(Reading time comment: 2 mins; and article: 5 minutes)
People who’ve been following the witch-hunts in the British Labour Party — or even just generally aware of them — have seen left-wingers like Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s elected leader, actually expelled. Though Corbett has now been allowed back in with his electoral wings clipped, others have been expelled, including left-wing film-maker Ken Loach. It is witch-hunting, a type of McCarthyist hounding in which victims must prove themselves innocent of anti-semitism, which turns out to be impossible. This is because the Zionists and their supporters have succeeded in making any attack on Israel or Zionism, a political target, correspond to anti-semitism, a religious-racist view. That is all wrong certainly but it is not the job of socialists nor of anti-imperialists to “save” or “democratise” the British Labour Party.
Lenin famously once advised British socialists to support the Labour Party “as a rope supports a hanging man”. He was saying that as Labour had never yet been in sole government, it was bound to carry the idealised hopes of many working people — therefore give them the opportunity to see it in action. Whether Lenin was correct in his advice to help get Labour into government or not (and not all revolutionary socialists agreed with him), Labour was in the coalition War Government in 1915-1918 and subsequently in the periods 1924, 1929, 1945-1950, 1964-1970, 1974-1977, 1997-2010. It has had plenty of opportunities to show its real nature and has done so.
However, over the years, radical social democrats and various Trotskyist trends, along with the old Communist Party of Great Britain, have sought to support the Labour Party, not by pulling the rope, kicking the chair or unlocking the scaffold trapdoor, but by desperately getting underneath the body and propping it up. General elections were replete with slogans from the Left exhorting us to elect Labour “under a socialist program”, “under Left pressure” and “with socialist demands” or even “internal democracy” (to give the entrists room to move).
Such demands and manoeuvrings are in complete contradiction to history or a basic socialist class analysis. Lenin was certainly correct when he analysed the Labour Party as fundamentally capitalist and imperialist and the party has obligingly gone on to vindicate that analysis both in and out of government. But how could it be otherwise? It is a capitalist imperialist class that runs the UK and a party truly representing the working class will not be permitted to take over except if the ruling class is overthrown in revolution.
And such attempts will be met with whatever force the ruling class has at its disposal. In the Hebrew-Christian creation myth, the originators of humanity are driven from Paradise by an angel with a flaming sword and apparently never try to get back in (not in this life anyway). It will certainly take a flaming sword to drive capitalism from its Paradise of exploitation of labour power but in fact its predicament then is worse than Adam and Eve’s — for to be barred from entry forevermeans its very extinction as a class.
This is all Basic Socialist Theory 101 and proven time and again by Modern Class History 101. And yet, people on the Left who can quote volumes of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and even sometimes Bakunin, have somehow come out of those 101 courses with an entirely different understanding. And so time and time again, the hunt for the Left Messiah to lead the Labour Party and within, the gatherings of radical Leftists cliques, conspiring like the Christians in the Catacombs beneath Rome.
Just a moment’s review will show that at its first opportunity, Labour participated in management of the imperialist WWI which, by the way, included the murder of surrendered Irish insurgent leaders in 1916. The review will also reveal the agreement in the partition of Ireland in 1921, undermining of the 1926 UK General Strike, complicity in the anti-liberation wars in Persia (now Iraq), Egypt, Greece, Korea, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Aden (now Yemen), Oman …. and participation in joint invasion or attacks on Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. Not to mention being the party actually in Government when in 1969 it sent the troops in to quell the large oppressed Catholic minority in the Six Counties seeking civil rights.
Well, actually yes, let us mention it because that and its collusion with the Conservative government’s introduction of internment without trial in 1971 and subsequent massacres of protesters that year and in 1972 ratcheted up a cycle of violence that lasted three decades, with huge loss of human life among civilians, liberation fighters and its own soldiery and Loyalist auxiliaries.
The first anti-fascist fighter killed in Britain by police, by the way, Kevin Gately, was killed by mounted police in 1974 — under a Labour Government.
Those who really want an end to capitalism and imperialism — and the attendant racism — in Britain need to find a solution that does not involve electing a “Left Labour Government” or anything of that kind. We can argue and discuss what that solution might involve but one thing we should insist upon is that a “Left Labour Government” is not one of the options on the table for discussion.
Fascist supporters of bullfighting in Asturias thought they were having fun by naming two bulls due to be killed “Feminist” and “Nigerian” respectively. But their racist and sexist joke-jibes backfired on them in Gijón (Xixón), cultural centre and largest city of Asturias, the celtic nation in the north of the Spanish state.
Bullfighting is generally supported by a traditionalist conservative constituency in Spain, including fascists, who often project it as integral to their image of Spain. On the other hand, the practice is opposed by large sections of the Left and those who want independence for their nations from Spain, such as Catalonia (banned some years ago) and three southern provinces of the Basque Country (where it was suspended for years but limited fights permitted again recently).
BULLFIGHTING IS ENDED IN GIJÓN
Translation by D.Breatnach from Publico.es report
The El Bibio de Gijón bullring will no longer host the traditional Begoña bullfighting fair, as the City Council will not renew the licence of the bullring because it considers that bulls cannot be used to “deploy an ideology contrary to the human rights”.
“The bullfighting festival is over,” said the mayor of Gijón, Ana González, in statements to journalists, after stating that what happened in the last running of the fair this year, where two of the bulls from Daniel Ruiz’s cattle ranch were named “Feminist” and “Nigerian”, has caused great discontent among feminist and animalist associations and has precipitated a decision that was already in the pipeline.
“A city that believes in the equality of women and men, that believes in integration, in doors open to all cannot allow this type of thing,” said the Councilor before stating that “several lines have been crossed”.
González explained that the idea was to end the licence of the El Bibio bullring and later put an end to it, as contemplated in the resolutions of the PSOE congresses but these events have advanced the decision. For this reason, the Consistory will not grant a third extension of the concession signed in 2016 nor will it issue a new call, despite the fact that the payment of the successful bidder represents 50,000 euros per year for the city council.
“The bullfighting fair is over because it seems that too many things were hidden,” explained the Councilor, who argued that if the world of bullfighting is what was seen in the last run of the fair “it does not contribute much to a city like Gijón “.
“The Mayor indicated that in recent years the bullfighting was “clearly challenged” and that there were more and more voices calling for an end to the bullfighting fair in Gijón, a demand that has now been met.
“The names given to these two bulls which were fought by Morante de la Puebla last Sunday, August 15, in Gijón, generated controversy on social networks and have aroused complaints from feminist and animalist associations.”
Foster Islamic fundamentalist groups and arm them to overthrow a competitor’s puppet government. Use a nearby ally as a conduit.
Portray the fundamentalist insurgency as a liberation war and keep supplying them with weapons, training, through your nearby ally. This might cost as much as US$20 billion. Have a film made about it in which a former male porn film star is the USA hero with the local fundamentalist Islamic militias (underplay the Islamic part).
When they’ve overthrown the competitor’s puppet, attempt to instal your own puppet instead.
When your Islamic fundamentalist warlords don’t accept this and become a problem, invade the country. You have to get lots of your own soldiers killed because you armed and trained the opposition, they have grown more powerful and why should anyone fight them for you?
Keep telling the relatives of your dead soldiers (and those not yet dead) that they are fighting for democracy and to protect their homes (although they are nowhere near their homes).
Set up your own puppet regime, build a local army, let your investors back home in to gobble up what they can, dispense bribes (even to notorious warlords, torturers, murderers).
Use airpower to bomb your previous allies, even though you will be killing a lot of uninvolved people (and even though airpower didn’t work in the end for the other’s puppet government)
When it’s clear you are not going to win without an even more massive investment of money and your soldiers’ lives (which will make your politicians unpopular at home), pull out. Leave your puppets and local employees behind (shoot some as they try to get on your planes).
Then blame your puppet government for running. Blame the puppet army soldiers for surrendering, ignoring the fact that thousands of them have been killed even when you gave them air cover and that was then withdrawn or that surrounded units fought on for days on promises of relieving columns that never came.
You might lose some superpower status and get criticised at home. BUT your arms industry has increased its profits at least TEN TIMES since the invasion. After all, who really matters in all this?
https://www.democracynow.org/shows/2021/8/17# (For Afghanistan jump to Haran Rahoumi at 17.19 mins. on video to 31.4 mins; and again to from 37mins. with Azmat Khan to 46mins. In my opinion much more informative than ex-US Col. Amy Wright, now in Codepink, Vets for Peace.)
As part of a general rise in workers trade union militancy in the UK (including then Ireland), a general transport strike was called in August 1911. This involved train operators, dockers, sailors, carters and other types of worker. At one point the British State drafted extra police into Liverpool and, eventually, armed soldiers (as had been done against striking miners in the Rhonda Valley, Wales) and Royal Navy gunboats were sent up the Mersey river. On 12th August a massive police charge on workers attending a rally in Liverpool resulted in nearly two hundred injuries and became known as the city’s Bloody Sunday1.
1888 is seen by many labour historians as the point at which the weight of importance in the trade union movement shifted from the craft unions with their guild traditions, to the general workers, the “unskilled” (sic) and “semi-skilled” and when trade union actions began to be more militant and sustained. Over the following years, the working class built up its strength through many industrial struggles, many of which it lost but the general impetus was forward.
The great areas of need for capitalism were coal extraction for power, factory production for producing commodities and machines, along with transport to convey the coal to the factories and the commodities from the factories to the country and to the world. In 1911 transport involved trains and shipping, as well as horse and cart (motor transport had yet to generally oust the horse), the unions being those of train workers, ship-builders, carters and sailors. Factory workers were in engineering, textile and other unions. Miners unions recruited the coal-diggers and sorters. Construction workers were needed to build housing for workers, factories for them to work in, roads, railways and canals to transport goods and fuel.
In general, workers were becoming more militant and more politicised, more aware of ideas about the situation of their class and its future. Increasingly, workers in one union would support those of another on strike (although it was not until 1914 that three unions formed the Triple Alliance: The Miners Federation of G. Britain, The National Union of Railwaymen and The National Transport Workers’ Federation).
In Liverpool on May 11th 1911 there was a huge demonstration in the port city of Liverpool as part of the seamen’s strike led by the Transport Workers Federation. The strike being total and with difficulty in employing trained scabs, the employers were obliged to agree new terms with the union.
“Hearing of the victory of the seamen, 4,000 dockers immediately walked off the job on June 28 demanding improved pay and conditions. The dockers, many of whom had refused to load ships during the national strike, were quickly followed out by the scalers and coal heavers, and by the end of the day 10,000 men were on strike. Seeing this, the seamen walked out on strike again purely in support of the dockers. Mass meetings were held, and the largely un-unionised dock workers began to flock to the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL2).” (Libcom)
“It was the Transport strike during August that was to see matters escalate even further and near pushed the country to revolution. This incidentally was a national dispute with the railways going out on strike. This in turn was supported by dockers and other transport workers that saw the transportation of goods being brought to a grinding halt.
“Tensions were rising with the shipping companies stating that the dockers were in breach of their contract and declaring a lockout. To add fuel to the fire they also tried to call the military in as strike breakers.” (Gunboats up the Mersey)
As the rail strike began to spread across the country, a mass demonstration in Liverpool was declared as a show of support.
Support for the strike cut across the sectarian lines existing in Liverpool. “Reading Fred Bower’s account of workers marching from all over Liverpool must have shaken the establishment. ‘From Orange Garston, Everton and Toxteth Park, from Roman Catholic Bootle and the Scotland Road area they came. Forgotten were their religious feuds. The Garston band had walked five miles and their drum major proudly whirled his sceptre twined with orange and green ribbon.’
‘Never in the history of this or any other country had the majority and might of the humble toiler been so displayed. A wonderful spirit of humour and friendliness permeated the atmosphere.’ ” (Gunboatsetc)
“Taking place on August 13 at St George’s Plateau, 100,000 workers came to hear speeches by workers and leaders of the unions, including Tom Mann. The demonstration went without incident until about 4 o’clock, when, completely unprovoked, the crowds of workers suddenly came under attack from the police. Indiscriminatedly attacking bystanders, the police succeeded in clearing the steps of St George’s Hall in half an hour, despite resistance from strikers who used whatever they could find as weapons. Fighting soon spilled out into nearby streets, causing the police and troops to come under attack as workers pelted them with missiles from rooftops. Becoming known as Bloody Sunday, the fighting resulted in scores of injuries on both sides.” (Libcom)
“There are no records of why the Police decided to charge a peaceful crowd which resulted in a mass panic with 186 people being hospitalised and 95 arrests. Fred reports how after the carnage caused by the Police that it resembled a battlefield with wounded men, women, and children, lying singly in heaps over a vast area.” (Gunboats etc)
“Fighting across the city continued for several days, coming to a head when a group of workers attacked a prison van carrying some arrested strikers. Two workers were shot dead by troops during the ensuing struggle, one a docker and the other a carter.
“A general strike of all transport workers in Liverpool was arranged for the night of August 14, and the next day saw the city come to a complete halt. Any movement of goods was closely guarded by troops, most of whom were drafted in from outside of Liverpool as the territorials of the city had largely been confined to barracks, the authorities wary of their loyalty3.” (Libcom)
“Following Bloody Sunday a convoy of prisoners who had been arrested on that day were being escorted by thirty-two soldiers of the 18th Hussars on horseback fully armed with live ammunition along with mounted Police. A magistrate was also present carrying a copy of the riot act. However before it could be even read a disturbance broke out on Vauxhall road with troops opening fire, injuring five people, two fatally. The victims were John W. Sutcliffe and a twenty-nine year old docker Michael Prendergast. Five days later, on the 19th August two more civilians were shot by troops in Llanelli. These are the last occasions in history when British soldiers have killed civilians on the streets of mainland Britain.” (Gunboats etc)
“However, the strike’s days were numbered. Under intense pressure from the government to end the dispute, the railway employers and moderate leaders of the railwaymen’s union began a series of talks. A deal was struck ensuring that all strikers would be reinstated, and the railwaymen returned to work on August 21, with a general return to work ordered for the next day. Sporadic rioting occurred in working class districts throughout the end of August.” (Libcom)
“The show of strength displayed by the transport workers of Liverpool in 1911 clearly demonstrated the material gains that could be won through cross-industry solidarity. Paving the way for the massive industrial revolts by British workers during 1910-1914, the strike movement inspired similar action throughout the pre-war years.” (Libcom)
Some historical commentary from the Left criticises the union leadership for their actions in settling the strike but I find it hard to see the justification for this. They got reinstatement of all sacked and locked-out workers (which is a lot more than the union leaders did in 1926 as, under the influence of the Labour Party, they scrambled to call off the General Strike). The alternative would seem to have been to go for revolutionary insurrection (which would certainly have impeded the later carnage of WWI 1914-1918) but: a) is it reasonable to expect revolutionary leadership from trade union leaders and (b) were conditions such that a significantly large section of the workers in Britain would have answered the call to revolution?
A different question is perhaps that of preparation for a possible police charge, of which there had been enough examples. Workers could have been encouraged to prepare pieces of timber as placard holders and staffs as flag and banner-poles. A defeat of a police attack is both a welcome defensive action as well as a confidence-building one for oppressed people.
The role of Churchill is striking in this period, particularly in the midst of recent disputes about his racism in general and his encouraging the setting up of the terror units of the Auxiliary Royal Irish Constabulary (Black and Tans) and the Auxilliary Division in Ireland. Although it must be remembered that Government Ministers generally act as representatives and in the interest of the ruling class, Churchill was a particularly imperialist and capitalist reactionary and had in January of that same year sanctioned the burning of an East End building in which anarchists had taken refuge in the Siege of Sidney Street.
In fact, Churchill was so reactionary and bellicose that during the 1926 General Strike he was kept away from any operational control in the Cabinet and entrusted with editing and producing eight editions of the virulent anti-striker British Gazette. The challenge to the adulation of the British ruling class and sycophantic historical cheerleaders of the historical person of Churchill does not lack for material to justify that challenge.
The fact that local troops in Liverpool could not be trusted by the ruling class is interesting and occurred again during the Glasgow General Strike in 1919 when, arguably a revolution should have been called for. By then the soldiers had been conscripted into a horrific imperialist war and were being prevented from demobilisation because they were going to be needed to suppress the national liberation struggles breaking out across the Empire. And one of those struggles was the War of Independence in Ireland which one can confidently predict would have allied with a British insurrection both from class solidarity and from opportunism. One of the leaders of the Glasgow workers, Willie Gallacher, of Irish descent (so was Tom Mann, by the way), member of the Independent Labour Party and later a Communist, commented later that the workers were ready but that the leaders were not. A revolutionary outlook should alert one that if the ruling class does not trust a part of their repressive forces, the least revolutionaries should do would be to call on those to join the struggle.
Liverpool’s son Jim Larkin was already in Ireland as an organiser for the NUDL and by 1911 leading the breakaway Irish Transport & General Workers Union, with the great struggle of the Lockout still to come in 1913. Then with Edinburgh-born-and-raised James Connolly, he went on to initiate the first workers’ army in the world, the Irish Citizen Army.
The 1911 martyrs of Sutcliffe and Prendergast were recorded as being A contingent of Liverpool city’s Irish diaspora would join the Irish Volunteers and embark for Dublin to take part in the 1916 Rising, when a Royal Navy gunboat would sail up a different river and open fire on what was considered a British city. Later, sailors and dockers operating from Liverpool would be sending consignments of arms to the IRA for their War of Independence.
But in Britain, the workers of Liverpool fought some great battles and those of August 1911 were a harbinger of others to come.
1 (NB: I remember reading about this many years ago and as the anniversary is with us decided to write it up however briefly. I have used material from some articles rather than the articles themselves because some lacked detail, others were more general or I did not agree with descriptions of workers’ motivations being solely about wages and good working conditions. However I hope this article encourages people do their own reading on the events or at the very least raises their awareness of the history of the working class and of its enemies.)
2This was the trade union that employed Jim Larkin as an organiser and also sent him to organise in Belfast. Subsequently Larkin was sent to Dublin where he led the building up the NUDL up very successfully with a number of successful strikes. Subsequently Larkin and the NUDL’s Irish leader, Sexton, parted company after the latter had Larkin tried in court. After that, Larkin founded the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union and most of the Dublin members of the NUDL left that union to join the ITG&WU, of which James Connolly also became a leader.
3This is similar to the situation of the 1919 Glasgow General Strike, when the locally-garrisoned troops were confined to barracks for fear they’d support the workers.
Actually what the hierarchy referenced fearing in a recent 95-page statement was “two Spains”, which most commentators took as being a reference to a repeat of the Anti-Fascist war of 1936-1939, with Republican Spain and Fascist Spain. The statement of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) spoke of the “stability” which the 1978 Constitution has given the Spanish State. So have they suddenly now become democrats? Of course, one can think of another way of imagining such a dichotomy: Rich Spain and Worker Spain. I think the Bishops fear another kind of civil war – i.e revolution.
The 95-page document entitled ‘Faithful to missionary sending’ was prepared not only by the collegiate bodies of the CEE but also by external collaborators. Less open to different interpretations are the other concerns raised by the Bishop’s Conference, regarding the increasing secularisation of society, the scandals around abuse of those in the care of Church institutions and pastors, along with the other scandal of church appropriation of public property, including even a UNESCO site1. The Bishops feel that some of these processes and issues are not merely accidental or incidental to modern times but rather are deliberately driven by people in hostility to the Church.
CHURCH AND POLITICS
It is customary and has been so throughout history for the dominant religious institution to have a close relationship with the dominant class in society and this has certainly been the case with the Catholic Church in the Spanish Kingdom. The Spanish ruling elite at the turn of the last century, in a country with underdeveloped capitalist industry was an alliance of two different social classes, the aristocracy and the capitalist-financier class. The social atmosphere was deeply conservative and dominated by the Catholic Church hierarchy which, through them and the religious male and female orders, controlled institutions of social and educational provision. Progressive artists were penalised and often enough went into exile.2
The First Spanish Republic, a brief attempt to liberalise and democratise the State after the abdication of King Amadeo in 1873, survived not even two years before being overthrown in a military coup, followed by repression causing the exile of many of republican leaders and supporters.
However, a wave of revolt against the conservatism and lack of democracy of the Spanish Kingdom came around again and in 1931 the Second Republic was created, overthrowing the dictatorship of General Primo Rivera. Initially the composition of the government was right-wing and the revolt of the Asturian miners was cruelly suppressed by the Army and the militarised police force of the Guardia Civil3. The right-wing government fell in 1936 when a democratic left-wing Popular Front government was elected, which set about legislating for greater social freedoms, equality and discussing autonomy for nations4 within the State.
DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY-FASCIST UPRISING
That was the signal for the forces of reaction to strike and most of the military high command, allied with the fascist Falange5, staged a coup. In Barcelona, the coupists were quickly suppressed by a popular upsurge which took on a revolutionary character. In some other parts, particularly in Madrid, the coupists were suppressed too but without a revolution.
General Franco in partnership with another three generals and senior naval commanders led or joined the coup but Franco’s forces were isolated in part of North Africa (then a Spanish colony). While the ‘democratic’ European powers ‘blockaded the conflict’, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided the logistical support6 to get Franco’s forces to the Canary Islands, then to Spain, where they found little organised opposition but nevertheless carried out a reign of terror. The Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy and most of its priests and religious orders supported the military and fascist rebellious forces with enthusiasm.
A conflict variously called “the Spanish Civil War” or “the Spanish Antifascist War” followed, ending in 1939 with victory for the military-fascist forces, who lost an estimated 175,000 killed in action, and 110,000 died fighting for the Republic.7
Following the earlier pattern of areas the fascists had conquered, a wave of repression ensued against republicans, communists, socialists, anarchists, democrats, trade unionists, Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, gays and lesbians, with summary executions, military tribunals and executions, mass jailing, public humiliation of women …. Estimates of executions behind the fascist-military lines during the War range from fewer than 50,000to 200,0008. Most of the victims were killed without a trial in the first months of the war and their corpses were left on the sides of roads or in clandestine and unmarked mass graves.Spain has the highest number of mass graves anywhere in the world with the exception of Cambodia9, with 740 mass graves containing the remains of some 9,000 people having been found so far. The support of the Catholic Church for the military and fascists did not waver throughout.
THREE DECADES OF FASCIST DICTATORSHIP
After that initial phase, three decades of political and social repression followed under the Franco dictatorship, again fully supported by the Spanish Catholic Church.
However, the dictatorship was always resisted to some degree or another and that resistance began to grow apace during the 1960s. The Partido Comunista de España and the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero de España, both banned, were organising underground and becoming increasingly popular. Both had affiliated trade union organisations and the Comisiones Obreras10, linked to the PCE was particularly widespread. The youth of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) broke with the conservative and inactive leadership and, joining with a revolutionary socialist movement in the southern Basque Country, formed ETA11, taking up armed struggle at the end of the 1960s.
As the Dictator aged the imperialists began to worry about the potential for a revolution in Spain and contacts in influential circles were sought to persuade the ruling class to replace the Dictatorship with a parliamentary democracy. Some elements in the Spanish Catholic Church opposed those initiatives but one which embraced it was the technocratic Opus Dei, which with some others, steered the country through the Transición.
Amidst a wave of repression including murders of activists by State and other fascist forces, with fear of an indefinite continuation of the Dictatorship, a Referendum on a monarchist and unitary state constitution was held. The PCE and the PSOE were legalised and, with their support, the 1978 Constitution received majority support. It is that Constitution which is regularly quoted when the State declines to permit the Basque and Catalan nations to even hold a referendum on independence.
In summary then, the Spanish State has evolved from a deeply conservative and repressive state, through a fascist-military uprising to a fascist and socially conservative dictatorship, all along with the support of the Spanish Catholic Church. When a revolution was feared, in consultation with imperialist advisers, the technocrat section of the Church, with the support of the social democratic and communist parties, helped prepare a transition to a parliamentary democratic form. Central to the Transition was preserving the mostly fascist ruling class and ensuring it would remain safe from any reparations, not to speak of criminal charges for murder, rape, torture, large-scale thefts …
But now, the Church hierarchy is sounding a warning. If it fears revolution, it has cause to.
VULNERABILITY OF THE SPANISH STATE
The possibility of revolution in Spain may seem far distant to most external and internal observers but two things should be taken into account:
Revolution often grows and matures very quickly from what seemed like unready conditions and
the Spanish State is by far the most vulnerable in the whole of the EU.
INTERNAL FORCES HOSTILE TO THE SPANISH STATE
The Spanish State consists of a number of nations, of which Catalonia, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) and Galicia (Galiza) are the most obvious. But “Paisos Catalans” includes also Valencia and the Balearic Islands, all areas where Catalan is spoken and Asturias also consider themselves a Celtic nation (as does Galiza).
The southern Basque Country has spent decades mobilising for independence in a wide social and political opposition to the Spanish State and though the official leadership of its movement is now pacified, a strong potential remains there. As the momentum of the latter declined, the movement for independence in Catalonia increasingly matured and in 2017 an unsanctioned referendum returned a majority for independence. Spanish police raided polling booths, attacked the voters and later nine social and political leaders were jailed by the State while others were obliged to go into exile. The 2021 elections returned a majority of pro-independence candidates and the total vote for independence exceeded 50% for the first time since pro-independence candidates presented themselves in elections.
The movements for independence respectively in Galiza and Asturies are nowhere near at the same level as those of the Basque Country or of Catalonia but they are growing. This is true also of the Paisos Catalans and the Islas Canarias.
With regard to the wide workers’ organisations, while the Comisiones and UGT at present maintain overall control, the majority of organised workers in the Basque Country and Galiza belong to trade unions supporting independence. Intersindical, a class trade union12 movement, also supporting independence, is growing in Catalonia and the Canaries.
Generally the Spanish State finds itself increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Its repression measures against the Basques and Catalans have not only disaffected people in those nations but also, despite general media and fascist propaganda, sectors of the Spanish intelligentsia. Writers, actors, artists have experienced repression or have spoken out against the repression of members of their sector. Political activist and rapper Pablo Hasel is in jail while Valtonyc, another rapper, is in exile to avoid imprisonment, both because of their lyrics.
Repeated financial corruptionscandals have increasingly undermined confidence in the political and business classes.
FORCES SUPPORTING THE SPANISH STATE
The image of the Spanish Monarchy has suffered probably irreparable damage. The previous King, Juan Carlos, who was a visible link between the Dictatorship and the current parliamentary system but credited by liberal commentators as managing the “transition to democracy”, has abdicated. His personal reputation was damaged by a number of public relations disasters and he is now being pursued on allegations of financial and political corruption. His son-in-law is serving a jail sentence for financial and political corruption too. The current King, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI, though by no means compromised to any similar degree, has not built up any significant social support either, despite a generally sycophantic Spanish media.
The Catholic Church, the great organisation of social control for centuries and throughout the Dictatorship, has lost much of its influence, a fact bewailed by the Bishops in their communique. In the Basque Country and in Catalonia, the Hierarchy had little influence anyway because of its support for Franco. But the scandals of physical and sexual abuse in church institutions and by pastors, common across much of the western world, have impacted on the Church across the Spanish state too. In addition, the increasing secularisation of modern western society has also weakened the Church’s influence, as have its opposition to contraception and abortion, divorce, homosexuality and of course same-sex marriage, all of which are now legal.
Surveys indicated that only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, lower than the 5% European average, though religious festivals remain popular on a mainly cultural level.
According to the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, as of July 2021, while 58.6% of Spanish citizens self-identify as Catholic, only 18.6% define themselves as practicing, with 40% as not practicing. Another 37% have no religion, identifying variously as atheists (15.1%), agnostics (11.5%) or non-believers (10.4%)13. The total number of parish priests, i.e the level of Church personnel most in direct contact with the population, shrank from 24,300 in 1975 to 18,500 in 2018, with an average age of 65.5 years.14
However, the COPE radio network, owned by the Catholic Spanish Bishops’ Conference, broadcasts material ranging from the conservative to the fascist and always for Spanish unionism. COPE, an acronym for Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (“People’s Radiowaves of Spain Network”) formerly called Radio Popular, is the second most played among Spain’s generalist radio. COPE owns music stations Cadena 100, Rock FM and Megastar FM, in addition to the Spanish generalist TV channel Trece. The station is associated with the right-wing Spanish journal DiarioABC.
The privately-owned media in the Spanish state, whether favouring the PSOE (e.g El País) or the Partido Popular (e.g El Mundo and ABC) tends to be supportive of the union and the status quo15, with the state TV networks even more so. The bias against for example Basque or Catalan independence activists is remarkably obvious, with TV cameras accompanying police on raids to arrests of activists and publication of prejudicial statements long before the accused face trial and again during the trial itself.
Both traditional main political parties have their origins in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. In common with most European parliamentary democracies, the two-party system has lost support in the Spanish state, resulting in recent governments being coalitions of political parties. This increases the potential for political thinking along class rather than party lines while also creating internal difficulties for the coalitions.
The right-wing Partido Popular was formed in 1989 but was a reconfiguration of the Alianza Popular, formed after the State’s change to the parliamentary system to give fascists and deep conservative supporters of Franco a representation in elections. Much reduced now, the PP has given rise to a chain of splits, first to form Ciudadanos, in turn shedding some members to form the more or less openly fascist Vox party. Any return of the PP to governing the Spanish state would require it to form a coalition with one or both of Cs and Vox.
The PSOE, formerly illegal under the Dictatorship, has on the surface many of the features of a western social-democratic party. However, it has been deeply implicated in repression of struggles in the Basque Country, including wide-scale torture of prisoners. Further, under the Felipe Gonzales presidency (prime ministership), the Spanish State ran terrorist squads carrying out kidnapping, torture, murder and bombings against pro-independence Basques. The operation was exposed in a series of articles in El Mundo and, although Gonzales didn’t face even a police interview, the eventual resulting list of convictions included the Minister of the Interior, Director of State Security, Sec-General of the PSOE in the Basque province of Bizkaia, Czar of the “Antiterrorist Struggle”, Bilbao Chief of Police Intelligence Brigade, another Police Chief, regional Governor for the Spanish State in Bizkaia, and a colonel, Chief of the Guardia Civil HQ in Intxaurrondo (Basque Country).
Although successfully unseating the PP Government on a vote of “no confidence” in the Government’s 2018 budget, the PSOE’s leader, Pedro Sanchez, was only able to enter government by forming a coalition with Unidas Podemos16, itself a coalition of left social-democrats, trotskyists and communists. Since the new Government took over the repression of Catalans of its predecessor, only releasing imprisoned Catalan activists on parole recently, it does not have the support of the Catalan independentists, with the exception of one major party which voted to help the Government’s budget scrape through, as did the official leadership of the Basque independence movement17.
Fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state, it merely put on a democratic mask, albeit faded and patched. The current members of the ruling class are mostly descendants of the military-fascist alliance of 1936 and virtually all beneficiaries of the Dictatorship, often sitting on wealth, industry and media expropriated from their opponents defeated in the Antifascist War. There are sections of active and militant fascists across the Spanish state with wide police and military connections, denouncing the independence initiatives in Catalonia, criticising immigration, ridiculing equality measures and parading with fascist symbols and salutes to exalt the memory of General Franco and Primo Rivera. Although some of those activities are illegal, they act with visible impunity. The Vox political party has stated openly that it wants to amend the Constitution to remove the status of regional autonomy, which they believe encourages aspiration for independence and thereby endangers the unity of the Spanish State.
Some government antifascist measures of late, along with the rise of independence activism in Catalonia have caused apprehension among this section of fascists, which finds expression in more rallies and demonstrations and increasingly threatening language and displays. The Government measures include the removal — long-promised by the PSOE — of Franco and Rivera’s remains from the mausoleum in the fascist monumental park of the Valle de los Caidos (“Valley of the Fallen”) which was built with political prisoner labour. The State’s TV service covered the event at length and in a manner resembling a homage ceremony.
Currently historical memory legislation is being promoted to assist in the discovery, investigation and honouring of the graves of the victims of Franco, while another piece of legislation seeks to make illegal any promotion of Franco or of fascism generally. The future of these initiatives is uncertain but the fact that even the current anti-fascist legislation is not upheld does not inspire confidence.
The Bishops’ concerns about the safety of the 1978 Constitutional State seem to be twofold: on the one hand they see the demands for self-determination of nations within its territory as a threat to the State while on the other hand they fear that the fascists will push matters to an extreme, i.e that “civil war” – and this time, the fascists will lose, in the course of which the State will fall. However a close reading also looks like a threat to the national liberation and democratic forces, a warning to desist from their challenges to the status quo – or else!
As to their concerns for their Church, the Bishops are correct in believing that it is under attack but misunderstand the nature of the opposition, a large part of which is more to do with resenting the privileged position of the Church within the Spanish State than a hatred of the institution and faith as a whole. The Church received €144 million in funding from the State18 in 2019, ultimately from the taxes levied on people, no matter what their religion or state of faith, their opinion of the institutions or of their activities. And the tax-payers have no control over those institutions.
Of course, the Church does have its enemies, people who will never forgive it for the role it has played in the abuse of people and for its role in history, in particular its support for the military-fascist uprising, the horrific repression during that war and again during the subsequent dictatorship.
But the Bishops are right about one thing – the Spanish state is very vulnerable. Which is no doubt also the reason for the general contradictory stance of most other states in the EU, which on the one hand wish the Spanish State would act in a more subtle way than naked repression, while on the other fearing the spillover effect of possible revolution and the territorial breakup of “Spain”.
2Cervantes, the most famous Spanish writer and much praised by the State today, never received any support from the Spanish Kingdom. In 1569 he fled a warrant for arrest due to wounding an opponent a duel. Later, his family could not afford his ransom when captured by Corsairs but his freedom was eventually bought by an organisation working to free Christian slaves in the Ottoman Empire. Employed later by the Spanish as a tax collector he was jailed briefly a number of times for “irregularities. He is celebrated as a writer not only in Spanish but his Don Quixote de la Mancha has been widely read in translation.
3The Guardia Civil is a Spanish state-wide police force but militarised — they have military ranks and live in barracks. The gendarme-type force is one common in states needing to control a disparate population with a history of rebellion, eg: the Carabinieri of Italy, Gendarmerie of France, Royal Irish Constabulary of Ireland under British rule (then the RUC in the colony, now the PSNI).
4Catalonia got its autonomy during its popular suppression of the coup attempt and, once the war was underway, three southern Basque provinces got theirs too, while the conservative Carlists in the fourth province, Nafarroa (Navarra) sided with the coup and massacred any supporters of the Government they could find. Galician autonomy was under discussion but after only two weeks of fighting in July 1936, the fascists took control and the project was abandoned. The fascists killed 800,000 people there, mostly civilians and after the hostilities.
5La Falangia Española, a fascist organisation founded by Primo Rivera (son of the General of the same name) in October 1933. It was later remodeled by Franco to unite all the fascist and right-wing nationalist organisations and from then was the only legal political party during the Franco Dictatorship.
6Both fascist powers also provided personnel, weapons, military transport, tanks …. the infamous urban centre bombing of Gernika was carried out by German and Italian planes. The Republican side received some assistance from the Mexican Government and in particular the Soviet Union and volunteers for the International Brigades. The balance of equipment and trained personnel was always however in favour of the fascist-military insurgents.
10The Comisiones today is much less under the influence of the PCE and, together with UGT, which remains under the control of the PSOE, form the two main Spanish trade unions, their leaderships institutionalised and generally collaborative with the State and for the union of Spain.
11Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country And Freedom) was much more than the depiction of “terrorist” organisation one finds in most descriptions. It was a cultural and social Basque liberation organisation, persecuted by the Spanish State, against which it took up arms after almost a decade of repression and torture. After years of decline but during which the wider movement expanded hugely, ETA disbanded around 2012. Many of its convicted fighters remain dispersed throughout the jails of the Spanish and French states while others are in exile.
12A class union does not recruit members repressive forces (e.g. police, jailers, armed forces), nor of management in work places. Also Intersindical has a very democratic structure with an elected General Secretary permitted to serve for only two years.
15An exception is the attitude to the Catholic Church, which is generally critical in El País, in line with its more secular identity.
16Izquierda Unida (United Left), the often disunited coalition of mostly Trotskyist small groups coordinated by the CPE, formed an electoral coalition with Podemos just before the elections. Podemos arose from a small group of Trotskyists that emerged from 13M, the huge popular opposition to the Spanish State, especially in Madrid, in turn engendered by the protest movement commonly known as “Los Indignados”. Podemos rode that wave of indignation to win five seats in their first participation in elections, those to to the European Parliament in May 2014. In the 2015 General Elections on 20 December 2015, Podemos received 21% of the vote and became the third largest party in the Parliament, with 69 out of 350 seats. In subsequent elections, as part of coalitions, Podemos’ number of MPs in the Spanish Parliament has fallen consecutively to 49, 47, 32 and 26, with its 5 MEPs reduced to three. Conversely, the party’s membership is growing, according to reports.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Viktor Babariko, leading political opposition leader until he was arrested on corruption charges just before the Presidential election last August, has been sentenced in Belarus to 14 years in jail and a fine equivalent to a little over €47,990. Viktor Babariko was the head of a bank owned by the gas company Gazprom.
The news has already drawn condemnation of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus from the USA’s Embassy and howls of protest are sure to be heard across the EU also. The hypocrisy there on this kind of treatment of political opponents is stark – the Spanish state jailed nine political leaders for their involvement in an independence referendum in 2017, sentencing them to up to 13 years in prison (the State Prosecution asked for around 50 years), while leaders of most EU states and main political parties remained silent.
To be sure, European regimes, even the Spanish one, are more liberal than the one in Belarus. After four years in jail, the Spanish regime recently released those Catalan political activists on conditional pardons, a move unlikely to be equalled in Belarus. But those Catalans are barred from standing in elections and face a return to jail for “any repetition of their crimes” – i.e organising politically for Catalan independence. And some others are in jail for activities during the protest general strikes and over 3,000 are threatened with judicial process for involvement in the 2017 Referendum. Other Catalan political leaders are in exile, including the former President of Catalonia’s autonomous region, who is a Member of the European Parliament.
And European regimes wouldn’t use financial wrongdoing charges against political opponents, would they? Or try to cripple them financially? Actually, right at this moment, the Spanish State, through its audit court, is pursuing former Catalan Government ministers and officials on charges of misusing their Government’s funds, demanding a total of €50.4 million from them (sums of over €2m each). Furthermore, they must put those amounts up as bonds — without being convicted of financial wrongdoing in any criminal court — and have only weeks to do so.
Oriol Junqueras, former Deputy Leader of Catalonia (also elected an MEP while in jail), has been ordered to “repay” €1.9m. Carles Puigdemont, former Catalan President now in exile in Belgium, has also been ordered to pay €1.9m. On Tuesday Puigdemont commented on Twitter that his lawyer had been given only three hours to read 500 pages of court documents and 10 minutes to put his case.
What if those being targeted refuse to pay or simply can’t pay? Their property, including house and car can be seized along with a portion of their income, quite possibly deducted for the rest of their lives.
Andreu Mas-Colell, 76, a former Catalan finance minister, also faces a court demand for a large repayment. A former Harvard economics professor, he has received the support of 53 economists, including 33 Nobel laureates, who last week wrote a letter urging the Spanish state not to impose a large fine on him. His son, Gabriel Mas, told the Financial Times: “In the next 15 days, Andreu will have to deposit a guarantee of €670,000-€2.8m as the result of an administrative decision in which not a single judge has participated.”
With regard to the Babariko sentence, the stink of hypocrisy rising from the Spanish State is appalling — but it covers most of the EU too.
The undemocratic non-jury Special Criminal Court was renewed for another year in the Dáil yesterday evening with the lowest abstentions or vote against it ever. All Sinn Féin’s TDs (members of the Irish parliament) absented themselves and FG, FF, Greens and Labour all voted for another year’s renewal, with the Social Democrats abstaining. Seven votes were cast against it, the lowest ever since it was brought in as part of the Offences Against the State Act in 1972.
Voting against renewal were the five PBP/Solidarity TDs (Bríd Smith, Richard Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny, Mick Barry, Paul Murphy) and the two left-wing Independent TDs: Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle. Sinn Féin, who abstained in 1920 for the first time after decades of opposition, just didn’t attend at all this time. In 1920 they said that they were awaiting a review of the Act promised by the Justice Minister – but without any explanation of what in the review could possibly convince them to keep the Act in place. The Social Democrats, whose amendment to bring the Special Court to an end by a deadline of June 29th next year was rejected, abstained in the vote.
SINNFÉIN ABANDONS DECADES OF OPPOSITION TO THE SPECIAL CRIMINALCOURT
Since the Acts’ inception, Sinn Féin has voted against the annual renewal – until last year, when they abstained and this year, absented themselves from the Dáil before the vote. For some years now, the party has been reshaping itself to take part in a coalition government with one of the government parties. Supporters of the party who believe this a necessary disguise to enter the corridors of power and that the party will then return to its Republican past will find that for whatever principle the party gives up voluntarily, a further one will be extracted by pressure. Those who crawl into government will never be able to stand up in it later.
James Geoghegan, FG’s candidate for the forthcoming by-election in Dublin Bay East, taking a swipe at SF’s candidate Lynn Boylan, said “When it comes before both the Dáil and Seanad, what will Sinn Féin and Senator Lynn Boylan do? Will they abstain yet again, which undermines the laws in place to keep our citizens and democratic institutions safe?
“If Senator Boylan wishes to be a senior legislator and member of Dáil Eireann, she must show her support for the institutions of the State and do all in her power to protect the public from criminality and the threat of terrorism.”
Note that Geoghegan has no difficulty in equating support for “democratic institutions” with supporting their very negation, such as jury-less trials.
Sinn Féin party leaders may think that in not opposing the SCC’s renewal, they are abandoning only some Republican principles, as Republicans have been the main victims of the Special Criminal Court to date but in fact they are also colluding in a major attack on civil and human rights, as pointed to by the opposition of civil and human rights organisations to the SCC.
OPPOSITION OUTSIDE THE DÁIL
Outside the Dáil, which has been held in the Convention Building on the Dublin quays since the Covid 19 measures, a protest picket took place before the vote. The demonstration was organised by the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and supported by a mixed attendance of Republicans, Socialists and Anarchists.
A number of passing motorists, particularly in company vans and lorries, blew their car horns in solidarity in passing, some also extending a clenched fist or “thumbs up” sign out of their window.
Left Independent TDs Thomas Pringle and Joan Collins joined the picketers for a while and Richard Boyd Barrett chatted with them in passing too; all three posed for a photo while holding a placard against the SCC before returning to the Dáil to speak and vote against the juryless court.
The Abolish the Special Courts campaign was launched in 2017 and a public meeting the campaign group organised in Dublin in 2018 heard about a number of then recent cases of unjust convictions in the non-jury courts. Since then the campaign group has organised protests against the SCC.
IRISH STATE TERRORIST LEGISLATION ASSISTED BY BRITISH TERRORISM
The Special Criminal Court, as stated earlier, is part of the Offences Against the State Act (OAS) 1939, which is sometimes described as the Irish State’s anti-terror legislation. However, the setting up of the Special Criminal Court and the infamous Amendment to the OAS which allows convictions of “membership of an illegal organisation” solely on the unsupported word of a Garda at superintendent rank or higher, was in fact passed on a wave of hysteria after a terrorist bombing in 1972 by British Intelligence terrorists.
On the evening of December 1st, 1972, a car bomb exploded near Liberty Hall in Dublin and although there were no fatalities in that explosion, many were injured. A second bomb a short time later at Sackville Place, off O’Connell Street, killed Mr George Bradshaw (29), a bus driver, and Mr Duffy (24), a bus conductor.
The indications had been that Fine Gael and Labour were both going to vote against the Fianna Fáil proposals but in the panic after the the explosions, which were blamed against all logic on the IRA, the opposition to the Acts collapsed and they passed.
THE PRETENCE OF “TEMPORARY PROVISIONS”
The Acts must be voted upon annually because, as with much emergency legislation across the world, the myth is propagated that the provisions are temporary; however these “temporary measures” have now been in place for 82 years! To give another example, the specifically anti-Irish emergency legislation introduced to Britain in 1974, the annually-renewable Prevention of Terrorism Act, was only abolished 15 years later to be replaced by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989 (again “Temporary Provisions”) which in turn was replaced by the Terrorism Act 2000.
The powers this Act provide the police have been controversial, leading to noted cases of alleged abuse, and to legal challenges in British and European courts. The stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Act have been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
That Act was strengthened by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which was then replaced by Section 1 of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures 2011. All repressive legislation in Britain has now ceased even the pretence of being temporary.
A similar trajectory has been followed by “emergency” legislation in the Six Counties statelet, from the very creation of the administration in 1921 (with the Emergency Powers Act of 1920), a new Act in 1926, amended in 1964 and replaced by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, providing unlimited powers of harassment for the colonial police along with refusal of bail, undemocratic bail conditions and easy convictions for the non-jury Diplock Courts.
Historically, on occasion juries have been misled and have also been complicit in unjust verdicts, convicting innocent people (there are infamous cases such as the Irish-related ones in Britain in the 1970s, the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward). But much less so than non-jury courts. The right to be tried by a jury empaneled by random selection is considered across the world a fundamental democratic right and, furthermore, is one that has been fought for across the centuries, first to win the actual right, then to apply it across classes and finally to apply it to women and ethnic minorities.
The Six County colony has the Diplock non-jury courts and the Irish State has the SCC, both emergency and undemocratic measures in two states that are supposed to be democracies. Both courts regularly remand accused in custody without bail or impose undemocratic restrictions on the few occasions when bail is granted, such as having to be indoors by a specific time daily, prohibition from attending political meetings, etc. At trial, the required burden of proof on the Prosecution is very light indeed, ensuring an unnaturally high rate of convictions.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties, which was founded in 1976 by people concerned about the increase in repressive powers of the Irish State, has stated that the court “continues to represent the single biggest denial of fair trial rights in our legal system”. The SCC has also been condemned by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.
Whereas apologists for these undemocratic and repressive measures argue that non-jury courts are necessary because jurors might be intimidated, they fail to produce evidence of this having happened. However, there is hard evidence of unjust convictions by the Special Criminal Court.
In 2017 Michael Connolly, who had already spent 14 months in prison had his SCC conviction for alleged membership of the IRA overturned and a retrial ordered, during which he was found “not guilty”. Assistant Commissioner of the Gardaí Michael O’Sullivan was judged to have been “careless” in producing a single piece of “evidence” twice as the basis of his belief of the man’s guilt, which made it appear that there were two pieces of evidence, which the SCC considered sufficient to convict.
In 1986 the Special Criminal Court found Osgur Breatnach, Brian McNally and Nicky Kelly guilty of robbing a mail train near Sallins, Co. Kildare. They were innocent but had “confessed” after beatings in Garda custody, which the Prosecution claimed they had inflicted upon themselves and which the SCC accepted despite vigorous denials and the fact that Breatnach had been in a cell on his own. The three were sentenced to between nine and 12 years but their convictions were later overturned and they were paid compensation by the State in acknowledgement of their innocence. “Whistleblower”, a multi-media work on the unjust convictions organised by musician Cormac Breatnach, a brother of one of the victims of the SCC, has won Irish and international awards –but the SCC continues in operation and to be supported by TDs year after year.
This year and last were the worst years in the existence of the undemocratic court, with lowest votes ever recorded against it. As the Abolish Special Courts campaign succinctly summarised the vote in the Dáil: “Shame on those who used to support the abolition of non-jury special courts who now vote in favour of it, abstain or don’t show up to vote at all.”
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.
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
E. Conde NOTICIAS DE NAVARRA (translation by D.Breatnach)
Never could a coffee have been so bitter. This Wednesday the First Section of the Provincial Court of Navarra is to judge a Guardia Civil officer, belonging to the Citizen Security Unit of the Command of Navarra, accused by the Prosecutor’s Office and the private prosecution of the crime of illegal detention by a public official after he arrested a waitress at a gas station, with whom he argued because the coffee was not to his liking. They ask for him to be fined a sum of 2,160 euros and that he be disqualified for nine years from his post. In addition, they demand that he compensate the victim with 1,000 euros for moral damage.
The events occurred around 10:30 p.m. on July 27, 2019 when the defendant, a Guardia Civil since 2005, in command of a unit arrived with his colleague at the Acciona service station on the A-12, in the area of Legarda. There they went into the café and ordered some coffees. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, “since he did not like the coffee, he argued with the waitress and manager, who was serving the rest of the customers.”
Neither the complaint form nor her driver’s license was acceptable to him
He did not restrict himself to mere protest. He requested the complaint sheet, arguing with her to give it to him immediately. The defendant considered that said sheet was not the corresponding one and asked for her National ID and the woman gave him her driving license. The Guardia insisted that this sheet was not the correct one and considered her driving licence identification insufficient.
The waitress continued working, but the defendant called her, made her step outside away from where the customers could see what was happening and “with abuse of authority, telling her that she was disrespectful”, proceeded to arrest her at around 10:45 p.m. and to put her in the patrol car. She was taken to the Puente la Reina barracks, and handcuffed as a detainee. She was held until 2:00 am, when a statement was taken and she was released. As a result, the victim suffered from anxiety.
During the investigation of the case there was an attempt to resolve the matter by the criminal mediation procedure but as this was unsuccessful, it goes to trial. In principle, any possibility of agreement is ruled out since the officer, if convicted of said crime, would be disqualified from any similar job for a relevant period of time.
by Diarmuid Breatnach
The case is an extreme example of a common aspect of the Guardia Civil – arrogance, a sense of entitlement and impunity and lack of respect for issues of justice or ordinary people. Contempt and hostility towards socialists, LGBT and aspirations of the nations within the state are common too but, although this took place in Nafarroa, in one of the Basque regional autonomies, the report does not reveal whether this played a part.
The Guardia Civil is one of two “national” police forces of the Spanish State and the oldest police force of the kingdom. It is a gendarmerie, an armed police force with military organisation and role in addition to a civil one, such as the Gendarmerie of the French state, Carabinieri of the Italian state and the Royal Irish Constabulary all over Ireland until 1921 and its remnant, the Police Force of Northern Ireland (British colony) today. The force is quartered in barracks for accommodation with police station facilities, cells etc.
GUARDIA CIVIL AND FASCISM
When the fascist-military coup was launched against the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish state in 1936, the Guardia Civil split evenly between those who remained loyal to the Government and those who defected to the fascist-military, with those loyal becoming the Guardia Republicana. However, that percentage was in the lowest order of police force loyalty to the republican Government, with elected government loyalty in other police forces at around 70% of membership. After the defeat of the republican forces, the superior officer of the Guardia Republicana, General José Aranguren was tried by Francoist military court, sentenced to death and executed in Barcelona.
In the areas conquered by the fascist-military forces and in the whole state after the defeat of the republican forces, the Guardia Civil were one of the chief forces seeking out and rounding up former supporters of the republican Government along with communists, socialists, anarchists, republicans, Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists. Most of the detainees were brought before military courts and either sentenced to death, to penal servitude or to heavy fines and confiscations of property. Some never made it to court, being summarily executed. Rapes were also recorded and infants of murdered parents were trafficked to fascist childless families.
In the nations that had shown wishes for independence or autonomy, such as Catalonia and the southern Basque Country (of which Navarre is a part), along with other areas where antifascist resistance had been strong such as some areas of Madrid, the Guardia Civil was a constant and visible force of surveillance and repression of the civil population in terms of culture, morality and politics.
During times of guerrilla conflict, the Guardia at times killed prisoners and routinely tortured detainees during interrogation (the Wikipedia entry says that they were accused of “heavy-handedness”!). Colonel Tejero of the Guardia Civil led 200 of that force in a failed attempted coup in 1981 which included an armed invasion of the Spanish Parliament. Several Guardia including very high-ranking officers were convicted of organising the fascist murder squads of the 1980s (GAL etc) run by the Spanish PSOE Government.
The Guardia until recently was the primary police force acting against the Basque national resistance and numerous of their detainees over decades have testified to being tortured, humiliated (including sexually) and threatened almost immediately after arrest, during their transportation by the Guardia to the force’s barracks in Madrid, where the torture etc continued up to the five days incommunicado detention permitted under Spanish State “anti-terrorist” legislation. The treatment usually produced “confessions” which were then used to secure a conviction and long prison sentence. The European Court of Human Rights has a number of times found the Spanish State guilty of not investigating allegations of torture by detainees and a number of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have condemned the impunity of the torturers.
The Guardia Civil frequently break up demonstrations and in 2017 both they and the Policía Nacional invaded Catalonia in force, the Guardia Civil seizing ballot boxes in the Catalonia Independence Referendum and beating voters and people protesting their actions (also firing rubber bullets which are banned by the regional Government).
Since 2020, actions against Basque and Catalan independence campaigners have been carried out mostly by their autonomous regional police forces (Ertzaintza and Forales in the Basque autonomous regions and Mossos d’Escuadra in Catalonia) but, if charged with “terrorism” or “security crimes”, detainees were delivered to the Guardia Civil who then took them to Madrid for interrogation.