UNREMITTING SLAUGHTER OF WORKERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 mins.)

A fire in a Bangladesh factory last Thursday killed at least 52, some of them children as young as 11 years of age, according to relatives and neighbours. “Emergency services told Al Jazeera they had recovered 49 of the bodies at the Hashem Food and Beverage factory in Rupganj, an industrial town 25km (15 miles) east of the capital, Dhaka. Three people also died after jumping out of the building.” The police chief of Narayanganj district in which the factory was located, Jayedul Alam, was quoted saying that multiple fire and safety regulations had been breached and that, at the time of the fire, the entrance/ exit had been padlocked, the latter also confirmed by firefighters.

Those who died were workers, part of the world-wide slaughter of workers to satisfy the greed of a few. Every second, every minute of every day, all over the world, workers are killed or mutilated by the capitalist system in accidents at work. They are “accidents” only in the sense that the employers in most cases did not deliberately set out to kill the workers – they merely required them to work in conditions and without precautions that risked – no, ensured — accidents would happen. In fact, as a safety blog writer recommended (see Sources), we should stop calling them accidents – let’s call them mishaps instead, incidents that could have been avoided. And a proportion of those mishaps that were bound to occur would be fatal.

Those left behind to mourn a sibling, parent, partner, friend or – heavens above – a child, are of the workers also. Gone too, an income, a precarious investment in survival. The ripples of the “accident” spread outward through family and worker neighbourhood, ripples that very rarely, if ever, reach the rich neighbourhoods, the place where live those who profit from those workplaces.

From time to time here in the “western world” or the “North” as this sector, more in economic terms than political is variously described, we hear of such disasters in the “other” world, such as that at Rana Plaza in 2013. These are the places around the world where smaller-to-medium local capitalism is at work alongside foreign mega-capitalism. Many of the brand-name products we consume, wear or use are manufactured or processed in those countries. For the capitalists to make the profits their system requires and to compete with one another, consumption needs to be high and therefore the prices to be relatively low. And the wages – much, much lower. And safety conditions? Negligible.

The Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Dhaka, 2012 killed 112 workers (Photo source: Al Jazeera)

In November 2012 a blaze at Tazreen Fashions in Dhaka, which makes clothes for foreign clients including C&A, Walmart, Sears, Disney and others, killed 112 workers. Commenting on the background to the disaster, in a Guardian article in 2012, journalist Scott Nova, (see Sources) stated:

“In the last two years, fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan have taken the lives of nearly 500 apparel workers, at plants producing for Gap, H&M, JC Penney, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch, the German retailer KiK and many others”. Nova went on to comment (in 2012): Bangladesh is now the world’s second-largest apparel producer. It did not attain that status by achieving high levels of productivity, or a strong transportation infrastructure; it got there by being the rock-bottom cheapest place to make clothing.

“This derives from three factors: the industry’s lowest wages (a minimum apparel wage of 18 cents an hour), ruthless suppression of unions and a breathtaking disregard for worker safety. The industry in Bangladesh has been handsomely rewarded for its cost-cutting achievements, with an ever-rising flood of business from western brands …… And local factory owners understand that if they do not continue to offer the lowest possible prices, those brands will be quick to leave.”

Some of the western world’s high street brands that are produced by super-exploited workers in firetrap factories abroad. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Added to that is the apparel industry’s indulgence in “fast fashion”, in order to boost consumption still further. No longer is the year divided into four seasons but “52 micro-seasons”. “Fast fashion giants H&M and Forever 21 receive new garment shipments every day. Topshop features 400 new styles every week, while Zara releases 20,000 designs annually” (see Green America link in Sources). To keep up with that demand requires a frenetic level of production, albeit at lower quality, layoffs when each ‘micro-seasonal” demand is filled and of course, even less concern with safety conditions. The factory fire last Thursday is only the latest in a long list and there will be many more.

But lest we think industrial mishaps are a problem only somewhere else, it would be useful to remind ourselves that even in our relatively under-industrialised economy in Ireland, workplace accidents continue to maim and kill. According to the Irish state’s Health & Safety Authority: “Regrettably, 47 fatal work-related accidents were reported to the Authority in 2019, representing a substantial increase from 2018, which was the lowest year on record with 39 fatal accidents. … The number of work-related non-fatal injuries also increased in 2019, with 9,335 reported to the Authority.” And: “the 39 fatalities recorded in 2018 was one of the lowest numbers of workplace fatalities on records. However, despite the current pandemic circumstances, it would appear that 2020 is heading for number in the mid to late 40s.”

As we may imagine, construction comes high on the mishap list but so also do factories, agricultural work, transport and fishing and mishaps occur also in hospitals and care homes, shops, restaurants and even offices. The Covid19 pandemic revealed that many areas of occupation are necessary for our daily lives but are also vulnerable. And revealed also how slowly and inefficiently protective measures for those workers were taken by their management levels or sadly, enforced or even monitored by trade unions.

Firefighters work at the scene of the burning Bangladesh factory last Thursday (Photo credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

IMPUNITY OR CRIMINAL PENALTY?

It is reported that the owner of the burned Bangladeshi factory and a number of his sons have been arrested. This is to be welcomed and hopefully the prosecution of those responsible will be followed through. Prosecution of employers responsible for mishaps is one measure that can be taken to extend the protection of workers but the process is rarely in the hands of the workers and in addition deals with structures that are more aligned with the interests of employers than they are with those of their workers.

Such procedures that have been tried have usually been under civil1 law and involved claims for financial compensation alleging negligence; however increasingly criminal law is being invoked, as is presumably the case with the Bangladeshi factory.

Years ago I was associated with a militant organisation by the name of The Construction Safety Campaign.2 If I recall correctly, at the time, one worker was being killed every week on a construction site in Britain, with injuries on a daily basis.

The CSC maintained that every time a fatality occurred on a construction site, work should cease for the whole day. It is indicative of the attitude of the big construction companies and indeed of many subcontractors that such a demand actually required voicing.

Among their other demands was that whenever there was such a fatality, that the main contractor be charged with manslaughter, i.e the crime of being responsible for an unintended fatality through action or inaction. Such a demand was very reasonable but was seen as almost revolutionary at the time. But a few years later a construction company boss did indeed stand trial for manslaughter and, although he was acquitted, a precedent had been set. However it remained a difficult process to even have the employer charged, to say nothing of convicted.

It was not until 2008 that legislation was specifically enacted to facilitate the charging of companies when individual company directors proved difficult to charge with manslaughter in the event of fatalities in their workplaces. The first case under the new legislation took place in 2009 and the sole company director in this case was also charged separately under common law with manslaughter. Seeing alleged culpability of the employer in this case, that he had required a geologist to work in an unshored trench deeper than his own height which, when collapsed, suffocated the geologist, reminded me of the claim of the defendants in the Shrewsbury 24 trials arising out of the 1972 construction strike.3

(Sourced at IDCOMMUNISM.ORG)

CONTINUING SLAUGHTER? 6,000 DEATHS A DAY.

“The ILO (International Labour Organisation) estimates that some 2.3 million women and men around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year; this corresponds to over 6000 deaths every single day. Worldwide, there are around 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses annually.” (see Sources)

Capitalism kills. It kills and maims millions of workers by workplace mishaps, overwork, diseases, psychological stresses, environmental disasters – and let’s not forget wars.

Revolution, we are often cautioned, is chaotic and entails death and injury to many – most of which will be workers, whether in the revolutionary forces, or enlisted by the system, or in one way or another swept into the casualty figures. This is all true. But Revolution killing as many as capitalism? Hardly. And after successful Revolution, production can be organised to eliminate mishaps and unhealthy working conditions. At least, with the mechanisms in the hands of the workers, they have the possibility of removing workplaces from danger or, where danger might be inevitable, to reduce it greatly. Industrial mishaps, let’s not forget, are avoidable.

MEANWHILE

While we work for revolution and a society under the control of the workers, we have a duty to ourselves and to our dependents to work to reduce the occurrence of mishaps. We can do this by improving conditions and prevention in our own workplaces, by reporting health and safety violations elsewhere to the relevant authorities and by demanding reparations and improvements from the companies whose products we consume through their use of production facilities abroad – such as firetrap sweatshops4.

Under legislation in Ireland and the UK, workers are entitled to elect health and safety representatives, with which management are obliged to consult. These may be coincidentally representatives of a trade union but they need not be even union members – the legal right to health and safety representation is separate from the question of trade union representation. Of course, raising issues of concern that would cost the management time and money to address may necessitate the H&S representatives to ensure they have trade union protection, legislation notwithstanding.

In a workplace years ago, wishing for a period of relative calm, I declined nomination as trade union shop steward and instead accepted that of staff health and safety representative. Quite quickly I found myself in more arguments with local management than the union representative needed to be and across the organisation too, as I pushed for Risk Assessments to be carried out, as we had done in my workplace, examining every operation. The organisation’s Health & Safety Committee agreed the need for the assessments but failed to push for them and unfortunately so did the trade union itself. Health and Safety representatives may find themselves struggling not only with Management but also with their own trade union structures (and at times with their own co-workers). Nevertheless, comprehensive workplace risk assessments are the only reasonable way to avoid or limit mishaps.

Practice fire procedures or drills are necessary too. In another workplace, this time as a manager myself, we made recorded fire checks on every shift and stepped up fire drills from every six months to monthly, from always announced to some unannounced. Who would remember was required after six months? Had there been changes in the building, procedures or staff since the lat exercise? On one of our early drills, the observer we had detailed to follow with checklist and notepad found problems that had never been recorded previously and which required our team to take remedial measures. On the occasion of another drill, I learned that the front entrance had been used instead of the emergency exit. Investigation revealed that in the passage way towards that emergency exit, one of the staff had placed his bicycle for safe-keeping – and he was the staff health and safety representative!

The election of workers’ representatives and the monitoring of their performance in those roles is the responsibility of the workers, not management. All I could do was to instruct the person to remove the bicycle and to make all staff aware that the placing of any obstruction in the emergency exit passage way was a serious disciplinary offence.

SOLIDARITY

As most of us around the world are workers, it is necessary for us to express internationalist solidarity towards one another. Note I said “necessary”, not just desirable. When our labour power is at the mercy of employers who move factories around the world, or contract factories anywhere they find sufficiently profitable, our gains in separate countries can be undermined, we can be undercut and made unemployed. The effective response to these threats lies in internationalist solidarity, so that we assist workers in other lands in their organisation and we target their exploiters when we find them nearby.

In 2015 I joined a picket of major French clothing company Benetton’s shop in the Stephens Green Shopping Centre, Dublin. We also did a sit-in inside the shop, defying threatening behaviour of the Centre’s security staff and likewise the threat to call the police. A subsequent picket and sit-in also took place (see Sources). Benetton was one of the many foreign companies exploiting the workers of Rana Plaza and, after the disaster there, had promised to pay financial compensation to the relatives of the workers killed there. Such offers are often made in similar situations for public relation reasons, usually without admitting culpability. At the time their store in Dublin was picketed, Benetton had still not paid the compensation promised two years earlier.

In contrast to fascists and other racists who advocate protecting our own native workforce above all else, we should extend solidarity to all other workers who are being exploited. When all workers are achieving protection from the worst working conditions and lowest wages, it will be that much harder for our employers to use one section against another. In the past, our employers in every business, industry, city or country tried to treat with us as individual workers but we found that banding together was the only way to improve our conditions and remuneration for all. Internationalist solidarity is the application of that lesson on an international level — the same level as that on which our exploiters operate.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1 Civil law deals with matters like company law, family law, personal injury cases, libel and slander. A number of penalties including financial damages can be imposed and awarded by the judiciary in such cases but not prison terms (however failure to comply with penalties imposed can result in imprisonment for “contempt of court”).

2 I got a bit of a scare when attending one of the CSC’s pickets which was of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, prior to a meeting inside booked by an MP and which we were going to attend. As we went through the security sensors, the construction worker I had been talking to set off the sensor alarms. As we were both political activists and I was Irish in Britain at a time of IRA bombings there, this made me very nervous. The construction worker began pulling nails and screws out of his pockets and piling them into a tray while I grinned nonchalantly at the security police. His pockets emptied, he went through again – and set the alarms off once more. I was sure we were going to be taken into a room and strip-searched. However, once they ascertained that it was the steel toecaps in his construction boots that were setting off the alarms, we were allowed through, me wanting to punch my comrade a number of times.

3 During their trial for alleged intimidation in flying pickets from construction site to site during the 1972 construction strike in Britain, some of the Shrewsbury 24 gave evidence that among the violation of health and safety regulations they had witnessed at sites they had picketed was workers being obliged to work in unshored trenches deeper than their own height. Twenty-four construction trade unionists were charged with serious crimes as a result of their activism during the strike and twenty-two were convicted across three trials in 1973 and 1974 with six, including the later actor Ricky Tomlinson, being sentenced to years in prison. The convictions of all 22 were overturned on appeal earlier this year but a number had died in the intervening years.

4. In view of the reality, it is shocking that a fashion clothing company should call itself, even in some attempt at irony, “Firetrap”. This company is now part of the Fraser Group, with factories in much of the world producing clothing, in particular sports wear. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firetrap

SOURCES:

Recent Bangladesh factory fire: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/10/murder-bangladesh-factory-owner-held-after-deadly-fire

Rana Plaza disaster 2013: https://www.corpwatch.org/article/benetton-others-tied-bangladesh-factory-disaster-400-killed

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/17/rana-plaza-disaster-benetton-donates-victims-fund-bangladesh

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/19/rana-plaza-bangladesh-one-year-on

https://www.thejournal.ie/rana-plaza-benetton-2065943-Apr2015/

Number of other factory fire disasters: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/13/apparel-industry-outsourcing-garment-workers-bangladesh

Dublin Benetton picket and sit-in:

https://www.thejournal.ie/rana-plaza-benetton-2065943-Apr2015/

Fast fashion: https://traidcraftexchange.org/fast-fashion-crisis-2020-campaign

https://www.greenamerica.org/blog/factory-exploitation-and-fast-fashion-machine

Ireland, industrial mishaps: https://www.hsa.ie/eng/publications_and_forms/publications/corporate/annual_review_of_workplace_injury_illness_and_fatality_statistics_2018-2019.pdf

First case under (2008) UK law on corporate manslaughter: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/jun/17/mudslide-corporate-manslaughter-charge

Shrewsbury Twenty-Four: https://www.thejournal.ie/shrewsbury-24-ruling-ricky-tomlinson-5389409-Mar2021/

General: https://www.memic.com/workplace-safety/safety-net-blog/2019/march/are-all-accidents-preventable

https://www.ilo.org/moscow/areas-of-work/occupational-safety-and-health/WCMS_249278/lang–en/index.htm

Health & Safety worker representation: Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act (2005): https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Topics/Safety_Representatives_and_Consultation_/

If we Tolerate This, Our Children Will be Next

The Trauma of Child Homelessness by Brian McLoughlin

(Reading time: 2 mins.)



In March 2017, then housing minister Simon Coveney officially opened the first family hub in Dublin for families experiencing homelessness. He said this was a response to the negative experiences of homeless families being accommodated in commercial hotels. Coveney then confidently stated that the use of commercial hotels to accommodate homeless families would end in July 2017. 

In Inner City Helping Homeless, we knew this was yet another empty promise that couldn’t possibly be delivered, but Coveney persisted with the publicity tour. When asked by The Journal if he really thought the goal of no longer using hotels for homeless families was achievable, he stuck to his guns that it was possible and that people were working hard to make it happen.

Fast forward four years, and the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs for homeless families continues as more and more hotels pop up around the city. A recent DRHE report stated that in April 2021 there were 113 families still being accommodated in commercial hotels. Families cramped in to one room with their children, their children’s toys, school books – all at a huge cost to the state. While we were all told to stay at home during Covid-19, these families had to spend day after day sharing one room, putting huge mental health pressure on both the children and their parents. It is well documented that living in emergency accommodation impacts a child’s development, creating physical and mental health issues for children in primary school. Homelessness is creating a trauma for a generation of children, and we will be seeing the fallout of this for years to come.

“There’s nothing nice about how I feel” – Charlie, aged 6

In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children brought out a report called No Place Like Home.  For the report, they spoke to children living in emergency accommodation, from small children right up to teenagers. They asked them to explain what life for them was like in their own words, and some of the answers would break a heart made of stone. Children feeling like they were prisoners and were being punished when all they are guilty of is becoming homeless in a country that would rather pay huge money to hotels, B&Bs and family hubs than develop a proper public housing building plan to give these children homes.  When asked what they liked about where they live, the answers spoke for themselves:

“I like nothing about living here, I have none of my friends here, I can’t do a sleep over … [it] makes me feel sad. There’s nothing nice about how I feel”. (Charlie, aged 6)

“It’s like a prison …. It’s just horrible” – Rebecca, aged 10

“The rules are very strict. The worst is that you are not allowed to have friends in your room. They just expect you to sit on your own. And not being allowed to be anywhere without your mam, you’re not even allowed to sit in the room for ten minutes by yourself. I know it has safety issues but nothing is going to happen … If we break the rules we will get kicked out. It’s like a prison … it’s just horrible”. (Rebecca, aged 10)

“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up” – Rachel, aged 10

“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up because I didn’t want to face this day … I am tired in school. Some days I would just sit there and not even smile”. (Rachel, aged 10)

When there are ten-year-old children having suicidal thoughts we as a society are failing these children. Many speak of not being allowed to have visitors or sleep-overs – even prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Why are we allowing this?

 “Children … were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room”

In 2018, Temple Street Children’s Hospital experienced a big spike in children being released to ‘No Fixed Abode’ and wrote a report on the impact of homelessness on children. The report stated that homeless children are most likely to get sick from their cramped accommodation. The main reasons children presented to Temple Street were burns (kettles in hotel rooms), scabies from dodgy mattresses, injuries from falls, and respiratory issues. Even more shocking is the fact that homeless children were not developing quickly enough: they were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room and even the development of their swallow was effected due to the food they were having to eat as their parents had no available cooking facilities.  Research shows that homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life, from conception to young adulthood, and that the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural development of children.

A family eats food from a voluntary service in Dublin city’s main street

“As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years”

These children are this country’s future generations, and they are being let down over and over again by an incompetent government who lack empathy, compassion and vision. A government which continues to outsource state responsibilities to private developers, vulture funds, commercial hotels, B&Bs and privately-operated hostels. Not only do we have a government who lack empathy and compassion, but they are also economically incompetent. Report after report has highlighted what we are doing to children’s development by keeping them in emergency accommodation. As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years.

And what does family emergency accommodation cost? What is the price the taxpayer pays to put children into these environments that cause so much pain?

Fact: it costs more to accommodate a family in emergency accommodation than in a luxury apartment

The figure for accommodating a family of four in emergency accommodation for a year is a staggering €69,000-€80,000.  To put a family in one room, to put a huge strain on the mental and physical health of both the children and their parents.  For context, American real estate fund Kennedy Wilson are renting out units in Dublin’s Capitol Dock Development, originally marketed as Dublin’s Most Desirable Address. On-site amenities include a concierge service, gym, fitness studio, business lounge, residents’ lounge, chef’s kitchen and a cinema room. Nearly half of these apartments are vacant today, potential homes sitting empty as families struggle through life in emergency accommodation.  And the cost of renting one of these apartments is considerably less than what the taxpayer is paying per family for emergency accommodation. The biggest unit in the Capitol Dock building is a three-bed and the monthly cost is €4,017-€4,410.  This is between €20,000 and €30,000 cheaper annually than putting a homeless family into a hotel or B&B for the year.  Is this acceptable to people?

We owe it to these children to fight for them, to tell the government that we will no longer accept their hyperbole and broken promises. These children deserve a safe and secure home, something stated in the original constitution, and we have gotten further and further away from that in the last ten years. We all need to work together to get a referendum on the Right to Housing, and as Covid restrictions lift we need to see feet on the street for water-charges-level protests to shame the government into immediate action.

As the Manic Street Preachers song says, If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.

Brian McLoughlin is Head of Communications for Inner City Helping Homeless and one of the four contributors to Unite’s Take Four group blog, along with Conor McCabe, Ber Grogan and Laura Broxson.

end.

LONG LIVE THE VANDALS!

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

In the midst the protests in Colombia the press can be heard denouncing the vandals and various politicians from the left and right have echoed these criticisms in one way or another.  The headlines speak of the destruction of private property and in some cases they try to mark a distinction between what they say is legitimate protest and vandalism.

The word “vandal”, means someone who commits acts pertaining to savage and destructive people and is who destroys a public asset or installation.  Other definitions speak of destroying or damaging what is beautiful.  It should be said that the Transmilenio mass transport system stations are not one bit beautiful.  But should the youths be ashamed or proud of being called vandals?

Resisters in Colombian city of Madrid shelter behind makeshift shields as they are bombarded with water canon in May 2021 (Photo crdt. Juan Pablo Pino, AFP/Getty)

We should look at the origin of the word.  The first vandals were Germanic tribes that in 455 A.D. attacked and sacked Rome carrying away great riches and also destroying buildings, amongst them the Temple of Jupiter, though there is some dispute about the severity of the destruction of the city.  However, they went down in history as the vandals who destroyed that city.  The more modern use of the person who destroys public assets or private property or damages what is beautiful dates from the middle ages and its use is widespread nowadays.

Of course when Vicky Dávila and other right wing journalists speak of vandals they are not talking about Germanic tribes, or at least that is what we believe, though with Vicky even drug traffickers, paramilitaries and corrupt politicians are decent folk, so one is never sure about the meaning of the words that fall from her lips like the Police stun grenades.

“The Police rape and murder” (Photo: G.O.L)

But words and their meanings are not set in stone.  Some words enter a language and in short time fall into disuse, others last for centuries and some come back to life when least we expect like when Kim Jong-un’s translator used the word “Dotard” to describe Trump.  That word hadn’t seen the light of day since the US Civil War in the 19th Century.  Other words simply change their meaning, sometimes slowly and on other occasions they do so more abruptly.

The press has used this word so often to describe and disparage the social protests that we may be witnesses to another change in meaning.  The bourgeois press has emptied the word of any meaning and now in the marches people can be seen with placards that say Vandal’s Honour and in social media there are memes doing the rounds on the subject.  One of them says “The country turned upside down and this one says, what are you and I?  Well, vandals my love.”  They used the word so often to describe any act of rebellion, nonconformity or to and try and shut down and discredit the demonstrators that it has lost its power, its meaning.  Now it is a badge of honour for many.  Vandal no longer means a savage destructive person but rather a person who fights to be heard, for justice.  A vandal is whoever fights against Duque, neoliberalism and poverty.

The word is changing its connotation and once again it is closer to its original meaning, a tribe that defied an Empire, although in this case the Colombian emperor seems more like the Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) who played on his Lyre whilst Rome burned than the poor Petronius Maximus who only lasted a few weeks in power.  Duque doesn’t play the Lyre but rather the Guitar, but there he is and Nero’s regime was one of extravagance, waste and tyranny and Nero in the middle of it all playing on his Lyre.

The sacking of Rome in 455 A.D. was the third sacking that the city suffered.  There were a further five sackings after the Vandals.  It should be remembered that the Vandals sacked the capital of a decadent Empire that deserved to be extinguished.

Burnt out bank from 2006 (G.O.L)

So as the meme puts it, ask the question, what are you and I?  And answer:

We are Vandals my love, we damage the hated system of mass transport built with public funds legally stolen to set up a private transport business which to top it all takes 94% of the profits of a business and barely contributes a penny to its own maintenance.

We are Vandals my love, we destroy banks that receive more subsidies from the state than the poor who are denied loans by these banks, which don’t hesitate for a single moment to confiscate the houses of the poor.

We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the lives and censorship of the bourgeois press make our smothered voices reverberate on the walls of the city.  Who needs Twitter when you even the poorest can see the walls?

We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the attacks by the Police throw rocks at them that are found all about the place in the poorly built public infrastructural projects, in a country where the thieves don’t know how to build a pavement and where half the bricks are badly placed.

We are Vandals my love, we fight against a decadent government and system.

We are Vandals my love, and our favourite letter is V:

V for Vengeance on the rich that kill us, rob us and lie to us.

V for Victory against the neoliberal regime.

V for Vandals my love.

Long Live The Vandals!

End.

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 are 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/

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)

GOVERNMENT SLAUGHTER IN COLOMBIA

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 5 mins.)

For months the Duque government in Colombia has been unleashing violent repression on its people, in particular those who organise or participate in protests. The statistics are frightening, which is what they are intended to be: 40 dead, hundreds injured (some with loss of an eye), nearly 170 “disappeared”. Yet the people continue to protest.

What all this has exposed is that Colombia, despite its support by western states, has no democracy and that its vaunted “peace process”, like all others elsewhere before it or since, has had nothing to do with peace but everything to do with pacification. Unlike many in other parts of the world however, its acceptance by the FARC was the prelude to intensified State repression, with assassinations of leaders and activists of popular democratic movements. Also exposed is the lie that Colombia and the USA are truly involved in a “War on Drugs”, a commodity the sale of in which most of the political class of Colombia are involved and the profits in which the financial institutions in Colombia and much of the world are active in laundering.

Meanwhile, the people are subjected to economic squeeze, they protest, they are shot, beaten, tortured, raped, disappear ….

This police victim survived but many did not (Photo source: Gearóid Ó Loingsigh)

In two weeks of protests, statistics from the Defensoria del Pueblo (a kind of Ombudsman), listed 42 dead and 168 reported “disappeared”; of the dead, 41 were civilians and one was a member of the State security forces. A 17-year-old female demonstrator was reportedly sexually abused by four police officers and took her own life afterwards. Protesters burned the station where it happened but the officers themselves remain at large.

Protestors burning the station where police officers sexually violated a 17-year-old demonstrator who took her own life afterwards.

WHO KILLED VILLA?

Lucas Villa Vasquez, an iconic figure in the peaceful demonstrations, dancing and carrying out acrobatic acts, was shot during the General Strike, was declared brain dead in hospital and had his life-support system turned off, his heart stopping finally on 11th of May. Andrés Felipe Castaño, a 17-year-old youth shot on the same day underwent two operations before he could come off the critical list.

Who killed Villa? Not Duque, the President wanted people to believe as he sent a message of condolence to Villa’s family, the first personal condolence he has offered since the demonstrations – and the killing – began, except for the one police officer killed so far. Not the Police, their Director General, Major General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia insisted, insisting his force is working hard to find the culprits and that a reward for information has risen to 100 million pesos1 for information. But people who know how these things work are only in doubt about one question: was it the police themselves who killed Villa and nearly killed Andrés Felipe, or was it one of the State-sponsored fascist gangs (which have strong links with the police and army)?

Dilan Cruz, murdered by police two years ago, is remembered on demonstrations where people are still being killed. (Photo source: Gearóid Ó Loingsigh)

Villa has joined over 40 martyrs known to have been killed by the forces of the State; since their names are known only to their families or smaller political and social circles, Villa’s name stands for them all. As did Dilan Cruz before him, shot at close range to the head by a “non-lethal” beanbag in October 2019. And what of the nearly 170 disappeared? Are some of them already dumped into pits or rivers? Others in prison cells, awaiting their next session with the torturers? Or in the case of female prisoners, awaiting their next incident of violation?

Man in blue top and white trousers dancing in some clips was Lucas Villa Vasquez

Two Latin American league soccer matches in Colombia were affected on Wednesday: Visitors from Argentina’s River Plate team had their warm-up in Barranquilla abandoned for awhile due to the volume of police tear gas drifting in from outside and loud bangs could be heard also. That was a Copa Libertadores game and another, between Atletico Nacional and Nacional of Uruguay in Pereira was delayed by an hour due to protests there.

The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) moved matches from Colombia to Paraguay and Ecuador last week to ensure the protests did not affect games but the Copa America is due to be held in Colombia and Argentina next month with Colombia hosting 15 games including the final of the world’s oldest international tournament. The title match is due to be held in Barranquilla on July 10.

SUSTAINABLE SOLIDARITY” WITH WHOM?

Part of the reason for the protests in the first place was the proposed tax reform by another name: Sustainable Solidarity Law. The Duque Government plans by this system to collect 23 billions in Colombian pesos (US$ 6,300 millions) by extending its tax base, to avoid any further increase in the country’s international risk qualification, to institutionalise the basic income level and build a fund to comply with its environmental protection targets.

Well, ok, but who is going to pay this tax-by-another name? According to the Minister of Finance himself, Alberto Carrasquilla, 73% is to be contributed by ordinary citizens and the rest by the companies.

Art in active resistance

In addition, the law proposes to apply the collection of Value Added Tax, which in Colombia is up to 19%, to basic consumer products such as public services (water, electricity and gas), funeral services, electronic items such as computers and other services that have been exempt until now.

Add to that ongoing State repression in the countryside, the number of unemployed nationally rising to 4.1 million as a result of the pandemic and the country was ready to take to the streets. But not ready for the repression of the demonstrators that followed.

Riot Policeman aims weapon at point-blank range at unarmed demonstrators in Colombia. Whether tear-gas canister or stun grenade launcher, at this range it would almost certainly kill but if not, partial or full blindness would be likely along with permanent brain damage. (Photo source: Internet)

President Duque asked the Colombian Parliament to withdraw the new tax reform which they did but the people are on their feet now, as they say there; now they have martyrs too on top of the issues they already had.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

It is up to the people of Colombia, the workers, civil servants, small business people, indigenous – to free themselves. None else can do it. But we owe them solidarity, just as we in turn have claimed solidarity (and will claim again) from others. It is difficult at the moment to see how our solidarity can express itself in much more than symbolic form, such as pickets, demonstrations, articles and memes on social media. But even those have more than a moral effect, for the Colombian Embassy staff here have as part of their duties to collect information on how the regime in Colombia is viewed in Ireland and to report that to their bosses at home. And since the Colombian ruling class needs to do business around the world ….

Recent small Colombian solidarity picket protest outside the Colombian Embassy in Dublin.

The Colombian masses also need to know that they do not stand alone, that others are watching, applauding them, cursing their enemies, mourning their martyrs.

We can also assist by continuing our efforts against another faraway enemy of democracy, the main instigator and protector of reaction, repression and oppression around the world, and main external supporter of the Colombian regime, trainer of its repressive forces – the ruling class of the United States of America.

Solidaridad con el pueblo Colombiano! Dlúthpháirtíocht le poball na Colóime!

Banner slogan: “The Tax Reform means Hunger and Misery for the people.” (Photo source: Gearóid Ó Loingsigh)

End.

USEFUL SOURCES

Officially-accepted statistics some days ago: https://www.facebook.com/waykaperu/photos/a.586123314805406/4058327907584912/

TV news report on the general strike, general protests against killing by government forces; mothers and grandmothers of murdered protesters demonstrate against “Public Order” forces; Duque tries to present concern and gives a concession to students at a certain level: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz8ed0hS6OQ

Amnesty International complaint (English version, despite title): https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/colombia-preocupan-las-denuncias-de-desapariciones-y-violencia-sexual-contra-manifestantes/

Tear gas drifting on to inter-Latin American soccer game: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/13/football/copa-libertadores-players-affected-tear-gas-colombia-spt-intl/index.html

Reasons for the wave of protests: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-56932013

War on Drugs (Plan Colombia) – spraying of glyphosphate: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/pandemic-upends-colombia-s-controversial-drug-war-plan-resume-aerial-spraying

Plan Colombia is not working (2016): https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-35491504

1 €22,185.95

SWORD, PIKE, GUN – STRUGGLE FOR IRISH INDEPENDENCE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

A debate is currently taking place about whether armed struggle is appropriate in the context of achieving national liberation in Ireland. The debate is hardly new — traditionally some sections of the polity have opposed armed struggle and some have advocated, even embraced it. However tiresome it may be for some, revolutionaries need to address questions as they emerge and re-emerge but there is another reason to enter this debate, which is that in my opinion both sections in the main are basing themselves on a false premise.

The composition of the sections opposed to or in favour of armed struggle has varied but in general and hardly surprisingly, the social democratic and liberal sections have opposed its use, while the revolutionary Republicans have defended it. But sections of the Republican movement at various times have also moved out of the armed struggle camp and into the ‘constitutionalist’ quarter. As to the revolutionary Left (or that claiming to be revolutionary), the main parties1 have opposed it not only in terms of Irish national liberation (with which they hardly concern themselves as a rule2) but also in the class struggle, while smaller parties and groups have at different times endorsed it as a legitimate or even necessary mode of struggle.

Before going deeper into this question it would be as well to look at the current situation in general and also to review the usual relevant scientific rules, which is to say those tested in the laboratory of Irish and world history.

OVERVIEW OF IRISH ANTI-COLONIAL HISTORY

Ireland is a small country in size and population but historically has had an effect on the history of large parts of the world out of all proportion to its size. Currently this is not the case which is perhaps not surprising since it is partitioned with one-sixth of its land mass under British colonial rule and the rest ruled by a neo-colonial capitalist class that came from under direct colonial domination a little over a century ago. The process of that colonial domination began eight and a half centuries ago3 and the decades and centuries since that time have seen Ireland colonised, most of its land appropriated, cultural, economic and political domination, famines and mass emigration, all of which the Irish have resisted and against which they and sections of the settler population have risen time and time again. The resistance has taken many forms but in general has always included armed struggle: sword, pike or gun.

Monument in Dublin to the 1798 Rising but equally so to the repression suffered before, after and during it — the site is Croppies’ Acre, the location of a mass grave of insurgents. The grey stone buildings in the background are part of the former British Army barracks in Dublin, subsequently barracks of the army of the Irish State, now a military history and clothing state museum. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The phase of the national liberation struggle in the early decades of the last century resulted in the granting of nominal independence to five-sixths of the country and the retention of the remaining portion as a direct British colony, formally part of the United Kingdom but with a number of administrative and legislative elements peculiar to itself4. This was followed almost immediately by a civil war in which the Republican movement was defeated and all governments of the Irish state since then, regardless of their political party composition, have been of the “Gombeen” neo-colonialist class.

Elements of the Irish Republican movement have never reconciled themselves to this situation and surges of armed struggle took place in the 1930s and 1940s, after that usually restricted to the Six County colony in the mid 1950s to early 1960s and again from the beginning of the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, since when there have been what could best be described as sporadic armed incidents.

During the course of those years sections of the Irish Republican movement have abandoned armed struggle for national liberation, denouncing their erstwhile comrades and even participating in repression against them, whilst those who continue to support armed struggle accuse those who have left the fold of treason.

HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE

The history of Irish resistance to colonial domination and expropriation has been replete with armed instances which should surprise no-one, since that colonial domination was achieved in the first place by force of arms, a force employed again and again in repression also. Whenever other means of repressing Irish resistance were employed, e.g by legislation or cultural imposition, the arms of the conqueror were never far from view. “Dieu et mon droit” is the historical motto of the English monarch5, meaning “God and my right”; however “my right” in English at least has the other meaning of “my right hand”, which can also be understood as the hand used to strike a blow, whether as a fist or holding a weapon. And neither monarchs, feudal or capitalist classes of England have been historically reticent in employing force, including armed violence, in pursuit of their “right” to rule – their own country or others’.

Some of the damage to Dublin city centre from British artillery and subsequent fires in order to suppress the 1916 Rising. The shell to the right of photo is that of the GPO which was the HQ of the insurgents. To the left is the corner of Moore Street, an old market street still in existence today, to which most of the GPO garrison relocated. Centre background is “Nelson’s Pillar” which survived the Rising almost intact but was later demolished by dissident Republican explosion. (Photo source: Internet)

Indeed, it took an armed rising in 1916 followed by three years of guerrilla war (1919-1921) to convince the rulers of Britain that they should grant even limited autonomy to Ireland, albeit with partition as part of the deal. The intervening peaceful gain of 73 out a total of 105 Irish seats in the 1918 British General Election, every seat won on a public commitment to Irish independence and a rejection of the British Parliament, did not at all sway the British ruling class.

Furthermore, around the world the history of nations that have liberated themselves from colonial occupation or incorporation has been, almost without exception, that of armed repression overcome eventually by armed resistance.

AGAINST ARMED STRUGGLE IN IRELAND

Those who oppose the right and indeed necessity to resist armed occupation with armed resistance are opposing a law of history. Granted that in theory, Ireland may be an exception or that the historical rule may no longer apply in this historical period and if that is the claim, then it is incumbent on those who oppose armed struggle to explain why they believe one of those to be the case.

In general, they do not even try to do so but rely instead on emotional appeal and moral argument. These are irrelevant in this context: yes, people get killed and otherwise suffer in armed struggle but the deaths and suffering imposed by imperialism and colonialism world-wide are hundreds of times greater. If we want to apply emotional and moral rules to the question then logically we should support the most widescale and energetic struggle everywhere to overthrow imperialism in the shortest possible time.

Those who argue that the current historical situation provides an exception to the general rule of history usually rely on two issues:

1) The gaining of the most seats in the parliament of the Irish state by the Sinn Féin political party in the 2020 General Election6 and 2) the discussion current in society about the holding of a “Border poll” at some point in the near future.

Neither of these is valid for positing that Ireland is currently — or about to enter – a historical phase that will nullify the general historical rule.

1) The Sinn Féin political party has done much more than abandon armed struggle – it has accepted the partition of the country and joined the administration of the British colony, accepting its legal system and repressive apparatus, in particular its police force. Its party within the Irish state is striving to become the dominant party of the Gombeen capitalist class, as first step towards which it seeks to join a coalition government of one or more of the parties of that class, manoeuvring to appeal to the Gombeen class while at the same time keeping its popular base. Nor is this the first time this has happened in Ireland, for what became the foremost party of the Gombeen class, Fianna Fáil, followed that trajectory after splitting from Sinn Féin in 1926.

2) The question of a “Border poll” does not change the historical rule because it is not the expression of the desire of the colonised that governs the decisions of the coloniser, as evidenced from 1918 to 1921 in Ireland for example. Indeed, even during the most recent war in Ireland, opinion polls repeatedly showed a majority of the British population wishing to have their governments pull out of the colony, those wishes never acted upon or even tested in referendum. On a purely legalistic level, even if (and it is by no means certain) a majority of the population of the colony should favour formal unification with the rest of Ireland, the question of how large that majority should be remains uncertain, as does whether – despite the words of some politicians of the British State – the wishes of such a majority would find a majority in the British Parliament and, in the final analysis, the endorsement of the British monarch.

Nor is there any guarantee that such a poll would even be held. And in the final analysis the right to self-determination of a nation in its entirety is not to be decided by a minority made into an artificial majority by colonialism and backed up by its repressive apparatus.

THOSE IN FAVOUR OF ARMED STRUGGLE

The section of our polity supporting the right to armed struggle therefore has a well-established international historical rule and the nation’s historical experience to vindicate its position. But neither factor necessarily dictates the form or the timing for such struggle. And our history has had many occasions when armed struggle was not the most appropriate form of resistance, either because the subjective or objective conditions did not favour it or because we had suffered a recent crushing defeat in arms.

Taking up the option of armed struggle usually occurs in a revolutionary situation but can also be in others, for example against a fascist takeover or other repression, or in defence of some gains (both were present in the case of the Popular Front Government of Spain in 1936 and the second in the case of the Civil War in Ireland). It does not seem to me that any of the periods of armed struggle in Ireland since 1922 fit into any of those categories except perhaps in the recent war in the Six Counties which in part might be categorised as defensive armed struggle against repression.

To wage war against a superior armed and experienced enemy is a serious undertaking. To do so with the struggle largely confined to one-sixth of one’s country and in a part in which almost two-thirds of the population is ideologically opposed to one’s forces has to be considered madness. Extremely courageous but madness nevertheless. How could those leading that armed struggle ever expect to win? Only by basing themselves on a flawed analysis or a reformist one – never on a revolutionary one.

The flawed analysis was that the British ruling class had no great interest in holding on to the colony and could therefore be encouraged to leave if only they could be made to suffer enough. The theory that the British ruling class places no great importance in maintaining its grip on the Six Counties has been amply debunked by its actions since 1921 and even more so since 1968. Of course, that does not prevent liberals, social democrats, unionists and other defenders of British imperialism from peddling that theory but revolutionaries at the very least should be able to see through it.

The reformist analysis was that if only the struggle became serious enough then sections of the Irish capitalist class would oppose British colonial rule in Ireland and move towards the reunification of the country. This analysis is deeply mistaken in that it fails to take account of the nature of the native Irish capitalist class, which is weak and foreign-dependent and has never been anything else. The last time the Irish capitalist class or a substantial section of it was revolutionary was in the time of the United Irishmen and they were led and in some areas largely constituted by descendants of planters and settlers. The development of the native Irish capitalist class under British colonialism was hampered by Penal anti-Catholic laws, destruction of native industry and the influence of a large section of its intelligencia, viz. the conservative Catholic Church hierarchy and much of the priesthood. In 1921, this native capitalist class, raised in huckstering, clientism and corruption, preferred to murder and jail its own national fighters than to carry the struggle for independence through to the end. Since then it has largely allowed foreign capitalists to exploit its labour force and other natural resources on land and sea, along with large parts of its infrastructure. It was never going to take a serious stand for independence and national reunification.

Irish Free State Army firing cannon loaned by the British at Republican resistance centre in the Four Courts, SW Dublin city centre. This action was the beginning of the Civil War (1922-1923). (Photo source: Internet)

If both those analyses are mistaken, what other rational basis can there be for waging an armed struggle confined to the Six Counties? And if there be no such rational basis, how can the sacrificing of idealistic and courageous young people to years of prison and negligible employment prospects be justified, to say nothing of loss of life and serious injury?

IN CONCLUSION: THE URGENT TASKS OF REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE

If an armed struggle confined to the Six Counties is unwinnable, it does not follow that the time is therefore right for armed struggle across the whole of Ireland.

The task for revolutionaries in Ireland, i.e people who are determined to work for a revolution, is to analyse objective and subjective conditions and work in accordance with them in order to advance the struggle to the point of insurrection, at which point there will be no choice but to take up arms, since foreign imperialism and native capitalism will both send their armed forces against us. While it is true that an effective resistance to armed attack requires certain preparations in advance of that crisis, concentration on armed struggle at this stage will not bring us to that point. The mass of the population, including our potential mass base, does not require armed struggle at this point and therefore would not support it. In these conditions and at this time, different forms of struggle are called for.

Nevertheless there are many struggles which working people undertake now and will do in future and revolutionaries need to participate in them and also to use them to help the working people to see their potential. If people must go to jail — and historical experience tells us that they must — would it not be better for them and even more so for the overall struggle, if they did so for taking part in a social or economic struggle of wide sympathy, for example around housing, rather than for “membership of an illegal organisation” or possession of firearms? This would be so even if the immediate objective were the reformist one of forcing the Irish Government to release funds to the local authorities for a construction program of public housing for rent.7

While at times we fight for reforms, we should not advocate any faith in a reform of the system, nor in organisations or leaders who advocate such faith but we rather use the struggles to educate the working people in struggle, showing their strengths and of what they are capable but also the need to go further, to take power into their own hands. It also means that we have to organise against oppression and repression in all their forms – political, economic, religious/cultural, sexual, intellectual ….. And that we have to find ways to participate in all those struggles, putting forward a revolutionary analysis.

This approach calls for both temporary and long-term alliances, both of which have to be managed with care and never by surrendering our revolutionary direction.

We need to build fighting organisations and revolutionary media. We lack broad fighting organisations of any size on any one of the fronts on which we have to fight, including (crucially) fighting trade unions or grassroots trade union organisations. We do not even have a mass revolutionary weekly newspaper.8 Nor a wide political education program. Without those things, it does not seem a realistic proposition to overthrow the ruling classes in Ireland. Towards the building of those elements is where the energies of revolutionaries in Ireland should be directed, whether they be Irish Republicans, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists (or any combination of the above).

In the face of such tasks, does it really matter much why at this time this or that individual speaks out for or against armed actions by relatively small organisations?

End

Gaelic society pattern sword with ring pommel of a type wielded against the Norman invaders of the 12th Century and later (Photo source: Internet)
Typical pike head with hook, popular in the 1798 United Irish uprising in Wexford (Photo source: Internet)
Armalite semi-automatic rifle popular with the IRA in the war in the Six Counties 1970s to 1990s. (Photo source: Internet)

FOOTNOTES

1These are two, both of Trotskyist ideology: the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (both now part of the Anti-Austerity Alliance — People Before Profit parliamentary coalition).

2While usually supporting it in areas of the underdeveloped world.

3The British occupation of Ireland is normally dated from 1169.

4These included permanent emergency repressive powers and a number of blatantly sectarian discriminatory provisions.

5It is also displayed on the coat of arms above and behind judges in British courts, which should alert people to the nature of the justice dispensed there.

6However they fell short of the absolute majority required to form a government and would have needed others to form a coalition government which instead, was formed by parties (of previous governments) that had won less support: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.

7The housing crisis within the territory of the Irish State is acute but no local authority is building housing for rent — they do not have the funds to do so. Successive governments are starving local authorities of that funding in order to benefit the property speculators and private landlords, which in turn the State funds through a number of measures including social welfare payment for the homeless converted to rent. Funding construction of public housing could also be used to expand public employment and training in construction, thereby pulling away from neo-liberal domination of the capitalist economy and strengthening workers’ rights. Meanwhile some fascists are using the housing need to push their “house the Irish first” propaganda against migrants and asylum-seekers.

8Ireland has two ruling classes: the native Irish neo-colonial one and the colonial unionist class ruling in the colony.

BERNADETTE TAKES ON THREE AND WINS

Introduction by Diarmuid Breatnach

The right-wing patrician UStater William F Buckley (despite the Irish surname) and two dogs, one of them the imminently slappable racist Tory Roger Evans, take Bernadette Devlin (now Devlin-McAlliskey) on and she wipes the floor with them. She was a month short of 25 years of age when she sat this interview in late March 1972, without any notes to hand, keeping up with the arguments, never losing her temper, reeling off historical facts and financial figures. It was a stellar performance.

Even more remarkable, not two months had passed since the Paras had shot 26 unarmed marchers in Derry, murdering 14 men at a march she had herself attended and, though then an MP, she had been refused permission to speak on it in the House of Commons, while lies were being stated by people who had not been there. Also, her interview took place only a month after the travesty of an inquiry into the murder by Lord Widgery who completely exonerated the gunmen and their officers, maintaining they were acting in self-defence against all evidence except the soldiers’ and Widgery even claimed a march of at least 30,000 was at most around 3,000! It seems that there must’ve been an agreement not to mention Bloody Sunday, perhaps as a condition for the interview, otherwise what else can explain its omission?

Bernadette Devlin, Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster, speaking at a rally in Trafalgar Square, London, on June 1, 1971. (AP Photo) (Note: Trafalgar Square was later banned to Irish solidarity demonstrations for decades).

Bernadette came out against the Good Friday Agreement when it was born, not pushing armed struggle as an alternative but stating that the GFA institutionalised sectarianism and because she accused the Provos of seeking alliances with the Right and capitalism rather than with the Left and the working class. She would have been a powerful voice against the GFA and could not be accused of being in a ‘dissident’ armed group but the British State held her daughter Roisin, who was pregnant, hostage and Bernadette stepped back from that issue. She was marginalised by the Republican movement in the 1970s and 80s, along with being shot 14 times in front of her children (her husband shot too) in 1981 and lost to us as a national leader again in the first decade of the GFA.

Watching this discussion brings back to mind all the economic and political issues that were around at the time, especially as Bernadette reels them off, many of them largely forgotten. All the fudges and lies of British governments avoiding doing anything fundamental to improve things even within an illegitimate colonial context.

End.

https://ansionnachfionn.com/2021/03/27/bernadette-devlin-mcaliskey-versus-william-f-buckley-jr/

OVER TWO MONTHS OF WORKERS’ CONTROL – THE PARIS COMMUNE 1871

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 5 mins.)

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, the working class seized control of a major city and held it for over two months – the first time any such thing had happened. They did not just arm themselves and erect barricades – they elected representation, issued directives and implemented them, day by day. And the women were very much a part of it, including some of the lower level leadership, like Louise Michel, the Breton Anarchist woman who declared to the authorities who drowned the revolution in blood: “If you let me live, I will never stop crying out for vengeance.”

We should not allow the 18th of March to pass without stopping a least a moment to ponder on that momentous occasion and the extraordinary acts taken by mostly ordinary people. If we consider that the industrial commodity production of the industrial revolution had created the working class, the proletariat, it had been struggling for centuries against the exploitation of its labour power by the capitalists, the expropriation of all production for sale in exchange for the minimum in wages required to keep the workers alive and to produce the next generation of workers to be exploited. They had participated in many failed uprisings and even successful revolutions but in the latter case, always to the benefit of other social classes.

In 1871 they were successful beyond strikes, protests, riots and insurrections and, for the first time, in their own interests – they seized a major European city, the capital of a powerful State and ran it for their own benefit.

A number of conditions obtained which helped prepare the ground for the uprising: defeat of French state in war against Germany, ceding of Alsace-Lorraine, war shortages of food, firewood, coal and medicine in plummeting temperatures and a simmering discontent from the failure of a rising the previous October and others before that. But the action that precipitated the rising that led to the founding of the Commune was the attempt of the Government to seize the old cannons in the working class Montmartre district. As the casting of these had been paid for by popular subscription, the people saw them as their property and also as their own protection (having still living memories of the suppression of the 1848 revolution among many).

Contemporary sketch depicting even women and children removing cannon to Montmartre for people’s defence

The attempt by the Government’s soldiers resulted in the death of a resisting member of the National Guard, a popular armed force and this in turn led to the surrounding of the military and, when ordered to fire on the crowd, mutinies, desertions and the capture of officers. Soon afterwards the crowds began to take control and prominent high officers were grabbed and shot. By midday the Government was leaving and had ordered the regular army, which had already been retreated to the Seine, to leave and to reassemble at Versailles. Unfortunately one of the escaped was Marshall Patrice McMahon1 of the French Army.

MEASURES OF REVOLUTIONARY MANAGEMENT

Proclamation of the Commune and government by its Council

The Commune organised not only the defence of the city but its running and organisation along socialist lines.

On April 1st – that no employee or member of the Commune’s salary could exceed 6,000 francs. On April 2nd, the separation of Church and State, the abolition of all State payments for religious purposes and the transformation of all Church property into national property.

On 6th April the guillotine was brought out by the 137th Battalion of the National Guard and burned to great rejoicing. On 8th April the removal of all religious symbols, pictures, dogmas, prayers from schools was decreed and began to be implemented.

On 12th April, that the Column of Victory in the Place Vendome should be demolished, as the symbol of and incitement to national chauvinism and hatreds (this was carried out on the 16th). On the 16th the Commune ordered the systematic registration of all closed factories and the working out of plans for their management into production by the workers formerly employed in them, in cooperative societies. These cooperatives were to be organised in one great union.

On 30th April, the closing of all pawnshops. On 5th May the demolition of the symbol of expiation for the execution of Louis XVI, the Chapel of Atonement.

The Commune also abolished child labour and night work for bakers, made citizens of migrants (a number of which were also prominent in the Commune), granted pensions to unmarried partners of soldiers killed and their children, postponed commercial debts and outlawed interest on them and ensured the right of recall by voters of their delegates. The Commune’s local committees organised local defences, ran schools, provided clothing for children, food for the destitute, established canteens and first-aid stations …

A number of newspapers were published during the life of the Commune, varying from communist to anarchist to republican.

DEFEAT AND MASSACRES

The French Versailles Government was unable to take back control of the city even with their own regular army without systematic artillery bombardment to clear the way through to Paris and within it also. They appealed to those who had beaten them in the war, the German generals, to help them overcome the revolutionary resistance or at least allow them to pass. On the 11th May, the French Versailles troops under Marshal McMahon had blasted their way to the City Walls, then passed by the forts the Prussians had earlier taken on the north and east of the city. As the Versailles troops drove deeper into the city, resistance stiffened and intensified as they reached the working class quarters in the eastern half of Paris. It took eight days for the regular French Army to overcome the resistance on the heights of Belleville and Menilmontant.

“And then the massacre of defenceless men, women and children, which had been raging all week, reached its zenith.”2

Despite women not having the right to vote, they were active in the struggle, including in leadership roles, though not formally. Women were not only in the rearguard but helped build the barricades and fought on them, chaired committees and took part in debates. Many were killed in battle and many survivors were tried and sentenced to prison. Louise Michel, who was one of the leading activists, in her memoirs estimated their numbers in first-hand activity at 10,000; she fought with a unit of 30 women at Place Blanche in Montmartre until they were overrun.2

At the Hotel de Ville, which had been the headquarters of the Commune, the Versailles troops executed around 300 prisoners and burned the building (since rebuilt). One group of Communards retreated to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to make their stand and there, with no weapons or ammunition remaining, 147 survivors were placed against the wall and shot, their bodies thrown into a long ditch dug along the wall.

All armed resistance ended on 28th May but not the retributions of the French ruling class (with the support of the Republican bourgeoisie).

The Communard Wall plaque in Pere Lachaise cemetery, place of annual pilgrimage for the Left, especially the revolutionary Left.
Bodies of executed Communards
Some of the dead Communards prepared for burial by family or sympathisers

The full number of massacred will probably be never known and estimates vary from 10,000 to 20,000. On the wall of the Pere Lachaise cemetery some years later a plaque was erected and it has been a place of annual pilgrimage since for the Left (except during the Nazi occupation).

Louise Michel, Communard, in the uniform of the National Guard, the main armed force of the Paris Commune. Wearing that uniform was one of the charges of which she was convicted after the fall of the Commune.

Louise Michel, who defied the judges at her trial in December and challenged them to have her shot, was sentenced to penal exile, along with 10,000 Communard survivors, hers being to New Caledonia, a French colonial possession in the Pacific3. She arrived there after 20 months’ jail, where she met many other revolutionaries and apparently there became an Anarchist, returning to France under the general amnesty for the Communards in 1880 (and continued revolutionary activities almost to the day of her death in 1905, a few months short of her 75th birthday).

FOR THE FUTURE AND THE PAST

With the Paris Commune of 1871, the proletariat had for the first time seized and managed a major city. It would be 46 years later before they succeeded in seizing a country – Russia. In the case of the Commune, the workers had learned how to take a city but were unable to hold it against sustained external attack; with the Soviet Union, they took a country and fought off external attack but were unable hold it against subversion from within. One hundred and fifty years after the Commune’s and a century after the Soviet Union’s achievements, we are overdue for another revolution. Hopefully this time we will have learned to hold on to its gains.

The Communards sounded the trumpet proclaiming the approaching end of capitalism and gave an answer then and since to those who say a revolution is not possible or if it is, that the workers are incapable of governing themselves and supplying the means to satisfy the needs of society.

Let us take a moment to reflect and to honour.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1Descendant of Irish gentry who had fled Cromwellian confiscations and repression and settled in France.

2Engels, opus cited in Sources.

3A long way from the west of the Australian continent.

Print of women on trial in Versailles court for their actions during the Paris Commune
Depiction of arrest of Louise Michel among survivors of massacre of prisoners
Battle in defence of the Paris Commune

SOURCES:

Engels, selected writings, (ed. W.O. Henderson, Penguin 1967), Introduction to the Civil War in France

https://www.rfi.fr/en/visiting-france/20110106-truth-buried-paris-cemetery-sculpture-mistook-famous-wall

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/07/vive-la-commune-the-working-class-insurrection-that-shook-the-world

“The armed wing of the State will come to take me by force …” –PABLO HASÉL

(translated from Castillian by Diarmuid Breatnach)

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

STATEMENT BEFORE MY IMMINENT IMPRISONMENT:

In ten days the armed wing of the State will come to kidnap me by force to imprison me because I am not going to present myself at the prison voluntarily. I don’t know to which jail they will take me or for how long (I will be detained). Among all the cases that I have accumulated through struggle, some with convictions pending appeal and others pending trial, I could spend up to almost 20 years in prison.

This constant harassment that I have suffered for many years and that goes beyond prison sentences, is not only due to my revolutionary songs, but also because of my activism beyond music and writing. The Prosecutor herself put it into words: “he is dangerous for being so well known and inciting social mobilization.” Putting the struggle I speak of in my songs into practice is what has put me especially in the spotlight, in addition to supporting organizations that have fought the State, being in solidarity with their political prisoners and raising awareness by denouncing injustices by pointing out the culprits loudly and clearly.

“Do you swear to tell the whole truth?”
“I am here because of telling the whole truth.”
(Image sourced: Internet)

It is very important to be clear that this is not an attack only against me, but against freedom of expression and therefore against the vast majority who are not guaranteed it like so many other democratic freedoms. When they repress one, they do it to scare the rest. With this terrorism they want to prevent their crimes and policies of exploitation and misery from being denounced, we cannot allow it. They know that I’m not going to give up because I’m in prison, but they they do it in particular so that the rest do. By not internalizing that it is an aggression against any anti-fascist, solidarity has been lacking to avoid my imprisonment like so many others. The regime grows in the face of the lack of resistance and every day it takes away more rights and freedoms without thinking twice when it comes to attacking us — we need to organize self-defense against its systematic attacks. Many people write to me asking what they can do. It takes a lot of diffusion so that everyone knows what they are doing and is aware of it, but above all organization is urgent not only to bring solidarity to the events in the streets and coordinate it well, also to defend all the rights that they trample on with impunity.

It is also necessary to call out the badly-named “progressive” Government1 for allowing this and so much more; while protecting the Monarchy and increasing its budget, they do not touch the gag law and other repressive laws, they have also added the “digital gag law”, they continue to keep jails full of fighters in terrible conditions, in addition to other policies against the working class. There is no doubt that if we were imprisoned during a government of PP and VOX2 there would be much more of a scandal, but these phonies who while claiming to be left-wing have not even firmly opposed this.

“From above they mock the past, they tread on us in the present to rob us of our future.” (Image sourced: Internet)

I will not repent3 to reduce the sentence or avoid jail, serving a just cause is a cause of pride that I will never renounce. If they release me before the end of my sentence, it will be because solidarity pressure conquers them. Prison is another trench from which I will continue to contribute and grow, like so many other people I began to fight inspired by the example of resistance and other contributions of numerous political prisoners. I hope that this serious outrage will be used to add more people to the fight against the regime, enemy of our dignity, that if they imprison me to silence the message, they will give rise to a much greater voice and lose out. With regard to going into exile,4 I decided to remain here so that this opportunity can be used to expose them even more. This blow against our freedoms can turn against them, let’s get down to work.

Pablo Hasél.

(Image sourced: Internet)

BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PABLO HASÉL:

Pablo Hasél (Pablo Rivadula Duró), poet, writer, political rapper and activist from Leida in Catalonia, 32 years of age, has described himself as a revolutionary Marxist. Since 2011 Hasél has been convicted in Spanish courts on a number of occasions of “promoting terrorism” and for “slandering” Spanish State and Royal institutions in his lyrics, as well as for allegedly assaulting a TV3 reporter and being party to an assault on a Catalan far-right group.

Pablo Hasél burning the colours of the Spanish monarchical state during a performance. (Image sourced: Internet)

Hasél began his recording in 2005 with Esto no es un Paradiso (This Is Not a Paradise) since when he has recorded another 64 discs on his own and another 35 in collaboration with others. In 2020 alone Hasél recorded two discs. He is also that author of nine poem collections, four of which are in collaboration with Aitor Cuervo Taboada, and one collection of stories.

FOOTNOTES

1The current Government, a coalition between the PSOE and Podemos. The former is the social-democratic party of the two-party system of the Spanish State which has been breaking down of late. Podemos-Izquierda is a coalition of trotskyist Left tendencies, Left social-democrats and the old Spanish Communist Party.

2The PP has been the right-wing conservative party of the two-party system of the Spanish State while Vox is even further to the Right.

3The Spanish penal and judicial system requires prisoners to repent of the “crimes” of which they have been convicted if they are to be moved to less harsh prison conditions or to be paroled. This is a particularly crushing requirement of inmates convicted of politically-inspired actions who are serving long sentences of a number of decades.

4 In May 2018, the day before he was due to surrender himself to Spanish jail, rapper Valtónyc (José Miguel Arenas) went into exile in Brussels.