day. The IRA accused the Provisionals of ensuring that the British would invade the area in their search for the bombers.
Billy McMillen was the Belfast IRA Commander in charge of republican fighters during the curfew. McMillen had been the Republican candidate in the 1964 elections, when his Divis Street election office was attacked by the RUC and the Irish tricolour stolen.
Knowing the troops would launch a bigger raid, McMillen, together with his Adjutant, Jim Sullivan, instructed volunteers from Cumann na mBan to remove a large quantity of arms from the area. This was put into operation by Billy Sullivan and Oliver Quinn, commanding D company, the IRA unit in the Falls area. The volunteers also realised that they would have to fight and prepared to confront the troops. An IRA source later said, “The way we looked at it, we were not going to put up our hands and let them take our weapons. We didn’t want confrontation, but we wouldn’t surrender”. Many women from the Cumann na mBan, including Margaret McCorry and Margaret Green, Eilish and Phyliss Mateer and Mary Hughes, began removing weapons to Divis Flats, Clonard, and Beechmount. These same women marched with others down the Falls to break the curfew on Sunday morning.
At approximately 6pm as troops moved in from the main road, a squad of volunteers, led by Paddy McCann and Bap O’Neill opened fire at Balaclava Street. Jimmy Wylie and other volunteers took up positions on the roof of Raglan Street and Getty Street schools, this offered good sniping points down and up Leeson Street and down Raglan Street and Cyprus Street, where troops were massing. Volunteers Danny O’Neill, Joe McCann and James Corrigan moved out with weapons from the back of Michael Dwyer’s GAA club, including one Bren gun. They took up positions at Varna Street and Grosvenor Place. Danny was wounded on Saturday morning. Later, in the Dwyer’s, Billy Mc Millen, Andy McAnoy, and Una O’Neill were captured in possession of a large quantity of arms. Myself, together with Francie Scott and Joe Hughes from the Fianna were deployed to Panton Street; I was run over by a Ferret scout car during the gun battle on Saturday morning and arrested.
Many of the fighters were younger members of Na Fianna Éireann. They included Bimbo Robb and Sam Smith who were positioned on top of Garvey’s roof at Grosvenor Place. Both were captured with automatic weapons on the Saturday morning and were ill-treated. Bimbo possibly witnessed the murder of Paddy Elliman as he heard two high velocity shots and overheard a soldier saying, ‘I just shot a blast bomber’. Paddy was shot as he smoked a cigarette. Robert Mateer and Jim Pollock were positioned in Osman Street as British snipers fired from the Divis Flats; they took refuge in Jim’s mother in law’s house.
Although the Falls remained sealed off, by midday on Sunday 5th July women had begun to gather at various points to march down to the Falls area. The British knew that most of the armaments had been moved before the cordon was fully effective. The Curfew was broken when 3,000 women of all shades of political opinion and none, marched to the British lines with food and groceries for the people. The unprepared soldiers tried to hold back the crowd at first, using batons at first, they pushed on without fear.
By the time the battle was over, the troops had captured 52 pistols, 38 rifles, 8 sub machine guns and 14 shotguns, along with 100 home-made grenades, 250 pounds of explosives and 21,000 rounds of ammunition. 337 people were arrested and 80 were wounded, with 18 British soldiers wounded.
The curfew created a sea change in many ways. Whatever positive impact the arrival of British troops might have had on the streets of Belfast and Derry in 1969, the sheer brutality of the British Army during the curfew sowed the seeds for decades of violence with the Provisionals. Nationalists had initially perceived the British Army as protecting them from the RUC and Unionist gangs. The curfew alienated these people, who had never been republicans but who now gave support to the Provisionals.
The treatment of the community also increased the view that Northern Ireland could not be reformed, undermining the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). NICRA was later dealt a fatal blow by the massacre on Bloody Sunday in Derry, which drove the civil rights movement off the streets of Northern Ireland. It also set back the work of Billy McMillen and other republicans who, throughout the 1960s had developed and renewed the republican movement’s understanding that physical force politics had failed to establish an Irish Republic in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The Provisionals’ campaign also failed to achieve that objective. Today Sinn Féin administer Northern Ireland as part of a partitionist state under British rule.
The brutality also displayed a colonial mentality by the British, viewing Northern Ireland as another field for the similar operations it had run in Malaya, Kenya, Aden and Cyprus and identifying Catholics as a suspect population, which required army camps positioned at the very heart of their communities in order to maintain control. Hence, during internment, or Operation Demetrius as it was called by the British, land reserved for local businesses, GAA pitches and local factories were commandeered and occupied by the British Army. Similar tactics were used by the Americans in Vietnam during their occupation.
Four civilians were killed by the British Army during the Falls Curfew. These were Charles O’Neill, William Burns and Patrick Elliman, all local men, and Zbigniew Uglik, a 23-year-old Polish man who lived in England. None had any connection with Irish Republicans. It was the first ‘massacre’ of Irish civilians in Northern Ireland in ‘The Troubles’.
The fact that the RUC made no real attempt to investigate the killings and woundings, led directly to the massacres in Ballymurphy in August 1971 when eleven civilians were murdered, Springhill in 1972 when five civilians were murdered, and Derry in 1972 when fourteen civilians were murdered. The precedent for murder was set. Just a year previously the RUC had machine gunned our community, killing people in consort with Unionist mobs. No police were charged on that occasion.
Not one soldier has served an hour in prison for any of these murders. The British Army effectively became immune from prosecution for the murder of Irish civilians, an immunity they still seek to maintain today by claiming that any investigations or prosecutions for their crimes constitute a witch-hunt.
A massacre can be defined as ‘killing multiple victims, especially when perpetrated by an army against unarmed civilians’. The word is a French term for “butchery” or “carnage” – that is what happened to our community between the 3rd – 5th July 1970. We know because we were there, we lived, and we fought that experience.
The Falls Curfew marked a political watershed in Northern Ireland. The early view of the conflict taken by the British, as a conflict between an entrenched and discriminatory majority and an oppressed minority, led to an underestimation of the depth of the ‘legitimacy crisis’ within Unionism generally. The British persisted with a policy that achieved the worst of both worlds, a Unionist regime incapable of stabilising itself and an increasingly alienated Catholic population that witnessed massacres in their communities, a military reaction force that murdered Catholics with seized IRA weapons, internment of almost twenty thousand people, army occupation of local communities, a shoot to kill policy, and supergrass trials.
Operation Banner, the British Army operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007, was the longest continuous deployment in British military history. According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving British military personnel died during Operation Banner, 722 of whom were killed in paramilitary attacks, and 719 of whom died as a result of other causes. The British military killed 307 people during the operation, 51% of whom were civilians and 42% of whom were allegedly members of republican paramilitaries.
The British and Unionist politicians, from the Falls Curfew onwards, were the best recruiting agents for the Provisional IRA. The Provisionals killed five Protestants in North Belfast and in Ballymacarrett over the weekend of the 27th and 28th of June 1970 and this no doubt greatly influenced the decision to impose the curfew in the Falls area. Unionist politicians clamoured for an invasion of the Falls Road. It would be surprising if the hostile Unionist reaction to the Army’s handling of events during that weekend in June did not influence General Freeland’s reactions to impose the curfew and brutalise the local community. When the Falls was subdued and the streets emptied of fighters, the British Army attempted to humiliate the people further by driving two Ulster Unionist Party government ministers, John Brooke and William Long, through the area in armoured vehicles.
The IRA, Na Fianna, the Republican Clubs and local people were quite right to claim credit for their actions. It is clear that the curfew was a set-piece battle forced on the IRA in its Belfast heartland, involving many key figures in the history and development of the Republican Movement including Jim Sullivan, Billy McMillen, Joe McCann and many others. Would history have been different if the curfew had not happened?
Members of Unite give coalition a ‘slow clap’; say workers were “applauded then abandoned” by those who promised a “lasting appreciation”
July 2nd: Members of Unite Trade Union held a short rally outside Dáil Éireann today (Thursday), highlighting how workers have been forgotten about in the so-called ‘new normal’. This was followed by a sarcastic ‘slow clap’ for the new coalition Government which remarkably, managed to leave a workers’ rights agenda out of its Programme for Government almost entirely.
There have been lessons for workers in the last few weeks, starting with the treatment of the Debenhams workers who could only be exploited because successive Governments failed to close a legal loophole which had already caused untold misery for workers in Clery’s, GAME, La Senza and Vita Cortex (to name a few). Speaking this morning Jane Crowe Shop Steward at Debenhams Henry St said:
“We are striking now for around 6 weeks now, our future and our families futures are on the line, we still have a lot of fight left in us and we will keep going until the bitter end’
Further to this, last week’s landmark High Court ruling on the constitutionality of Sectoral Employment Orders could have very serious implications for tens of thousands of construction workers.
Speaking ahead of today’s event, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said:
“The government must immediately seek a stay on the orders contained in the Court decision and then appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.”
Health & Safety is now a major concern for workers and Unite’s Hospitality and Tourism spokesperson Julia Marciniak pointed out, “While there has been no shortage of industry voices seeking to trivialise important public health advice by forcing debates on the merits of social distancing, many workers are being forced back into working arrangements in which they are afraid, at-risk and have been denied consultation.”
Unite Community is demanding that the new government take into account the urgent need for a new Charter for Workers, one that places the health and safety of workers, and their right to be represented by a trade union, at the heart of any roadmap for recovery.
Comprehensive strategy and support package needed to avert huge job losses and severe damage to the Northern Ireland economy.
Recent losses of 1,500 aerospace jobs estimated to have lowered national output by half a billion and reduced household spending by £50 million
New research commissioned by Unite and undertaken by Acuity Analysis highlights the importance of Aviation and Aerospace currently threatened by the inaction of both Stormont and Westminster in the face of a sharp global downturn in the sectors caused by the Covid crisis.
Echoing the call by his union, Unite, at the launch of their campaign demanding a national aerospace taskforce to save the industry Jackie Pollock Regional Secretary said,
“Aerospace makes a colossal contribution in terms of jobs, economic output and demand; if we lose this world-class sector it will punch a huge hole in the Northern Ireland economy. Together Aviation and Aerospace generates billions in output and supports tens of thousands of high value-added union jobs.
“In the face of the unprecedented Covid downturn to this critical, high-skilled industry, the foot-dragging of governments in Stormont and Westminster is threatening catastrophic job losses. If you look at Germany and France, they have brought forward huge investment programmes to sustain aviation and aerospace, by comparison to which the support offered by the UK government pales into insignificance.
“Research commissioned by ourselves with Acuity highlights that Northern Ireland’s aerospace cluster comprises 220 companies employing around 10,000 people. That means that despite having just 2.8 per cent of the UK’s population, Northern Ireland is home to over 8 per cent of the UK’s aerospace companies and 10 per cent of aerospace employment. The sector directly generates £1bn in output (gross value-added) annually and contributes more than £2bn to Northern Ireland’s entire manufacturing output.
“Aerospace jobs are high value-added and tend to be unionised, and therefore better paid. The research confirms a large Aerospace premium amounting to an additional £11,000 per year for each worker. These are not jobs easily replaced – they must be defended.
“In recent weeks we have unnecessarily lost more than 1,500 aerospace jobs. The research estimates that these losses alone, and their impact in the wider supply chain, will reduce national economic output by half a billion and cut household spending by more than £50 million and that’s before accounting for loss of taxation or social security payments for each redundant worker. For every job lost at an aerospace company like Bombardier, three more are lost within the supply chain; the damage from these avoidable losses will be long-felt and reflect the cost of continued inaction and political failure.
“The additional impact for Northern Ireland and for the UK from the combination of the aviation and aerospace clusters must also be considered. Both sectors are highly interdependent and their proximity in and around Belfast generates significant spill-over effects, in terms of employment and economic output.
“The Stormont Executive must help secure the establishment of a national aerospace taskforce by the London government. We also need to see an Aerospace rescue strategy for Northern Ireland; unions and the aerospace industry must be involved in delivering a detailed programme for the sector to survive, rebuild and recover. In recent days, we’ve heard a lot of talk about innovation and government intervention but very little action; the bottom line is that with every day that goes by without government intervention, aerospace jobs become more and more vulnerable.”
Unite workplace reps and officials will be meeting with Economy Minister Diane Dodds where they will raise these concerns directly.
Tara Brady looks at the politics and the personal in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.
There was a renewed interest in Hollywood’s last silent production last year when Todd Phillips’ Joker curtseyed before the Chaplin film by programming Modern Times as the opening film at Wayne Hall. Presumably Batman’s billionaire family rather enjoyed revelling in the economic miseries of the Depression-era labourer.
The final screen bow for Chaplin’s iconic Tramp character is an anxious, giddy satire of industrialisation that works its way through the four aspects of the alienation of labour in a capitalist society, as outlined by Marx in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.
As Modern Times opens, Chaplin is a bolt-tightener working at improbable speed on a conveyor belt at “Electro Steel Corp”. He is alienated from the product of his labour which disappears before we might gather what it is. He is alienated from the monotonous production work, so much so that his hands continue to twitch in bolt-tightening motions even when he is on break. He has no creative or human input into his work.
His conversion into an object by the capitalist mode of production is visually rendered when he, and later a fellow labourer, gets caught up in the vast machinery of the factory. He is literally a cog.
He also becomes the test subject for a “feeding machine” designed to feed labourers while they work, thereby eliminating the lunch hour. A lonely cigarette break in the lavatory, a sorry depiction of The Tramp’s alienation from other workers, is interrupted by the boss’s appearance on a giant video screen: “Quit stalling and get back to work.” he snaps.
Finally, The Tramp breaks down,seeing bolts to be tightened everywhere. He is taken to hospital and discharged into a scene of civil unrest. Arrested as a Communist leader, he accidentally foils a prison escape plan and is, to his great disappointment, pardoned. Fired from a shipyard job, he meets Paulette Godard’s gamine, a motherless hustler who steals food from the docks for her siblings. Together, they dream of living in a house. The Tramp gets a job as a department store nightwatchman but is fired. She gets a job as a cabaret singer but – back to the fourth aspect of alienation – is recognised as a vagrant and is chased away by her colleagues.
Chaplin’s clowning around automation dovetails with the writer-director’s own sense of obsolescence, an aspect he amplifies with a playful use of sound, including a memorably nonsensical song. (Modern Times was completed almost a decade after The Jazz Singer ushered in the era of the “talkies”.)
Made four years ahead of his stinging anti-fascist satire, The Great Dictator, and his contemporaneous plea to a San Francisco war rally stressing the urgency of Russian war relief – during which he referred to the crowd as “comrades” – Modern Times appears at a crucial moment.
“Chaplin’s clowning around automation dovetails with the writer-director’s own sense of obsolescence”
Chaplin, who was born into grinding poverty in London, and was sent to the workhouse, aged seven, in 1896. He lost his father to alcoholism and his mother to psychosis, brought on by malnutrition and syphilis. His alter-ego, The Tramp, was simultaneously a Pierrot, an everyman, and an economic outsider.
Aged 26, his $670,000 a year ($15.7 million, adjusted for inflation) with Mutual Film Corporation made Chaplin one of the highest-paid people in the world. And yet, even after he hung up The Tramp’s battered hat, he continued to portray the down-at-heel (Limelight) and the destitute (A King in New York). That was, in part, at least, rooted in his increasingly apparent politicisation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) investigated Chaplin from 1922 onwards for his ties to the Communist Party of the United States. Sure enough, Buster Keaton recalls a 1921 Hollywood gathering during which Chaplin talked “about something called communism” that “was going to change everything, abolish poverty.”
“They say communism may spread out all over the world,” Chaplin told a New York City gathering in 1942. “And I say: so what?”
The Tramp’s final scene in Modern Times is not a fairytale ending, but the promise of struggles to come for the would-be workers. “What’s the use in trying?” asks his once-again jobless love interest. “Buck up,” replies The Tramp with a fist in the air. “Never say die! We’ll get along!”
Unite blasts move since three-quarters of workforce facing jobs threat could easily remain on furlough
Aviation rescue strategy to safeguard future of both Belfast airports needed from Stormont
George Brash, Unite Regional Officer for security workers employed by Wilson James at Belfast International Airport blasted management plans for 54 redundancies – many of which were entirely unnecessary.
“Unite has received a HR1 notification from Wilson James for proposals to make redundant 54 workers at Belfast International Airport. This heartless decision by bosses is entirely unnecessary and avoidable. Three quarters of this workforce are currently furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme and there is absolutely no need to push them onto dole queues and their families onto bread lines in the midst of a pandemic.
“The workers affected have been left reeling as they had rightfully assumed that their status would be protected through the furlough scheme until the airport recovered its footfall.
“This announcement is only the latest in a string of job-losses at Belfast International and City airports. As Unite has repeatedly highlighted, there is now a serious threat hanging over the future of both airports as vital security workers, baggage handlers, check-in staff, cabin crew and pilots have been laid off.
“Again we are left asking what exactly the politicians in Stormont are doing to safeguard the aviation sector and the future of these critical regional transportation hubs. Once again we call on Stormont political leaders to bring forward an Aviation Rescue strategy – Northern Ireland and these workers deserve better than continued inaction.
“In response to this announcement, Unite will continue to engage with management at Wilson James to attempt to reduce job losses and to obtain the best possible outcome for our members. We are doing everything we can – but we can’t save this industry alone”, Mr Brash concluded.
Even before Covid-19, the privatisation of health was the major obstacle to an efficient public health system.
The Irish state has long protected private health care. Generous tax reliefs for the building of private for-profit hospitals, allowing publicly paid consultants to double-job as private consultants, dishing out tax credits to individuals to encourage private insurance: all these have bolstered private healthcare and resulted in the chaotic public-private mix of Irish health policy.
The Covid-19 crisis forced a single public approach to dealing with the pandemic. GP’s were paid a fee from the state for some of their consultations. Step down facilities were expanded through the public requisition of private hotel facilities. Private hospitals were taken over by the state – at a huge cost – for much needed bed capacity.
But, as the new Programme for Government makes clear, for-profit health care, post Covid-19 has no need to worry. The Programme reaffirms the principle ‘choice in healthcare’ (p.47), coded market- speak for a two-tier system. The National Treatment Purchase Fund will continue under the Sláintecare regime. The scheme ‘buys’ private beds to treat patients on public waiting lists (up to 800,000 at the last count) and thus pours more public money into private health care.
After the biggest health crisis in living memory, the Programme argues for the continuation of a health policy which saw us going into the pandemic with half the bed capacity that we needed and our intensive care facilities only able to cope with just 5.6 people in every 100,000 needing to be hospitalised. This was the lowest level in Europe.
Worse, the Private Hospitals are not even prepared to cooperate with the demands of the crisis.
The Mater Private Hospital Group has recently warned staff that its ability to pay wages and its debts was ‘under threat’, that the danger to the Mater Private’s future is ‘real and immediate’.
In a communication to staff, Mater Private CEO John Hurley, on an undisclosed salary, urged them ‘to discuss with your families, and to continue to be prudent with personal finance’ because the Mater Private ‘cannot escape the reality of a severe recession’.
The Mater Private Hospital group consists of two hospitals, in Dublin and Cork, and several other cancer treatment facilities. The group was bought for €495 million in 2018 by giant French investment fund, Infravia’s Capital Partners. Globally acquisitions have multiplied since 2008 and Ireland’s private health care sector was a lucrative target. In just five months under Infravia, the Mater Private Group had revenues of €100 million. Their warning to staff is based on nothing else but the risk of their hefty profits falling.
Infravia also owns Carechoice nursing homes, which has 500 long term residential care beds in Dublin, Cork and Waterford, and is still proving reliably profitable. Private for-profit care homes, we will remember, were able to escape full scrutiny regarding PPE and testing, at a tragic and scandalous cost to the patients. Infravia, it is also worth adding, also owns gas pipelines, mobile phone masts and other infrastructural projects and manages €3 billion worth of this mixed bag of assets across Europe. Medical treatment is not particularly its thing: profits are.
The profit motive not only by-passes issues of public health but also allows the continuation of health inequality.
The Irish health care system, in its failure to provide universal, equitable access to either primary or acute hospital care, makes it one of the most unequal in Europe.
Access to treatment is based either on having the money to pay for it or on means based eligibility.
And not many people are eligible. Even after the extension of the GP visit card to the under six-year-olds and to the over 70’s, according to the Deptartment of Health’s figures, in 2016, 10% of the population had a GP visit card and 36% a medical card.
On the other hand, from fear and awareness of the inefficiency of public hospital system, more and more people feel forced to go the private health route. 43% of the population pay out Private Health Insurance to access private hospital care, which is provided in both public and private hospitals.
This inequitable and illogical public-private health service must go. Now is the time for a radical policy change. The pandemic has shown up Sláintecare’s compromises with private health care and its snail’s pace progress as no longer acceptable.
Policy must be made based on what is best for public health and universal access, not private profit. We need a much larger bed capacity to deal with the current dual hospital crisis – of the new socially distanced reality and of even longer patient waiting lists. Unlike the Mater Private’s attitude to healthcare workers, we need many more, better paid nurses and everyone in the health sector on stable public sector contracts. They are our essential workers and the new government needs to recognise this. A first step for the implementation of a new public health policy must be the nationalisation of private hospitals.
If you are interested in the Campaign for an All- Ireland National Health Service email the campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org
The new government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party is a huge disappointment for the many people who vote for change. The two right wing parties got only 43% of the vote but now they dominate the cabinet. Many voters wanted to break the cycle where they ran both government and the opposition.
The new government will attempt to put on a vaguely progressive mask but few will be fooled. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have a long record of looking after the privileged and the Greens will be used as a mudguard to cover their tracks. It should be remembered that the new Taoiseach, Mícheál Martin sat in a government that landed the people of Ireland with a €64 billion debt – which we are still paying off.
This coalition want to lock themselves into office for four and a half years – so that they have space to take unpopular measures. They will soon mount an attack on the Covid payments for workers and the unemployed. They will do little to protect construction workers who have just witnessed a High Court judge removing their legal protections. They will go back to a two-tier health system – and pay huge sums to the private hospitals. They will not impose rent controls or build enough council housing. In short, they will be an anti-working class government.
But they will have significant weaknesses. They do not have a big enough support base in Irish society to carry through unpopular attacks. They can be driven from office by mass mobilisations on the streets.
The coming together of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will also re-shape Irish politics on left-right lines. As these battle-lines are drawn, we urge those members of the Greens who voted against coalition to leave that party now. Nobody with an ounce of left-wing ideas should play any part in supporting or excusing this dreadful government.
We need a left that will work with Sinn Féin but also offer a different, stronger politics. While Sinn Féin won considerable support from working people, they have a poor record on climate justice and actively supporting militant workers’ struggles. Their embrace of neoliberal policies in the North stands in contrast with their rhetoric in the South. They have not ruled out the possibility of being in a coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in the future.
This is why People Before Profit are reaching out to left wing activists from different backgrounds to invite discussions on how we can build a big, broad radical left party or co-operate with each other more closely.
In any such discussion, People Before Profit advocate for a number of key issues;
The post Let’s Bring The Left Together To Fight This Government appeared first on People Before Profit.
After the last local election a ruling pact was formed on Galway City Council consisting of the two Green Party councillors, one each from Labour and the Social Democrats and all six independent councillors. As a result of this pact independent councillor Noel Larkin was set to become mayor on Friday.
People Before Profit opposed the nomination of Noel Larkin due to a number of racist and classist stances held by the councillor, targeting Travellers, foreign nationals, council tenants and homeless people.
Larkin was quoted in the local media recently as saying: “Councils should be given the power to evict tenants – without court appearances and without having to supply alternative accommodation.” This call for councils to evict people into homelessness, without due process, during a pandemic and a housing crisis is the latest in a long line of disgusting racist and classist statements from the councillor. He has repeatedly attacked and scapegoated the Mincéir/Traveller community and opposed their right to housing. He hired a drone to fly over Traveller families’ homes and record footage. He has called for who he deems to be “problem tenants” to be put into Direct Provision centres. He called foreign people “Zulu tribes”. He stated that homeless rough sleepers choose to sleep on the streets and that they have “some inherent problem”. He accused migrants of freeloading on Ireland’s social welfare system and contributing nothing to the state.
People Before Profit Galway had campaigned on this issue for a number of weeks leading up to the vote. We raised awareness of the type of beliefs Larkin had been espousing and found there was widespread opposition in Galway to him becoming mayor. More than 1,500 people signed a petition rejecting Larkin. We were invited to speak on RTÉ Drivetime about our campaign. This campaign culminated on Friday in a protest organised by People Before Profit outside the mayoral vote.
The protest was well attended by a number of community groups including the Galway Traveller Movement, Galway Anti Racism Network and Amach LGBT, as well as young people involed in the Black Lives Matter movement in Galway.
On Friday, People Before Profit Galway’s campaign to stop Larkin from becoming mayor was successful. The councillors on the pact relented to mounting public pressure on them to oppose Larkin. Instead they nominated the incumbent independent mayor to remain on for a second term.
It was brilliant to see the people of Galway stand up against Noel Larkin’s hate-filled divisive rhetoric, and that their voices were heard.
There are still, however, questions to be answered by Labour, the Green Party and the Social Democrats. A year ago these parties entered into an agreement with Larkin, and several other right-wing independents, which included Larkin having a term as mayor. The councillors on the pact tried to justify voting for Larkin by saying the pact limits the influence of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on council committees and budgets. However, we have proved that it was possible all along for them to exclude Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael without making Larkin mayor – if the political will is there.
Despite talking about anti-racism, their words were once again betrayed by their actions. Undoubtedly, Larkin’s nomination for mayor would not have been in jeopardy had it not been for PBP’s work and the ensuing public backlash against Larkin and the pact. Time and again these parties have progressive sounding rhetoric to appeal to the left, but ultimately betray the working class. This is particularly relevant as on the day of the mayoral election, the Greens have once again sold the working class down the river by endorsing the programme for government, and Sinn Féin have nominated a racist and sexist in Paddy Holohan for mayor of South Dublin County Council.
The rejection of Cllr Larkin on this occasion also does not erase the issue of systemic anti-Traveller racism within Galway City Council. For example, in 2019, Galway City Council was one of only three councils in the state (along with Mayo and Laois County Councils) who did not even apply for Traveller accomodation funding. This is a disgraceful reflection on our political representatives, and further compounds the discriminatory treatment of the Travelling community which has led to more than 1,000 Traveller families living in unsafe, insecure or overcrowded conditions.
Decision to make redundant 160 workers in Antrim comes only months after plans to close Sensata Carrickfergus was announced
Stormont must establish a Manufacturing Taskforce to roll-out a proactive Industrial programme to secure jobs, skills and a future for industry
George Brash Unite Regional Officer for Unite members in Sensata, the sensor manufacturer, expressed his dismay after bosses in the company revealed to the media plans to make 160 workers redundant at their Antrim site.
“While this is only the latest in a string of Covid-related redundancy notices, the impact on each of the 160 workers who will lose their livelihoods will be hugely distressing; another 160 households face the loss of an income in the midst of a pandemic. There is absolutely no need for these job-losses in the context of the continued availability of furlough support through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“Today’s announcement comes only months after Sensata bosses decided to shut-down their Carrickfergus site. There is a mounting sense of retrenchment – and it isn’t confined to this one business. Northern Ireland manufacturing is facing a tidal wave of job-losses and threats of job-losses as the Covid pandemic is being used by employers as the excuse to slash their employment footprints and reduce capacity.
“The cumulative impact of job-losses on such a scale will be potentially devastating for the working-class but all we have seen from Stormont is continued inaction. We now need to see real ambition and determined intervention to safeguard the skills base so vital to future growth when markets restabilise. Unite is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to establish a Manufacturing Taskforce, bringing together unions and employers, to oversee an ambitious industrial programme for growth and a just transition.
“The way in which news of these job-losses was broken to the media demonstrates the need for workers to be collectively organised with full trade union recognition rights. The best way for Sensata workers not already members of our union to protect themselves from similar attacks in the future is by joining Unite. We will be engaging with our members in the company to secure the optimal outcome for any affected by today’s bad news”, Mr Brash concluded.
The political establishment are up in arms because Bríd Smith TD had the temerity to question the role of a judge in attacking workers’ rights.
Even worse, she pointed to the fact that the same learned judge earns €200,000 a year while issuing a ruling that will lead to the reduction in salaries of electricians who earn €44,000.
Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, described Brid Smith’s remarks as ‘sinister’ and the Chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland said it amounted ‘to an attack on our democracy and is something that all of society should be gravely concerned about.
Brid Smith has hit an establishment nerve. Their much vaunted talk about the independence of the judiciary and their doctrine of a ‘separation of powers’ has been questioned and they are rallying together. The upper class, it should be noted, are the most class conscious element in society, well tuned to protect their interests and sense of entitlement.
Just how ‘independent’ is Judge Garret Simons himself? As Senior Counsel he was commissioned with another legal expert by Irish Water to give an opinion on whether or not water charges could be stopped.
He stated that ‘In our opinion, the Irish State is obliged to continue to impose charges for domestic water services.’ Two years later he was appointed to the High Court by the Fine Gael government.
Does anyone seriously think that if he had stated that the Irish people were perfectly entitled to get rid of water charges, he would now be sitting on the High Court?
But it is not just one judge. Justice Peter Kelly, the former President of the Court, stated in 2012 that appointments to the High Court are ‘purely political’.
In 2011, the Irish Independent revealed last year that at least a third of the country’s judges had personal or political links to political parties before being appointed to the bench.
However, it is not merely a question of direct political links. Judges are drawn from a particular social class, mix in very distinct social circles and rarely if ever experience working class lives. They operate within a legal system that protects the wealthy while disadvantaging the poor.
During the most recent Covid-19 crisis, hundreds of meat plant workers were infected. But nobody ordered the closure of the plants – because profits came before workers’ lives.
Or look at what happens when company negligence leads to the death of a worker. Cases tend to be heard in the lower District Court and in a recent case in Cork, the company was only fined €21,000.
The very idea that a banker who charges mortgage customers fraudulent or extortionate fees should be jailed is considered outlandish. Bankers who deliberately defrauded their customers walk free – while petty thieves are jailed.
This whole structure means that those who are imprisoned are more likely to come from the poor. One study, for example, found that 80% of prisoners were unemployed before their imprisonment.
There is no real separation between the different branches of the ruling elite. The independence of the judiciary is a myth. And for daring to say that, Bríd Smith TD has been targeted by the establishment.
It tells us one thing: talk about social class in Ireland is what really gets up their nose. Let’s keep it up.
In this week’s Cultural Marxism Graham Seely provides cultural alternatives for socially (and budget) conscious lefties bored of Netflix’s homogenous and bland style and unwilling to prop up the Bezos behemoth.
As workers emerge blinking into the phase 2 sunlight, online streaming platforms will be lamenting the loss of an unprecedentedly large captive audience. With familiarity breeding contempt, and the looming post COVID recession, jaded viewers may soon start looking for alternatives to the major platforms. People on the left in particular would also be justified in the belief that the major corporate streaming sites neglect their interests.
Netflix, still by far the most popular platform, has gradually shifted away from acquiring older films in favour of self production, with classic, experimental and foreign language films losing out in particular. While their library still has a lot to offer, the non-fiction in-house style has become homogenous and bland. Their documentaries increasingly lean toward a liberal, reformist view that eschews radicalism both aesthetically and politically, with a primary focus on individual miscarriages of justice rather than in-depth structural analysis. Class politics takes a back seat in favour of milquetoast musings on corporate malfeasance, conspiracy theories, and, of course, an endless parade of serial killers. The revolution, it seems, will not be streamed on Netflix.
What about the alternatives? Amazon Prime, despite its extensive and eclectic library of classic and independent titles, is not an option for the many who are unwilling to prop up the Bezos behemoth and its despicable workplace practices. Similarly, viewers searching for a materialist critique of neoliberalism are unlikely to find it on Disney Plus. Mubi, with its curated programme of international and classic cinema, is undoubtedly the most Marxist friendly of the lot, but its limited library and esoteric selections mean it’s unlikely to serve as a one stop shop for most, despite its 10euro a month subscription fee.
So, where does the socially (and budget) conscious leftwing viewer get their fix? Surprisingly, the answer lies in that repressed id of the internet; YouTube. Hidden deep beneath the fashion vlogs, computer game streams and Ben Shapiro montages there’s a mine of films uploaded in their entirety. There is huge variance in quality, with films often incorrectly labelled, badly subbed or missing entire scenes. It’s also important to remember that piracy hurts workers in the film industry, so try and focus your efforts on finding older, copyright free, or obscure films that are difficult to source elsewhere. To start you off, we’ve compiled our list of five free films on YouTube for the discerning dialectician.
Salt of the Earth
As an unashamedly Marxist work of socialist-realism, Salt of the Earth is an anomaly in American cinema. The setting is 1950s New Mexico. Mexican-American mine workers are treated as second class citizens; paid less than their “anglo” counterparts. Their wives toil at home raising children in appalling conditions, neglected by their husbands, the mine owners and the state. Living in company owned housing, on land once owned by their forefathers, and stuck in a perpetual cycle of debt, rumbles of dissent murmur through the mines. When the workers organise and demand better pay and conditions, the mine owners refuse to negotiate, prompting a long, bitter strike. After several months a court injunction outlaws the strikers picket (gleefully imposed by the police, depicted here as lackeys for the bosses), prompting the women to exploit a loophole by continuing the picket in their husbands’ places.
Funded by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, and with a cast and crew made up largely of blacklisted victims of McCarthy’s witch-hunt, it’s not surprising that the film takes an overtly pro union, pro-worker approach to class politics. More surprising for its time is the elegant intersectionality of gender, ethnicity and labour issues: if the men can’t accept women as their equals, why should they expect equality with their white co-workers? The mixed cast of blacklisted Hollywood professionals and real life union activists is headed by Rosaura Revueltas, who gives a towering performance as Esperanza, the melancholic housewife whose burgeoning class-consciousness and feminism galvanises the workers towards victory. As the ultimate demonstration of the film’s militant power it was repressed for decades and denounced as ‘subversive’ by the US House of Representatives. I can think of no higher accolade.
A public act of police brutality launches a wave of protests as a once proud democracy lunges headlong into fascism. While not exactly escapist viewing at the moment, this prescient 1968 classic by Costa Grava retains its power and relevance over 50 years later. An urgent examination of political intimidation and suppression, Z explores in detail the lengths to which the capitalist state will go to silence an emergent leftwing opposition, and the intrinsic bond of fascism and thuggery. Although based loosely on the real life assassination of Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis, there’s a timelessness and universality to the proceedings; this is also the story of Lumumba and Guevara, Hampton and Jara.
An Oscar-winning sensation upon release, Raoul Coutard’s kinetic photography and a stirring score by Mikos Theodorakis (himself imprisoned shortly after filming) propel the film with a drive and swagger more redolent of Scorsese or Sorrentino than your typical stuffy political drama. The opening slate brazenly declares “Any resemblance to real-life figures alive or dead is INTENTIONAL”. As America burns in protest, and far right thugs fight openly on the streets across Europe, the contemporary resemblance is all too clear.
Three Songs About Lenin
Though best remembered today for the dizzying 1928 masterpiece ‘Man With a Movie Camera’, this film, made for the 10th anniversary of Lenin’s death, was Dziga Vertov’s most popular during his lifetime. In the absence of a conventional narrative, the titular triptych of songs act as a springboard for the film’s digressive structure. The first part shows the literal and metaphorical lifting of the veil of religion. The second focuses on the death and funeral of Lenin, and the third on the enormous infrastructural projects undertaken in the years following. While the hagiographical tone may grate with modern viewers, the film nevertheless serves as an evocative depiction of the remarkable industrial advances of the period; airplanes swoop overhead as tractors plough through land that was worked by hand only a decade before.
Typically of Vertov, montage is used in place of traditional structure to weave an associative, esoteric portrait of the Soviet collective. Uncommon techniques such as jump cuts, match cuts, time-lapses and superimpositions are utilised to create a unique, purely cinematic grammar. It’s a testament to the ambition and optimism of the early Soviet days that while Flaherty was still defining the fundamentals of the documentary format, Vertov and his comrades had already created the meta-cine essay. A brief glimpse of Roddy Connolly amongst the crowds in Petrograd calls to mind his father’s aphorism about revolutionary action in exceptional times. This is exceptional art in revolutionary times.
Vivre sa Vie
Although politically tame by his later standards, the roots of Jean-Luc Godard’s Marxist philosophy can be found in this early feature. Brechtian distancing technqiues and modernist intertitles punctuate the ostensibly simple story of Nana, a retail worker who spirals into debt and prostitution. Despite representing the physical manifestation of commodity exchange, Nana, as played by Anna Karina, is no mere cypher. Rather, she’s a mass of contradictions; energetic and despondent, independent and enslaved, ultimately aware of her commodification but unable (or unwilling) to break free. The metaphor of sex work as the basic condition of labour under capitalism would be explored again in Godard’s ‘Two or Three Things I Know About Her’ but not with such playfulness and joie de vivre. This is the first bona fide masterpiece of his career, incredibly he’s still knocking them out 60 years later.
The Price of Coal
For the last number of years Ken Loach has been involved in a game of YouTube whack-a-mole, uploading his filmography only to have it gradually removed by the copyright holders. Of the few that have survived the purge, this two-part TV film is the pick of the bunch. The second of four films in his fruitful collaboration with novelist Barry Hynes, this is comfortable territory for Loach: A cast of non-professionals populate a sullen Yorkshire landscape, debating industrial democracy in accents so thick they could insulate your attic.
It’s the year of the queen’s silver jubilee, and a planned visit by Prince Charles sends the pit-bosses at Milton Colliery into a flurry of excitement. Part One takes a wry look at the pomp and ceremony of the visit, with the mineworkers deployed to a series of increasingly absurd cosmetic tasks in anticipation; painting rusty cranes, planting flower beds and installing new signage. Some mild resistance is demonstrated when the paint is used to daub “Scargill Rules OK” in giant letters on the side of a building. A request to stop cursing goes gleefully unheeded. The longer second part, ominously titled ‘Back to Reality’, takes a darker turn as it’s revealed the money spent on the superficial improvements was originally intended for essential safety upgrades. A catastrophic accident traps eight mineworkers in the pit, and the gruelling rescue efforts, as well as the devastating impact on the workers’ families, are documented in masochistic detail.
Typically for the Loach/Hines collaborations, there is plenty of light amidst the gloom, which serves to make the didacticism more palatable for a broad audience. There is a poignancy hearing the workers talk with pride about the 1970 and 1972 strikes, unaware they will be trampled by the Thatcher government a few short years later. A minor entry in Loach’s filmography, which still puts it head and shoulders above most of the competition.