“Ayer se escapó de la custodia a importantes prisioneros y ahora se está llevando a cabo una intensa persecución. Se advierte a la gente que no los ayude so pena de un proceso penal y de sanciones severas si es condenado.
“Según fuentes confidenciales, pero no confirmadas por las autoridades, se cree que los prisioneros son Aodh Rua Ó Domhnail y Art y Henry O’Neill, del los clanes importantes de la provincia de Ulster, cuales escaparon de su confinamiento en el castillo de Dublín. Se cree que se sospecha de asistencia interna.
“Los prisioneros pueden dirigirse en una de varias direcciones o pueden haberse separado. Es probable que el frío y la nieve retrasen su avance, pero también impiden la búsqueda”.
Tal, en el lenguaje moderno, podría haber sido la respuesta de los medios de comunicación de los ocupantes ingleses a la fuga el día de Navidad de 1591 de los rehenes políticos Aodh “Rua” (“Pelirojo”) Ó Domhnail, Art & Henry O’Neill del Castillo de Dublín. Un asistente se reunió con ellos y les dio ropa ligera para que se cambiaran de las que se habían ensuciado por su escape a través del conducto del baño del castillo.
Los fugitivos estaban mal provistos y vestidos o se habían separado de las provisiones y la ropa preparadas y estaban a pie. Además, al salir de la ciudad de Dublín, uno de los hermanos Ó Néill (‘Henry’), se separó y se hizo su proprio camino.
Cuando llegaron a cierto lugar en las montañas de Wicklow, Art Ó Néill ya no pudo viajar y el asistente fue a buscar ayuda. Cuando regresó con un grupo de rescate enviado por Fiach Mac Aodh Ó Broin, su hermano Art había muerto y aunque Aodh Ó Domhnaill todavía estaba vivo, iba a perder el dedo gordo de cada pie por congelación.
UN ENEMIGO FORMIDABLE
Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill se convertiría en un enemigo formidable de los ingleses en los años venideros, primero ganando el liderazgo de su clan, luego estallando en una rebelión abierta y en una conspiración secreta con Ó Néill, quien más tarde se unió a él abiertamente en la Guerra de los Nueve Años.
En el 15 Agosto 1599, Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill preparó emboscada a una columna de 1,700 en el Puerto (montaña) de Corrsliabh (Curlew Pass en inglés) en lo que hoy es el Condado de Ros Comáin (Roscommon). La columna invasora fue encabezado por el Señor Conyers Clifford y su cabeza fue presentado a Ó Domhnaill al fin de la batalla, cual fue una derrota para los militares ingleses en que fallecieron 1,230 de sus soldados.
Aodh Ó Néill, en alianza con Aodh Rua Ó Domhnail, resistió todos los intentos de los ingleses de castigar a los clanes del Ulster, les infligió fuertes derrotas y comenzó a atraer a otros clanes a sus estandartes. La rebelión se desvaneció en la batalla de Kinsale (Cath Cinn tSáile) en 1602 en lo que hoy es el condado de Cork, lejos del territorio de ambos caciques, donde una fuerza invasora de aliados españoles había sido sitiada por los ingleses.
Tras la derrota de Kinsale, los dos líderes y muchos otros se huyeron al Reino de España de Felipe II con intención de volver a Irlanda con ayuda militar del Reino pero nunca sucedió.
La partida de Ó Néill y Ó Domhnaill provocó una evacuación a gran escala de los líderes de los clanes que se resistían y sus familias, lo que ha sido llamado “La Huida de los Condes” y abrió el camino para una profundización de la conquista inglesa.
La resistencia a gran escala volvió a estallar ostensiblemente por una cuestión de religión, aprovechando el conflicto interno inglés en 1649 y en 1688, en ambas ocasiones en las que los irlandeses apoyaron al bando inglés perdedor. Los vencedores completaron no solo su conquista, sino también la apropiación a gran escala de la tierra para la plantación de colonos que debían ser protestantes, de habla inglesa y tener prohibido emplear católicos, una guarnición colono para los ingleses en Irlanda.
Algunos creen que Aodh Rua fue envenenado por el espía anglo-irlandés, James “Spanish” Blake. Sea así o no, Aodh Rua murió el 10 de septiembre de 1602 en el Castillo de Simancas, Valladolid, España. Fue enterrado en el capítulo del monasterio franciscano de Valladolid. Aunque el edificio fue demolido en 1837, la ubicación exacta de la tumba puede haber sido descubierta después de una excavación arqueológica española en mayo de 2020. Si sus restos se identifican con éxito, serán devueltos para su entierro en el condado de Donegal.
A group of Irish people were jubilant in London’s Little George Street on 15th December. The location was that of the UK’s Supreme Court and it was unusual for Irish people to be happy at a judgement of a British court. But the judges inside had quashed an appeal by the Police Service of Northern Ireland1 against a judgement of the High Court in Belfast, that the colonial police force had been wrong not to investigate the claims of fourteen men of being tortured in the British colony in 19712.
The claims related to what happened during the introduction of internment without trial in the occupied Six Counties in August 1971. What many internees experienced ranged from brutal treatment to torture: “Many of those arrested reported that they and their families were assaulted, verbally abused and threatened by the soldiers. There were claims of soldiers smashing their way into houses without warning and firing rubber baton rounds through doors and windows. Many of those arrested also reported being ill-treated during their three-day detention at the holding centres. They complained of being beaten, verbally abused, threatened, harassed by dogs, denied sleep, and starved. Some reported being forced to run a gauntlet of baton-wielding soldiers, being forced to run an ‘obstacle course’, having their heads forcefully shaved, being kept naked, being burnt with cigarettes, having a sack placed over their heads for long periods, having a rope kept around their necks, having the barrel of a gun pressed against their heads, being dragged by the hair, being trailed behind armoured vehicles while barefoot, and being tied to armoured trucks as a human shield” (for the soldiers against attack by the IRA). (Wikipedia)
Some were hooded, beaten and, having been told they were hundreds of feet in the air, were then thrown from a helicopter — but were actually only a few feet from the ground. In addition, they were subjected to disorientating “white noise”, forced to remain in stress positions for long periods and deprived of food, water and sleep. Fourteen men who endured this for seven days became known as the “Hooded Men” and have been campaigning for over 50 years to have the British State admit that in its Irish colony, it had tortured them. Interestingly, some of those techniques have also been complained of more recently – by prisoners of the British military in Iraq3 — and this despite a statement by the UK’s Attorney General in 1977 that the techniques would not be used by them again.4
Unusually, the Irish State5 took the case of the Fourteen to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and in 1976 obtained a judgement that “the five interrogation techniques” were torture.
The British State appealed the ECHR judgement and in 1978 won a judgement that although the treatment of the Hooded Men amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and breached Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights it nevertheless fell short of torture6.
When documentation came to light proving that British Government Ministers had approved the treatment, the Irish State appealed the revised judgement of the ECHR but in 2018 was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the legal team of the Hooded Men pursued their case through the legal system of the UK’s Irish colony. In October 2014 the PSNI formally decided not to investigate the allegations, following which in 2015 judicial review proceedings against the PSNI, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Department of Justice were initiated by Francis McGuigan, one of the ‘Hooded Men’. A co-appellant was Mary McKenna, the daughter of Sean McKenna, another of the Hooded Men, who died in 1975, never having fully recovered from his mistreatment. The proceedings followed the discovery of additional documentary materials relevant to the mistreatment of the men, which were featured in a 2014 RTÉ Documentary, The Torture Files.7
Following this Documentary, the Chief Constable stated that the PSNI would assess “any allegation or emerging evidence of criminal behaviour, from whatever quarter” concerning the ill-treatment of the Hooded Men “with a view to substantiating such an allegation and identifying sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution and bring people to court’”. However in October 2014 the PSNI took the decision not to investigate. In late 2017, the High Court ruled that the failure by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to investigate the allegations of torture was unlawful.
Instead of accepting the judgement however the PSNI sought to appeal the High Court decision but in September 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the decision should stand. One would have to contrast the determination of the colonial police in the courts to their appalling record in investigating collusion between their own force and Loyalist murder gangs, for the PSNI then appealed to the UK Supreme Court. In November 2019 the UK Supreme Court upheld the decision of the colony’s Court of Appeal and the PSNI appealed that judgement too. The decision last week in London marks the end of the legal options of the colonial gendarmerie.
The very month the decision not to investigate the allegations of the Hooded Men was taken by the colonial police force, October 2014, Drew Harris had been appointed Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI.
IMPLICATIONS OF JUDGEMENT
The implications of the High Court judgement for Britain and its colonial administration are that once again they have been shown to have deployed barbarous methods in their repression of resistance by the nationalist minority in the colony and that they have exceeded or ignored even their own laws.
As has been the case throughout the recent 30 Years’ War, with the system lying and trying to cover up the reality of its actions, then delaying by all available means, the judgement comes too late for a number of the victims, as only nine of the 14 are still alive.
Nevertheless, the judgement adds to a number of other judgements and admissions over the years, such as those surrounding the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry in 1972 and the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971. On 13 December this year, the British Ministry of Defence and PSNI agreed to a £1.5m out-of-court settlement to compensate victims of the Miami Showband Massacre over suspected state collusion with loyalist terrorists.
Three members of the band died from explosions and bullets after they were forced to get out of their bus at a fake police checkpoint on their return to Dublin from the Six Counties. Stephen Travers, who was injured in the attack, said he was convinced he would have won his civil action to prove that there was collaboration between the State and terrorists but that the Government’s decision to “dispense with justice rather than to dispense justice” had motivated the out-of court settlement.
Had the UK’s Supreme Court rejected the Hooded Men’s case, the latter would have been free to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights – not that they had been tortured but that the police should have investigated their claims that they were. And, based on a similar case by the manager of a Basque newspaper against the Spanish State8, they would probably have won their case with damages awarded against the UK.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court decision puts the onus of investigating the accusations of the Hooded Men on to the PSNI, the very organisation deeply implicated in the treatment of the victims, the organisation which declined to investigate them previously and which justified its decision through the courts in the Six Counties and then in the Supreme Court of the UK.
But not only the British state and its colony are put into the dock by the Supreme Court judgement – Drew Harris, formerly Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI is currently in charge of the police force of the Irish State, where he was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Gardaí in September 2018 on a yearly salary of €250,000.
APPENDIX — BACKGROUND
Creation of “Northern Ireland”:
The statelet of “Northern Ireland”9 was created in 1922 after Ireland was partitioned by the British Government at the end of 1921. Ireland had been invaded from Britain in 1169 and gradually entirely occupied and colonised by the invaders, albeit with its own semi-autonomous parliament which had been abolished in 1801, after the United Irish uprisings of 179810. Subsequently Members of Parliament elected in Ireland were required to attend the Westminster Parliament.
Following the rise of Irish nationalist sentiment after the suppression of the 1916 Rising, the 1918 UK General Election returned a huge majority of MPs in Ireland sworn to establish an independent Irish Republic. These formed their own parliament in Dublin, at first ignored but then later banned by the British. The guerrilla War of Independence of 1919-1921 convinced the British rulers to offer Ireland autonomy as a “Dominion” within the British system and under the Crown. However, at the same time, the British conceded to the demand of the unionist minority in Ireland to secede from the new Irish state and to remain a colony of Britain and in the UK. The Irish Free State was set up in December 1921 on 26 counties and the Northern Ireland statelet of six counties in January 192211.
From the outset the colonial statelet had been marked by the religious sectarianism of its local rulers, Presbyterians and Anglicans by religion and of unionist ideology, against a very large nationalist minority of mostly Catholics, representing the majority in Ireland as a whole. A raft of special powers empowered the statelet in repression of the nationalist minority; the colonial gendarmerie, abolished in the Irish state, continued in existence, with a part-time wing and even unofficial Loyalist militia in support and de facto anti-nationalist discrimination existed in every sphere: law, housing allocation, education.
In 1968 a campaign for civil rights for the nationalist minority began, to be met by truncheons, water-cannon, tear gas and bullets which however, merely drove parts of the minority into open insurrection. The colonial gendarmerie (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), even with the active support of the part-time B-Specials and Loyalist paramilitaries, was unable to suppress the uprising primarily in Derry but also in West Belfast and in August 1969 the British Government sent in the British Army to take control.
Initially the soldiers were represented to the nationalist population as being present to protect them from the sectarian colonial police and from the Loyalists but it soon became clear that their primary focus was to repress the risen nationalist population and the IRA began to take action against them.
Introduction of Internment Without Trial:
The Prime Minister of the “Northern Ireland” statelet, Brian Faulkner, recommended to his colonial masters that internment without trial be introduced against the nationalist population; this was agreed and “Operation Demetrius” began on 9th August and continuing over the 10th 1971 with British Army raids into nationalist areas, forcing their way into homes and dragging their captives away to be interrogated by RUC Special Branch, after which they were jailed. In the initial sweep the occupation forces arrested 342 men, sparking four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers were killed and 7,000 people fled their homes. All of those interned were from the nationalist community.
The detentions without charge continued until December 1975 and by that time 1,981 people had been interned, of which 1,874 were from the nationalist community. Only 107 were Loyalists and none of those had been interned until February 1973. Resistance to internment continued after the initial sweep and from 9th to 11th August, British Paratroopers caused the death of 11 unarmed people in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. In January the following year the Paras and other units attacked people marching against internment in Derry, killing 14 and injuring 12.
Internment was protested in the rest of Ireland and in other countries, including Britain. The Men Behind the Wire, an anti-internment song composed in 1971 by Paddy McGuigan and recorded by the Barleycorn group in Belfast, was pressed into disc in Dublin and shot to the top of the Irish charts, greatly exceeding in numbers of sales any record previously released in Ireland.
Through the little streets of Belfast, In the dark of early morn, British soldiers came marauding Wrecking little homes with scorn.
Heedless of the crying children, Dragging fathers from their beds; Beating sons while helpless mothers Watched the blood flow from their heads.
Armoured cars and tanks and guns Came to take away our sons But every man will stand behind The Men Behind the Wire.
Brian Faulkner, unionist Prime Minister of the statelet, who had asked the British to introduce internment, was hated by a great many people. When he died in March 1977 following an accident during a stag hunt, thrown by his horse Cannonball, an English communist composed a short song he named “Cannonball”.
Lord Faulkner was a hunter of men and of deer
And both have good reason to laugh and to cheer
At the death of a tyrant whose interests were clear
Those of imperialism that have cost Ireland dear.
Cannonball, Cannonball has many a friend,
From the top of old Ireland right down to its end,
Where the brave people struggle
In one resolute bid
To throw off their oppressors —
Just as Cannonball did!
The colonial gendarmerie formerly known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
3. The Court’s ruling that the five techniques did not amount to torture was later cited by the United States and Israel to justify their own interrogation methods, which included the five techniques. British agents also taught the five techniques to the forces of Brazil’s military dictatorship. During the Iraq War, the illegal use of the five techniques by British soldiers contributed to the death of at least one detainee, Baha Mousa.
4 “The Government of the United Kingdom have considered the question of the use of the ‘five techniques’ with very great care and with particular regard to Article 3 (art. 3) of the Convention. They now give this unqualified undertaking, that the ‘five techniques’ will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation.”
5 Unusually, because during the three decades of ill-treatment by a foreign power of people who were, according to the Irish Constitution its citizens, only in one other case did the Irish State bring a complaint against the UK to an international arena.
6 I admit that I fail completely to understand the distinction.
7. Rita O’Reilly, the journalist who led that program, also commented extremely well on the UK Supreme Court decision and the whole case on Prime Time on RTÉ this week (see Links).
8. Martxelo Otamendi, along with others detained, was tortured by his Guardia Civil captors when the Basque newspaper of which he was manager was closed by the Spanish State, alleging that it had been cooperating with terrorists. He was freed eventually and even later in 2010 the Spanish Supreme Court admitted that there had been no evidence against him or the newspaper – but neither admitted the torture nor ordered his allegations be investigated. Otamendi filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 and in 2014 the ECHR found the Spanish State guilty of not having investigated Otamendi’s allegation of being tortured and awarded him €24,000 in damages and expenses from the Spanish state.
9. A misnomer since the British colony is not the northernmost part of Ireland, which is in County Donegal, inside the Irish state. “Ulster”, a name given by the Unionists to the statelet and frequently repeated in the British media, is also a misnomer since the Province of Ulster contains nine counties, six of which are in the colonial statelet but three of which are within the Irish state.
10. There were many uprisings prior to 1798, which was the first Republican one and there were many of that kind afterwards too.
11. Shortly after that the Free State, supplied with weapons and transport by the British, attacked the Republicans, who had been demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This precipitated a Civil War in which the Republicans were defeated.
Amidst festive season lights, passing Santa Clauses on horse-drawn carriages and hungry people being fed by volunteers in the Dublin city centre, Irish Republicans and Socialists gathered to send a public message of solidarity to political prisoners in Ireland and elsewhere.
The event is an annual one organised by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, an independent non-aligned group raising awareness that internment without trial continues in Ireland, through revoking of licence of ex-prisoners and through refusal of bail in the no-jury courts both sides of the British Border. The Dublin committee of the AIGI holds monthly public awareness-raising pickets in the city centre.
The annual picket on Thursday early evening was supported by activists of the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association and of the Anti-Imperialist Action organisation, along with some independents and took place in front of the iconic GPO building, on Dublin’s main street.
The picketers and passers-by were addressed by a representative of the Anti-Internment Group outlining the participants’ presence to send solidarity greeting to political prisoners in Ireland and around the world. The speaker drew particular attention to three prisoners: Leonard Peltier, Native American, 45 years in jail and Black American Mumia Al Jamaal, 40 years in prison, both framed by police in the USA. Also highlighted was the case of Ali Osman Kose, 37 years in jail, 21 of which he has spent in solitary confinement. The speaker informed the audience that those three political prisoners, apart from their very long years of incarceration, have multiple health issues and should be released, he said on humanitarian grounds alone. “But no ….. they want them to die in jail”, he said.
Going on to speak about political prisoners in Ireland, the speaker said that they and hostages had existed almost from the moment Ireland had been invaded by its neighbour and from the defeated United Irishmen up to the Fenians, had included not only dungeons and prison cells but also penal colonies on the other side of the world, after which they had been confined in special prisons and concentrations camps.
The creation of the Irish State on a partitioned Irish country a century ago this month had not brought freedom nor an end to the struggle, the speaker said and pointed out that the Irish State had executed 80 Irish Republicans during the years of the Civil War, which was more than the British had done during the War of Independence preceding it.
“Whether we are religious or not ….. in our culture at this time of year we expect to be with our families, our partner, children and friends,” the AIGI representative said but pointed out that this opportunity is not available to the prisoners, which makes this a particularly difficult time of year for them, which is why the Group and others hold this event every year.
The speaker then called a young boy forward “to send a message to the prisoners from this younger generation who hopefully will see a free and united Ireland with social justice and equality. The young boy stepped forward and through the PA, asked all at this time of year to think of the Republican prisoners.
The Starry Plough, the Palestinian flag and the Basque Ikurrina were flown by participants and among the banners of the IRPWA and Dublin Committee of the AIGI there was also one displaying the Carlos Latuff graphic of Palestinian and Irish Republican prisoner solidarity. The centrepiece in the picket line was the word Saoirse (‘freedom’ in Irish) picked out by lights on a dark background. Appropriate music was also played during the picket from a PA system, except while being addressed by the speaker.
The event concluded with thanks to all the attendance and the singing the first verse and chorus of the battle-song Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldiers’ Song in Irish, which is also the National Anthem).
It is understood that seasonal greeting cards have also been sent by AIGI to political prisoners in prisons in the Irish state and in the colonial statelet.
Last Saturday in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin (26/11/21), the revolutionary music Grup Yorum from Turkey, with some Irish musician input, played to an audience of up to two hundred. In between performing different numbers from their repertoire, band members spoke to the audience of the history of the struggles of their people and of the band.
The Irish tour of the band was organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation; earlier that week Yorum played in a small music venue in Belfast to around 40 people. The attendance in Dublin was so large that the location had to be changed from a large room on the first floor to the much larger hall down below.
In Belfast in the Sunflower Lounge, Bobby Fields from Armagh and Séan Óg from Dublin entertained those in attendance with songs of Irish resistance followed by Grup Yorum coming on afterwards. The Grup’s performance was enthusiastically received and was followed by a questions-and-answers session to learn more about the situation in Turkey.
The Grup members toured some of the area and visited the famous international solidarity wall along with the grave of Bobby Sands, where paying their respects included singing a song at the graveside.
In the large hall in the Teachers’ Club, Dublin, Séan Óg took to the stage first, playing guitar to accompany himself on guitar to sing The Killmichael Ambush, Viva la Quinze Brigada, Back Home in Derry1 and The Internationale. Veteran activist and traditional singer Diarmuid Breatnach followed, singing unaccompanied the Anne Devlin Ballad, I’ll Wear No Convict’s Uniform2and James Connolly’s satirical song Be Moderate3. Some of the audience sang along with some of the lyrics sung by each singer.
The four members of Grup Yorum present then took to the stage to huge applause and addressed the audience in Turkish, their words being translated into English by a member of their entourage. In the performance that followed, two guitars, flute and cajón were the instruments with a male and female leading voices. Each song was preceded by an explanation placing the piece in historical and political context.
Some of the songs in particular were clearly known to Turkish and Kurdish people in the audience and at some points they sang along, often waving an arm in the air. Towards the end of their performance the crowd got more and more excited and then Seán Óg joined them for a couple of numbers.
The Grup’s interpreter made a special appeal for help from those in attendance to pressurise the Turkish authorities to release political prisoner Ali Osman Köse who has been in solitary confinement for 20 years and has multiple health issues. There are fears for the man’s life as he has had a cancerous kidney removed in May of this year without any follow-up treatment and despite everything has been pronounced “fit” to continue in jail.
This was followed by members of the Resistance Choir taking to the stage to join Grup Yorum in a rendition of the Italian antifascist Bella Ciao! Song before Diarmuid Breatnach returned to the stage to bring the evening to a close with the first verse and chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann4 with members of the audience joining in (including some from Anatolia)
THE GRUP YORUM BAND
A revolutionary music band from Turkey, Grup Yorum members compose their own material and the band has has released twenty-three albums and one film since 1985. The band has suffered repression with some concerts and albums banned and members have been arrested, jailed and tortured, two members also dying on hunger strike. The band is popular in Turkey and as well as their albums selling well in Turkey and internationally, it has also given concerts in Germany, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, United Kingdom, Greece and Syria.
Grup Yorum publishes an art, culture, literature, and music magazine entitled Tavir, and several group members manage a cultural centre called İdil Kültür Merkez in the Okmeydani neighbourhood of Istanbul.
1The lyrics and air of Viva la Quinze Brigada are by famous Irish folk musician Christy Moore, who also arranged Bobby Sands’ poem to the air of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (by Gordon Lightfoot) as Back Home in Derry.
2Diarmuid sings this song to an air he composed himself.
3Diarmuid sings this to the air of A Nation Once Again (by Thomas Davis).
4Written by Peadar Kearney originally under the title The Soldiers’ Song and sung by insurgents during the 1916 Rising, its chorus is the official national anthem of the Irish State. However, it is also sung by many who are opposed to the State, particularly by Irish Republicans. Normally only the chorus is heard, sung in Irish (translation).
Arising out of a recent discussion, I was thinking about what makes a workers’ union – when is an organisation a union and when is it not. And what does it have to do to prove that it is a union, as well as can what once was a union become defunct as a union while still not being defunct as an organisation. In the present time of low union activity as well as in higher activity periods, there are some fundamentals worth considering.
Searching for definitions on line as to what constitutes a trade union, I came across the following:
Oxford on-line English Dictionary: an organized association of workers in a trade, group of trades, or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests.
Citizens Information: A trade union is an organisation that protects the rights and interests of its members. Members are employees in a particular sector or job, for example, teaching or nursing.
A trade union can:
Be an important source of information for employees
Provide employees with protection on employment issues
Negotiate with the employer for better pay and conditions
A trade union must have a negotiating licence in order to negotiate on employee wages and other conditions of employment.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the single umbrella organisation for trade unions, representing a range of interests of ICTU members, both in Ireland and in Northern Ireland. ICTU also run the website unionconnect.ie to facilitate people to join a union.
Companies Registration Office (registration as a Friendly Society1): Trade unions are registered under the Trade Union Acts 1871-1990. Trade unions are established to represent workers in their relations with employers or to act as representative bodies for particular interest groupings.
In order to register a trade union, the grouping involved, which must consist of at least seven people, must draw up a set of rules governing the operation of the union. The rules must as a minimum contain the matters required to be provided for by the First Schedule of the Trade Union Act 1871. The rules, together with the prescribed application form and fee are submitted to the Registrar for examination and, once the rules are found to be in accordance with statute, the union is registered.
Registration as a trade union does not guarantee that a union will receive a negotiation licence; this is a matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in which the Registrar of Friendly Societies has no function. Application form is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wikipedia: A trade union (or a labor union in American English), often simply referred to as a union, is an organization of workers who have come together to achieve common goals, such as protecting the integrity of their trade, improving safety standards, and attaining better wages, benefits (such as vacation, health care, and retirement), and working conditions through the increased bargaining power wielded by solidarity among workers. Trade unions typically fund the formal organization, head office, and legal team functions of the trade union through regular fees or union dues. The delegate staff of the trade union representation in the workforce are made up of workplace volunteers who are appointed by members in democratic elections.
The trade union, through an elected leadership and bargaining committee, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members (rank and file members) and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is “maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment“. This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, occupational health and safety standards, complaint procedures, rules governing status of employees including promotions, just cause conditions for termination, and employment benefits.
Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (craft unionism), a cross-section of workers from various trades (general unionism), or attempt to organize all workers within a particular industry (industrial unionism). The agreements negotiated by a union are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers. Trade unions traditionally have a constitution which details the governance of their bargaining unit and also have governance at various levels of government depending on the industry that binds them legally to their negotiations and functioning. ……………………………
A modern definition by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a trade union is “an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal activities of which include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members.”
Yet historian R.A. Lesson, in United we Stand (1971), said:
Two conflicting views of the trade-union movement strove for ascendancy in the nineteenth century: one the defensive-restrictive guild-craft tradition passed down through journeymen’s clubs and friendly societies, … the other the aggressive-expansionist drive to unite all ‘labouring men and women’ for a ‘different order of things’.
Karl Marx described trade unions thus: “The value of labour-power constitutes the conscious and explicit foundation of the trade unions, whose importance for the … working class can scarcely be overestimated. The trade unions aim at nothing less than to prevent the reduction of wages below the level that is traditionally maintained in the various branches of industry. That is to say, they wish to prevent the price of labour-power from falling below its value” (CapitalV1, 1867, p.1069).
We can note, across these definition from different sources, some constants: Trade unions (henceforth referred to by me as “unions” or “workers’ unions”) are
that represent them in negotiations with employers
So, they have to be representative of workers (employers have their own formal associations) and they must, in general represent their worker-members. Well, few would debate the first condition and for the moment we can accept the second (though we will return to discuss this further).
I would argue however that there is another essential qualification which has not been mentioned even though for some it may be taken for granted: A union must be able to call a significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry into industrial action and does so when necessary (whether that be strike, sit-down, go-slow, ban on certain kinds of work, etc.). In stating that I can quote for the moment no authority or source and yet I am adamant that if the association is not able to do so, it is not a union. I base my definition on experience and logic.
THREAT AND NEGOTIATION
We note that the “negotiation” with employers is mentioned in most if not all definitions. Present in every successful negotiation of workers with employers is a threat, that of action by the workers which will reduce or postpone the profits of the employers. This in turn is mediated by the threat of the employer to dismiss or otherwise penalise workers, to starve them into submission or to unleash private or State violence upon them2. The main reason for non-State employers to be in business of whatever kind is to make a profit and a substantial one at that and, in the case of an employer failing to avail of opportunities to do so, other employers, i.e other capitalists, will move in, outcompete and even take over the company3.
State companies have a responsibility to the ruling class to keep systems going, e.g public transport to deliver employees to work for private businesses, power supply to run the private enterprises, water and refuse collection to manage sanitation of working areas and reduce infections of the workforce, etc. So in successful negotiation with a State employer, the threat of workers’ action must be present also.
The threat may be implicit only but cannot remain effective if unrealised forever and every once in a while, employers will test it by a refusal (or procrastination) to accede to the demands of a union. In such a situation, the “negotiation” is ended or at least halted while both sides test the ability to resist of the other. If the employers are resolute and have enough resources but the workers are either not resolute or their resources are insufficient, the employers will win.
If the workers are resolute enough and are well-resourced and their action costs the employers enough so that the latter consider it better in the long run to accede to the demands, the workers will win. However, even when the workers are defeated in one battle, the action may have hurt the employers and next time there is a confrontation, they may be prepared to concede more. Even in failure in some cases, the threat of action has been shown to be a real one.
If however over a number of years the unions do not exercise their muscle while at the same time enduring reductions in the working conditions and living standards of their members, the workers, they become more and more unions in form but not in content and the employers will pay less and less attention to their demands. Indeed, the only threat perceived by the employers in such situations is that the ineffective unions may be replaced by another or others more effective or lose control of their members to “unofficial” or “wildcat” action. Better the devil that they not only know but can manage, than the one they don’t.
I repeat: A union must be able to call a significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry into industrial action and does so when necessary (whether that be strike, sit-down, go-slow, ban on certain kinds of work, etc.). In that respect, the crucial condition is not whether the organisation is more or less democratic, or socialist, or egalitarian, more or less environmentalist etc, though of course all those attributes are desirable. Itmust beeffective, able to threaten and make good its threat.
Therefore calling an organisation a “union” does not of itself make it one and indeed an organisation may conversely be a workers’4 union without calling itself one, providing it is able to call a significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry into industrial actionand does so when necessary.
So I have extended the definition of a union: an organisation consisting predominantly of employees to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration and conditions of work and that is able to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial action and which does so when necessary.
But what is a “significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry”? Though this is more open to interpretation, it is nevertheless determined by two things, one of which is its ability to call an effective number of workers in the designated workplace into industrial action and the other is the relative size of the workplace, company or industry concerned. Of course, the workplace may be a shop or small garage or small farm, employing say around 50 people, in which all the workers are able to strike and do so, forcing the employer to accede to their demands or at least a significant (yes, that word again) number of them. The workers’ organisation in that case I would submit qualifies as a union on all grounds except one: the workplace is not a significant one in terms of industry or agriculture. It may go on from that initial success to extend to other workplaces but until it does so, it is a union only in the specific sense of that particular workplace.
However, if the organisation were to represent the majority of workers in one necessary part of a company’s production, willing to exercise its power and able to adversely affect the company’s output and profits, then that organisation would qualify as a union, according to my definition, even though it might represent only a small fraction of the total workforce.
Or if the one workplace in which the workers’ organisation is active is an extended one, for example a chain of stores or a major utility company. Or, as is sometimes the case, the workers’ organisation were to represent workers across an entire industry (“industrial unionism”), or groups of them in a number of different industries ( “general unionism”) or seeking to recruit all workers (“syndicalism”).
WHEN IS A UNION NOT A UNION?
It is important (and I would contend, crucial) also to define what a union is not. It is not
an organisation set up by a State and controlled by it
an organisation set up by employers
or the worker organisation’s offices, officers and other employees
“Unions” set up by the State
States have set up “unions”, for example in the case of corporate states, i.e fascism and when they have done so, have banned real workers’ unions.
In Nazi Germany, workers’ unions were abolished. On 2nd May 1933, (after the large annual May Day marches), their leaders were arrested, their funds confiscated and strikes declared illegal. Workers lost the right to negotiate wage increases and improvements in working conditions and all workers had to join the German Labour Front (DAF) run by Dr. Robert Ley. Within two years, under various pressures, 20 million workers had joined DAF but they had no independent rights.5
“Italian fascistswaged war on the unions between 1920 and 1922 when Mussolini took power, burning trade union offices, and beating and torturing trade unionists. In Turin, the key industrial centre, fascist squads celebrated Mussolini coming to power by attacking trade union offices and killing 22 trade unionists”6.
“The Pact of Vidoni Palace in 1925 brought the fascist trade unions and major industries together, creating an agreement for the industrialists to only recognise certain unions and so marginalise the non-fascist and socialist trade unions. The Syndical Laws of 1926 (sometimes called the Rocco Laws after Alfredo Rocco) took this agreement a step further as in each industrial sector there could be only one trade union and employers organisation. Labour had previously been united under Edmondo Rossoni and his General Confederation of Fascist Syndical Corporations, giving him a substantial amount of power even after the syndical laws, causing both the industrialists and Mussolini himself to resent him. Thereby, he was dismissed in 1928 and Mussolini took over his position as well.
“Only these syndicates could negotiate agreements, with the government acting as an “umpire”. The laws made both strikes and lock-outs illegal and took the final step of outlawing non-fascist trade unions. Despite strict regimentation, the labour syndicates had the power to negotiate collective contracts (uniform wages and benefits for all firms within an entire economic sector).”7
In Spain the communists, anarchists and social democrats had organised trade unions which supported the Popular Front Government and mobilised against the military-fascist coup in 1936. Following the victory of the military and fascists the State, under General Franco, jailed or executed many of the trade union leaders and members and declared their unions illegal.
The Franco regime set up the “vertical union” (i.e controlled from above) officially known as the Organización Sindical Obrera (OSE); industrial resistance was illegal and in any case extremely difficult to organise, due to the defeat of the republican and socialist forces and the massive repression of all democratic and socialist trends.8
Union resistance under fascism
However, when workers of various kinds of socialist thinking joined these state unions either through being forced to do so or in conscious infiltration, many maintained their old allegiances and worked to subvert fascist rule and control of the workers.
“On 5 March 1943, workers at the giant FIAT Mirafiori car plant in Turin walked out on strike. As it became clear the dictatorship could not repress the strike it spread within Northern Italy, involving one hundred thousand workers. Mussolini was forced to grant pay rises and better rations, but in conceding he struck the death knell for the regime.”9
In 1947, eight years after the victory of the military-fascists, metal workers in the Basque province of Bizkaia went on strike in spite of repression by the authorities and a clandestine trade union movement began to organise. “Another historic year in the incipient union movement was 1951, when there were strikes and demonstrations in Barcelona, Madrid and the Basque Country in the early part of the year. These were mainly spontaneous, although the clandestine unions which had grown up since 1947 did support and take part in them. An important role was also played by the Spanish Communist Party PCE, and Roman Catholic workers’ groups.” “In a context of socio-economic change in Spain in the late 1950s, as industrialisation accelerated …. there was a significant growth in the Spanish working class. In 1962 miners and industrial workers began to hold strikes all over the country.”10
The two main trade unions in the Spanish state today, the CCOO (Comisiones Obreras) and the UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores), the first originally under Communist Party direction and the smaller second under the social democratic PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero de España) grew out of that resistance (although the UGT had been in existence prior to the military-fascist uprising). Activists had infiltrated the vertical union and workers began to elect militants to represent them in demands to the employers – this in particular was the origin of the Comisiones Obreras.
Employers have also set up “unions” in order to undermine an existing union or in order to prevent a real union from organising workers in their enterprises.
These have been called “company unions”11 or “yellow unions”, the latter possibly after the French Fédération nationale des Jaunes de France (“National Federation of the Yellows of France”) which was created by Pierre Biétry in 1902.12
Up to the mid 1930s, ‘company’ or ‘yellow’ unions were quite common in the USA and after the Ludlow Massacre13, John D. Rockefeller had one created to improve his company’s image and to resist the struggles of mineworkers and of the United Mineworkers’ Union in Colorado; he called it the Employee Representation Plan.14
“In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act) was passed, dramatically changing labour law in the United States. Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA makes it illegal for an employer “to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it.” Company unions were considered illegal under this code, despite the efforts of some businesses to carry on under the guise of an ‘Employee Representation Organization.’”15
Japan has company unions that are not in the RENGO federation of independent unions and the company ones appeal to an ideology of loyalty towards one’s paternalistic employer.16
In the 1930s, unions in Mexico organized the Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores de México, CTM). The state of Nuevo Leon, however, coordinated its workers into sindicatos blancos (“white unions”), company unions controlled by corporations in the industrialised region.
Naturally a “union” of this type is unwilling and indeed unable to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial action to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration conditions of work (my definition of a workers’ union). Therefore I contend that they are not workers’ unions.
UNIONS INACTIVE IN STRUGGLE TODAY
But there are unions that have built themselves up in membership (and incidentally by union dues revenue) by proving themselves willing and able to call their members out in action to enforce their demands of the employers – but who have not been doing so for some time. We are increasingly seeing these in Western Europe at least and often the reason quoted is that state legislation is making it harder for the unions to organise, or to take action effectively. And rather than jail for union activists as in the past, the threat of the State is sequestration of union funds. The union leaders, officers and clerical support staff view such threats as extremely serious, evoking the possibility of the demise of the trade union or at the very least its inability to maintain its functions and payment for its superstructure of staffing, buildings and equipment.
Those are of course real threats with some states proving their ability to carry them out in the past and consequently union leaders draw back from struggles that might result in such an eventuality – or even attempt to smother them. The union leadership become, in effect, the firefighters of the employers. When they reach that position, they are not really the union any more. The union is not the organisation’s offices, officers and other employees. Its leaders are forgetting that back in the history of this or of many other unions, its organisers and members maintained only a rudimentary bureaucracy while they fought for the gains to be wrenched from the employers — organisers and even ordinary members faced sacking, police baton charges, strike-breaker violence, deportation, transportation, jail, torture and even death. When safeguarding the superstructure of the union outweighs defending and advancing the members’ interests, it is time for the union leadership to retrace its steps – or vacate the spot.
A union may fail to be recognised as such by the employers and/ or the State but (based on my definition) that does not affect its status as a union, so long as it is an organisation consisting predominantly of employees to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration and conditions of workandable to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial actionand does so when necessary.
To be sure, an employer refusing to recognise the right of the union to represent its employees and to negotiate on their behalves does represent an additional challenge. But we should not forget that all workers’ unions once faced that initial obduracy but nevertheless in time became accepted by the employers. And it required a long process for some of those unions, with unsuccessful industrial action and many sacrifices as part of it.
The opposition of the State, acting in the first place for the capitalist class it represents and secondly in its own interests as an employer, is another serious obstacle for unions. Currently in most of Europe and certainly in Ireland, the State does not outlaw unions but it does place many restrictions around them and, in some cases, removes their protections.
The protection received by a union that is recognised by the State exists mostly in exemption from some legal procedures such as being sued for causing loss of profits for a company and exemption from arrest for picketing (“loitering”, “obstruction”, etc). However, the laws of none of the European states exempt workers from arrest for persistently obstructing the entry of strike-breakers or goods to a workplace where the workers are on strike. In most European countries, picketing, boycott and blockade in solidarity by “non-involved” unions – i.e “secondary picketing” etc — is against the law to a greater or lesser degree. Well, such laws are made by the capitalist class to protect themselves and then processed through a parliament where most of the elected public representatives are supporters of that same class. To receive legal protection from capitalist laws the union must be recognised by the capitalist State which entails meeting the necessary requirements in order to be registered as “a friendly association” and receiving “a negotiation licence”.
However, while these provisions affect very deeply the ease or otherwise of the organisation, they do not in my opinion have anything to do with whether it is or is not a workers’ union.
Another hurdle to get over for “recognition” is that of acceptance by the Irish Trade Union Congress. A union not recognised by the ITUC will receive no support from that body in application to the State for a “negotiation licence” and members of other “recognised” unions will be encouraged to cross any picket line of an “unrecognised” union. That is obviously a serious situation for a young union that is “unrecognised” but again, it does not define whether or not it is a union.
Say what the State, employers or the ITUC leadership may say, the reality remains that a union is an organisation consisting predominantly of employees to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration and conditions of work and that isable to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial action and which does so when necessary. Not whether it is — or is not — recognised or facilitated by those other bodies.
As the unions in many states have become more and more passive (in the Irish state particularly through the years of “social partnership”17) they have lost much of their accreditation in reality. As they fail further to justify their existence they will be replaced and for example the British-based union Unite is moving into the Irish arena. But the new union, despite its local leaders speaking militantly at rallies of some campaigns and investing some of its effort into building support in the community, is demonstrating the same reluctance to take determined action against the employers, whether private or State. Should that state of affairs continue then that too will fall and be replaced.
But by what and when?
1A friendly society has nothing necessarily to do with being friendly but is is a mutual association for the purposes of insurance, pensions, savings or cooperative banking. It is a mutual organisation or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose.
2While some readers may be surprised or even dismissive of reference to “private or State violence”, there can hardly be a state which does not at least on occasion – some more often than others — employ police or judicial violence against striking workers. In the past in many countries and perhaps in particular in the USA, companies employed private security staff or company police to act against worker disobedience, in addition to agencies such as the Pinkerton not only to gather intelligence on union organisers but to attack them physically or to prepare cases for their conviction of law-breaking in court. In some parts of the world companies – often with their HQs in the “West” — continue to employ their own security staff against union organising, sometimes with fatal results for the union organisers.
3This applies even if the company should still be making a profit but is not maximising it. The company’s shareholders and investors, including institutions such as banks, trust funds, pension funds etc will begin to desert the company to a competitor offering a higher return on investments and said company may even engage in a “hostile takeover” bid, by bringing sufficient numbers of shareholders to vote in favour of its takeover. This is one of the laws of the operation of capitalism and one reason why it there is little point in appealing to the individual consciences of capitalists.
4Sometimes workers’ unions have called themselves by other names, including “society” and “association” in order to circumvent anti-trade union legislation for example.
13Massacre by company guards and the National Guard of strikers and their children on 20 April 1914 during the Great Colorado Coal Strike, after which the workers took up arms. It was the subject of a song composed and sung by Woody Guthrie and others, e.g Jason Boland and Andy Irvine.
171983-???? In 2010: “Following 23 years of social partnership the Irish trades unions (ICTU) entered the new decade seriously weakened and with union employee density down to 31% compared to a density highpoint of 62% in the early 1980s preceding the series of seven corporatist social pacts. Union penetration is highly imbalanced with a density approaching 80% in the public sector and around 20% in the larger private sector.”
As Limerick and Waterford county teams prepared to face one another in the GAA hurling semi-final at Croke Park stadium, anti-internment protesters and campaigners lined up outside Dublin’s General Post Office, in the city centre, to mark the 50th Anniversary on the introduction of internment without trial in the British colony of the Six Counties. Their placards, leaflets and speakers denounced the continuing practice of interning political activists in Ireland today.
The event was organised by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, an independent and non-affiliated campaigning organisation and the supporters included a mixture of socialist Irish Republicans and anarchists. The heavy and persistent rain of the morning held off and Dublin city centre was thronged as GAA hurling supporters added to the usual shoppers. The banners and placards of the picketers drew considerable interest from those passing and here and there people stopped to discuss with them.
Some young Basque girls were curious but also delighted to see their nation’s flag, the ikurrina, being flown at the event and stopped to engage one of the picketers in discussion. Also in evidence was the flag of Amnistia, Basque organisation around solidarity with its political prisoners and against repression, along with the flag of Palestine.
Around 200 leaflets were distributed to passers-by, discussions were held and contacts were made with people interested in supporting the work of the Anti-Internment Group Ireland.
After some time in a picket line and distributing leaflets, a representative of the organisers, speaking in Irish and in English, welcomed the attendance and introduced a speaker from the Anti-Imperialist Action organisation.
Speaking in Irish as some passers-by stopped to listen, the young man said they were there to commemorate the introduction of internment and mindful of the existence of political prisoners all over the world. The were also protesting the extradition to Lithuania of Liam Campbell to face trial in a country in which he had never previously set foot.
The organisers’ representative then spoke in English about the history of repression in the Six Counties colony, how from the moment the nationalist community there stood up to demand equal rights and justice the State had responded with violence. Since the people raised the level of their resistance in response, the State in turn raised the level of its violence higher again, in a rising spiral of violence.
The nationalist community in the Six Counties had marched for civil rights and had been met with the violence of the colonial police and of the Loyalists — the speaker said — but they had continued to resist. Internment without trial was introduced to break that resistance but, knowing that would also lead to increased resistance, the State had prepared the Paratroopers to shoot unarmed civilians dead. They had done that in Ballymurphy on the very day that internment had been introduced1, he reminded his audience and later had shot dead two unarmed Cumann na mBan Volunteers (Republican women’s organisation) who were alerting people to the raiding parties of the British Army. At the start of the following year, the British Army murdered unarmed civilians again, this time in Derry2.
That year 1972, the speaker stated, had the highest death toll of any year during the three decades of the war3 and Loyalists were also bombing streets nearby in Dublin, again in 1973, killing workers. In 1974 Loyalists and British intelligence bombed the Dublin city centre again and Monaghan, killing the highest number of people killed in one day during the war4. That year too, the IRA bombed pubs in England and killed people and the State brought in the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act against the Irish community. They jailed a score of innocent people on extremely serious charges5 and one of them, Giuseppe Conlon, died in jail6.
The speaker went on to say that although there had been hard repression before, the introduction of internment without trial and the follow-up massacres by the British Army had lit a fuse to a chain-reaction of violence for decades to follow.
Pointing out that internment consists of jailing people without trial, the speaker stated that the practice continues today, by refusing bail to political activists awaiting trial in the non-jury courts on both sides of the British Border. The Anti-Internment Group of Ireland will continue striving to expose this reality and he called on people to support the monthly pickets in the city centre and to follow the End Internment page on Facebook.
ONGOING AGITATING AGAINST INTERNMENT
As the applause died down people began to pack away flags, banners, placards and leaflets and to catch up socially among themselves or to engage with passers-by who had stopped to listen and/ or to ask questions.
Organisers of the event said they hope to hold another picket at some venue in the city centre in a month’s time – when scheduled, the event will be announced on the End Internment FB page.
1Between 9-11 August, British paratroopers caused the deaths of 11 unarmed civilians in Ballymurphy.
213 people were shot dead by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday in Derry as they protested against internment and a 14th died later of his wounds.
3The period from August 1971 to the end of the year saw a huge jump to 136 violent deaths (including British and colonial armed forces) and the following year, 1972 is counted the most violent year of the conflict overall with 479 people killed (including 130 British soldiers) and 4,876 injured.
5The Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. All were eventually cleared after long years of campaigning around them and failed court appeals.
6Giuseppe Conlon, hearing that his son Gerry had been arrested for the Guildford Pub Bombings, came to London to help him in 1974 and was swept up into the police net to become one of the innocent framed victims. Giuseppe Conlon was not a healthy man and died in his 7th year in jail, before the verdicts on the other framed prisoners were finally overturned. His son Gerry, also an innocent man in jail, was not permitted to attend his father’s funeral.
A group of mixed political background held a picket this afternoon in Henry Street, one of the main shopping streets in Dublin’s city centre. The picket was protesting the continuing internment in Ireland of political activists and also expressing solidarity with political prisoners in different parts of the world – a Palestinian flag and a couple of Basque ones flew alongside the Irish ones. There are over 60 political prisoners in Irish jails both sides of the British Border.
Many people were out shopping or just enjoying the sun on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. Up to 200 leaflets were distributed and passers-by occasionally stopped to discuss with the picket supporters.
MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY TO CAMPAIGNERS FOR MUMIA ABU JAMAL
Near the end of the picket, a representative of the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland was recorded voicing a message of solidarity for Mumia Abu Jamal, to send to an upcoming conference on Mumia and other political prisoners.
Mumia is a political prisoner, a black United States activist and author who was awaiting execution but is now in his 40th year in jail. He was a popular broadcaster in 1981 when he went to the assistance of his brother, who was being harassed by a white police officer. As the incident came to an end the cop was dead of gunshot wounds and Mumia was shot in the stomach.
There are so many questions about the scenario the Prosecution laid out and which got Mumia convicted of murder and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to imprisonment for life. His gun had five bullets missing but Mumia was never tested to see whether he had fired the gun nor were the tests on the bullets in the police officer conclusively proven to come from there. The crime scene was not preserved and the police were in and out of it, with Mumia’s gun while Mumia was in hospital, undergoing an emergency operation. Photos taken of the scene by an independent press photographer did not show the presence of the taxi of a witness against Mumia, who claimed he was parked there. Not to mention the later confession of a man who claimed to have killed the police officer on behalf of other police as a contract kill (the decision not to use him as a witness divided Mumia’s legal team and two lawyers resigned as a result).
As the spokesperson of the Anti-Internment Committee said, even if people believe that he fired the shots that killed the police officer, after 40 years Mumia should be freed on humanitarian grounds. The USA is allegedly the country leading the world in democracy, as the spokesperson commented, but holds a great many political prisoners, some of them for many, many years in jail.
MORE EVENTS TO COME
Pandemic permitting, the AIGI intends to hold pickets on approximately a monthly basis to protest continuing internment and in solidarity with political prisoners, such events being advertised on our social media. The organisation is independent of any political party or organisation and all who oppose the jailing of activists without trial or wish to support political prisoners are welcome.
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.”
(Translation D.Breatnach from Publico report 12 May 2021)
ERC, JxCat and the CUP parties reached a “minimum” agreement this Wednesday to unravel the investiture negotiations to avoid an electoral repetition after the results of the elections on February 14th in Catalonia. The deadline for investing the President of the Generalitat is May 26 (after that new elections would need to be called — DB).
After two hours of meeting in the Parliament, the three organisations issued a joint statement that to promote an “overall National Agreement for Self-determination” and a “space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond governance.”
After the meeting, the Deputy General Secretary and ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta, the JxCat Deputy Francesc Dalmases and the leading spokesperson of the CUP in the Catalan Chamber, Eulàlia Reguant, came out together.
Formation of a new Government
The act of separating the debate on the independence strategy from the formation of a new Government was one of the obstacles that prevented the agreement, JxCat until now requiring ERC to link both items.
Although the wording of the statement is ambiguous on this point, it already aims to unlink the creation of a unitary strategic direction of independence from the negotiation for governance, which was threatened recently by the disagreements between ERC and JxCat.
Relations were very strained last Saturday, when the ERC candidate for the investiture, Pere Aragonès, announced that he would no longer continue negotiating a coalition government with JxCat, which he accusef of delaying the negotiation, and that from now on only he would contemplate ruling alone.
In the joint communiqué, entitled “Commitment to a National Agreement for Self-determination”, the three formations emphasize that the results of the 14 February elections “offer the independence movement the possibility of opening a new cycle for national liberation.”
Four “minimum points”
The negotiators have agreed on four “minimum points” based on a proposal that the CUP, convener of the summit in Parliament, had put on the table, in which it has become a mediator to facilitate a rapprochement of positions between ERC and JxCat.
In the first point, they undertake to “provide a response to the social and economic crisis” that Catalonia is experiencing, while in the second they commit to “build a wall to defend fundamental and basic rights that have broad support from Catalan society and which do not fit within the framework of the State “.
Third, they commit to convening a first working meeting to configure “an Overall National Agreement for Self-determination, to go beyond political parties and to bring together the broad social majority of the country in favour” of a referendum.
“With the unequivocal commitment that through dialogue and democratic struggle in the (Spanish) State the exercise of self-determination and amnesty can be achieved during the next legislature,” they added.
Finally, they are committed to “reaching a space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond the framework of governance.” This last paragraph modifies – and adds ambiguity – the fourth point proposed by the draft of the CUP, which suggested “placing the debate on the independence strategy outside the framework of the government pact.”
Unraveling the negotiations
Sources with inside knowledge of the meeting indicated to Efe (news agency) that the meeting was positive in moving forward, although it is too early to say if it will be enough for ERC and JxCat to get back on track to an agreement that in recent days had been difficult.
For his part, the leader of the PSC in Parliament, Salvador Illa, asked ERC to “lift the cordon sanitaire” that he raised against the social democrats before the 14 February elections and to facilitate a left-wing majority led by the PSC. “I challenge them: with the failed independence path not working, at least let a left-wing government be constructed and lift the cordon sanitaire that they signed against the PSC,” he said on a visit to Mataró (Barcelona).
The leader of En Comú Podem in Parliament, Jéssica Albiach, insisted in TV3 that for them “they continue to” attempt to form a Government with ERC, although she also declared the possibility of facilitating Esquerra to govern alone.
The president of Citizens in Parliament, Carlos Carrizosa, rejected the idea of new elections if the Government is not formed because he believes that it would reflect a “lack of respect” for citizens.
For her part, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, Elisenda Paluzie, demanded an agreement from ERC, JxCat and the CUP to form the Government and called a demonstration for this Sunday in Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona to demand a pact between them.
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia), republican party of a left outlook varying from radical to social-democratic. Its leader, MEP Oriol Junqueras, is in jail arising out the Spanish State’s opposition to the holding of the Referendum of October 2017. The party has 32 seats in the Parlament.
JuntsXCat (Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalunya), a coalition of forces originally brought together by liberal conservatives but pushing hard for independence and more lately adopting many socially progressive policies. It leader, MEP Carles Puigdemont, is en exile in Brussels to avoid Spanish jail, along with others. The party has 33 seats in the Parlament.
CUP (Canditatura d’Unitad Popular – People’s United Candidature) is a more radically left-wing coalition of groups that until recently focused on local democracy than on national politics but is completely in favour of independence from the Spanish State. One of its leading activists, Anna Gabriel, is also in exile to avoid Spanish jail. CUP now has nine seats in the Parlament
ERC and JuntsXCat have 65 seats between them which give them a comfortable enough parliamentary working majority in the 135-seat Parlament and with CUP’s nine seats, could defeat a vote of no confidence even if the social-democratic (but unionist) PCE (33) and Comu Podems (8 — a local version of Podemos) supported a vote of no confidence by the right-wing parties of Ciutadans (6), Vox (11) and PP (3).
ANC (Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya – National Assembly of Catalonia) is a huge grass-roots pro-independence organisation which pushed for the Referendum in the 2017, organised massive demonstrations for independence and participated in organising a number of one-day general strikes of protest in and since 2017. Its former leader Jordi Sanchez is an MP but is also in jail along with another grass-roots movement leader, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural.
What is at stake here is not merely a power struggle between one independentist political party and its leader and another party and its leader, but also a division over tactics and perhaps even strategy. Puigdemont of JuntsXCat led all the independentist parties and, in a sense, the whole united t movement through the Referendum, Spanish police invasion and violence and as far as declaring a republic – but then blinked and a few minutes later suspended that declaration.
Apparently he had been promised by ‘friends’ in the EU that if he suspended the declaration, they would come in and put pressure on the Spanish State. Predictably, I would say, they didn’t come through on that, Spanish State repression followed and Puigdemont went into exile.
Since the repression, ERC has been insisting they need to sit down and talk with the Spanish Government, which is a coalition of the social democratic PSOE and the radical social-democratic and trotskyist alliance of Unidas Podemos. However, the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has stated unequivocally that although he wants to talk, he will not be discussing holding a government-authorised referendum on independence for Catalonia nor the freeing of the political prisoners arising out of the last Referendum. They also voted in the Spanish Parliament to support the Government getting its budget approved, thereby helping to keep it in power.
Naturally enough, much of this has raised suspicions that ERC was preparing a sellout and even those who did not necessarily suspect that were exclaiming, since independence referendum and prisoner freedom is ruled out: “Talks with the Spanish Government about what?”
Despite Puigdemont’s faulty judgement at the time of declaring the Republic, he continues to have a lot of support in the independentist movement. However his insistence and therefore that of JuntsXCat that the forum for discussing and deciding independence strategy has to be the Consell per la República (Council for tge Republic) has caused a lot of trouble within the movement for Catalan independence. The Consell was formed as a private organisation by Puigdemont in Barcelona and in Brussels and, while in the latter sense it is out of the reach of the Spanish State, it is also out of any democratic control from within Catalonia, which ERC has pointed out as its reason for not agreeing to that measure.
The current agreement has bridged the gap temporarily and avoided the parties having to go into other elections for the second time this year, purely for the reason that the two main parties of the movement cannot agree with one another on the way forward. And momentum, the loss of which can be fatal for revolutionary movements, can hopefully start gathering force again. But there are likely to be further disagreements ahead. Which must be pretty depressing for the ordinary activists and supporters in a movement that has come so far so quickly and then stalled, while a number of people went to jail and over 700 town mayors are awaiting processing by the Spanish courts.
On the other hand, the role of mediator played by the CUP has no doubt enhanced their standing in the eyes of pro-independence Catalonia.
He also asked not to be wrapped in a shroud but a blanket. The idea of a shroud he found humiliating. His remains being wrapped in a blanket was not a shock. The blanket had defined the prison protest and he identified as a blanketman, even telling British secretary of state Roy Mason “bury me in my blanket.”