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 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.
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).
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
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 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, 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.
1Descendant of Irish gentry who had fled Cromwellian confiscations and repression and settled in France.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Mandate Trade Union members employed by Arcadia (Topshop, Topman, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Outfit, Wallis and Evans) held a socially distanced protest on Kildare Street yesterday (Tuesday, December 22nd) where they handed a letter into the Dail demanding stronger protections for workers losing their jobs due to liquidation scenarios.
“We’ve seen workers in Debenhams, Clerys, the Paris Bakery, La Senza, and many more other companies lose their jobs while their employer abandoned their obligations. The government commissioned its own report on this issue in 2016 (Duffy/Cahill) and for more than four years has refused to implement it.Every day workers are losing their jobs while our government procrastinate and sit on their hands. We need action, and we need it now.” (Mandate, on their website)
The ruthless action of capitalists in sacking workers — often without even paying agreed redundancy pay — to safeguard their rates of profit during the Covid19 crisis is a harbinger for the austerity they will force on working people with the collusion of the government as soon as this pandemic has been quelled.
In the capital city of the USA, the most powerful superpower in the world, supporters of the President who lost the elections stormed the Capitol, seat of the Congress of Representatives and of the legislative branch of the USA. The Trump supporters invading the building, according to some witness and police reports, carried weapons such as steel bars and chemical sprays and wounded 50 police officers, some seriously. Four people died in the Capitol grounds, at least one shot by a police officer.
Those who forced their way into the Capitol building were apparently intent on preventing Congress, the parliament of the USA, from discussing the Presidential election results and probably voting that they were legal and correct. They had been whipped up through weeks of President Trump claiming that the vote that ousted him was rigged and then yesterday again by him in person addressing a mass protest meeting in the Capital.
While mainstream opponents of Trump and some of his erstwhile supporters are calling these incidents an attack on democracy, I cannot agree. I certainly agree that current Trump supporters generally and those in the riot in particular are hostile to democracy – many of them are racist, fascist and violent. However I cannot agree that the system of government in the USA is democratic, much less representative — but more about that anon.
THE COPS AND THE FAR-RIGHT
I feel pretty confident in saying that if that rioting crowd had been black – or socialist – that there would have been a lot more than four dead. The Capitol steps and the ground around would have been dark with bodies and awash with blood. US police forces carry guns and are not shy of using them. Nevertheless, at most they shot four and possibly less out of an armed crowd that assaulted them and stormed the building of the government of the USA. What could explain that degree of restraint on the part of the cops?
The Capitol’s Chief of Police Steven Sund, responding to criticism of lack of police preparedness, said that his force had a good plan worked out but that it was for a peaceful demonstration. OK — but why that assumption? There have been many examples of the violent behaviour of that Trumpist sector in many cities where the Right are in minority and one as recently as 14th November 2020 in Washington itself (reported on Rebel Breeze, see below). On that evening, far-Right Trump supporters, angry at the election totals in favour of contender Joe Biden and at Trump losing the election, rioted in the capital city and attacked people who did not agree with them.
Ah, yes, but you see, that violence was not directed at the police – in fact, it was directed at people who the police tend not to like either. Like socialists. Like people of colour. Trumpists attacked people of colour and left-wingers while police mostly stood by or attacked the victims defending themselves. The police have come to regard most of the Far-Right in the USA as being the right kind of people with the right kind of thinking – i.e Right-wing. Which is because the police themselves, for the most part, have the same kind of thinking. They expected the demonstration to be peaceful because they did not expect the Trumpists to attack the police.
The cops have got so accustomed to the Far-Right attacking the traditional targets of the cops, so used to colluding with them on many occasions, even in murders, that it seemed inconceivable to them that they would actually attack cops to get where they wanted to go. And we see this often, don’t we? The PSNI shocked at the violence towards them from the Loyalists in the Six Counties because normally, they collude against the Republicans and the nationalist areas. French police shocked when French fascists turn on them instead of both attacking the Algerians, Africans, commies ….
The US Acting Attorney General announced that they were processing evidence and expected to have 52 participants charged on Thursday as well as possibly others later. But what about charging Trump as the instigator?
TRUMP WENT TOO FAR?
Twitter gave Trump a 12-hour ban only after he appeared to condone the rioting and Facebook has banned him until he steps down from the Presidency. I don’t view that as democratic defence action since I have seen comrades and other activists regularly suspended and banned from Facebook for doing no more than telling the truth about the behaviour of the PSNI or of the Israeli Zionist state. But to ban a right-winger and the President of the USA! What that says to me is that there is a growing consensus in the ruling class of the USA that Trump has gone too far, that he is a danger – not to democracy but to their class. That he has taken his ego above the needs of the class of which he was a member and which sustained him.
That consensus is growing with resignations from his administration, including one of the Secretaries (like a government Minister in many European state parliaments). And also with cries for his impeachment again (he beat the process in 2019!), i.e something like being put on trial by the legislature and losing his position as President. Of course, the majority may wish to wait until January 20th when Trump has to step down anyway, as apart from him, only two other US Presidents have faced impeachment: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton (Nixon resigned before it came to that). But there is no doubt that Trump’s actions and the attack and invasion of the Capitol have rattled the elite so what they will do is not certain yet.
Though they may be concerned about the members of their class sticking to agreed procedures and respecting their institutions (at least on the surface), their alarm has nothing to do with defending democracy. The USA Congress is not a democratic institution; just over half the members of the House of Representatives are at least millionaires and many billionaires – hardly representative of the population of the United States. Successful election campaigns are funded by financial, industrial and military interests that then expect payback in voting favourable legislation, tax cuts and other measures. And voting down “harmful” proposals such as reducing the damage to the environment or taxing corporations adequately. In my time alone I have seen all US Presidents lie blatantly about foreign policy (Trump perhaps less than some others), one instigate burglaries and tell lies, another bring the country to war based on blatant lies, another use government offices for liaisons and then lie about it … and so on.
Although the USA is perhaps one of the most obvious examples of corrupt government on a huge scale, all capitalist government is like it, albeit possibly to a lesser degree. The most we may expect from capitalist democracy is to be given a choice as to which party of the exploiting capitalist class we can put into government.
AND THE FASCISTS ….
Most fascists pretend most of the time that they support democracy, by which they mean the kind of capitalist democracy which I have just been describing. Socialism, on the other hand, is “undemocratic”, they claim. But when fascists feel what they want is being threatened, they quickly drop all appearance of democracy, even capitalist democracy. That is when fascists burn government buildings (like the Reichstag in Germany in 1933) or when they stage coups (as in Austria 1934, Spain in 1936, Hungary in 1944). Or when they storm the Capitol because they didn’t get the candidate they wanted reelected as President of the USA. Democracy, for fascists, is what gives them what they want.
Not only that, they lie and put the blame on their enemies. Like they tried to blame communists for the burning of the German Reichstag in February 1933 and anarchists for the bombing of the Basque Town of Gernika in April 1937. Like some blamed the Washington violence last November (including in a rant to Rebel Breeze) on “BLM and Antifa”. And like some are already, incredibly one might think, blaming the Left for having “taken over” the Capitol “demonstration” (see RTÉ report below).
Minimising the violence and blaming the Left (from RTÉ reporting):
“American conservative media has played down the gravity of the storming of the US Capitol citing anger at the establishment and accusing the hard left – without proof – of having infiltrated the crowd.
“As well as Fox News, new ultra-conservative outlets battling to nibble market share from the television news giant sought to dissociate Trump supporters from the chaos in Congress.
“The demonstrators “pushed and shoved but for the most part, that was about it,” said Kevin Corke, a Fox News reporter.
“ “Most of what we saw was beautiful today,” said Ben Bergquam, a reporter for the small online channel Real America’s Voice.
“Outlets including Real America’s Voice, Newsmax and the One America News Network (OAN) – which Trump has recommended several times in recent weeks – claimed without any evidence that the crowd had been infiltrated by small ultra-left groups.
“ “I think they were undercover Antifa,” Gina Loudon, presenter for Real America’s Voice, said of the rioters she encountered in the corridors of the Capitol.
“While denouncing the violence committed in the precincts of Congress, Greg Kelly, of Newsmax, said it nonetheless followed a certain logic.
“ “If you steal an election,” he explained, echoing Trump’s discredited accusations, “there are going to be a lot of angry people.”
“ “There’s a reason this is happening,” said Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. “It is happening because the people with all the power have decided to clamp down so harshly on the population that things explode at a certain point.” ”
Few Irish American women have led a more controversial life than Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. A fiery orator with a passionate dedication to social justice, Flynn dedicated her life to the working class. A militant’s militant, Flynn was arrested dozens of times fighting for the causes she espoused and served a prison term for her political beliefs. Flynn became one of the most influential labor organizers of the early 20th century, while also becoming the first female leader of the American Communist Party. Famed international journalist Eugene Lyons praised her intelligence saying she was “the most brilliant woman I had ever met.”
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7th, 1890. The family moved to New York’s impoverished South Bronx in 1900,where Flynn attended the local public school. She later recalled, “I hated poverty. I was determined to do something about the bad conditions under which our family and all around us suffered.” Influenced by her parents to become a socialist, Flynn was kicked out of high school for giving her first radical speech, What Socialism Will Do for Women , at the Socialist Club of Harlem.
Not yet eighteen years of age, Flynn became a full-time organizer for the radical labor group The Industrial Workers of the World, or as they were more commonly known, the Wobblies. A passionate devotee of free speech, she led the first of three free speech fights in 1909 as an I.W.W organizer and over the course of her life Flynn remained a dedicated advocate for free expression, freedom of the press and assembly, and the right to a fair trial for all labor activists, regardless of their political affiliation. In 1907, Flynn met a much older Minnesota local I.W.W. organizer, J. A. Jones. Flynn later stated in her autobiography, “I fell in love with him and we were married in January 1908. She had two children with Jones, one who died as an infant and her son Fred who was born in 1910. The marriage broke up and Flynn returned to her family.
Her first major involvement in an I.W.W. job action was at the famous Lawrence, Massachusetts Textile Strike of 1912, which began when the American Woolen Company there tried to reduce the wages of its largely immigrant workforce. The workers walked off the job and the I.W.W. formed a strike committee with two representatives from each of the striking nationalities sitting on the committee. The strikers demanded a 15 per cent wage increase, double-time for overtime work and a 55 hour week. Using her powerful oratory, Flynn became one of the leaders of the strike, which became very violent. Reporters from around the country covered the strike and filed stories on the violence and the poverty of the Lawrence workers. Eventually, after management realized that it was losing the publicity battle, they settled with the strikers, giving Flynn and the I.W.W a great victory.
The following year Flynn gained even more fame for her role in the famous Patterson, N.J. Silk strike, which saw three hundred silk mills shut down by thousands of striking workers, many of whom were female. Flynn set up weekly women’s meetings on the issues. Flynn wrote in her autobiography of her experience in Paterson:
“Sunday after Sunday, as the days became pleasanter, we spoke there to enormous crowds of thousands of people — the strikers and their families, workers from other Paterson industries, people from nearby New Jersey cities, delegations from New York of trade unionists, students and others. Visitors came from all over America and from foreign countries. People who saw these Haledon meetings never forgot them.”
Unfortunately for the workers, management was able to drive them back to the mills without achieving their strike demands. Flynn continued to organize restaurant workers, silk weavers, garment workers and miners across America. She was often arrested, but never convicted. She became such a celebrated labor activist that leftist songwriter Joe Hill wrote a 1915 song, reputedly dedicated to Flynn, called The Rebel Girl. A feminist, she began to write articles and make speeches criticizing labor unions as being male dominated and deaf to the needs of female workers.
She later became romantically involved with Carlo Tresca, a fellow I.W.W labor organizer and writer. When Flynn discovered that her sister was also romantically involved with Tresca, she suffered a mental breakdown that prevented her from working for eight years. During this period Flynn lived in Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and I.W.W activist Marie Equi.
Returning to politics, Flynn joined the Communist Party of the United States in 1936 and began to write a women’s column for the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker. She quickly was elected to the party’s national committee, but as a result of her party membership she was ejected from the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a pre-World War II red scare. During the war, she played a central role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women, as well as the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. She ran for Congress in New York and received an astonishing 50,000 votes in a losing effort. In the Red Scare that followed the war, Flynn was arrested under the Smith Act, which made it a crime to support a violent overthrow of the American government. She was convicted and sentenced to a three-year term. Flynn served her sentence in the Alderson Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia. During her incarceration she wrote a memoir entitled, in The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner (1955). That same year she published her memoir, I Speak My Own Piece: Autobiography of “The Rebel Girl.
Flynn became national chairman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961. She made several visits to the Soviet Union and died there unexpectedly in September 1964. She was given a state funeral in Red Square. In accordance with her wishes, Flynn’s remains were flown to the U.S. for burial in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of I.W. W. Members Eugene Dennis and Big Bill Haywood.
Rebel Breeze comment:
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was indeed an Irish UStater and made a point of her background, keeping the surnames of both mother (Gurley) and father (Flynn) and stating it in her autobiography.
Her ashes being taken to Waldheim Cemetery near the grave of Big Bill Heywood can be viewed as something of an irony as in 1916 she had a major rupture with Big Bill over a plea bargain that she and another organiser, Joe Ettor, had counseled three innocent miners to accept when Heywood thought they could beat the charges. In addition, the one year jail time part of the plea bargain somehow ended up as 20. According to some accounts, she and Ettor were expelled from the IWW but according to others, Ettor left and Flynn remained but generally avoiding Heywood from then on.
During the years of Flynn’s labour organising in the USA, employers often hired company thugs (including the (in)famous Pinkerton Detective Agency) to beat up those they considered agitators or union organisers, who were also targeted by reactionaries including racists and fascists. Many worker organisers were killed or permanently disabled. In addition, many were jailed by the UStater legislature or even executed, as were the Molly Maguires, Saccho and Vanzetti, five of the Chicago Eight and Joe Hill. Being even a moderate union organiser in those years required courage and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was far from being a moderate.
(Published elsewhere earlier in December, including Red Line; published here with author’s permission and section headings, photo choices (except one) and intro line are by Rebel Breeze editing)
The issue of drugs is one that is never far from public discourse on the Colombian conflict. Biased or just simply lazy journalists use the issue to ascribe motives for an endless list of events, massacre and murders. It is true that drug trafficking has permeated all of Colombian society and there is no sector that has not been impacted by it. But not everyone in Colombia is a drug trafficker. However, once again the King of Clubs is played to describe the conflict in terms of a drug problem.
Several Colombian newspapers have recently published articles on the supposed relationship of the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) with drug trafficking and there are already eleven commanders who are under investigation for such crimes and are sought in extradition. They talk as if the ELN dominated the drugs trade, and talk of settling of accounts over drug money, as if they were a crime gang, instead of saying that the ELN takes drastic measures against its members who get involved in drug trafficking and that those internal executions are due to the indiscipline and betrayal of principles of some people and are not an internal dispute over money. Of course, the ELN in an open letter widely distributed on social networks and alternative press, denied any links to the drug trade. But, how true is this new tale? Before looking at the accusations levelled against the ELN it is worth going over the history of drug trafficking in Colombia and the reality of the business in international terms.
POLITICIANS, GUERRILLAS AND BANKS
Let’s start with the obvious. When the FARC and the ELN were founded in 1964 drug trafficking was not a problem in the country and there were no large plantations, i.e. the existence of the guerrillas predates the drugs trade. Later in the 1970s the country went through the marijuana bonanza on the Caribbean coast, but it is the emergence of the large drugs cartels in 1980s around the production of cocaine that would define forever the shape drug trafficking in the country would take. Up till the 1990s the country was not self sufficient in coca leaf, even though it was the main manufacturer of the final product: cocaine. Escobar was dead by the time Colombia achieved self sufficiency and it is in that context that the discourse of blaming the FARC for the drugs trade gained ground, completely ignoring that the main narcos were the founders of the paramilitary groups. One of the most notorious paramilitary groups in the 1980s was the MAS (Death to Kidnappers) founded by the Cali Cartel and other drug traffickers in response to the kidnapping by M-19 of Marta Nieves Ochoa a relative of the Ochoa drug barons.
That discourse, however, was useful in justifying Plan Colombia and there was an element of truth to it, but not that much back then. The FARC’s relationship with the drugs trade has not been static and has evolved over time. Almost everyone accepts that they began by imposing a tax on the production of coca leaf, coca base or cocaine in the territories they controlled. The initial relationship changed and the FARC went from just collecting a revolutionary tax to promoting the crop, protecting laboratories and even having laboratories of their own and in some cases, such as the deceased commander Negro Acacio, got directly involved in the drug trade. There is no doubt on the issue. But neither were they the big drug barons that they tried to have us believe, those barons are in the ranks not just of the Democratic Centre but also the Liberal and Conservative parties. It is forgotten that Samper’s (1994-1998) excuse regarding drug money entering his campaign’s coffers was and still is that it was done behind his back, but no one denies that drug trafficking has to some degree financed every electoral campaign in the country. Although companies like Odebrecht play a role at a national level, at a local and regional level drug trafficking decides who becomes mayor, governor, representative in the house and even senators. Even the brother of the current Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez was a drug trafficker and there are loads of photos of many politicians with Ñeñe Hernández and Uribe appears in photos with the son of the paramilitary drug trafficker Cuco Vanoy. It is a matter of public knowledge that several high ranking police officers close to Uribe such as his former head of security Mauricio Santoyo were extradited to the USA for drug related crimes and Uribe’s excuse was the same as Samper’s: it was all done behind his back.
NOT THE ELN
But when we look at the extent of illicit crops in Colombia, we can clearly see the reason why they are linked to the FARC for so long and not to the ELN. The reason is simple, the majority of the large plantations of coca and opium poppy were to be found in areas under the influence of the FARC. If we look at the crop monitoring carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) we can see that in 2001 the main departments (administrative regions: Colombia has 32 — RB editing) where there were crops were almost exclusively FARC fiefdoms.
In 2001, coca was to be found in 22 departments of the country, compared to just 12 in 1999. However, despite the expansion, just two areas accounted for the majority of the crops: Putumayo-Caquetá had 45% of the total amount of coca (about 65,000 hectares) and Meta-Guaviare-Vaupés with 34% of the area (about 49,000 hectares) i.e. 79% of the total area under coca. They were areas that were completely dominated by the FARC, not a single eleno was to be found in those territories and if they did venture in, it was undercover at the risk of execution by the FARC were they discovered as the FARC did not tolerate political competition in their fiefdoms. When one looks at the map of crops back then, one can see not only the concentration in those areas but also almost all the other departments were dominated by the FARC and those where there were significant amounts of coca and also an ELN presence, one finds Cauca with 3,139 hectares, Nariño with 7,494 hectares and the Norte de Santander with 9,145 hectares. But in those areas there was a certain territorial balance between the different guerrillas and one of the few departments where the ELN was clearly the dominant force was Arauca with 2,749 hectares. But when we look at the counties we can see that it is not as clear cut, as in the Norte de Santander 83% of the coca crops were to be found in just one county: Tibú, FARC fiefdom for many years before the paramilitary takeover in 1999. In Arauca the county of Araquita accounted for 60% of the crops in the department and it was also a FARC fiefdom within an area dominated by the ELN. Thus it is obvious as to why they spoke almost exclusively about the role of the FARC in drug trafficking and not the ELN at that time.
Years later the situation had not changed much, the main producing departments were the FARC fiefdoms. The UNODC study on coca crops in the country in 2013 continues to show a concentration in FARC fiefdoms, with a displacement from Putumayo to Nariño due to aerial spraying and the persecution of the FARC by the State. In 2013, there were just 48,000 hectares of coca in the entire country, with significant reductions in some parts. Nariño, Putumayo, Guaviare and Caquetá accounted for 62% of the land under coca, with Norte de Santander representing 13% and Cauca with just 9%. There was a reduction and a displacement of the crops towards new areas with Nariño accounting for the most dramatic increase of all departments.
In 2019, there was 154,000 hectares of coca, a little over three times the amount grown in 2013, though it was slightly down on 2018 when there was 169,000 hectares. Coca production recovered after 2014 in the middle of the peace process with the FARC. It stands out that in 2019, Arauca, a department dominated by the ELN the UNODC did not report any coca crops. Once again Norte de Santander is a department with widespread coca leaf production almost quadrupling the amount reported in 2001. It had 41,749 hectares of coca but the county of Tibú alone had 20,000 hectares and the same UNODC report indicated that these are not new areas and show that the crop has deep roots in the area.
THE BANKS, THE BANKS!
However, despite the role of the FARC in the drugs trade, they weren’t the big drug barons we were led to believe. How can we be sure? Their demobilisation did not alter the flow of cocaine towards the USA and Europe. The big drugs capos in the companies, the Congress of the Republic, the international banks did not stop for a second. Neither did people such as Ñeñe Hernández and other associates of right wing political parties in Colombia stop for a single instant.
Neither the production nor consumption of cocaine halted. The UNODC’s World Drug Report says as much about both phenomena. According to the UNODC consumption of cocaine fell from 2.5% in 2002 to 1.5% in 2011 in the USA, but from that year it increased again reaching 2.0% in 2018 and also there are indications of an increase in the sale of cocaine of high purity at lower prices between 2013 and 2017. The price of a gram fell by 29% and the purity increased by 32%. The report also indicates that in Europe there was a significant increase in various places such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Estonia and Germany. Nevertheless, some of those countries had seen decreases in consumption in the first years of the century. All of this suggests that there is a greater supply of the drug. This can be seen not only in the previously mentioned figures of an increase in the production of coca leaf in Colombia (or in other countries such as Peru and Bolivia), but can also be seen in drug seizures. An increase in seizures may indicate greater efficiency by the police forces, but combined with stability or an increase in consumption and a reduction in price, rather indicate an increase in production and availability.
According to the UNODC cocaine seizures have increased dramatically since the commencement of Plan Colombia, indicating, although they do not acknowledge it, the failure of their anti-drugs strategy and the tactic of aerial spraying with glyphosate. In 1998 400 tonnes were seized globally and that figure remained relatively stable till 2003, reaching 750 tonnes in 2005 and surpassing the threshold of 900 tonnes in 2015 to finish off at 1,300 tonnes in 2018, i.e. there was no reduction in consumption or the production of cocaine. Throughout the years with or without the FARC there has been coca production and of course the main drug barons never demobilised, the heads of the banks remain in their posts.
The real drug traffickers wear a tie, own large estates, meet with President Duque, it is not the ELN that moves hundreds of tonnes of cocaine around the world. In 2012, the Swiss bank HSBC reached an agreement with the US authorities to pay a kind of fine of $1,920 million dollars for having laundered $881 million dollars from the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel of Northern Valle, Colombia. The bank had, despite everything, classified Mexico as a low risk country, thus excluding $670 billion dollars in transactions from monitoring systems and the bank was notified by the authorities but ignored them. Nobody went to jail, in fact no one was prosecuted. As Senator Warren in a session of the Senate Banking Commission pointed out, no one was going to go to jail for this massive crime. Moreover, the Sub Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David S. Cohen refused to recommend a criminal investigation against the bank. There is no need to state that no ELN commander is on the board of this or other banks. The ELN is usually accused of infiltrating universities, but to date no one has accused them of having infiltrated the boards of banks.
It is not the only bank implicated in money laundering, in 2015 London was described as one of the main centres for money laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking. A report by the UK National Crime Agency states, on the basis of a UN calculation that between 2% and 5% of global GDP are laundered funds “that there is a realistic possibility [defined as between 40-50%] that it is in the hundreds of billions of pounds annually” and the majority of it comes from crimes committed outside of the UK. There is no need to say that no ELN commander is a director of those companies, nor is there any need to state that these companies continue to operate and their directors are walking about free and according to the report they could only recover £132 million. The NCA cites favourably the reports of Transparency International. According to this organisation, 1,201 companies operating in the British Overseas Territories inflicted £250 billion in damage through corruption in recent decades. They analysed 237 cases of corruption in the last 30 years. The majority of the companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands (92%) and the majority (90%) of the cases happened there in the favourite headquarters of many companies that operate in Colombia, without mentioning those who finance election campaigns. Once again, the ELN does not operate in those territories, although many mining companies in Colombia are registered there. The report points out that due to legislative changes there are fewer reasons to buy property in the UK through those companies registered in the Overseas Territories, yet the number of properties has remained relatively stable at some 28,000. Of course not all them are the result of illicit funds, however… As far as we know the ELN’s Central Command is not the owner of any of these properties.
Transparency International continued with its investigations and its last report highlighted the number of British companies involved in money laundering or dubious transactions. It states that there are 86 banks and financial institutions, 81 legal firms and 62 accounting companies (including the big four that dominate the market). According to this NGO
Whether unwittingly or otherwise, these businesses helped acquire the following assets and entities used to obtain, move and defend corrupt or suspicious wealth: 2,225 Companies incorporated in the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies directly involved in making payments; 17,000 more companies incorporated in the UK that we have reasonable grounds to suspect have facilitated similar activity; 421 Properties in the UK worth more than £5 billion; 7 Luxury Jets 3 Luxury Yachts worth around £237 million worth around £170 million. 
Of course not all the laundered funds are drug related but they are all illicit in origin. However, the USA has not sought in extradition any of the banking capos, legal firms and less still the four big accountancy companies in the world. It would simply collapse the financial system were they to do so.
The extradition of criminals from Colombia has always been problematic in legal and political terms. Nowadays, the majority of those extradited are extradited for drug trafficking. The USA receives 73% of all those extradited from Colombia and 60% of them face charges of drug trafficking or money laundering. Though not all those extradited are guilty and there are various cases of people being returned to Colombia, after their extradition, or others more fortunate who managed to demonstrate their innocence before being extradited, such is the case of Ariel Josué, a carpenter from San Vicente del Caguán who didn’t even know how to use a computer and yet for
… the United States and then the Colombian justice system, Ariel Josué was the head of an electronic money laundering network, and had to pay for his crime in a north American prison.
In the absence of an independent investigation nor the verification of his identity, the Supreme Court issued a court order in favour of his extradition and even President Juan Manuel Santos signed the order for him to be taken.
OPEN LETTER FROM THE ELN
Despite those extradited, when not innocent, being poor people or those who have some relationship with right wing political parties or the economic elites of the country, the media and the Colombian and US governments’ focus on the problem is always the same: the guerrillas and not the banks or business leaders. In fact, one of the most famous people extradited is Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and part of the negotiating team in the Caguán. Trinidad was extradited for drug trafficking and despite being a FARC commander they didn’t manage to prove any link to the drugs trade and thus resorted to the detention and captivity of three north American mercenaries hired by the Dyncorp company, a company denounced for crimes such as trafficking in minors, prostitution, sexual abuse amongst others. So we should be very careful when it comes to accepting these new allegations against the ELN.
The ELN in its open letter acknowledges that they collect taxes from the buyers of coca base and cocaine who come into their areas of influence, as they do with other economic activities. So if the ELN is not involved in drug trafficking, how can we explain the presence of illicit crops in their areas? The ELN commanders explain the presence of these crops in the same manner and the same dynamic they describe could be seen in all the regions where they had to deal with the FARC. There was a dispute between the two organisations as to what to do regarding the crops and drug trafficking itself. Initially the ELN opposed the planting of coca and opium poppy in the regions, but the FARC said yes and they authorised the peasants to grow it and moreover in some parts they were willing to buy base or cocaine itself, depending on the region. Faced with this reality the ELN felt that it had no choice but to allow the growing of the crop, as otherwise they would have to militarily face the FARC and the communities. That is why the ELN is to be found in areas with a coca tradition and as they acknowledge in their open letter they tax the buyers as they do with other economic activities. However, it is worth pointing out that the FARC also initially only charged taxes, but given the long ELN tradition on drugs it is unlikely, though not impossible that they do the same.
Its open letter not only refutes the allegations against it, but they also put forward proposals as to what to do regarding the problem of crops and drug consumption. It extends an invitation to various organisms to carry out in situ visits and inspections to see the reality of their relationship to the drugs trade, but they go further than clearing up the question of their links or otherwise to the drugs trade and they put forward proposals on the drugs problem as such.
PROPOSALS — SOLUTIONS?
To pick up the proposals made on various occasions by the ELN with the aim of reaching an Agreement that overcomes the phenomenon of drug trafficking that includes the participation of the international community, the communities in the regions that suffer this scourge and various sectors of Colombian society.
The issue of drug trafficking is not one that Colombia can solve on its own, it is an international issue in nature, not just in terms of the distribution and consumption of the final products, such as cocaine and heroine or ecstasy and other drugs generally produced in northern countries, but also because Colombia’s obligations on the issue are covered by various international UN treaties. The ELN makes various points.
Only the legalisation of psychotropic substances will put end to the extraordinary profits of drug trafficking and its raison d’être.
This position has been discussed thousands of times in various fora and international settings. It is partially true. No doubt the legalisation demanded by various social organisations, including health organisations, would put an end to the mafia’s profits, but not the profits as such. The medicinal uses of coca and opium have never been banned, rather the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) regulates and controls its production and end use. The UNODC calculates that in 2018 there just under 12 billion daily doses of opiates available in the legal market, double the amount available in 1998. Cocaine and medicinal opiates, including heroin, have always been used in a medical context and the use and regulation of cannabis is a growing market. The legalisation of recreational consumption is another matter, the state of Colorado in the USA and Uruguay are two places where they legalised the recreational consumption, with various benefits in terms of crime, health and taxes. The profits are lower in these legal markets but they are large, nonetheless, as are they for other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, products that are controlled in terms of quality and their impact on the health of the consumer. The legal marijuana market in Colorado amounted to $1,750 millions in 2019 with 69,960,024 transactions with an average price per transaction of $51.89, but the price to the consumer continues to fall and quality is guaranteed. However, both Colorado and Uruguay have experienced legal problems with the banking system as their legalisation has no international recognition. The ELN’s proposal could only happen in the context of an international debate and a paradigm shift in the states and regulatory bodies at an international level such as the UNODC and the INCB, amongst others and the recent decision by the WHO on the medicinal use of cannabis is a good start.
A pact on shared responsibility between drug producer and consumer countries is required
This pact already exists. There are various UN pacts on the issue starting with the Single Convention of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1981 and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This last treaty deals with aspects related to organised crime, precursor chemicals etc. What is lacking is political will, not another pact. The factories where the acids used to make cocaine are not bombarded but they do attack and bombard the producer communities, neither do they bombard the factories of illegal drugs such as ecstasy in the Netherlands. It is not the case that there is a lack of pacts but rather as they say the law is for the ragged and in geopolitical terms, Colombia is very ragged
The drug addicts are sick and should be treated by the states and should not be pursued as criminals.
This is one point that is always overlooked in the discussions on illicit crops and despite the belligerent tone of the USA, both the north American health system and that of the majority of countries in Europe deal with it as such, some countries do not even pursue consumption as such, acknowledging its character as a health problem and only go after related crimes. The UN accepts the need for treatment for drug addicts and calculates in its World Drug Report that 35.6 million people in the world abuse drugs and just 12.5% of those who need treatment get it, i.e. about 4.45 million people.
The peasants who work with illicit use crops, should have alternative plans for food production or industrial raw materials, financed by the states in order to solve their sustenance without seeking recourse in illicit use crops.
Although this point is well intentioned it makes the same mistake as the FARC, the NGOs, international aid etc. Whilst it is true that the peasants should have alternative plans and receive economic support from the states, the problem is a core issue and cannot be solved through projects or credits: the economic aperture ruined the agricultural production of the country and the peasants can’t compete with the imports subsidised by the US and European governments. The underlying problem is not agricultural, nor economic but political and requires national and international changes. The free trade agreements, the monopoly in the agricultural and food sector exercised by multinationals such as Cargill, Nestlé, Barry Callebaut amongst others are not resolved by subsidies or projects.
As well as pursuing the Cartels in the narcotic producing countries they should also pursue the distribution Cartels in the industrialised consuming countries; as well as the Cartels for the precursor chemicals and money laundering of narco funds in the international financial system and the tax havens.
This is a key point. As long as drugs are illegal, they should go after the points in the production chain there, both the banks and the companies that engage in money laundering and the companies whose chemicals are used in the manufacture of cocaine. They don’t do this, one little bit or not much at least. Whilst the USA seek in extradition just about anyone in Colombia, they have never sought nor will they seek the directors of banks such as HSBC.
There are reasons to accept the ELN’s word on the issue of drugs, and there are more than sufficient reasons to accept the debate on drugs and what to do about them. It is a debate that never occurred in the context of the negotiations with the FARC. The FARC opted to negotiate benefits for themselves, their social base and they never touched the structure of the agricultural economy in the country nor the international law in force on drugs.
The allegations against the ELN lack any basis in fact, but the media does not ask us to treat it as truth, rather it serves as an excuse to delegitimise this organisation in the eyes of Colombian people and in the international area they are useful as excuse to continue to militarily support the Colombian state and in a given moment can be used as a pretext for more direct interventions against the ELN and perhaps Venezuela.
 Some NGOs prefer the expression illicit use crops, but it is misnomer. The international treaties on the matter leave us in no doubt on the issue, the crop itself is illicit. The Single Convention of 1961, the convention in force on the issue, in Article 22 No.1 demands the total eradication, the coca leaf and its derivatives are banned. The treaty demands that even the plants belonging to indigenous people be destroyed.
Sacked workers of Debenhams picketed offices of KPMG, the appointed liquidator of their former employer to protest threats of injunctions. The workers are demanding the statutory two weeks’ redundancy plus another two and that they be treated as the first creditors to be paid out, instead of being last, as is usually the case in receivership. Until they receive an agreed settlement, the workers are maintaining their 24-blockades on Debenhams stores, supported officially by their union Mandate, to prevent the company removing its stock.
Finding other means to keep themselves amused.
The British-based department store retailer Debenhams closed its Irish branches in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Cork during the Covid19 lockdown earlier this summer and has yet to pay the workers their redundancy pay. Picketers attended Harcourt Street yesterday to gather outside the offices of KPMG, the multinational financial audit services company. KPMG recently claimed it has a potential buyer for a number of the Debenhams sites and while declining to name it, threatened to apply for injunctions against the picketers in order to remove stock and allow the new buyer to move its own stock in. RTÉ reported the company also claiming the union leadership had agreed and said that pickets in Cork were unofficial, both claims which however were denied by the new General Secretary, Gerry Light. RTÉ quoted Mr. Light as saying that the continuing pickets are officially backed by the union and that if there is a new buyer, they’d be interested in talking to them.
A placard displayed on the picket in Dublin pointed out that the workers have been blockading Debenhams sites for 131 days and one of the speakers at the picket acknowledged that keeping up an action over such an extended period of time is difficult. A number of speakers outlined the necessity to remain strong while Paul Murphy, socialist TD (member of the Irish Parliament) stated that the talk of injunctions was not a sign of strength of the liquidators’ position but rather one of weakness. Another speaker called for a strengthening of the pickets now and a number stated that any injunctions would need to be defied.
MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY FROM THE FAMOUS ANTI-APARTHEID DUNNE’S STORES STRIKERS
Meanwhile, a message of solidarity came from some of the Dunne’s Stores Anti-Apartheid strikers, the famous strike 1984-1987 in pursuance of their union’s policy (then the IADTU, now incorporated into Mandate) not to handle good from South Africa (then under racist white minority regime).
Kate Gearon was shop steward (elected shop-floor workers’ representative) during the strike.
“What has happened the Debenhams workers is atrocious,” Ms. Gearon wrote. “Some workers have given decades of service to the company and then when it suits the company just abandons them.
“But what is inspirational is the fact the workers are trying to change legislation to protect all other workers from this terrible predicament.”
Ms Gearon added: “When we started our pickets on this day in 1984, people told us we couldn’t win. They said ordinary retail workers didn’t have the power to change legislation. Well 10 of us stuck to our guns and we forced the Irish Government to ban all South African goods.
“There were only 10 of us, there are 1,000 Debenhams workers. Imagine the changes they can force if they stick together in their trade union.”
Picketers outside the KPMG offices in Dublin chanted slogans including: “What do we want? Two plus Two!” “When do we want it? Now!” “When under attack– Stand up, Fight back!”and “Treat us right, treat us fair, or your stock ain’t going anywhere!”. The MC of the event also raised cheers when he told those in attendance that pickets were taking place simultaneously at KPMG officers in Galway and Cork.
Sites of Debenhams stores are being picketed on a 24-hour basis and solidarity can be shown by attending in person.
A rally on Custom House Quay on Saturday protesting the housing crisis was followed by a march through Dublin city centre, halting traffic at a number of points before ending with another rally outside Mountjoy Garda Station, from which station Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had protected an illegal eviction in the Phibsboro area only days before. Speakers at various points denounced the Government parties current and past, the rendering of housing a commodity by the capitalist system and the police for protecting that system.
The demonstration had been advertised already for some weeks and the date set by the Ireland’s Housing Action campaign group. The Garda protest element had been added only days before the date set for the demonstration due to a shocking incident in the Phibsborough area of the city. Residents of a house had agents of a landlord smash through their door, frightening tenants and throwing their possession into the street. Two Gardaí in attendance who said they were there “to prevent a breach of the peace” were in fact assisting in the commission of a breach of the peace by protecting the landlord’s thugs and intimidating tenants and others from resisting.
No eviction notice was produced nor did the Gardaí require one from the thugs, who proceeded to smash fixtures in the house, including the toilets. One of the eviction team shouted that a note had been sent to a tenant – on their Facebook account!
A local activist passing by noted what was going on and summoned assistance which in turn ensured the arrival of more Gardaí, including an Armed Response Unit vehicle (these units carry firearms and live ammunition). Helpers found temporary accommodation that evening for the evicted tenants, who the following day were assisted in returning to their home, with repairs carried out to toilets and some other fixtures.
It transpired that the eviction had been illegal even within the current system and protesters were informed outside the Garda station that the thugs had not registered as bailiffs for two years past and that the company they purported to represent appeared non-existent.
It was this incident which had ensured the march would culminate in a rally outside the very police station involved (some years ago this station was the scene of protest due to the collusion of Gardaí stationed there with companies installing water meters and threatening water protesters).
Since the eviction, the online Journal.ie published a report in which the Gardaí were quoted in what can only be seen as poor excuses and outright lies, including a claim that there had been no damage! The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has queried the role of the Gardaí and some TDs, including Green Party members of the Government have called for a ban on evictions during the Covid19 pandemic (the previous ban on evictions was very recently lifted by the Government). As is being increasingly the case, the property in question appears to have been acquired from the landlord by a vulture company (i.e finance companies that buy properties in debt from mortgage banks at low cost, to either sell them on again or to evict the tenants and sell the properties).
This is not the first occasion on which the Gardaí have been seen in support of landlords in recent times. The occupation of an empty house in the north inner city had been broken by bailiffs assisted by Gardaí in 2018, while an Armed Response Unit had turned up to an argument between a landlord and a tenant couple at another house in Dublin in the same period.
RALLY SPEAKERS DENOUNCE RACISM
Notable by their banners in supporting the rally and march yesterday were Dublin Housing Action Committee, Dublin Renters Union, Universal Public Housing campaign, United Against Racism (Home for All), the socialist Republican party Éirigí, and Countess Markievicz 1916 Society, some of which provided speakers.
The spokesperson of the organisers Patrick Nells along with nearly all the speakers emphasised the anti-racist nature of the protest, which was no doubt reassuring to many, given that Custom House Quay had been chosen a number of times as the venue for rallies by the racist and islamophobic Irish Yellow Vests leadership and also that some elements close to the housing protest organisers had colluded with the INV when they first emerged.
Speaker after speaker pointed out that dividing working people along lines of race or ethnicity would result in a weaker resistance to landlords and their Government supporters, and that the “house Irish first” slogan put forward by racists and fascists would benefit neither the migrants nor the Irish homeless. Contrary to propaganda of the Far-Right which pretends that migrants get better and quicker access to housing than do the indigenous population, some speakers also outlined how migrants were the most vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords and it was no accident that the adults subjected to a violent and illegal eviction recently had been migrants.
LONG WAIT, LONG MARCH AND DISAPPEARED FAR-RIGHT
I had rushed to the event from a conversation in Moore Street, worried I might miss the start of the march. I need not have worried, nor have hurried. It was advertised for 2pm and I got there around 10 minutes after that but it seemed nearer to 3pm before the event was officially started – and then it was with speeches, most of them very long. A musician concluded the rally with a performance of a composition of his in which the repeated line of “A hotel room is not a home” made an impact. He also introduced slogans which were shouted along the march: “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose homes? Our homes!”
Meanwhile the sun beat down and air felt heavy, even by the riverside. Some of the attendance were visibly wilting. By the time the march crossed to the south bank and turned west, a number of people had dropped out. On O’Connell Bridge, the leaders stopped the march, which now blocked it to north-south traffic and vice versa. Here there were some further speeches, also not short, a song of which it was difficult to make out the words and a spelling out of slogans on giant letter placards, which was a welcome distraction. But still the sun beat down and there was a substantial way to go yet. Some more people left the march here.
When eventually the march began to move again, taking the north-bound traffic lanes, it passed the GPO, where a group of the Far-Right have been holding their protests since the start of the Covid19 restrictions (which they neither obeyed nor were they compelled to do so by the Gardaí, who however harassed Debenham worker pickets around the corner in Henry Street during the same period).
Word had reached some on the housing protest much earlier that the Far-Right had decamped to Phoenix Park, the first time in weeks the Far-Right had abandoned their Saturday protest at the GPO. One could speculate that they feared the risk of another punitive surge into their ranks as had happened the previous Saturday when, after weeks of provocations including assaults, a mixed group including Republicans and Anarchists had finally burst in amongst them, in the course of which the Far-Right lost various items of sound amplification equipment. Or it might have been that the Far-Right organisers wished to avoid the public spectacle of being denounced by marchers against homelessness as they passed and, even worse, their supporters calling the marchers “paedos” as they regularly do to all antifascists.
The marchers carried on, shouting the slogan about “whose streets” and “whose homes” and “homes for all” along with “Vultures out, out, out!”, calling also on people to “fight back”.
When the remainder of the marchers, having lost perhaps a third of the original numbers, finally reached Mountjoy Garda station, it was around 4.30 pm and they sank gratefully to the road, a sit-down protest but also a weary relief. Here there were also some more speeches and the Gardaí came in for some well-deserved harsh words.
As we approached the station a few minutes earlier, some Gardaí stood smiling in a friendly manner at the approaching marchers, no doubt wishing to soften their image after their recent role at the eviction. “How are you?” one Garda Sergeant greeted the marchers with a broad smile. “None the better for seeing you,” replied one of the marchers, walking past the Garda.
Gardaí clustered beyond the outskirts at both ends of the crowd, with some diverting traffic. But none interfered with the march organisers, who took up their position at the bottom of the steps leading up to the station’s front door. For the most part, those inside stayed away from the windows too.
Apart from the speeches of some housing campaign and political activists, there were some also from one of the victims of the recent illegal eviction, an African woman who spoke of the terror of the invasion and the heartlessness of the authorities and how it impacted on her, with her two Irish-born children. A young African man who had also been evicted also spoke of the experience and of the situation in general. Both praised the Irish people in general (as distinct from the authorities) and those who had helped them in particular. A young homeless Dublin woman spoke also, criticising the provision for homeless people and for rough sleepers on the streets in particular. A young Irish woman read one of her poems against homelessness and the organisers thanked all for the attendance and brought the event to a close.
It was nearly 6pm and still fairly warm and heavy.
It was good to see people out in protest at the scandalous housing crisis throughout the Irish state and in particular in its capital city, especially following a period of State restrictions on large gatherings due to the Covid19 epidemic and when fears of infection have been keeping many at home.
It was not reassuring however in that respect to note those in attendance who wore no face covering whatsoever, probably as a result of the earlier statements of the Government health spokesperson dismissing the usefulness of wearing face-mask, countering the more recent requirements of public transport for passengers to wear such protection along with the current pressure in many shops to do likewise.
The numbers in attendance were lower than might have been expected, with the banners of a number of political parties and housing campaigns notably absent. I wondered too whether it might not be wiser to make less of an issue of illegal evictions, since most evictions are probably legal under the current system and eviction orders easily obtained, a point made by one of the speakers.
What the content of the activist speeches most reflected to me, apart from outrage at the situation and blaming of the State, along with the welcome rejection of racism (even though mostly from forces that are rarely, if ever seen in the mobilisations against the racist and islamophobic rallies of the Far-Right), was impotence.
The same calls for unity, the ritual invoking of the executed socialist James Connolly, the usual denunciations of the political parties of current or past governments and their facilitation of landlords and property speculators, the decades-old calls for the involvement of the trade unions ……… but no coherent strategy or tactics to take the housing movement further at this point.
And it is not difficult to see why. What makes the housing crisis possible is the lack of public housing and that in turn is made possible by successive governments not releasing funds to local authorities for public housing construction. All political parties thus far to take part in Government for decades have colluded in maintaining this situation: the two main parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, of course but also whenever in coalition government, the Labour Party, Greens and Progressive Democrats.
What then of a new party in government? Currently only Sinn Féin offers that prospect and the party did have the most members elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in the February elections this year. However, the signs of a radical break with the capitalist housing market from that party are not good, due to its general anxiety to please the more conservative elements in society, combined with what seems an unprincipled hunger to enter government. Which, furthermore, it would have to do in coalition with other political parties.
Nor is it long since the party’s councillors in Dublin agreed to hand over public land in the city to private developers.
The trade unions are if anything more compromised and less ready for tough social action and in fact seem unable even to protect their own members to any noticeable degree.
If it should not appear possible to overcome the crisis through reform, then revolution is the only viable option – or at least the imminence of revolution forcing sections of the ruling class into implementing radical reforms. That situation does not seem close at the moment, though of course future developments may accelerate its approach in a manner difficult to anticipate now.
It does seem clear that the housing movement cannot rely on changes in government party composition in the near future. It seems likely that only more radical housing action at grassroots level, quite possibly with some activists eventually going to jail, can force the pace and provide the necessary impetus for radical government reform – or for contribution to revolution.