NEW MATERNITY HOSPITAL SCANDAL – DEMAND AN ALL-PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE!

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 2 mins.)

Politicians were last week briefed by the Irish Department of Health to the effect that the construction costs of the projected National Maternity Hospital are expected to reach €800 million — and it appears that neither the land nor the management of the hospital will be under the control of the State. The project has been controversial from the outset, with issues of its location, cost and religious institutional management and now conflicting narratives on discussions of ownership of the land have appeared between the Government and the religious bodies involved.

It is precisely concerns over governance arrangements at the hospital, linked to ownership of the site, which have stalled progress on construction over the years, while projections of costs have grown from the original €150 million. The most recent estimate was around €350 million but on Friday, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Stephen Donnely said: “The building infrastructure cost has been priced at €500 million. Further commissioning costs, including fit-out and transferring an entire hospital to a new site, will be a further €300 million.”

The Religious Sisters of Charity, which order owns the land, is transferring it to the newly-created private charity St Vincent’s Holding CLG, which will then lease it to the State for 99 years. The directors and members of this new private charity are the shareholders of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, of which in turn the Sisters of Charity are the sole shareholders.

According to a report in the Irish Times, politicians were told on Thursday that several attempts had been made to purchase the site but this was contradicted by the religious institutions.

The Religious Sisters of Charity said it had “never at any point been contacted by Government or the State to discuss purchasing the site”, while SVHG – on whose campus the new hospital is to be located – said in a statement: “At no stage was any proposal or approach to sell the land, meaningful or otherwise, received or considered by the board of SVHG.”

While the text of a letter in 2017 from the St. Vincent’s Group may appear at one reading to contradict their later statement, another reading may see it as purely forestalling any attempt to purchase the site from them. The text, shown to the Irish Times presumably by Government sources reads: “This is why SVHG cannot countenance any sale or lease of part of the land on site, or any separate ownership of a hospital on site”.

The versions of the Government and of the religious institutions contradict one another and which is correct remains to be ascertained. What is certain however is that the religious institutions wish to control the site and at least influence governance, while at the same time it is the taxpayer who will fund the construction and the running costs of the hospital.

Asked on Saturday if the site might have to be abandoned for the hospital, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “Of course there is that risk, that’s the reality of the situation.” He added: “This hospital has to be publicly owned and it has to be the case that any obstetric or gynaecological service that’s legal in the State has to be available in that hospital.”

Earlier, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Irish government) Mícheál Martin told RTÉ, the national TV network: “But there’s a very basic point in terms of the taxpayer, and I think into the future we’re in a new era, when the State is building new hospitals and paying the full total of the costs, the State should own the facility.”

UNHEALTHY SERVICE IN THE IRISH STATE

The Irish State has never had a comprehensive public health service, unlike the rest of Europe. When the State was created in 1921, there were a number of health care institutions run by the Catholic Church and the State integrated them into the state-funded service, leaving them under religious institutional management but providing them funding through the state’s health care budget. And so it continued to this day.

This means not only that the public taxes of residents of the Irish state are funding private health care but that those institutions are not answerable to the public in terms of policy on what they consider moral issues – in other words Catholic Church ideology. Hence it is not known at the moment whether the new proposed National Maternity Hospital will provide a service within the terms of what is legally permitted in the Irish state such as voluntary sterilisation, gender adjustment or IV fertilisation. Or pregnancy termination along the lines of what is agreed and desired by the majority of the citizens in the State, as shown in public opinion polls and the 2018 Referendum on Abortion.

In addition, private health centres compete with public services for funding and for staff.

The controversy around the governance and construction costs of the National Maternity Hospital is not alone since there is also another with regard to the projected National Children’s Hospital siting and construction costs, with BAM company claims against the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) totalling €300 million. The original construction cost estimate was €1.74 but some projections now are estimating an excess of €2 billion — and completion not until 2024.

Since construction companies in the Irish state are all private capitalist companies, these problems of course end up in the profits of the companies and a loss to the common taxpayers.

INCREASED HEALTH FUNDING – FOR WHOM?

Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste (Photo credit: Eamonn Farrell/ Rolling News)

The Tánaiste (Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has stated that the funding of the State for the Health Service which was increased to deal with the Covid19 pandemic is not to be cut when the pandemic is over but will be kept at €22 billion. If the projected costs of the maternity hospital construction works of €800 million is going to come out of that (without any estimate on site purchase cost), it would leave only €21.2 billion to run the whole health service which is actually less than the 2018 budget of €22.5 billion. And if the €300 million of BAM’s claims were granted, this to be deducted from the budget, only €20.9 billion would remain.

If we assume that the projected construction costs of the National Maternity Hospital are to come from a different budget then it still leaves us the question of who is to benefit from the health budget, the public health service or the private services (Church and other).

In 2019, €1.311 Billion of public funding went to just five private health services1

  • Sisters of Mercy (including Mater Hospital, Mercy University Hospital — €432 million
  • Sisters of Charity (including St. Vincent’s University Hospital — €373 million
  • Brothers of Charity — €218 million
  • St. John of Gods – 166 million
  • Daughters of Charity €122 million

A TWO-TIER HEALTH SERVICE

The existence of private alongside public health care facilities creates a two-tier system, one with fast access to treatment alongside another with long, sometimes fatal delays (especially in the case of cancer diagnosis and treatment). Yet both are funded, as we have seen above, by the taxpayer.

With the disparity in waiting time and, to some extent quality of treatment, people who can do so of course tend to opt for the private service. And in order to afford that access, they take out private health insurance.

“According to the Health Insurance Authority, the average health insurance premium has increased from €423 per person in 2002 to €1,200 today”, “which has led to tripling of premium income for the insurance industry, from €822 million in 2002 to €2.5 Billion in 2016, as the numbers taking out insurance have also increased substantially.”2

IN CONCLUSION

It is not tolerable that our taxes are going to fund health care facilities that may not, because of religious ideology, provide a full service within what is legally permitted. Nor is it tolerable that our taxes are funding private healthcare facilities at all, never mind funding them to compete with public ones.It is not acceptable that our two-tier system discriminates against the less wealthy and promotes the huge growth in the private health insurance sector. Nor that people are being driven to take out private health insurance which has that sector’s companies raking in profits.

People resident in Ireland need and are entitled to a public health service that is well-funded and staffed to undertake timely illness prevention and health care at all levels in all areas of medicine. And a service that has the spare capacity to deal with emergencies without straining its facilities and harming its staff.

That is what we need and the vast majority of the population would support that, in this state and even in a united Ireland3. But which political party would give us that in government? Not FG, FF, Lab, Greens or SF, on any rational prediction. Although it would be just a reform, will it take a revolution to achieve it?

Let the religious fund their religious-ethos health services and let the rich fund their own private services but ALL PUBLIC FUNDING FOR ALL-PUBLIC SERVICES ONLY.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1From “A brief history of Ireland’s two-tier system”, (Rupture Issue 2, p.22).

2Ibid, p.23, quoting the HIA 2004 / 2005 report and Irish Times article.

3People in the Six Counties have a part of the UK’s NHS there and use and by all indications approve of a public health service.

SOURCES

Maternity Hospital news report: https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/fresh-controversy-emerges-over-maternity-hospital-as-state-offered-to-buy-land-1144144.html

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/projected-cost-of-national-maternity-hospital-now-800m-1.4597579

https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/government-outlines-concern-over-relocation-of-national-maternity-hospital-1143266.html

https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/new-location-may-be-needed-for-national-maternity-hospital-tanaiste-1144316.html

https://www.thejournal.ie/national-maternity-hospital-cpo-5472271-Jun2021/

Background to decision to build new hospital: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/q-a-why-is-the-national-maternity-hospital-moving-and-why-are-people-concerned-1.4579356

Government plan to expand Irish health service: https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/tanaiste-calls-for-e22-billion-health-budget-to-be-retained-permanently-1144208.html

Construction company suing over Children’s Hospital: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/contractor-bam-suing-national-children-s-hospital-board-in-20m-costs-dispute-1.4532352

Moratorium on BAM’s litigation: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40297367.html

National Children’s Hospital costs overrun: https://www.rte.ie/news/2021/0209/1196082-childrens-hospital-pac/

FLAUNTING FLOWERS – AND FLIERS, SAILORS AND HITCHHIKERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins)

          In a couple of previous posts I remarked that plants have developed amazing innovations in order to grow, adapt to conditions, colonise strange ground and to propagate their species. I commented also that their variety of methods outnumbered those of our section of life on Earth, the animals.

Along with all their other innovations, plants evolved some very impressive ones in procreation and in dispersing the next generation. Pollen, a fine powdery substance that is the equivalent of mammal sperm could be and was spread by the wind and plants developed early “flowers” like grass “heads” or catkins to catch the passing pollen. The development of the flower and blossom brought in a partnership with animal pollinators to greater efficiency. Attracted by nectar and to some extent pollen, insects and some birds visited male plants flaunting their flowers and unconsciously picked up pollen which they deposited at another flower they visited, thereby soon fertilising the female counterparts. And they developed different ways of dispersing their offspring. This month of June is a good time to see some of them at work.

Flowering plants, angiosperms, are now the overwhelming majority of plant type on Earth not only in variety but in total bio-mass – but they are latecomers in the evolution of plants. Once arrived, in order to attract pollinators, flowers produced nectar and were developed in a huge variety of shapes (some we would not even normally describe as flowers) and colour.

Probably smell came later. Some botanists speculate that scent was first used by some plants to discourage insects and grazers which, if true, is amazing enough. To then go on to develop scent to attract pollinators is a leap that staggers the imagination. Flowers and blossoms using smell are particularly noticeable at dusk and night, a time of low visibility for flowers, when presumably they are visited by moths.

A hive honey-been, one of the most common pollinators, approaching a flower (perhaps a dandelion’s) intending to collect nectar and perhaps pollen but will certainly collect the latter inadvertently. Note the collection bag on its legs. (Photo source: Internet)

Early plants did not have seeds or flowers (some still don’t) so the whole paraphernalia around them had to be developed from other existing parts with originally completely different functions, an impressive feat of adaptive engineering (some of us could convert a bicycle, a machine for locomotion, into an electric power generator but still ….).

The petal seems to have been the key development which spurred huge flower diversity to outcompete others in attracting pollinators and it is known now that some carry identifying patterns in ultraviolet, invisible to us but advertising like neon lights to bees. Some, like the dandelion, group many single-petal florets together to make what appears to us as one flower, each floret capable of individual survival.

USING OTHERS TO SPREAD THE SPECIES

Just behind the flowers of many species is a little node which when fertilised begins to swell and form a fruit, with the developing seeds inside — or single seed in the case of some species, the Prunus plum family, for example. This is another amazing trick of the plant – it has produced attractive fruits, full of sugars when ripe, to attract animals (such as ourselves) to pick them and either discard the seeds as we eat the fruit or pass them through our gut to be deposited on earth — along with a handy dollop of manure.

On the grassy plains of the South American Pampas there are isolated copses of trees whose occurrence seems mysterious. An investigating botanist concluded that horses were eating the nuts of the parent trees some distance away then, as they travelled across the plains, at some point defecated with some intact nuts among their faeces resulting in some years later – a grove of trees. Of course horses (or their riders) might also seek the groves out for shade and, while there, drop a few more nuts. Horses have only been in the Pampas for a few centuries and probably the other local grazers are not overly-fond of saplings (or not of those tree species).

Nuts and seeds are also stored in different caches by some mammals and birds, for example here in Ireland by squirrels and magpies. They don’t always dig up all the stores later – perhaps they forget where some of them are – and in the spring, those nuts become saplings.

Well enough. But producing fruit and nuts is a lot of work and depends on the assistance of animals, especially mammals and birds, for dispersal.

WIND-SAILERS AND BOMBARDIERS

Immature lime tree seeds with their “kite”, Drumcondra roadside, June 2021. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Seed-carrying parachute downy ball of the Meadow Salsify (I’m guessing) Dublin Botanic Gardens, June 2021. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Some plants scorn to use animal helpers to disperse their young and instead employ the wind. Dandelions, thistles and many other plants send their seeds off on downy parachutes, often to land kilometres away. And some of those wind-sailers are tiny seeds of very large trees, like poplars and cottonwoods, using cotton tufts to carry their offspring off into the world, which is happening right now in June in Ireland. Some, like the sycamore, grow “wings” on their seeds which, when dry in the autumn and winter, spin away on the wind; not only that but when they strike mud they are sometimes twisted by the wind on their “wing” to ‘screw’ the seed into the soil.

The catkins of a poplar in June 2021 on Tolka banks as the river flows through Griffiths Park, north Dublin city; tufts of cotton carrying tiny seeds float away this time of year. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Many plants with pods, for example the legumes, will have their pods crack open when dry to “spill the beans” upon the soil, or some might shake loose and fall as the rest are eaten by birds and mammals. That is all a bit pedestrian for the gorse or furze, the pods of which explode on a summer’s day, shooting the seeds away. One such afternoon I sat among gorse bushes on Killiney Hill and was startled to hear what sounded like a weak pistol shot. Then another …. and another …. and all around me the bushes were shooting out their seeds, the lucky ones to create new bushlets (yes, I did just make up that word) the following year.

HITCHHIKERS

With fruit and nuts we saw plant offspring being cached or stowing away inside birds and mammals. But some hitch-hike on the outside too, like the burs that work their way into animal fur and into our woollen clothing. These are seed cases covered in tiny hooks, said to have been the inspiration for the invention of velcro fastenings in fabrics. The cleaver or “sticky-back” may attach many of its small burs to a passing mammal, while the burdock, with its much larger burs, is more likely to hitch a ride in ones or twos. Tiny seeds of many grasses stick to wool, fur and hair too, especially when damp, as we learn when we walk through meadows in late summer or autumn. But many other grasses with larger seeds, including cereals, grow “ears” with spikes attached to each seed and these too, when dry and ready to go, get picked up by the wool or fur of passing traffic.

All aspects of the Cleaver plant (“Stickyback”), another hitchhiker for its seeds. (Photo source: Wikipedia)
Hitchhiker seeds — the ‘fruits’ of the burdock after flowering become a bur to attach to passing traffic. (Photo source: Internet)

At some point in the future, these clingers will be brushed off or fall away, ready to sprout, if conditions favour them, in their new home.

Even the hot winds of forest fires are used by some conifers (which are of the non-flowering gymnosperms) to spread seeds from inside their cones – each seed has a little vane around it to help it sail the wind. Sure, many will burn before they sail or blow into another fire – but some will survive. The alternative is just to burn.

SURFERS

The coconut, on the other hand, floats its fruit to distant shores – it was not for tourist brochures that the palms grew fringing tropical beaches. Falling coconuts roll away from the tree too – if they don’t hit some unfortunate large animal first (bouncing and rolling of heavier seeds, though not normally described as a seed dispersal method, clearly plays a role).

Many other plants use floods to populate different areas, often creating stronger banks or islands as their offspring grow, sometimes even changing the very course of a river or stream. The various willows and alders are adepts at this, as are many kinds of reeds and rushes.

UNDERGROUND EXPANSION

Floating colonisation is carried out by some seeds but there are other surfing colonisers too: severed branches or leaves that grow roots into water, uprooted saplings, tubers and bulbs. Bulbs, rhizomes and strings of tubers have been used by many plants to store food for offspring, nascent new plants hiding below or on the ground. Even when a field of potatoes is harvested, there are often tiny potatoes remaining that escaped the harvesting procedure – the following year, they may be seen, sprouting new plants.

An unusually solitary Yellow Flag Iris on Tolka banks as it flows through Griffiths Park, north Dublin city in June 2021 (they can be seen in clumps along the nearby Royal Canal). The Yellow Flag uses both seeds — fertilised by pollinators in the flower — and underground rhizomes to propagate the species. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

RUNNERS

A somewhat similar method to strings of tubers – and possibly their actual origin – is the underground runner, like a root running just below and parallel to the surface, sending out shoots upwards and roots downwards at intervals, each of those becoming a new plant, a clone. Many grasses employ this procedure, some bunching close like the bamboo and others spreading away in different directions, as for example with the couch or scutch grass. The latter may be to the despair of the gardener, who however will use strawberry overground runners to grow new fruiting plants.

Grasses are an evolutionary late and special kind of plant that can be grazed down to ground level and grow again, year after year and as we saw earlier, wind and hitchhiking are their special seed dispersers. Grass provided a renewable food source for animals that could convert its leaves, stems and seeds into sufficient energy – enter herds of goat and sheep, horse, donkey, zebra, deer, antelope, bison and cattle! And therefore enter their predators too, in particular the big cats, canines and – homo sapiens.

She in turn would domesticate some of those species, including another predator as helper, the canine. That combination would change the world quite significantly and when homo sapiens learned to cultivate some of the grasses for their seeds, i.e cereals, well ……!

Some plants are capable of employing all of the various methods of reproduction and distribution: seed, tuber, branch or leaf regeneration. Plants are the innovators par excellence of visible life on Earth.

Some plants are capable of employing all of the various methods of reproduction and distribution: seed, tuber, branch or leaf regeneration. Plants are the innovators par excellence of visible life on Earth.

End.

Stray immature barley (maybe) seed heads, Drumcondra roadside, June 2021. Cereals such as these use hitchhiking inside grazers as well as hitchhiking by snagging passing wool and fur with spikes on the “ears” (Photo: D.Breatnach)

A mixed group of seed-spreaders: wind parachutes (dandelion or salsify maybe), pod-rupture (red clover), hitchhikers and wind-sailers (grasses), (scatter by movement and wind) broad-leaf plantain and one of the umbellifers, probably cow parsley (by the leaves). Drumcondra uncultivated garden, June 2021. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

SOURCES

Flower production:http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141017-how-flowers-conquered-the-world

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowering_plant#Reproduction

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/big-bloom

Pollination by bees and what they see: https://www.beeculture.com/bees-see-matters/

Seed dispersal methods: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/103-seed-dispersal

https://www.britannica.com/list/falling-far-from-the-tree-7-brilliant-ways-seeds-and-fruits-are-dispersed

Identification: https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/crops/horticulture/vegetables/Illustrated_Guide_to_Horticultural_Weeds_2020.pdf

WHO KILLED GRENFELL?

Tim Evans

The blackened shell of the Grenfell Tower being hosed by fire fighters in 2017 (Photo sourced: Internet)
(Photo credit: Yui Mok/ PA)

Who killed Grenfell? Who was it killed the people of Grenfell?

Who put their lives at deadly peril?

Very well, I’ll resign, said Paget-Brown

But it wasn’t me who put them down.

I didn’t give them the runaround.

I didn’t want them out of town.

Their deaths aren’t down to my account.

No, I didn’t kill the people of Grenfell.

Who was it killed the people of Grenfell? Who put their lives at deadly peril?

Not us, said the leaders of the TMO

It shouldn’t be us that have to go.

We listened, we really listened, you know.

We dealt with their complaints like the seasoned pros

We are, and that our salaries show.

No, we didn’t kill the people of Grenfell.

Who was it killed the people of Grenfell? Who put their lives at deadly peril?

Not me, said Housing Minister Barwell.

I was always a hundred per cent impartial.

My door was always open wide, as normal.

We had endless meetings, minuted and formal.

My interests were in no way commercial.

No, I didn’t kill the people of Grenfell.

Who was it killed the people of Grenfell? Who put their lives at deadly peril?

Not us, said the 72 Tory MPs.

We never voted down that amendment, you see,

To make rented properties safe and clean.

And while we’re all landlords, as it seems,

We didn’t kill the people of Grenfell.

Who was it killed the people of Grenfell? Who put their lives at deadly peril?

It wasn’t me, said Boris Johnson.

I closed 10 fire stations? That’s just nonsense.

The Knightsbridge one was of special importance.

Just next to Grenfell, by all the evidence.

Thank God I don’t have that on my conscience.

No, I didn’t kill the people of Grenfell.

Who was it killed the people of Grenfell? Who put their lives at deadly peril?

Not us, said the British Government.

You can’t threaten any of us with imprisonment.

A bonfire of regulations, that was our sentiment.

Health and safety just filled us with merriment.

For business and profits, there must be no impediment.

We didn’t kill the people of Grenfell

We didn’t kill the people of Grenfell

We didn’t kill the people of Grenfell

We didn’t kill the people of Grenfell.

(Photo credit AP)

NOTE

On 14 June 2017 a catastrophic fire in the Grenfell tower block in West London caused 72 deaths and 70 injuries and made hundreds homeless. Four years later and nobody has been held to account for what the then Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, called ‘social murder’ – criminal irresponsibility, cowardice and racism by the Tory Government. We will not rest until the guilty are brought to book. No justice – no peace.

The poem will appear in my next collection, ‘Bones of the Apocalypse’, published by Frequency Press. Tim Evans

(Photo credit: DailyTelegraph)
(Photo credit: Guardian)

SPANISH POLICEMAN ARRESTED WAITRESS BECAUSE HE DIDN’T LIKE HIS COFFEE — TO APPEAR IN COURT

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

E. Conde NOTICIAS DE NAVARRA (translation by D.Breatnach)

Never could a coffee have been so bitter. This Wednesday the First Section of the Provincial Court of Navarra is to judge a Guardia Civil officer, belonging to the Citizen Security Unit of the Command of Navarra, accused by the Prosecutor’s Office and the private prosecution of the crime of illegal detention by a public official after he arrested a waitress at a gas station, with whom he argued because the coffee was not to his liking. They ask for him to be fined a sum of 2,160 euros and that he be disqualified for nine years from his post. In addition, they demand that he compensate the victim with 1,000 euros for moral damage.

The events occurred around 10:30 p.m. on July 27, 2019 when the defendant, a Guardia Civil since 2005, in command of a unit arrived with his colleague at the Acciona service station on the A-12, in the area of Legarda. There they went into the café and ordered some coffees. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, “since he did not like the coffee, he argued with the waitress and manager, who was serving the rest of the customers.”

Neither the complaint form nor her driver’s license was acceptable to him

He did not restrict himself to mere protest. He requested the complaint sheet, arguing with her to give it to him immediately. The defendant considered that said sheet was not the corresponding one and asked for her National ID and the woman gave him her driving license. The Guardia insisted that this sheet was not the correct one and considered her driving licence identification insufficient.

The waitress continued working, but the defendant called her, made her step outside away from where the customers could see what was happening and “with abuse of authority, telling her that she was disrespectful”, proceeded to arrest her at around 10:45 p.m. and to put her in the patrol car. She was taken to the Puente la Reina barracks, and handcuffed as a detainee. She was held until 2:00 am, when a statement was taken and she was released. As a result, the victim suffered from anxiety.

During the investigation of the case there was an attempt to resolve the matter by the criminal mediation procedure but as this was unsuccessful, it goes to trial. In principle, any possibility of agreement is ruled out since the officer, if convicted of said crime, would be disqualified from any similar job for a relevant period of time.

COMMENT

by Diarmuid Breatnach

The case is an extreme example of a common aspect of the Guardia Civil – arrogance, a sense of entitlement and impunity and lack of respect for issues of justice or ordinary people. Contempt and hostility towards socialists, LGBT and aspirations of the nations within the state are common too but, although this took place in Nafarroa, in one of the Basque regional autonomies, the report does not reveal whether this played a part.

The Guardia Civil is one of two “national” police forces of the Spanish State and the oldest police force of the kingdom. It is a gendarmerie, an armed police force with military organisation and role in addition to a civil one, such as the Gendarmerie of the French state, Carabinieri of the Italian state and the Royal Irish Constabulary all over Ireland until 1921 and its remnant, the Police Force of Northern Ireland (British colony) today. The force is quartered in barracks for accommodation with police station facilities, cells etc.

GUARDIA CIVIL AND FASCISM

When the fascist-military coup was launched against the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish state in 1936, the Guardia Civil split evenly between those who remained loyal to the Government and those who defected to the fascist-military, with those loyal becoming the Guardia Republicana. However, that percentage was in the lowest order of police force loyalty to the republican Government, with elected government loyalty in other police forces at around 70% of membership. After the defeat of the republican forces, the superior officer of the Guardia Republicana, General José Aranguren was tried by Francoist military court, sentenced to death and executed in Barcelona.

Often thought to be of Franco prisoners during the Civil War, in fact this photo is of prisoners of the Guardia Civil during the suppression of the Asturias Miners’ Strike in 1934 by General Franco during the right-wing period of the Republican Government, which was overturned in the 1936 elections of the Popular Front. (Photo sourced: Internet)

In the areas conquered by the fascist-military forces and in the whole state after the defeat of the republican forces, the Guardia Civil were one of the chief forces seeking out and rounding up former supporters of the republican Government along with communists, socialists, anarchists, republicans, Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists. Most of the detainees were brought before military courts and either sentenced to death, to penal servitude or to heavy fines and confiscations of property. Some never made it to court, being summarily executed. Rapes were also recorded and infants of murdered parents were trafficked to fascist childless families.

In the nations that had shown wishes for independence or autonomy, such as Catalonia and the southern Basque Country (of which Navarre is a part), along with other areas where antifascist resistance had been strong such as some areas of Madrid, the Guardia Civil was a constant and visible force of surveillance and repression of the civil population in terms of culture, morality and politics.

Guardia Civil searching country area during the later decades of the Franco regime. (Photo sourced: Internet)

During times of guerrilla conflict, the Guardia at times killed prisoners and routinely tortured detainees during interrogation (the Wikipedia entry says that they were accused of “heavy-handedness”!). Colonel Tejero of the Guardia Civil led 200 of that force in a failed attempted coup in 1981 which included an armed invasion of the Spanish Parliament. Several Guardia including very high-ranking officers were convicted of organising the fascist murder squads of the 1980s (GAL etc) run by the Spanish PSOE Government.

The Guardia until recently was the primary police force acting against the Basque national resistance and numerous of their detainees over decades have testified to being tortured, humiliated (including sexually) and threatened almost immediately after arrest, during their transportation by the Guardia to the force’s barracks in Madrid, where the torture etc continued up to the five days incommunicado detention permitted under Spanish State “anti-terrorist” legislation. The treatment usually produced “confessions” which were then used to secure a conviction and long prison sentence. The European Court of Human Rights has a number of times found the Spanish State guilty of not investigating allegations of torture by detainees and a number of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have condemned the impunity of the torturers.

Guardia Civil in action in Catalonia during the Referendum on independence there on 1st October 2017. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The Guardia Civil frequently break up demonstrations and in 2017 both they and the Policía Nacional invaded Catalonia in force, the Guardia Civil seizing ballot boxes in the Catalonia Independence Referendum and beating voters and people protesting their actions (also firing rubber bullets which are banned by the regional Government).

Since 2020, actions against Basque and Catalan independence campaigners have been carried out mostly by their autonomous regional police forces (Ertzaintza and Forales in the Basque autonomous regions and Mossos d’Escuadra in Catalonia) but, if charged with “terrorism” or “security crimes”, detainees were delivered to the Guardia Civil who then took them to Madrid for interrogation.

(Photo sourced: Internet)

SOURCES

There report on the case:

https://www.noticiasdenavarra.com/actualidad/sociedad/2021/03/22/juzgan-guardia-civil-navarra-arresto/1131185.html?

Extremely sanitised Wikipedia description of the Guhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gendarmerieardia Civil: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Guard_(Spain)

Gendarmerie:

Amnesty international report 1976: https://www.irekia.euskadi.eus/uploads/attachments/10710/Amnistia_Internacional1976.pdf

1985 Torture, murder of Basque activists and subsequent cursory investigation: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/old-bones-reveal-dark-side-1.262790

1993 murder of Basque activist detainee: https://medium.com/@stewreddin/they-came-for-her-in-the-morning-f4585ddc8c07

UN Committee on 2007 kidnapping and torture (including sexual) of Basque activist: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24629&LangID=E

European Council investigation into allegations of mistreatment of migrants 2015: http://webfolder.eurac.edu/MIDAS/1C28407F-517E-41C1-9EB5-8AE40974577C/0/EgunkariaEgunon3250203.pdf

BLACK LIVES MATTER ACTIVIST SHOT IN THE HEAD IN LONDON

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 5 mins.)

In the early hours of May 23rd, according to reports, four men gained uninvited access to a social event in Consort Road, a residential street in the Peckham area in SE London’s Borough of Southwark. One of them fired one shot from a gun and the bullet struck prominent BLM activist Sacha Johnson in the head. She remains in critical condition in hospital. There are unresolved questions about this incident and about the subsequent actions and statement by the London Metropolitan Police.

Sasha Johnson and others in London recently protesting about racism and inequality (Photo sourced: Internet)

THE AREA

Peckham is mostly a residential and shopping area in a SE London suburb, in a mix of predominantly pre-war terraced housing and post-war blocks of flats. It is well off the London Underground network but served by an overground train station and bus depot with a number of bus routes traversing it. There is a medium-sized park area called Peckham Rye and a branch of the canal network ran through a part of Peckham but no longer does so (filled in during the time I lived there). I lived in Peckham on two different occasions during my decades working in England (nearly all of which were spent based in SE London) in one period of which my daughter was born. I was politically active there and for a time worked not far away from Peckham variously in furniture removal, factories and in a number of foundries.

Consort Road, Peckham, SE London, where the shooting took place (Photo sourced: Internet)

Peckham and many nearby areas of SE London are mixed ethnically having been settled by successive waves of Irish migrants, Afro-Caribbeans, then some South Asians, followed by Africans. Throughout its history there have been frequent conflicts between people living there and the police and also between communities and fascist organisations.

Irish Socialist and Republican activist and journalist Jim Connell wrote a draft of the Red Flag in 1989 on a train journey from London Bridge to his home in the SE London Borough of Lewisham, a 15-minute bicycle ride from Peckham. During the 1926 General Strike a scab tram was overturned in nearby Camberwell by strikers and a policeman reputedly pushed down a manhole. Clashes occurred between Mosley’s Blackshirts and antifascists, with one of the big battles of the 1930s taking place in Long Lane, at the further limits of SE London, approaching the Thames river.

Much nearer to Peckham, after WW2, Blackshirts attempting to set up public speaking in East Street outdoor market (“East Lane” as it was known locally) were attacked by antifascists and clashes occurred there again in the 1970s between antifascists and the National Front. The early post-War migrants from the Caribbean in New Cross, very close on the other side of Peckham, had frequent clashes with racists and with the police. In the 1970s clashes occurred often in New Cross and nearby Deptford between antifascists and the National Front, while not far away again was the scene of the famous 1977 Battle of Lewisham, in which antifascists denied the National Front passage through and fought also, in particular, the London Metropolitan Police.

During the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s there were public meetings organised in various parts of SE London in solidarity with Irish struggles and with Irish political prisoners, including the framed prisoners such as the Birmingham Six. There are predominantly Irish pubs dotted throughout the whole area and weekly traditional music sessions have been held in some of them, while New Cross had an Irish dance hall and Lewisham still has an Irish community centre, founded by a local branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. Individuals from the Irish community were active in trade union and left-wing activism and in particular in antifascism.

QUESTIONS

There are a number of questions arising out of the Metropolitan Police investigation into the shooting of Sasha Johnson and their public statement.

  • The Met said they did not believe Sasha Johnson was the target. In a statement made before even an arrest of suspects, this would seem to be at least premature. It would also be a substantially suspect coincidence for the only firearm discharge to hit Johnson and, in addition, in the head.
  • Sasha Johnson supporters say she had received death threats and another activist, interviewed by an ABC reporter (see video in CNN link) on a demonstration a few weeks before the shooting, said that she had received a number of threats. However the Met statement said Sasha Johnson had not received credible death threats. What is “a credible death threat”? Antifascists and left-wing activists all over the world regularly receive death threats and, in Ireland, the targets would include Irish Republicans. Some of those threats have been carried out historically and fascists have gone on shooting or bombing sprees against ethnic and LGBT minorities, often after issuing threats on social media, without police prevention.
  • The TTIP statement (see Sources) said that according to their information the Met had not carried out house-to-house enquiries in the area of the shooting.
  • The arrest of five individuals and their charging with conspiracy to murder (two) and affray and attempted murder (all five), along with drug possession with intent to supply etc would serve to support an narrative of black-on-black crime related to drugs supplying. But how does that narrative fit with an invasion of a social event and the shooting in the head of a prominent black lives matter activist?
  • If the Met maintains that Johnson was not the intended target, how can they charge someone with conspiracy to murder her (unless they allege that some other person was the intended victim, which they have not said)?
  • And if the shooting of Sasha Johnson was by black individuals and she was the target, does that raise the possibility of politically-motivated action through proxies, as has occurred a number of times in the USA (and in the Six Counties of Ireland)?

HISTORICAL USA CONTEXT

Regarding the last question above, the TTIP has reached nowhere near the political impact where it seems likely the UK State would arrange such an action — but it remains a possibility.

In the USA the city and state police departments have a history of surveillance and repression of Black militant organisations and at times their actions have been more extreme. In 1985 Philadelphia police in an operation approved by its black Mayor, bombed the radical black MOVE organisation with a C4 explosive satchel from a helicopter, resulting in the deaths of 11 people including five children, aged 7 to 13. The police bombing and subsequent fire destroyed 61 homes and made 250 Philadelphia residents homeless.

The Federal State itself, in particular through the FBI, set out to infiltrate the left-wing Black Panthers and Black nationalist organisations with agents not only for surveillance but also to cause dissension and feuds.

The FBI also with direct homicidal intent targeted militant black activists as in the case of Fred Hampton, a prominent Black Panther activist and public speaker: in December 1969, (Fred) Hampton was drugged, shot and killed in his bed during a predawn raid at his Chicago apartment by a tactical unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI. Law enforcement sprayed more than 90 gunshots throughout the apartment; the occupants fired once. (Wikipedia). Though incredibly a Cook County Coroners’ Court ruled his killing and that of another victim to be “justifiable homicide”, a civil suit on behalf of nine plaintiffs was settled in 1982 with a payment of $1.85 million, the City of Chicago, Cook County and the Federal Government each paying one-third.

In addition the FBI monitored the activities of the Nation of Islam organisation of Black muslims in the USA and, through its agents in the organisation was well aware of hostilities towards Malcolm X, who had left the organisation. As Malcolm X began to develop a thesis that black people in the USA needed to unite with oppressed people of any colour anywhere, he was assassinated by gunmen of the Black Muslims with FBI collusion (if not outright organisation) on 21st February 1965.

Martin Luther King Jnr. was a world-famous black civil rights campaigner. However in later years he also sought to unite the concerns of poor whites with the cause of black civil rights and also opposed the USA’s War in Vietnam. The FBI and the State itself (through Robert F. Kennedy, the former Attorney General) were recruiting agents in his movement and electronically bugging his hotel rooms during campaigns. King was murdered by a sniper’s bullet on April 4th 1968 and the white man arrested who confessed to the murder, James Earl Ray, later recanted and alleged his solicitors had advised him to plead guilty. King’s family supported Ray in seeking a retrial and clearly suspected the US State of having arranged the killing but Ray died before any such retrial took place.

IN CONCLUSION

The London Metropolitan Police have a long history of racism towards Irish and Black people, which was known long before the Stephen Lawrence murder case but officially admitted regarding black people in the McPherson report into the Met’s handling of that murder investigation. There had long been complaints of discriminatory policing and racial profiling, harassment of Irish and Black people in police stop-and-question actions and house raids and there were also incidents where the Met had killed black and Irish people during arrests (many deaths also in police station custody).

Stephen Lawrence Murder Inquiry in 1998 was attended by protesters against the handling of the case by the Metropolitan Police. Sir Paul Condon, named on the placard, was knighted 1994, Commissioner of the Met 1993-2000 and was made a life peer in 2001, Baron Condon. (Photo credit: Diomedia)

In addition, the Met have a long history of collusion with fascist organisations, from Sir Oswald Moseley’s “Blackshirt” (British Union of Fascists) to the more recent National Front, British Movement and others. In just one event in 1936, over 7,000 Met officers, including all their mounted police, attempted to force a Blackshirt march through a part of East London where there was a high occupation rate of East European migrant Jewish people. The result was a pitched battle against a defensive mobilisation of ethnic Jews and Irish, along with communists and anarchists. The fascists did not get through but most of the fighting was actually with the police.

The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, West London, opened in 1968 serving Caribbean cuisine and became a meeting place for black activists and intellectuals. It was frequently raided by the Metropolitan police. In 1970 the community organised a protest march to the local police station and violence broke out between police and the protesters, after which the Met charged nine activists with inciting a riot. The trial of the Mangrove Nine lasted 55 days, included a number of challenges to court, exposed the racism of the police and ended in the acquittal of all nine on the more serious charges.

In 1974, an attempt to disrupt a National Front meeting in London ended with many antifascists injured by the Met and Kevin Gately, a student from Leeds of Irish background clubbed to death by police. In a successful large-scale mobilisation to prevent a fascist invasion by the National Front of the SE London Lewisham town centre in 1977, an area of relatively high Afro-Caribbean ethnic settlement (also of significant Irish), the main battles were with Met who were determined to bring the fascists through. In another defensive mobilisation in 1979 in the West London town centre of Southall, an area of high South Asian settlement, Australian antifascist Blair Peach, working in London was also killed by Met police baton.

We do not need to jump to conspiracy assassination attempt theories but we should keep an open mind in this case, consider the possibilities and question the Metropolitan Police handling of the case and their public statements. We also need to treat media handling with suspicion, particularly their non-critical acceptance of Metropolitan Police statements and even suggestions of “drive-by shooting” in US gang-banger tradition.

And to wish the victim a full and timely recovery.

End.

Sasha Johnson on a recent protest March in London (Credit photo: Times UK)

SOURCES

Early report of Johnson shooting: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/black-lives-matter-activist-sasha-johnson-shot-in-the-head-in-london-1.4573068

Statement by Sasha Johnson’s political party: https://www.theinitiativeparty.org.uk/

Arrests by Metropolitan Police: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/28/uk/london-blm-activist-shooting-charge-intl-hnk/index.html

https://news.sky.com/story/sasha-johnson-second-teen-charged-with-conspiracy-to-murder-black-rights-activist-12330951

Philadelphia Police bombing of MOVE: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/10/move-1985-bombing-reconciliation-philadelphia

Malcolm X: https://www.thejournal.ie/collusion/news/

Martin Luther King: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr

Fred Hampton, Black Panther: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hampton

London Metropolitan Police Racism: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/parm-sandhu-met-police-racism-cressida-dick-b1858208.html

Mangrove Nine trial: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangrove_Nine

Mc Pherson Report re Stephen Lawrence murder case: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/the-lawrence-report-sir-william-macpherson-s-recommendations-1073018.html

Eugene Bullard “The Black Swallow” — The First Black American Military Airman

By Geoff Cobb

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

A black American traveling entertainer, boxer and trainer, soldier in two world wars for two different countries, awarded 14 French military medals, airplane pilot, nightclub owner, musician, civil rights activist, associate of famous writers and musicians.

Bullard’s biography is so amazing I cannot believe it has never been made into a movie. Like the lives of many African Americans, it is also a tale full of suffering and pain that highlights the horrible racism that pervaded America in his day. He is such a remarkable person that more people should know about the achievements of this unique figure.

Bullard was born in 1895 in Columbus, Georgia, the seventh of 10 children born to William (Octave) Bullard, a black Caribbean and Josephine (“Yokalee”) Thomas, a Native American Creek woman. Georgia at the time of his birth was a dangerous place for “uppity” African Americans and tragically lynchings were common. His father’s people were Haitians who revolted against French slavery and following the revolution, Bullard’s ancestors left the Caribbean for the United States and took refuge with the Native American Creek people.

As a young boy, he was traumatized by the sight of a white mob attempting to lynch his father over a workplace dispute. A proud man, his father imbued his son with the conviction that African Americans had to maintain their dignity and self-respect, despite all the indignities heaped upon them. Bullard fell in love with his father’s stories of France where slavery had been abolished and blacks were treated equally. At age eleven, Bullard ran away from home hoping to reach France. In Atlanta, he joined a family of English gypsies and traveled throughout Georgia with them, tending their horses and learning to be a horse jockey. The gypsies told him that there was also racial equality in England and Bullard determined to go there instead of to France.

Bullard found work with the Turner family in Dawson, Georgia. Because he was hard-working as a stable boy, young Bullard won the Turners’ affection and was asked to ride as their jockey in the 1911 County Fair races, where he was victorious. Eventually, he made his way to Norfolk, Virginia where he stowed away on a ship to England.

In 1912, Bullard arrived in Scotland and soon went on to London where he boxed and performed in humiliating racist pieces for the Freedman Pickaninnies, an African American troupe. While in London, he trained under the then-famous boxer Dixie Kid who arranged a bout for Bullard in Paris. Bullard fell in love with the “city of light” and decided to settle there. He continued to box in Paris and worked in a music hall until the start of the First World War.

Eugene Bullard showcase (Photo source: Internet)

A SOLDIER IN WWI

When the War broke out Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and by 1915 had become a machine gunner, seeing combat on the Somme front in Picardy. He served in a regiment known as the “hirondelles de la mort” (“swallows of death”) and saw combat at Verdun where he was severely wounded on March 5, 1916. During his convalescence, Bullard was cited for acts of valor at the orders of the regiment on July 3rd 1917 and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

After recovering, he volunteered on October 2nd 1916 for the French Air Service and became a machine gunner. He joined a group of American aviators fighting for France on November 15, 1916, called the Lafayette Flying Corps and became the first African American aviator in World War I. He took part in over twenty French combat missions, and is sometimes credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft.

When the USA entered the war, The United States Air Service created a medical board to recruit Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps to fly for the United States. Bullard went through the medical examination but he was not accepted, because in the segregated American military only white pilots were chosen. Sometime later, while off duty in Paris, Bullard allegedly got into an argument with a French officer and was punished by being transferred out of his combat unit and into a service battalion. Before he left the French military, the French government awarded him three different medals for his heroism in battle.

NIGHT CLUB OWNER

After his discharge, Bullard went back to Paris, where he started to play drums in a jazz band at a nightclub named “Zelli’s”, which was owned by Joe Zelli. Bullard worked with Robert Henri, a lawyer and friend, to get Zelli’s a club license, which allowed it to stay open past midnight. Zelli’s soon became the most celebrated nightclub in Montmartre because few other clubs could stay open so late. With the money he saved from playing at Zellis, Bullard traveled to Egypt, where he played with a jazz ensemble at Hotel Claridge and fought two prize fights.

Missing Paris, Bullard returned to the City of Lights where his career was about to take off. He became an entrepreneur hiring jazz musicians for private parties with Paris’ social elites, worked as a masseur and exercise trainer. Bullard then got a job managing the nightclub “Le Grand Duc”, where he hired the famous American poet, Langston Hughes. Around 1928, Bullard had saved enough money to enable him to purchase “Le Grand Duc.” Thanks to being the owner of a hot Parisian club, Bullard made many famous friends, including the dancer-actress Josephine Baker, poet Langston Hughes and jazz musician Louis Armstrong. He eventually became the owner of another nightclub, “L’Escadrille” where he got to know writer Ernest Hemingway, who based a minor character on Bullard in his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Bullard also opened his own gym and gave boxing lessons, training successful fighters such as “Panama” AL Brown and “Young” Perez. In 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, a striking French woman from a wealthy family. The marriage ended in divorce in 1935, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving children, Jacqueline and Lolita.

A SOLDIER IN WWII

When World War II began in September 1939, Bullard, who also spoke German, agreed to a request from the French government to spy on the German citizens who still frequented his nightclub. When the Germans attacked France, Bullard volunteered and served with the 51st Infantry Regiment and was severely wounded in the battle for Orleans. When the Nazis took over Paris, he slipped over the border into Spain and then headed back to the United States.

Eugene Bullard with US Army comrades, WW2 (Photo source: Internet)

Bullard spent some time in a New York hospital and never fully recovered from his wound. He missed Paris and his minor celebrity there. In New York, he had no celebrity and had to work menial jobs. He longed to return to Paris but learned that his nightclub had become a casualty of the battle for Paris. The French government gave him a financial settlement with which he purchased an apartment in Harlem.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Returning to America after World War II, Bullard was active in the civil rights movement. During one confrontation, a bus driver ordered him to sit in the back of the bus. In 1949, Bullard was a victim of one of the most notorious incidents in New York State history, the Peekskill riots. Bullard was a fan of African American communist entertainer Paul Robeson who was scheduled to sing at a Civil Rights benefit. Before Robeson arrived, however, a mob attacked the concertgoers with baseball bats and stones. Thirteen people were seriously injured including Bullard who was knocked to the ground and beaten by an angry mob, which included members of the state and local law enforcement. The attack was captured on film in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning narrated documentary Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. Despite photographic evidence, none of his attackers were prosecuted. Graphic pictures of Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper, and a concert-goer were later published in Susan Robeson’s biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Eugene Bullard clubbed to the ground by rioter and cops during the racist Peekskill Riots in 1949; captured on film and photograph but no-one was arrested for this and other assaults. (Photo source: Internet)

The 1950s were difficult years for Bullard whose daughters had married and he lived alone in his apartment, which was decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his 14 French war medals. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center, where no one suspected he had once been the “Black Swallow of Death.” In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to be one of the three men chosen to rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe and in 1959 he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion De Honeur by President Charles De Gaulle, who called Bullard a “véritable héros français” (“true French hero”). He also was awarded the Medaille Militaire, another high military distinction. On December 22, 1959, he was interviewed on NBC’s Today Show presenting his amazing biography and received hundreds of fan letters.

Eugene Bullard in military uniform (Photo source: Internet)

Bullard died in New York City of stomach cancer on October 12, 1961, at the age of 66. He was buried in the French Veteran’s section of Flushing Cemetery, where nine years later his good friend Louis Armstrong would also be interred. On August 23rd 1994, 33 years after his death and 77 years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Airforce.

End.

Unveiling of Eugene Bullard statue monument in Georgia near the USAF base that refused to enlist him as a pilot for WW2 because he was black, even though he had already flown in France.

WORKERS WIN VICTORIES: “SELF-EMPLOYED” AND AGENCY-CONTRACTED

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 7 mins)

Across Europe, Deliveroo riders have been organising and protesting about their lack of employment rights and low pay. In April the riders struck and protested in Britain while in May, they won a number of victories against the company in the courts of the Spanish state. In February, a group of 25 drivers for Uber taxis won a UK Supreme Court decision that they are employees and not self-employed. Also, last month agency contract workers cleaning rooms for the second-largest hotel in Paris won a struggle too, with pay rise, reduced workloads, overtime pay and two sacked workers reinstated. These are important victories for the workers involved themselves but are also important in precedent and example for all workers in these kinds of precarious employment conditions and ultimately for all workers everywhere.

Victory celebration by Ibis housekeeping worker picketers on the street last month. (Source photo: Internet)

DELIVERY SERVICE WORKERS

In Britain, as the fast-food delivery company Deliveroo floated itself for public shares, its riders staged public protests and strikes demanding decent working conditions and pay. Speaking ahead of the planned campaign, organiser Alex Marshall of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain stated: “They said it couldn’t be done but by getting organised and speaking out, riders have triggered a domino effect which already slashed £3bn from Deliveroo’s valuation and that should give pause to any corporation that thinks precarious workers can be endlessly exploited without consequence.” Subsequently strikes and demonstrations were held in cities across Britain.

Deliveroo workers in protest Barcelona 2017 before setting up the riders’ cooperative in 2018 (Photo sourced: Internet)

Deliveroo riders have been organising over recent years in a number of countries, holding public protests, strikes and calling one-day boycotts. In Barcelona, Deliveroo, Uber and Glovo Eats’ dissatisfied riders or sacked for organising set up their own cooperative in 2018. Last month the Spanish state’s state’s Supreme Court, having denied Deliveroo’s contention that their riders are self-employed, once again reiterated their position on 25th May, which means that their riders are entitled to employment contracts with paid holidays, sick pay and pensions (see Publico.es article below).

Deliveroo Riders Protest at Place de la Republique, Paris August 2019 (Photo credit: Jacques Demarthon AFP)

Spanish Supreme Court reiterates that Deliveroo riders are company employees, not self-employed.

Alejandra De la Fuente in Publico.es (translation by D. Breatnach from Castillian)

MADRID 05/26/2021 16: 39EFE

The Supreme Court rejected the appeal filed by the fast food delivery company, Deliveroo against a January 2020 ruling – which classified more than 500 of its delivery riders in Madrid as “false self-employed” – and has confirmed its conclusions.

The ruling, to which Efe had access this Wednesday, recalls that the Supreme Court already unified its judgement in September 2020, when it ruled in a similar case — although then the defendant was Glovo — that the relationship between these platforms and their riders is actually of a labour nature.

Company sources recalled that the events judged took place between 2015 and 2017 — when it began to operate in Spain — and maintained that its relationship with the delivery riders has changed since then.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to admit Deliveroo’s appealto unify judgements endorses the position of the Superior Court of Justice (TSJ) of Madrid, which already in January of last year rejected an appeal from the company on this same case.

The Court rejected the company’s arguments, including a ruling in its favour obtained in the Cantabrian courts, and stressed that the current position is marked by the ruling of the Supreme Court in September against Glovo by “responding to the new reality that supposes the provision of services through digital platforms “. In their ruling, the judges recall that the Chamber then ruled “in favour of the labour nature of the relationship between the delivery person and the digital platform” after analysing the existing jurisprudence and the “indications of employment” found by the Labour Inspection.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in Madrid specified that one of the key points was that the freedom of the delivery worker not to work “is not as wide as some would like to make out, since if they decline orders (…) they receive a penalty”, which results in fewer services being granted from there and, therefore, their income drops.

It also cited as an argument that the delivery person could not carry out the activity if he only had his own bicycle or mobile phone, since the Deliveroo structure and its platform, which connects customers, restaurants and riders, is essential for the operation.

The delivery company, for its part, issued a statement in which it claims to “respect but not share” the Supreme Court’s decision to “not analyse” the case and insists that the events date back to the period 2015-2017, when it used “a different model of collaboration” with its riders. “This model does not reflect the way in which couriers collaborate with Deliveroo today. This ruling only affects contracts that stopped being used more than three years ago,” these same sources stated.

Home delivery platforms such as Deliveroo, Glovo or Ubereats will be forced to stop using self-employed workers as delivery riders if the so-called Rider Law goes ahead, agreed by the Ministry of Labour with employers and unions. The regulations oblige these companies to use salaried distributors – either with staff contracts, or subcontracting to third parties – and is scheduled to come into force in August.

end news report

Deliveroo riders’ protest Italy, possibly Florence (Photo credit: Getty)
Deliveroo motorcyle riders in East London protest (Photo sourced: Internet)

LABOUR SUPPLY AGENCIES

As much as delivery coordinating companies — the “gig economy” — lower workers’ rights, pay and conditions through false “self-employment”, labour-supplying agencies do so also and supply workers from industrial to healthcare to hospitality sectors, being used not only by private companies but by State departments and municipal authorities too. Workers employed by agencies rarely or even never meet many others employed by their agency, which makes it extremely difficult for them to organise to improve their employment conditions or pay. In addition a number of agencies may supply staff to the same site so that they don’t even have the same employer.

Hotels employ workers for different tasks: service management, finance, reception/ bookings, food/ drink preparation and service, portering, maintenance and housekeeping (room and common area cleaning). Every person who uses hotel accommodation enters a room prepared by staff who will then clean the room after they leave, changing bedding, remaking beds, checking for lost property, emptying bins, replacing towels and bathroom materials, wiping down surfaces, vacuuming etc.

A cold rainy day in Paris during the 2-years struggle of the Ibis housekeeping workers (Photo sourced: Libcom)

While some hotels employ the housekeeping staff directly many, including the large hotels and hotel chains, use staffing agencies to supply them. This arrangement relieves the hotel of responsibility for the employment conditions or pay of these staff while at the same time allowing them to dictate the working arrangements of those workers.

The 700-bed Ibis Batignolles Hotel, the second-largest in Paris uses the Accor and STN agencies to supply its housekeeping staff and in July 2019 twenty of those workers at the hotel began their agitation, complaining of a cleaning workload rate of 3.5 rooms per hour, or one room in 17 minutes, which was forcing them to work at great speed and even on unpaid overtime to complete their allocation. Ten workers who had occupational illnesses and were unable to keep to that workload were threatened with transfer to lower-paid jobs and this precipitated the resistance.

Last month these workers signed an agreement giving them a pay rise, reduced workloads, overtime pay and two sacked workers reinstated.

The Prestige and Budget hotels section of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT-HPE) supported the workers – mostly migrants from sub-Saharan Africa – throughout the struggle and also raised a solidarity fund to support the workers during the course of the strike, raising €240,000 on line. Claude Lévy, leader of the union, who claims more than thirty years of activism commented: “It is the longest strike that I have seen in my career”.

One of the workers, Rachel Keke, speaking to French media said: “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved because we fought through to the end, we never gave up. I kept saying to my colleagues we have to hang on, we’ll win in the end. And now we have this wonderful victory.”

The success of the striking workers directly benefits not just themselves but the working conditions of some sixty subcontractors employed by STN which will be raised now to the level of the workers directly employed by the hotel. The striking workers have also been paid compensation in undisclosed sums.

One unusual feature has been the installation of a card-clock to record the hours worked by each worker, demanded by the workers themselves. A union organiser commented that it was strange to see such clocks that were hated by workers in the past being sought by workers today.

The victory of these Paris Ibis housekeeping workers is indeed notable and will serve as example and encouragement to others in the sector, as one of the workers also said. However, they did not win direct employment and the whole contract labour issue remains to be addressed.

A statement issued by the CGT-HPE praised the struggle of the women but also criticised “collaborators in the union bureaucracy who work against sincere militants to destroy and silence them.”

OVERALL SUMMARY COMMENT

One cannot pass through any city centre in Ireland without seeing cyclists and sometimes motorcyclists of for example Deliveroo or Just Eat on the road. In addition, there are a large number of courier services at work delivering other items although not always so noticeable.

Delivery companies allocate delivery jobs to the workers on their register. Those workers have to supply their own bikes and mobile phones, get no sickness pay – whether from injury incurred in the course of their work or not – and no holiday pay or pension. Nor are they paid while waiting to be allocated a delivery job.

In Ireland these workers are often migrants who either find it difficult to get other work or for whom such work seems convenient as they don’t intend to stay long (quite often a fallacy, as Irish migrants to other countries can testify, myself included). An important pressure on especially migrant workers is the high cost of rented accommodation in Ireland and particularly in Dublin.

The Spanish Court left Deliveroo and other companies the option not to employ their drivers but instead to contract with a staffing agency to supply the required labour. Staffing agencies supply workers from industrial to healthcare to hospitality sectors, being used not only by private companies but also by State departments and municipal authorities. I’ve been supplied as a worker by agencies for cleaning and social/ health care and had to employ them myself as a manager for staffing cover in hostels for homeless people and drug and alcohol misusers.

Deliveroo riders in Britain in protest March 2021 (Photo sourced: Internet)

As a directly-employed municipal worker and (unpaid) union organiser in London, when my union branch got ready to strike in defence of holiday and sick pay which the municipal authority was planning to cut for the mostly manual services (sanitation, road maintenance and park/ tree etc maintenance), we found this sector was nearly 50% staffed by agency workers. Even had the leaders of their unions been willing to strike, such a weakness in their numbers would have given them pause. Their unions did not join our strike and their workers lost, of course.

Workers in the hospitality industry (bars, hotels, restaurants/ cafés) are historically some of the worst paid with worst conditions and are often female and migrant. As a contract cleaner and kitchen porter on a number of occasions in my working life I can personally testify to this and any examination of available data will verify the facts.

Such workers tend to be in small workforces in individual work-places, even when each such site is part of a chain and for that reason and others are difficult to organise which in turn makes them easier to exploit.

(Photo credit: Euractiv.com)

WORKERS’ STRUGGLES AND THE LAW

Workers in the past fought for and in many cases gained “closed shop” agreements, meaning that every worker employed had to be a member of the union. This was often attacked by liberals as undemocratic but in fact proved necessary to prevent the employer using non-unionised workers to undermine union struggles. Of course, when unionised workers did win struggles, those gains went to the benefit of all workers in the company including the non-unionised and indeed often across wider society. Governments now tend to make “closed shops” illegal (along with another useful weapon, the “sympathy” or solidarity strike).

Just as in the past it has been necessary for workers to defy the laws that forbade organising of trade unions or of strikes, unions today will need to do so in order to remove these restrictions on their ability to effectively improve workers’ conditions and pay. The notion that to preserve the union structure and funds is more important than defending the purpose for which it was founded needs to be challenged.

Many union leaders and officials became complacent and allowed the creeping “agencisation” of workplaces and in doing so abrogated their responsibilities not only to workers employed by agencies but also, in the longer run, to their own directly-employed members. Wide-scale unionisation will need to address and reverse this trend as this sector continues do be a threat to workers’ rights and conditions and in fact even to trade union recruitment.

The Deliveroo decision In the Spanish Supreme Court presumably brings an end to a long legal battle about the status of the workers there which has seen a number of regional court decisions in favour of the the workers, e.g. in Madrid and in Catalonia but a reversal in another region, Cantabria. The Supreme Court has now ruled in the case of Deliveroo and also Glovo: the workers are not self-employed and therefore are entitled to contracts of employment, holiday and sick pay, etc.

The legal process in the UK however went against the workers and in favour of the Deliveroo company until the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court in favour of 25 of Uber’s drivers indicates that it is likely to end up the same with regards to Deliveroo, Just Eats etc (whereupon the Irish courts will probably follow suit).

In the case of the agency workers in Paris, they suffered an initial defeat in the French courts on the issue of in reality working for Ibis rather than the agency but won much of their demands through action at a time when the company wants to be able to take full advantage of the lifting of Covid19 restrictions and the busy tourist season months. The union official Lévy called off an appeal against the French court decision but indicated that the legal process is still one avenue open to them and that the issue needs to be resolved for many other workers.

Although legal cases have long been one avenue of workers’ progress one needs to remember that in a capitalist economic system the legal system favours the rich and also that most legal reforms benefiting workers have been won on the back of direct action, concessions often ultimately motivated by fear of revolution. The Deliveroo struggle was not won in the Spanish courts alone but was supported by a long campaign of demonstrations and even strikes; the Ibis Batignolles struggle was won by a two-year strike and publicity actions.

Victorious Ibis housekeeping workers pose for photo outside the Paris Ibis hotel on the day of their victory (Photo via CGT/ HPE)

A niche for smaller, left-wing unions?

Statistics suggest in Ireland, with a union membership of below 24% (in a country which once had around 40% membership even with much less employment opportunities), that a general union membership recruitment drive is needed now.

While some smaller sections of large unions have done effective work in fighting for the rights of workers in smaller workplaces, or in agencies or “self-employed” areas as in the two main examples cited above, these sectors are often neglected by union organisers who find large workplaces easier or more rewarding in terms of results.

This failure does provide a niche for smaller and possibly specifically left-wing unions which would allow them to grow as well as to make a significant contribution to the unionisation of workers and to improvements in workers’ rights, conditions and pay.Organising these workers will not be easy and may even require bike-riding organisers but the examples above show that success is possible and the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain may be showing the way.

End.

Deliveroo workers protest in London recently (Photo credit: Sky News)

SOURCES

Deliveroo riders

Deliveroo workers’ strike in Britain: https://news.sky.com/story/deliveroo-riders-poised-to-strike-as-unconditional-trading-for-shares-begins-12267717

Bureau of Investigative Journalists analysis of Deliveroo’s riders’ pay: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2021-03-25/deliveroo-riders-earning-as-little-as-2-pounds

Spanish Supreme Court decision: https://www.publico.es/sociedad/tribunal-supremo-rechaza-recurso-deliveroo-confirma-riders-falsos-autonomos.html?

France 2019: https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20190808-french-deliveroo-riders-urge-public-join-them-boycott-paris

Australia: https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/deliveroo-drivers-go-on-international-strike-ahead-of-companys-ipo/news-story/ebf78a47961a48944bae4c184a0ae764

Uber drivers UK Supreme Court decision: https://www.lawsociety.ie/gazette/top-stories/uk-supreme-court-uber-ruling-will-fundamentally-re-order-gig-economy/

Paris Ibis Hotel housekeeping workers’ victory:

https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20210525-22-month-struggle-pays-off-for-sub-contracted-hotel-workers-in-paris-ibis-accor-migrant-labour-strike

https://www.uktimenews.com/parisian-hotel-cleaners-claim-historic-victory-after-22-months-of-battle-for-dignity/

https://then24.com/2021/05/25/victory-for-the-chambermaids-of-the-ibis-batignolles/

and legal status of agency-contracted workers: https://then24.com/2021/05/25/victory-for-the-chambermaids-of-the-ibis-batignolles/

Unionisation in Ireland (26 Counties only):

https://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations/Countries/Ireland/Trade-Unions

https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2019/0319/1037306-can-trade-unions-play-a-new-role-in-modern-society/

https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=TUD

Dath an Dóchais. Online Exhibition

Cur síos ar bheagán d’obair ealaíona na Gaeltachta agus macnamh air ag ealantóir Eoin Mac Lochlainn a bhfuil a thaispeántas féin aige i mBaile Átha Cliath.

A description of a little of the art work from the Gaeltacht along with ruminations upon it my artist Eoin Mac Lochlainn who has his own exhibition in Dublin.

“Mo Shiúl Oíche” le Deirdre McKenna — “etching, acquatint, embossing” (Ó bhlag Uí Lochlainn)
“Geansaí Iascaire” le Seán Ó Flaithearta (periwinkle shells – Ó bhlag Uí Lochlainn)




https://emacl.wordpress.com/2021/06/03/eoin-mac-lochlainn-blog-cos-ar-bolg/

WHY A.C.A.B?

POLICING IN THE USA

Extract

“20-year old Daunte Wright was killed on April 11th, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota by a cop (26 year veteran) who allegedly mistook their own gun for a taser. On March 3rd, 2021, Daisha Smalls’ 1 year old child was shot in the head by cops in Houston, Texas while they were chasing a robbery suspect. On March 29th, 13 year old Adam Toledo was shot and killed in Chicago after being chased down by a cop. The Atlanta, Georgia mass shooter who targeted Asian women in massage parlours was said to have “had a bad day” in a statement from Captain Jay Baker, a cop with a history of anti-Asian social media posts. Capitol police were caught taking pictures with domestic terrorists and QAnon fuckwits (oh sorry… “protestors”) in January as they stormed the Capitol Building to protest Biden’s inevitable presidency. These are just some examples from 2021.”

https://orderandanarchy.ca/2021/04/20/acab-and-other-overdue-lessons-from-the-thin-blue-line-continued-unfortunately/

Extract

According to Mapping Police Violence, 319 people have been killed by police in the USA alone since January 1st, 2021. Hell, there were only 18 days in 2020 when cops didn’t kill somebody. Lots of people aren’t going home to their families, their spouses, or their friends because of run-ins with the “thin blue line” and we’re supposed to accept it. We’ve been conditioned to believe that cops are always making the best call and actively keeping communities safe from bad guys and miscreants. Anyone who dies at their hands probably had a good reason to be shot, tased, beaten, or otherwise neglected. “They should have complied” we hear. “They shouldn’t have run” they argue. “Just be polite” they claim again and again.

Image with thanks from Order & Anarchy (see link for article)