IVY RESTAURANT PULLS THE BLINDS ON THE TRUTH

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 minutes)

Section of the picketers showing Dublin Trades Council banner.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Ivy Restaurant management in Dublin’s Dawson Street at one o’clock this afternoon ordered the blinds to be pulled down on the windows. This is their usual response when demonstrators arrive to picket their restaurant, as they did today. The Ivy restaurant is part of a profitable chain and in Dublin at least is using tips paid to staff by customers to help make up the staff’s wages. Bluntly, stealing tips that were paid for service by customers who assumed they were in addition to wages already received (which, as everyone knows, are low enough in the “hospitality” trade).

Some passing vehicles beeped in solidarity and many passers-by took photographs or video as the picketers lined up with placards and some banners and shouted:

Eat your steak, eat your chips, pay the staff their well-earned tips.”

Also: “Pay the workers what they’re due!”

Section of picketers
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

One observer enquired why the staff put up with it and did they have a union; he was informed that they had but two staff were sacked for organising the union and the remaining and replacement staff are frightened not only of losing their jobs but also of getting a bad reference for other work. Such staff are often migrants who are vulnerable, in need of work to buy food and pay rent and without a support network such as family in Ireland.

The sector has long been known as one of insecure work, few rights, low unionisation and low pay. However, the deduction of customers’ tips to incorporate them into staff wages seems a new low for this sector and the Ivy is by no means the only restaurant doing this. But here is where the battle has broken out and here it must be won, to encourage workers in this sector and to make it known to restaurant owners that this practice will not be tolerated.

The issue and the practice of the Ivy has been reported a number of times in the mainstream media and the solidarity protesters come every now and again, set up their placards, hand out leaflets to passers-by and shout their slogans. The Management draw the blinds. The picketers leave after about an hour (many to go back to work) and the blinds are lifted again. But the campaign has affected their business. And Unite the Union, which is supporting the sacked staff, is setting up a hospitality sector branch.

Section of picketers including both TDs (members of the Irish Parliament, the Dáil).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Today a number of elected public representatives were on the picket line, including Cieran Perry, Independent DC Councillor and Independent TDs Thomas Pringle and Joan Collins.

If you want to support the campaign you may wish to share their posts and find other ways to help through the Stop Tip Theft Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SupporttheIvyWorkers.ie/

end.

CATALONIA PREPARES FOR GENERAL STRIKE AGAINST REPRESSION AND FOR REFORMS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: article 5 mins; strike manifesto 5 mins.)

Catalans have been preparing for a one-day general strike since Monday’s announcement of the Spanish National Court sentences against the nine Catalan independence activists, who between them received almost 100 years in jail. Today’s will be the fourth Catalan general strike since the Spanish police attacks on Catalans in October 2017. This strike, according to its main trade union organiser, is not only against repression but also demanding social, economic, political and legal reforms and promises to have massive participation. The trade union organising it is a relatively new one, Intersindical CSC, a class union, which has been growing rapidly.

Photos of faces of the nine sentenced Catalan independence political and grass-roots activists. Between them they have been condemned to virtually 100 years of jail.
(Photo source: Internet)

TSUNAMI OF PROTESTS

          On Monday the Spanish National Court announced the sentences on seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots organisations on charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘misuse’ of public funds. The ‘sedition’ charges relate to demanding Catalan independence from the Spanish State and the financial ‘misuse’ charge to allegedly funding the Referendum from Catalan Government funds. They were also charged with ‘rebellion’ but since that had already been ruled out of order in test extradition cases for Catalans in exile, the Court had no realistic choice other than to clear them of that charge. The Spanish State is now proceeding with extradition warrants against other Catalan activists known to be in exile in Europe.

In addition, two senior members of the Catalan police force are on trial, 700 town mayors are to be investigated for their role in the Referendum, along with schoolteachers for discussing with their pupils police damage to their school buildings (used as polling stations). Recently seven alleged activists of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic were arrested on “terrorism” charges and two remain incommunicado, long after the usual five days permitted in Spanish State legislation. And others have been arrested in protests against Spanish State repression.

The self-styled “Tsunami” of protests began immediately the sentences were made public. Thousands walked, drove or rode bicycles to the El Prat Airport for Barcelona and effectively closed it down until they lifted the blockade at 10pm. Many others took to the streets of their cities to protest, particularly in front of institutions of the Spanish State, which had mobilised nearly 1,000 police in preparation against them. These were reinforced by the Catalan police, the Mossos D’Escuadra, who were seen as relatively benign during the Referendum and immediately afterwards but are now reverting to their past image — some years ago nearly a dozen of Catalan protesters lost eyes from rubber bullet impacts at close range, which led to a successful popular Catalan campaign to have them banned – but that ban does not apply to Spanish police. Already one young man lost an eye on Monday night while another appears to have lost one testicle and 150 were treated by paramedics. The toll grows and includes two youth run down by police vehicles and more arrests. These figures are certain to grow in the days ahead.

Riot police confront Catalan airport blockaders on Monday (Photo source: Internet)

Thousands are also walking along motorways to other towns in a protest procession, horns of cars, lorries and buses being sounded in solidarity, while different protests gather every night.

Section of the massive crowd of protesters that shut down Barcelona’s airport on Monday.
(Photo source: Internet)

PARALYSIS OF POLITICIANS

          This huge popular wave of resistance contrasts with the seeming paralysis of the pro-independence politicians, who are in three different political coalition parties: Junts X Cat (Together for Catalonia), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left) and Candidatura de Unidad Popular (People’s Unity Candidacy). The three together form a narrow enough majority in the Catalan regional Parlament against the Spanish unionist delegates of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE, as well as the ‘neutral’ “Communs”, a coalition around the Podemos party. Although the CUP delegates will defend any pro-independence motions etc in the Parlament, they are officially in opposition. JuntsXCat and ERC run the Government together on a slim majority but they disagreed on a number of important issues, including whether to give the minority Spanish PSOE Government qualified support without any concessions from the latter and also, about their resistance campaign being directed by ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, in exile in Brussels, and the group he has collected there.

But their paralysis is more fundamental: despite the activity of some of them in popular movements before they became politicians, their focus has been on electoral strategies and campaigning, preparing legislation for the Parlament and running the Government. For a number of years now the power of the street has been growing and it is clearly in the ascendant now – and that is not where the politicians feel most comfortable. Not only that — but where else now has the Spanish State left any cards to play?

THE TRADE UNIONS

          The main trade unions in the Spanish State are the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Commisiones Obreras (CCOO). After Franco’s death, their legalisation and incorporation into the system was felt essential for the smooth operation of the ‘Transition” and for that reason, the major political party of each was legalised too – the social democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain – so that they could control their unions. They did and they have, despite a history of republicanism and antifascism, and in 1978 ensured votes in favour of a the new monarchical and unionist Constitution while their members and others were being clubbed and shot – or blown up — in the street.

The big SEAT factory in Catalonia has majority representation in the CCOO and UGT trade unions and neither union officially supported the previous recent general strikes. However, there was leeway for ‘allowing’ an early leaving of work to attend strike day demonstrations and UGT has already this week officially condemned the Spanish State repression. How they will react later today remains to be seen.

Intersindical CSC is a ‘class union’ (i.e does not recruit personnel from the repressive arms of the State nor from management) and is in favour of the right to self-determination. Its history is recent but it organised the previous general strikes in conjunction with grass-roots independentist organisations (like the ANC and Omnium) and will do so again. The growth of Intersindical is a a source of worry for the UGT and CCOO in Catalonia.

Catalans blocking railway lines in protest.
(Photo source: Internet)

Later today we can expect blockades of all major motorways and train lines passing through Catalonia, general closures of business, services and public transport of Catalonia’s cities and massive demonstrations in cities, not just Barcelona. What will happen at the docks, airport and the SEAT plant remains to be seen. There will almost certainly be confrontations between strike supporters and the police, both Spanish and Catalan. Whether that will escalate further cannot be forecast but is very possible.

Meanwhile, outside of Catalonia in the Spanish State, both Madrid and the Basque Country hosted massive shows of solidarity on the streets while other cities, for example Caceres in Extremadura and Granada in Andalucia (the two poorest regions of the Spanish state), have seen demonstrations on the streets in solidarity with Catalonia and against the repression of the Spanish State.

Catalan protesters on Tuesday use metal fences as protection against rubber bullets.
(Photo source: Internet)

GENERAL STRIKES — COMMENT

          General strikes, if successful in mobilisation, show the collective strength of the organised workers, ideally in conjunction with their communities (families, relatives, friends, local shops, churches, sport clubs etc).

While that is extremely important in the longer run, they are not always successful in the shorter run or, to be more precise, they often fail to achieve their stated objectives. The stated objectives of this strike cannot be achieved in the short run since they confront not only a capitalist but a neoliberal Spanish ruling class and, furthermore, one in which the majority are undefeated descendants of a fascist-military uprising, civil war and four decades of dictatorship.

The overcoming of these obstacles requires, arguably, a social and political revolution and Catalonia is not at that point yet. But it may be in time, especially if the Spanish State continues to pursue its path of repression (and it is sure to do so). One-day general strikes sometimes grow into longer and sometimes even indefinite ones. Such situations are almost pre-revolutionary situations, with workers’ committees having to organise vast forces and control, manage and defend large areas.

For a Catalonia to be successful in revolution or in secession from the Spanish State alone would require that the State faces challenges on a number of fronts, including internally, that severely restricts its ability to send sufficient repressive forces to Catalonia. Such an outcome would depend completely on mobilisations in other parts of the Spanish state, which is why Spanish State, media and fascist parties’ are practically racist in their hysterical condemnation of Catalan independentism and culture, trying to whip up anti-Catalan feeling to distract from the woeful economic, social and political mess to which most of the Spanish regions have been driven.

End.

Demonstration Barcelona, part of general strike in February, protesting the start of the trial of the independence activists.
(Photo source: Internet)

APPENDIX:

GENERAL STRIKE MANIFESTO OCTOBER 18, 2019 (English language translation)

For rights and freedoms, general strike!

A new Spanish government and a new disappointment. Whether led by the PP or the PSOE, the

social gains never reach the workers. Neoliberal austerity policies persist whoever resides in the Moncloa (Spanish Government), while authoritarian repression against the common classes and, especially, against the Catalan people become the tools to curb any struggle for better living conditions and justice for the majority. As in popular times, state “socialism” now also wraps itself in the Spanish flag and patriotism to cover the miseries of a ’78 regime which strangled the bulk of the population and which is showing more and more cracks.

During election campaign times, certain parties declare limited progressive proposals, which, if they are elected to govern, will be stored again in a drawer to be sold again to the designs of an Ibex 35 (Spanish Stock Market benchmark) that does not tolerate any kind of agreement with forces that question minimally the foundations of the Spanish monarchy: the unalterable privileges of the elites and an indissoluble and centralist state model. Therefore, despite all the changes that the PSOE promised before grasping power, they faded to pass again from opposition to status quo, in another turn of the eternal Spanish political carousel so that nothing changes.

Minimum measures such as derogations from the PP’s labor reform or of the gag law, the withdrawal of vetoes against the social laws of Parliament, the already agreed reception of refugees, the imposition of rent ceilings, the setting up of a tax on banks, the renewal of the regional financing model or the publication of the list of evaders that were covered by the Montoro tax amnesty, all of those became elusive despite previously having been defended vehemently by Pedro Sánchez.

The Catalan working classes know that rights and freedoms are not only begged through voting. We learned that a century ago, after the “Canadian strike” allowed us to achieve the greatest of the victories of that era, the 8-hour working day and retirement at age 65 (The 44-day strike 1919 originating at the principal electricity company in Barcelona, Riesgos y Fuerzas del Ebro, popularly known as La Canadenca because its major shareholder was the Canadian Commercial Bank of Toronto). But not only then – history has stubbornly shown that social advances have only been achieved through struggle. Peaceful, massive and nonviolent, with the general strike as one of the clearest tools of the workers.

And on October 18 we have a new date, a new call for a general strike that should be massive to make it clear that we will not remain unresponsive to the continuing attacks upon us. The disappointment of Sánchez’s brief mandate at the head of the Government, unable to repeal the most damaging measures of Mariano Rajoy’s period, should receive a blunt response in the street, the popular masses need to empower themselves and to declare that they will not allow themselves to be stepped on again, despite the growing criminalization of protest and growing repression against anyone who dares to raise their voice.

Intersindical CSC is clear that the Catalan Republic is an essential tool to overthrow the regime of ’78 and to move towards a horizon of well-being, equality and social justice but even with this horizon always present, the struggle for rights and freedoms of the popular classes cannot cease before any institution. We will remain on our feet, once again on this October 18, to demand all rights and freedoms:

– For a minimum Catalan salary and pensions of at least 1,200 euros to be increased depending on the Catalan Consumer Price Index.

– For the repeal of the labor reforms of 2010 and 2012 and the recovery of all lost labor rights.

– For a Labor Inspection with adequate resources to deal effectively with rights violations.

– For the end of labor inequalities and the wage gap suffered by women, starting with the recovery of the annulled articles of the equality law and which referred to the world of work.

– For a Social Rescue Plan that guarantees free and universal public services, food and housing for the entire population, the comprehensive application of a guaranteed income for the citizenship and a plan for the internalising of public services which are now outsourced.

– For the application of a climate emergency agreement that reduces to zero as quickly as possible the net emissions of greenhouse gases, starting with the reinstatement of the law against climate change which was partially annulled by the Constitutional Court.

– For the approval of the scheduling of payment, unanimously agreed by Parliament, and the setting of a maximum rent level.

– For the reception of refugees, the closure of the Refugee Secure Centres and the repeal of the immigration law, to make Catalonia a truly host country and without second-class citizenship.

– For the recovery of all social laws and taxes approved by Parliament and nullified or suspended by the Spanish courts.

– For the repeal of the gag law

Intersindical-CSC http://www.intersindical-csc.cat G59792226

CHINESE PROTESTS AND COUNTER-PROTESTS IN DUBLIN

(Reading time: 10 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Chinese people protesting the proposed extradition law in Hong Kong and the repression of protests there by the authorities were outnumbered, out-coloured and out-sung by their Chinese opponents in O’Connell Street on Saturday 31st August. However the counter-protesters gave the impression of having been mobilised through the Chinese Embassy.

          Those protesting the proposed Hong Kong legislation outside the GPO seemed somewhat cowed by the counter-protesters facing them in the central pedestrian reservation. The former had some printed placards while their opponents had a massive banner bearing the legend “We Love Hong Hong”. They also had an effective public address system and a cheer-leader with a microphone and every now and again he got the whole crowd to burst into some Chinese song. Their numbers and coordination made one think of the cast of the film version of the Chinese revolutionary opera “The East Is Red.”

sdr
Counter demonstration in Dublin to Hong Kong protests solidarity demonstration. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

I chanced upon the protest by accident, cycling up O’Connell Street, not having heard about it in advance. As I neared to take a photo, I noted that among the Chinese protesting about Hong Kong, there were some placards of the People Before Profit organisation and some familiar faces.

 

Upon commenting to their leader that they had been outsung (a flippant comment, I’ll admit), he told me that those protesting about events in Hong Kong had felt apprehensive and had asked for solidarity. He commented to me that he would “always support people struggling for democracy, against extradition” etc. Perhaps – but I don’t recall seeing him (or most of his party) on pickets calling for civil rights for Irish Republicans or against their extradition from the Irish state to British administration.

I don’t believe for one minute he and his party prefer Chinese to Irish people but I do think they are much readier to take up cases of injustice where the target is not either the Irish or the British state. Which is curious for an organisation that declares a revolution in Ireland to be necessary.

SOME HONG KONG BACKGROUND

          Hong Kong has a population of around 7,300,000, which includes many who are not nationals. It is a port city of 1,104 sq. Kilometres (426 sq. Miles) and one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.

Hong Kong was occupied by the British in 1812 after they beat the Chinese in the First Opium War, fought by the British in support of their right to sell opium through Chinese ports to the Chinese, which the Emperor unreasonably thought was destroying the Chinese aristocracy and administrative classes.

The British extended their territorial base in Hong Kong to Kowloon in 1860 after beating the Chinese again in the Second Opium War (there were still unreasonable Chinese who didn’t want the British selling opium to them). From 1898 the British ran Hong Kong on the ‘legal’ basis of a 99-year lease (which actually, the British forced the Chinese to grant them) which ran out in 1997. In 1941 the British surrendered Hong Kong to Imperial Japanese forces which remained there until 1945, after which the British took it over again.

The Chinese Emperor having long gone by 1997 and the Taiwan western-supported authorities having no legitimate or believable claim, once the lease ran out, Hong Kong reverted to the main Chinese authorities, i.e the Government of China. Unfortunately for the Hong Kong people, that is the People’s Republic of China which, though flaunting communist symbols, has long ago ceased to be any kind of Communist regime but is not a capitalist democracy either.

However, under arrangements made when the British lease expired, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from those of mainland China, expressed in the phrase “one country, two systems.”

DEMOCRACY?

          Headlines in the leaflet being distributed by the Hong Kong protesters in Dublin declared that the fight is about democracy and democratic rights. Many media commentators agree with them. Some even talk about restoring democracy to that region.

In fact, Hong Kong has never had democracy. Before Britain annexed it, the port city was run by officials appointed by the Chinese Emperor. After the British took it over, not only was there no democracy for Chinese working people but the administration was openly racist and some “public” areas there declared that no Chinese were permitted entry. In 1925, British troops and police opened fire to suppress a dock strike and demonstrations in Shanghail resulting in over 60 killed in two separate incidents. The resistance spread to Hong Kong and the port was also boycotted, which cost the British dearly.

Even in modern times, the Hong Kong administration was known to be highly corrupt and the special anti-corruption police squad became known as “the graveyard of corruption complaints”, for that is where the allegations and complaints were buried by those supposedly investigating them.

In 1967 Leftist demonstrations grew out of a strike and became wide-scale riots when Hong Kong Police moved to brutally repress them and many of the demonstrators’ leaders were arrested.

In 2013 a dockers’ strike in Hong Kong fought a hard battle against shipping transport companies for 40 days, out of which they emerged victorious. The working conditions that came to light during the struggle revealed aspects that organised workers would not accept in any capitalist democracy or even in some dictatorships.

CURRENT STRUGGLE

          The present Hong Kong authorities seem to have come to an arrangement with the mainland Chinese Government, since Carrie Law, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, introduced the bill which has sparked three months of protest. Under the provisions of this bill, an alleged lawbreaker in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China. When people protested in Hong Kong, the authorities sent their police to beat up the protesters and to arrest them, just as the British used to do in the old days.

And the laws that are being used to attack and jail demonstrators are exactly the same ones that have been in force for decades in British Hong Kong, as the Financial Times points out, although it suggests they were OK under the British but are “outdated now” (see References)!

Hong Kong Placards Police Don't Shoot
Photo taken on demonstration in Hong Kong (Photo source: Internet)

The opposition to the bill has seen demonstrations, occupations and strikes. On 5 August, there was a strike, this time successful, with the airport and flight industry employees playing a prominent role. The Communist Party of China is now asking for the list of Cathay Pacific employees who went on strike but the union won’t release the list. Estimates of participation in the strike vary between 300,000 and 400,000 people.

Airport public areas have also been occupied en masse which of course hits tourism and personal contact business, along with some exports and imports. On 12 August, another huge occupation of the airport brought about a threatening response from the PRC State; it sent about 10,000 armed police to the border with Hong Kong.

Carrie Law recently stated that she has withdrawn the bill which satisfies one of the demands of demonstrators but another four have been put forward:

  • Retract the classification of the protests as ‘riot’ ” (presumably with legal consequences)

  • Appointment of an independent commission to inquire into the excessive violence used by the police in the protests”

  • Dropping charges against demonstrators” (but what about those already jailed?)

  • Implement a Dual Universal suffrage to elect a truly democratic government”

WHO OR WHAT SHOULD WE SUPPORT?

          As in many of these types of struggles there are likely to be a number of elements involved among the demonstrators and strikers, including leftists, basic democrats, anti-communists (even fascists) and pro-western imperialists.

I do not see any reason to defend the current or past administration of Hong Kong – quite the contrary. Nor do I see any reason to defend the Chinese State administration which has lost all content of communism it once had and in which only some of its form survives. As far as democracy goes, the People’s Republic of China has suppressed demonstrations against corruption or by defenders of their environment, as well as hundreds of strikes and sent tanks to suppress a demonstration in Tienamen Square, resulting in an unknown number of dead, injured and jailed. On the other hand, Hong Kong is not even a bourgeois — to say nothing of a workers’ – democracy as is shown at present and in its past.

Huge Hong Kong Protest
Photo of demonstration in Hong Kong (Photo source: Internet)

It is natural that people in Hong Kong would not want to be extradited to the PRC and it seems to me that resistance to that is worthy of support along with in general the other four demands (although what “independent commission” to enquire into “excessive violence by police” can be appointed in this setup?). But the fundamental problem is that working people in Hong Kong do not control the fruits of their labour and the granting of not even all of the five demands can possibly change that. Where workers are in that situation, their rulers will alway keep repressive measures on hand for use whenever they feel the need to employ them.

Clearly the solution is not for the intervention of the USA or any other imperialist state either.

Therefore what I think we should support most is the mobilisation of the working people for socialist revolution and their participation in these current struggles will educate them as well as giving their most class-conscious elements the opportunity to enhance that education and, necessarily, organisation.

End.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

1925 strike, massacres and boycott: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canton%E2%80%93Hong_Kong_strike

1967 anti-British rule demonstrations (somewhat biased): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_1967_leftist_riots

Hong Kong repressive legislation is from the British: https://www.ft.com/content/d66d69aa-6ef4-11e8-8863-a9bb262c5f53

Hong Kong Dock Strike 2013: https://www.ft.com/content/80a0d4ea-ae46-11e2-bdfd-00144feabdc0

Hong Kong Police and the demonstrations: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/09/hong-kong-police-lost-trust/597205/

History of corruption in Hong Kong Police: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lui_Lok

HOW TO WIN THE WAR – GETTING INTO POSITION

(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

INTRODUCTION:

Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.

Storming Bastille Painting Jean-Pierre Houel
The Storming of the Bastille (translation), French Revolution, 1789 by Jean-Pierre Houel. (Image sourced: Internet)

But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.

In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.

Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet. From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?

Communards Paris Barricade 1871
Communards at barricade, Paris Commune 1871. (Image source: Internet)

Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolution, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.

Defeat Rebels Vinegar Hill Drawing George Cruikshank
“Defeat of the Rebels at Vinegar Hill” by George Cruikshanks, i.e United Irishmen last major position in Wexford overrun, 1798.

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE

(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)

Free Derry Corner Gas Mask Images
Derry Monument and Mural of the Civil Rights struggle which preceded the armed struggle in the Six Counties. (Image sourced: Internet)

          The national liberation war that began in 1969 in the Six Counties and ended in 1998 (though some armed incidents continue from time to time) began as a civil rights struggle and changed into a war of communal defence and of national liberation. The military part of the struggle for the most part took place in the occupied Six Counties. The political element of the struggle was waged all over Ireland (and abroad) but in the main consisted of support for the struggle in the Six occupied Counties.

Fought in that way, the struggle was bound to lose. It could never win. How could anyone imagine that they could win a struggle fought against a world power in one-sixth of the country, where even the population there was divided against them? What could they have been thinking?

To my mind, there are only two possible sane replies to that question, which is that they believed: 1) that the British ruling class would get worn down by struggle and leave and/ or 2) that the Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable.

1) ‘The British ruling class would get worn down and leave’: This theory must have depended on British repression being condemned abroad and being unpopular at home but had to rest fundamentally on the British having no great stake in continuing its possession of its colony there.

Anyone who thought that (and there were many who did and still many who do, not just Irish Republicans) made a fundamental error. Time and again the British ruling class has shown its determination to hang on to what might be considered its first colony, even as the ruling class’ composition changed from feudal-colonialist to capitalist-imperialist and as the world changed around it.

Collusion State Murder Mural
Mural in nationalist area in the Six Counties (Image sourced: Internet)

Even when the British ruling class, weakened by WW1 and facing an Irish guerrilla war which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Irish people, with national liberation uprisings breaking out across its Empire and with its repression in Ireland increasingly unpopular at home, entered into negotiations with the Irish resistance, it held on to a foothold, the Six Counties.

Subsequently, it had that colony managed in a permanent state of emergency laws, with institutionalised sectarian discrimination at all official levels and outbreaks of pogroms in the street and workplace.

That became even more exposed during the civil rights struggle and the national liberation war that followed when the British State compromised whatever good international reputation remained to its Armed Forces, its judiciary, its legal establishment, its media and its very legal framework.

Even now, when many believe that the Good Friday Agreement means that a 50% plus-one-vote in favour in the Six Counties will be sufficient to end Partition, they do not realise that such a decision will have to also obtain a majority in the British Parliament and be endorsed by the British Monarch. They are also forgetting the broken promises that surrounded Partition in the first place.

British Soldiers Helmeted Belfast 1969
British Army in Belfast 1969 (bayonets and guns pointed towards nationalist area). (Image sourced: Internet)

When analysing what holding on to the Six Counties has cost the British State in terms of reputation, military and financial contributions, one can only rationally assume that continuing to hold on to that foothold is of great importance to the British State. One may speculate as to the reasons underlying that but the central fact cannot be denied.

2) ‘The Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable’:

There was some basis for this belief in that a section of Fianna Fáil, a party that had emerged from a split in Sinn Féin in the 1930s and had become one of the mainstream parties in the Irish state, had retained some traditional commitment to seeking a united Ireland. However it was a thin enough basis on which to depend in a national liberation struggle since that section had no majority within the party itself, to say nothing of the foreign-dependent nature of the Irish native capitalist class, the Gombeens, as a whole.

The question came to a trial of strength in the Arms Crisis of 1970, in which at least two Fianna Fáil Government Ministers were involved in secretly buying arms for the defence of nationalist areas in the Six Counties (since the IRA had insufficient weapons at the time) from rampaging Loyalist mobs and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (including the part-time B-Specials). The Ministers alleged that they had acted in the full knowledge of the rest of the Government. By the time the whole affair was over, two Ministers had been sacked and another two resigned in protest.

If it had not been clear before that the Gombeens, the native Irish capitalist class was no patriotic capitalist class but rather a neo-colonial one, it should have been clear after that. But the armed struggle in the Six Counties intensified, especially after the massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by British Paratroopers the following year, 1971 in Belfast and again in Derry in 1972. And the war lasted until 1998.

If, as had been demonstrated to be the case that the British ruling class were determined to hold on to the Six Counties and the Irish ruling class was not going to seriously challenge that possession, did the Republican movement have any other option than to fight on a war that they could not possibly win?

I am clear that it did.

Clearly, in order to have a chance of success, the war had to be extended to the other five-fifths of the country, which is to say into the territory under the control of the Irish native capitalist class. This class had seized power after the War of Independence (1919-1921) and had beaten and suppressed its opposition during and after the Civil War (1922-1923) and furthermore was supported by a powerful ally, the Irish Catholic Church. Since the founding of the first Irish Republican organisation, the United Irishmen of the late 1790s, the Catholic Church hierarchy had opposed Irish Republicanism; it had condemned four Irish priests who participated in the uprising of 1798, excommunicated the Fenians, had at first condemned the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence only to latch on to it at the end along with the Gombeen class.

The general Irish population likely would not have supported or sustained an armed struggle in the 1970s against the Gombeen class but that class could have been fought politically, through agitation and mobilisation, on many social, political and economic fronts. Without going into the specific details of each, these were:

  1. against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration

  2. to remedy the shortage of affordable housing (which in part contributed to the above)

  3. to end unemployment (also contributing hugely to emigration)

  4. to raise the level of wages and lower wage earners’ taxation

  5. for the right to divorce

  6. for equality for women in law

  7. for the right to contraception devices and medication for men and women

  8. against decriminalisation and for equal rights for gay and lesbians

  9. to halt the decline of the Irish language, in particular of the rural Irish-speaking areas

  10. to improve services for the rural areas

  11. to oppose the open-door policy for foreign multinationals to exploit Irish natural and human resources

  12. to secularise the education service

  13. and the health service.

  14. to remove the privileged status of the Catholic Church within the state.

Irish Womens Liberation Connolly Station
Irish women photographed at Connolly Station 1971, about to board train to Belfast to purchase contraceptives to bring back to the Irish state, illegal at the time. There was no right to abortion either or divorce and a husband’s signed permission was necessary to take out a hire purchase agreement. (Image sourced: Internet)

The Republican movement in general, with some exceptions, declined to take on any of those struggles. They did not organise in the trade union movement, left the social struggles to others and most of all, declined to take on the Catholic Church on any issue except its opposition to the national liberation struggle. Even there, it was happy to publicly avail of the services of members of the Church clergy who supported them. Republicanism was, from its very beginning, as well as anti-monarchist, about separation of Church and State but it was difficult to see that in the Irish Republican movement, particularly after the War of Independence.

A full half of those fourteen points above (nos. 5,6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14) would have meant taking on the Church head-on and no doubt the hierarchy would have hindered the struggle over most of the others too, due to its strong links with the State and its ruling class.

Because of its tactical and no doubt ideological refusal to take up those struggles, the Republican movement could do little more in the 26-County state than to agitate for solidarity with the beleaguered nationalist population inside the British colony.

Though this could be effective for a time it could not become a mass movement, nor survive a long struggle, without any remedy being sought for the issues facing the population within the state.

The wonder is not that the majority leadership of the Republican Movement threw in the towel on the military struggle in 1998 but that they had waited so long to do it. Of course, they never admitted the true nature of what they were doing: abandoning the armed struggle and revolution in total and instead, using their negotiating position to advance themselves politically – not in the economic, social and political struggle envisioned above but rather in a political struggle to find themselves a place among the Gombeen political class in the Irish state and as accomplices in the governing of the colonial state.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

          A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate whilst at the same time pointing out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever union is in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.

PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.

Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.

There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.

Shankhill Rd Republican Congress WT Commemoration 1934
Socialist Republicans, members of Republican Congress from Shankhill Road, marching to annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, Bodenstown 1934. They were attacked by conservative Republicans. (Photo source: Internet)

There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.

Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.

A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.

It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.

Unity Is Strength Image copy

The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.

There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.

Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.

The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.

After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.

Bloody Sunday march Derry 2014
Poster for 2014 Commemoration of Bloody Sunday massacre, Derry 1972. The poster calls for unity. (Image source: Internet)

The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.

The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. It took the victims over 15 years to win their freedom, by which time one had died in jail. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.

Birmingham Six Photos Bruises
Photos of the Birmingham Six, Irishmen resident in England, showing bruises from police beatings after their arrest in 1974; they were also beaten by jailers. Also arrested, brutalised, framed and convicted were the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. (Photo source: Internet)

State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally Ill or challenged, physically challenged ….

It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so. Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).

Lineup Clenched Fists & Banner
Anti-Internment and political prisoner solidarity picket September 2016 at Kilmainham Jail, Dublin (a former place of detention and execution for political prisoners under both the British occupation and the Irish State, now a museum). (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.

The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people whom the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.

solidarity woodcut

Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionary broad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.

Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

(Part of series “HOW TO WIN THE WAR  — GETTING INTO POSITION”.  See also INTRODUCTION; PART 1: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE;                      PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT HOW AND WHAT KIND? WITH WHOM? PART 4: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate and also regularly point out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever unions are in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.

MAJOR SPANISH UNION “BETRAYED WORKERS”

(Reading time text: 2 minutes; comment: 4)

(Translation from article in Castillian by Diarmuid Breatnach)

The Andalusian Union of Workers (SAT) has accused CCOO (Comisiones Obreras, major Spanish trade union – Translator) of “betraying” agricultural workers with the signing of an agreement with the Asaja employers — the signing took place last Thursday in Seville — where hard-won rights have been surrendered, including the 15-minute sandwich break. Accordingly, it will propose a common front to all trade unions to promote the fight for an (alternative) Andalusian agreement.

Migrant workers in a sweet potato plantation in Jerez, Andalusia.
(Source photo: Juan Carlos Toro, La Voz del Sur)

The SAT “cannot endorse an agreement where you give up the 15 minutes sandwich break, a workers’ victory from a long time back, which has been respected for generations, even during the Franco regime. An achievement that the employer, Asaja, has always wanted to eliminate and has succeeded now thanks to the betrayal of bureaucrats who never got their hands dirty or set foot on the field in their life”.

To this, adds the union, “you cannot endorse a de facto wage loss since the Pyrrhic rise of 1.25% per year does not compensate for the loss of the 15-minute sandwich break, which amounts to 3.8%. In other words, in reality, what CCOO has signed is a salary reduction of two and a half points” (per cent). “This is an outrage and a complete betrayal. There is no other name for it. We would like to say something very different, but above all our duty is to the workers who have been sold and betrayed once more”, they added.

The situation in the Andalusian countryside and the province of Seville, in particular, where some 120,000 people work in the sector, is very precarious. The economic crisis has hit the countryside and its workers hard. The working conditions implemented in the Andalusian countryside, according to the SAT, “seem from other times, thankfully now past.” Breach of agreements is the rule, piece-work predominates, which sometimes means that after a long day of work you only take 20 euros home, well below the salary established in the agreements.

Map showing Andalucia region (in red), Spanish State (in cream) also Canaries and part of coast of North Africa.
(Source image: Internet)

There are situations, they add, where fraud is evident by not declaring the workers employed. A fraud that can make a millionaire, since it can mean millions of undeclared euros that put health, pensions and our social protection system at risk. In addition to situations of genuine exploitation of workers — which in many cases border on pure slavery — there continues to be a significant reduction in income to Social Security, as well as a smaller amount of peonages that subsequently give the right to recognition of the subsidy and other benefits (? — Trans).

The reality that is being imposed not only affects labour rights, it is also “strategic suicide”. “The reality,” explains SAT, “is that with these mafia practices they are dropping the market price, so the product loses added value and undermines the market. The final result is to depreciate the product having a direct impact on the living conditions of day-labourers and on the economy of the towns. There have been innumerable complaints filed in the Labour Inspectorate, some of which have led to criminal proceedings being taken for crimes against the rights of workers.”

Accordingly, an Andalusian agreement that puts in place a minimum is necessary and urgent: six hours of work (sandwich break included); 60 euros for the normal working day; 84 on Sundays and holidays; effective ban on piece-work; wage of 69 euros for work with machinery; 96, on Sundays and holidays; on rainy days (when work is not possible) 50% will be paid for showing up at work, and the full wage from two hours of work; 0.27 euros mileage.

It is fundamental, they state in concluding their communiqué, to establish “a common front to fight for an Andalusian agreement with these minimums. It is also necessary and urgent to change the system of union elections in the field, a measure approved in the Congress of Deputies, and grant voting rights to non-permanent workers who represent more than 95% of the workforce in the Andalusian countryside.”

COMMENT:

Diarmuid Breatnach

The CCOO, Comisiones Obreras is one of the two mega-unions in the Spanish State, the other being the UGT. The CCOO was controlled by the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and the UGT by the social-democratic PSOE; both parties and their affiliated unions were outlawed during Franco’s time. When the Transition to “democracy” was being engineered after Franco’s death, it was considered necessary to legalise the PSOE in order to have a two-party system and therefore necessary to legalise the UGT. However, it was the other way around for the CCOO and the CP. The Comisiones Obreras were by far the largest and most militant trade union and, though illegal, had built up a substantial following among the workers of the Spanish State. To effect as smooth a Transition as possible, it was crucial to legalise the CCOO and therefore to bring the Communist Party on board. Both political parties agreed to a deal, including recognising a monarchy with a King chosen by Franco and publicly supporting a forced union of all nations within the state by a new constitution.

The southern Basque Country and Galicia have a majority of unions of their own nation but everywhere else within the state, the CCOO and the UGT have the majority of workers as members and the majority of elected representatives. Although the CP’s control of CCOO has slipped over the years, the UGT is still strongly associated with the PSOE. There are also some independent trade unions, like the SAT above and also some others based on specific work locations.

SAT has a history of militancy, fighting for its mainly agricultural work force in which, as it states above, the vast majority are migrant workers. The union also campaigns for efficient and socialised use of Andalusian land, much of which is owned by banks and left empty; in addition its spokesperson was arrested last year for “insulting the Monarchy”. It is worth remembering that Andalusia was in medieval times the famed Moorish caliphate of Al Andalus, in many ways the jewel of the Iberian peninsula.

When Franco’s troops were ferried to Andalusia from the Canaries by German Nazi transport, largely without armed opposition in 1936, they butchered 55,000 republicans, socialists, communists, communists, trade unionists and anti-fascists.

As soon as the “Transition” went through after the death of Franco, the PSOE was voted into power in the Andalusian regional government, where it has held the absolute majority ever since – until the regional elections this year. Years of corruption and complacency saw its voting base diminish and, though it still holds the most seats, a right-wing coalition of the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox, all of which can trace their origins to Franco, has taken over. Many observers think is therefore all the stranger that the CCOO should bring in this agreement at this time.

End.

LINKS AND REFERENCES:

Source article in Castillian: https://www.lavozdelsur.es/no-habra-15-minutos-de-bocadillo-para-los-jornaleros-del-campo-andaluz/?fbclid=IwAR1EwH5Uox-Qb87XNjZBvS1nlJ-YD21EbGHAQKqCPRkvFgEgZZOu_nI05bM

Arrest of SAT spokesperson in November 2018:

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/union-spokesperson-arrested-for-insulting-the-monarch/

Right-wing coalition takes over Andalusia:

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/gains-for-the-hard-right-in-andalusia-reason-to-panic/

Number of Andalusians murdered by Franco’s military-fascist forces:

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/07/12/5131/

SIGNIFICANT VICTORY FOR DELIVEROO RIDERS

The first great collective victory of the ‘riders’ against Deliveroo.

A judgment of the Social Court No. 5 of Valencia recognizes the existing contractual relationship between Roodfoods Spain S.L.U., parent company of the British multinational, and 97 delivery riders of València.

(Valencia is in the Paisos Catalans region but not part of the Catalonia region — Translator(

Translated from article in Castillian of PILAR ARAQUE CONDE @ pilarac4 in the on-line newspaper Publico by Diarmuid Breatnach.

 

The complaints presented by Social Security’s General Finance in different courts against the Deliveroo labour model begin to be resolved. A judgment from Social court No.5 of Valencia ruled that 97 riders of the delivery company are employees and not self-employed, this being the first great collective victory of the workers of the platform Riders x Drets (Riders for Rights) and Intersindical Valenciana, according to the collective’s statement on Thursday.

Some of the Riders for Rights, now recognised as employees of Deliveroo, pose for a photo.
(Source: Publico)

Last year, Víctor Sánchez became the first worker in Spain to obtain a final judgment against Deliveroo, after Social court Number 6 of València declared his dismissal “unfair”. Deliveroo then accepted the ruling that for the first time questioned the legality of the business model of the distribution firm, maintaing that the riders are falsely self-employed.

The titular magistrate of Social Court No. 5 of València now recognises the existing contractual relationship between Roodfoods Spain S.L.U., the company that owns Deliveroo, and the 97 workers in Turia city. The ruling states that the workers “provide their personal services, inserted in the business organization to which the means of production belong – Deliveroo’s digital platform – according to the criteria and distributions that it establishes and assigns, receiving remuneration, which also establishes the company “, according to the text accessed by eldiario.es.

The judge adds that “the real means of production in this activity are not the bicycle and the mobile phone that the rider uses, but the digital platform of matching supply to demand owned by the company and without which which the provision service is not feasible”. In this way, Deliveroo is the one who determines the orders and schedules of the workers, and not the employees themselves, despite being categorised and taxed as self-employed.

“It is intended that the rider is free or not to accept an order without unfavorable consequences, but it was proved that the service of the rider is valued at different grades, which obviously will be taken into consideration by the order allocation algorithms” explains the judge. And she refutes the argument used by Deliveroo: “The fact of being able to reject orders does not constitute a capability or power that can condition the business activity,” he stresses.

SEVERAL PENDING LAWSUITS

The ruling, made public this Thursday, responded to the lawsuit filed in April 2018 by Social Security against Deliveroo, following a notification from the Labour Inspectorate. The state agency claimed more than 160,000 euros for Social Security contributions that were not paid by the company. Later, the Labour Inspectorate offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante and Zaragoza, among other cities, did the same in the various courts.

Social Court No. 29 of Madrid will be the next to rule on whether these workers should be considered salaried employees of the British multinational and not self-employed, since the trial, which affects more than 500 delivery people in the region, was held for sentencing on May 31st.

GLOVO’S LABOUR MODEL, ALSO CHALLENGED

Glovo’s labour model has also been challenged before the courts. In this case, several judgments have determined that the company’s distributors had an “employment relationship” with the company and ordered their reinstatement.

This digital platform is also involved in the controversy after a worker died when being run over by a garbage truck while delivering. The young man, 23 years old, “was not a collaborator” of Glovo, although he carried its backpack. His death sparked protests about the precariousness of the sector.

And the fact is that Glovo, Deliveroo and Uber Eats continue to operate without a regulation that guarantees the rights of their workers. Also, taking into account that the number of employees in the sector is around 17,000, UGT (one of the major trade unions in the Spanish state – Translator) estimates that Social Security loses a potential 93 million per year due to this situation, figures that it estimates will be three times greater in 2020.

SOURCE REFERENCE:

https://www.publico.es/sociedad/deliveroo-primera-victoria-colectiva-riders-frente-deliveroo-jueza-valencia-considera-97-repartidores-falsos-autonomos.html

INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY DUBLIN 2019

Clive Sulish

Two quite different celebrations of International Workers’ Day took place in Dublin on the afternoon of the appropriate date, 1st of May. One was small and of a decidely revolutionary flavour while the other, much larger, was of a more mixed nature and tending towards the reformist. In addition, a workers’ solidarity picket was mounted on a Dublin city centre eatery.

NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS

          The first of the celebrations was organised by theAnti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place at the James Connolly Monument in Dublin’s Beresford Place. There a statue of James Connolly stands upon a plinth, behind the the design of the Irish Citizen Army flag, based upon the constellation that in Ireland is called the Starry Plough but in the USA is known as the Big Dipper. James Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser, historian, journalist and songwriter who was Commander of the Dublin insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. The Irish Citizen Army, possibly the first formaly-organised army for and of the workers, had been formed during the Dublin Lockout as a defence force against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and after the surrender of the insurrectionary forces, 16 participants, including two of the ICA, were executed by British firing squad: Michael Mallin on 8th May and James Connoly on 12th May.

In the here and now, on their way to the Connolly Monument, a number of participants were stopped by a man in plain clothes identifying himself as a police officer, i.e a member of the Garda Special Branch.  He wished to know their names, which they declined to give them.

At the Monument, both speakers for the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation were youths.

The first to speak gave his oration in Irish on behalf of Macra – Irish Socialist Republican Youth and said that they were there to celebrate socialism, trade unionism and workers oppressed throughout the world and, that although James Connolly had been murdered in Kilmainham Jail, his work was ongoing.

Stating that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army had gone out in 1916 to break with imperialism and found a socialist society, the youth went on to say that “Macra is a revolutionary organisation with socialism as one of our objectives and we also believe in the words of Pearse: ‘Ireland not only free but Gaelic, not only Gaelic but free.’ Free from the bankers, free from landlords, free from poverty.”

The speaker concluded in Irish and in English with the renowned sentence from the Communist Manifesto.: Bíodh critheagla ar aicmí cheannais roimh réabhlóid Chumannach. Níl tada le cailiúint ag na Prólatáirigh ach a slabhraí. Tá saol mór le gnóthú acu. Oibrithe an tSaoil Mhóir, cuirigí le chéile!”

Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have the whole world to gain. Workers of the world unite!”

The second speaker delivered his speech in English and linked the liberation of Ireland with the liberation of the working class and went on to praise Séamus Costello (1939-1977), which he said had embodied that aspiration. The youth praised the creation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party by Costello as well as the creation of the Irish National Liberation Army and Costello’s participation and membership in a number of democratic organisations — including his election to Bray District Council.

Condemning “the bankers and politicians” who bring deprivation to the workers, the speaker said that they try to point the finger instead at Muslims and migrants but it is not migrants who cause job losses, create homelessness etc but “the elite”. The speaker ended by saying he wished to remember all those who had given their lives for Irish freedom.

Assembled at the Connolly Monument, Beresford Place, Dublin (Photo: Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland)

WE WANT THE EARTH

          Diarmuid Breatnach was then introduced to sing Be Moderate, a song with an ironic title by James Connolly. “The Irish working class does not have a huge history in Ireland, apart from a short period in the early decades of the last century,” Breatnach said, giving as reasons the forced underdevelopment of Irish industry, the British-fostered sectarianism in the most industrialised north-east and the focus on the national struggle as a competing pole of attraction.

The Irish abroad, however, have made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement,” Breatnach said. “And in 1889, Jim Connell from near Cill Scíre in Co. Meath, composed lyrics of The Red Flag to the air of the White Cockade, starting it on the train to his home in South London from a demonstration in central London and apparently completing it in the home of another Irish man.

The song was later adopted by the International Workers of the World, a syndicalist organisation mostly active in the USA, Breatnach said and reminded them that James Connolly joined the IWW when he migrated to the USA. “In 1907, James Connolly published a songbook, Songs of Freedom, in which he included the lyrics of Be Moderate,” Breatnach stated and went on to say that no air had been published to which the words should be sung. As a result Be Moderate has been sung to a number of airs but in London Breatnach heard it sung by an avant-garde musical composer and Marxist-Leninist, Cornelius Cardew, to the air of A Nation Once Again. In Breatnach’s opinion the lyrics fit well to this air and it also provides a chorus, which he encouraged the participants to sing.

James Connolly’s lyrics were sung by Breatnach then, competing with sounds of passing traffic on the ground and the occasional trains rumbling by on the bridge overhead, participants joining in on the chorus:

We only want the Earth,

We only want the Earth

And our demands most moderate are:

We only want the Earth!

and the last line of the last verse “We want the Earth!” echoing across Beresford Place.

TRADE UNION AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION BANNERS

Section of the 1st May parade about to move off from outside the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Across the road, a stage and crowd barriers were being set up outside Liberty Hall, the multi-storeyed headquarters of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland and which, by amalgamations, had grown from the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, originally formed early in the 20th Century by Jim Larkin, James Connolly and others (and the destruction of which had been the object of the 1913 Lockout). The stage was being prepared for speakers to address a rally which would follow a Mayday parade from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance (a small park dedicated “to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom”).

Even the larger Mayday demonstrations in Dublin, although organised through the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, i.e with affiliation from most trade unions in the city, do not tend to be very big by comparison with other cities in many other parts of the world.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Banners of some unions mixed with those of political organisations and campaign groups, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another against Irish state participation in PESCO, which is seen by many as an embryonic EU Army and undermining the Irish state’s neutrality.

Section of the 1st May on the move down Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Led by a lone piper, the parade made its way past crowds of onlookers down Dublin city’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, then left along Eden Quay to Liberty Hall where they were to be addressed by speakers on the temporary stage in Beresford Place, across from the Connolly Monument.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Meanwhile, a small group had left, to form a picket line outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant, in solidarity with staff and in opposition to the management appropriating a portion of the tips left for staff, with more to join them there later from the Mayday parade.
(see
https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/tipping-the-bosses/).

A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ORIGIN OF INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY

          The First of May has been celebrated as the international day for workers since 1892, to call for the 8-hour maximum working day, socialism and universal peace. Its inspiration was a train of events that began with a workers’ strike and demonstrations on May 1st 1886 in many parts of the USA but in Chicago ended in the State execution of four anarchists, with police and state militia massacres of workers along the way as well as with acts of workers’ resistance. The celebration and commemoration throughout the world was formally agreed at the Second Congress of the Second International Workers’ Association in Brussels in 1892 and at its Sixth Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) declared it mandatory for the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on that day, wherever that could be done without injury to the workers (bearing in mind violently repressive regimes).

Artwork depicting police attacking striking workers at McCormick’s factory who were agitating for the 8-hour working day.
(Image source: Internet)

In many states around the world now, the 1st of May is a public and bank holiday and has been so in Ireland since 1994. Its public celebration was banned under the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal but is legal in both those states now; however it is still banned in some other states while in some areas, though not banned, may be subject to attack by police, army, state agents or by fascist elements.

End.

Tipping the Bosses!

Diarmuid Breatnach

Supporters of staff at a prominent Dublin eatery protested yesterday over the management’s appropriation of some of the tips left by customers for the staff. They are able to do this quite easily when the customer pays the tip by credit card but when staff asked customers to leave their tips in cash, management accused them of “deplorable greed”. They have also dismissed two staff who are currently taking a case for unfair dismissal, accusing the management of sacking them for their unionisation of the staff.

View of some early protesters outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          The photographs taken here show a smallish group, including Independents for Change TD Joan Collins but more were coming later from the Mayday march on the north side of the river. A supporter claimed that the management offers an hourly rate above the minimum wage but then makes that difference up with tips.

Catering work in general is notoriously low-paid and with transitory staff, making it difficult for trade unions to organise them and relatively easy for management to hire and fire.

View of some early protesters outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant (Photo: D.Breatnach)

There have been a number of protests about the tips issue at Ivy, including one on which the Irish Times reported in March.

The report stated that a number of protestors who had booked tables in the restaurant began the protest and were then joined outside the restaurant by a group of 30 people led by Independent TD Joan Collins who held up placards stating “Stop tip theft”.

View of some early protesters outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Ms Collins was reported as saying that she was aware of other Dublin restaurants who have are engaging in similar practices when it comes to tips and was quoted as saying that: “The Ivy are abusing the good nature of diners who are tipping staff well because and they are not aware that management are taking some of their tips”.

“Workers are hugely concerned as they are not earning a high hourly wage and they work hard for their tips only for a portion of it to go to the company,” she said.

end.

Link to Irish Times article (and photo): https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/protest-held-outside-ivy-restaurant-in-dublin-over-waiters-tips-1.3827055

TEN DAYS IN KURDISTAN — a retrospective

Diarmuid Breatnach

          I was anxious for the Turkish airline plane to take off but it was being held up by Turkish State security agents. Two of them were walking down the airplane aisle from the forward exit, casually casting eyes over the passengers of the plane. Not looking at them would have been suspicious and would have conveyed guilt or fear, so I glanced equally casually at them and then away.

Average height, in suits and sunglasses, dark-haired, one of what might be termed “Mediterranean” appearance in his mid-thirties, the other “Middle-Eastern”, forties perhaps. Secret police for sure – not that their profession was in any way secret. Political police.

Almost certainly the same ones who had passed us in town a couple of times as we sat in the cafe killing a few hours before we headed for the airport. Nothing secret about that either – nor even subtle, driving a couple of times up and down the deserted street. They wanted us to know that they knew. Knew what we were. Tightening the cords of fear.

The two came slowly down the airplane aisle towards me. I tried not to tense as they drew near ….. and then they passed on towards the rear. I did not turn to look at them. This might have been a regular kind of security check as far as other passengers were concerned but I knew it wasn’t — they were here for us.

So what now? Drag us off the plane? Drag one or two and leave the rest? What would I do if they arrested one or more of the others but not me? Keep quiet until I got back and raise hell there? Or make a fuss here and get arrested as well? Think about it too much and I’d get really scared. Fear can paralyse. Also might send out the wrong signals. Put it to the back of my mind now …… wait to see what happens, then react. Or not.

I didn’t want to be in any prison, least of all a Turkish one — I’d seen Midnight Express. OK, some people, including the original central character of the story, had protested that the film was not true to life, that it made the Turks out to be monsters. But even those people had not defended Turkish prisons. And if even a tiny percentage of Turks were nasty psychopaths, the police, army and prison service were sure to have more than their share. And I knew what those elements had been doing to the Kurds …. which is why we were there.

Time was slowing down. They were still behind me somewhere but caution was telling me not to turn to look.

If we were detained, even for questioning only, they’d go through our luggage. Maybe had done so already.

I really wished that thought had not occurred to me.

* * *

Map showing the Kurdish areas of the states of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan. (Source image: Internet)

THE KURDS

          The Kurds are a huge ethnic group, population estimates varying between 35 and 45 million, with parts of their people spread through the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Azerbaijan, also with a large diaspora over much of the world, the most numerous in Germany (often those we think of as Turks, for example in kebab shops, are actually Kurds). It is what many might consider the Kurds’ good fortune to be sitting on oil and huge water reserves and a very strategic situation between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But that had turned out unluckily for them. They’d been overrun by the armies of many conquerors and, as is the way of these things, had participated in a fair few of those armies themselves.

Kurds are usually classified ethnically as an Iranian people and their language as in the Iranian group but the dominant language in the states in which they find themselves, apart from Iran itself, is mostly Turkish, Arabic or Azeri. Although with long-held nationalist ideas, the Kurds had experienced self-government twice and only for a total of eight years, each time under the protection of the Soviet Union: 1923-1929/’30 (Azerbaijan) and for almost all of 1946 (in northwestern Iran).

But neither the British nor the French, world masters before WW2, wanted an independent Kurdistan. The British had bombed Kurdish villages, probably the first deliberate aerial bombing of civilians, in their repression campaigns in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Persia (now Iran). The bombing was under the command of Squadron Leader Arnold Harris1, developer of the area-bombing tactic, essentially to strike terror into civilian populations and damage their infrastructure. He later put his expertise to use against the German population in WW2, including the horrific bombing of Dresden. By then, of course, the Italian Fascists and German Nazis had learned from Harris’ earlier innovation, the Italians using them against the Ethiopians and the Nazis against Gernika and other towns, later they and the Italian fascists over much of Europe and the Soviet Union.

Neither the post-WW1 treaties among the victors nor the upsurge of anti-British and anti-French nationalism and republicanism across the region had done the Kurds much good. Those carving states out of former empires wanted them as big as possible and would brook no independentism from different ethnic groups on the territory they claimed for their state. Kemal Attaturk, who led a secularising and modernising movement in building the Turkish State, denied that there was any such thing as a Kurdish people – they are just “mountain Turks”, he famously said.

In 1946 the USA, by then the top imperialist power, didn’t want an independent Kurdistan either and nor of course did the Shah of Persia (Iran) and his supporters so, some time after the Soviets withdrew, the Royal Iranian army invaded and suppressed first the Azerbaijan Republic and then the Kurdish one and executed its leadership.

By 1984 the PPK’s2 communist-led guerrillas, including female units, were fighting a war of Kurdish national liberation against Turkish troops, who were occupying areas, bombing suspected guerrilla bases, destroying villages and forcibly relocating civilians3 and carrying out atrocities, including torture, rape and summary executions.

In Iraq, the Kurds seemed mostly under the tribal leadership of Barzani and Talibani, their peshmergas or guerrillas sometimes collaborating with the Kurds in the Turkish state and more often not.4

During the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988, the Hussein regime had bombed Kurds with chemical weapons, including mustard gas, in one incident at Halabja killing up to 5,000 and injuring twice as many, mostly civilian men, women and children. But, strange to know now, at that time the western imperialist powers were supporting Hussein’s invasion of Iran, because Iran was the ‘big monster’ and Hussein was friendly towards the West. Journalists found it difficult to get their editors interested in the massacre story. And the CIA tried to pin the attack on the Iranians! Only when, years later, Hussein had annoyed the western powers sufficiently by invading Kuwait and they soon afterwards went to all-out war against him, did the story suddenly become generally newsworthy and the then Iraqi military commander Ali Hassan Al-Majid become known as “Chemical Ali”. The chemicals came from west-European companies and US satellite surveillance supplied the targeting references.

Scene from the Halabja Massacre of the Iraqi State against Kurds which the Western media lacked interest in because Hussein was their ally against Iran at the time. (Image source: Internet)

Following the defeat of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by the USA-led coalition forces of the time (35 states overall but with Saudi Arabia and British forces next in number to the USA’s), the CIA called on the Kurds to rise up against the Saddam Hussein regime, leading them to believe that the USA would support them and that Hussein’s overthrow was imminent. They rose but neither the external support nor Iraqi-wide uprising was delivered and they faced heavy military suppression and repression with many atrocities, causing millions of Kurds to flee to the Kurdish areas of Iran and Turkey, hundreds being killed on the way by helicopter strafing attacks or by wandering into minefields. Of the 200 mass graves the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry had registered between 2003-2006, the majority were in the South, including one believed to hold as many as 10,000 victims5.

The Assad regime in Syria suppressed Kurdish national aspirations, forced Arabic while punishing expression in Kurdish and jailed a number of Kurdish artists, in particular musicians.

The Kurds of Iran had been repressed under the Shah of Iran but after his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution, they also suffered repression by the fundamentalist clerical regime that took power and executions of Kurdish activists took place. This although during the eight-year Iraq-Iran War, two of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Barzani-led KDP and the Talibani-led PUK, had supported the Iranians against the Iraqi regime.

* * *

LONDON

          The earliest I can remember reading about the Kurds was about Turkish State repression of cultural expression by their Kurdish ethnic citizens, banning of language and song, suppression of history and extending even to arrests of Kurdish women who hung their washing out in the red, white and green sequence — sometimes with yellow in the middle — of Kurdish national colours. Being Irish, I felt something of an identification with them, of course I did. Being a revolutionary socialist in addition, I had no love of the rulers of the repressive Turkish State, nor of the fact of its membership of the USA-dominated military alliance of NATO since 1952.

London, a major European city with a population of over eight millions, larger than the entire population of Ireland (but about the same as the latter’s pre-Great Hunger levels), was temporary or permanent home to a large number and variety of people of non-English ethnic background. Foremost in number was my own, the Irish, largely unacknowledged in multi-racial discourse but the opposite in terms of security, surveillance, harassment and racialisation. I had not heard of the Kurds previously but as one becomes newly aware of the existence of something, it tends to start popping up into one’s consciousness in different places. And so not long after reading of them, I found myself at a Kurdish solidarity meeting in London and leaving my email address with them. Which is how eventually, a couple of years later, I sat in a Turkish airplane in a Kurdistan airport, watching Turkish state political police walking down the aisle towards me.

I happened to be visiting London and heard this demonstration was happening. I borrowed the placard from a demonstrator for the photo on my phone.
Kobane solidarity rally, Trafalgar Square, London, in 2014, many years after my visit to Kurdistan.
(Image source: D.Breatnach)

The Kurdish solidarity people in London set up a committee of activists and I became part of it. The idea came up of building trade union links between Britain and the Kurds, for which it was proposed to send a delegation of British-based trade unionists on a tour of Turkish Kurdistan, whose report could then be used to generate further and increased solidarity work. A boycott of Turkish tourism was one tactic being considered by some of us which, if promoted by the trade union movement in Britain, would have a significant impact on the Turkish economy. Friendly relationships already existed between British trade unions and Turkish ones, which were sometimes repressed by their State but the social-democratic and Moscow-style Communist leaderships on both sides had no sympathy for independence movements which they saw as weakening and splintering the workers’ movement within the Turkish state. There were no specifically Kurdish trade unions but large sections of Turkish unions existed inside the Kurdish region and the solidarity committee had contacts there.

Some of us were asked whether we would like to go, for which we would need to be sponsored by a trade union and raise our own air fares and some money for food — but accommodation and travelling expenses within the region would be taken care of. Most of the money would go towards the flights but our spending money, we were advised, should be in dollars or marks. Turkish Lira is the currency of Turkey but it would be hard to get and anyway those other two currencies would be more valued.

I was excited by the idea of going but doubted I could raise the money – living little above subsistence rates as I was. Having been accepted by the University of North London on a BA combined studies course of History and Irish Studies6 and although in receipt of tuition fees and subsistence support, I was nevertheless having to continue working part-time in order to pay the rent on my flat. It was just my luck that was the year that students in Britain ceased to be eligible for Housing Benefit. Teaching Irish language at Beginners’ level to adults and some weekly youthwork sessions was my only employment then, my last welding job having ended some years earlier – around the same time as the final breakup of my marriage.

The part-time employment and full-time studies course would keep me busy enough but by then I was also on the Ard-Choiste7 of an active Irish diaspora campaigning organisation, the Irish in Britain Representation Group8. In addition I was also on the Branch Committee of my trade union, NALGO (Clerical Section)9, as a part-time (which meant no time off work for union activity) Assistant Branch Secretary and also occasionally representing workers in the grant-aided NGO sector. These workers were usually managed by a voluntary committee of people who considered themselves left-wing or at least liberal but often treated their staff atrociously and rarely abided by due process in disciplining them or responding to grievances. Their employees worked in very small organisations (sometimes with only one or two employees) and were isolated, deprived of the solidarity of larger workforces and often played off against one another.

How likely was it that my trade union branch would sponsor me, even nominally? I was unsure. The local NALGO leadership at the time was what I considered collaborationist with the Council’s management, rather than fighting for improvement of conditions and salaries. And I was new to employment by Lewisham Council. And if the branch were to sponsor me, how likely was it that they would put up some funds to get me to Kurdistan?

In the end, the branch did sponsor me to go to investigate and report back, also making a contribution towards my plane fare. Surprisingly, my funding included a personal contribution from a middle-management figure in the Council which, although she was a union member, surprised me considerably, mostly on a political level. She told me later that despite our differences she admired my courage in undertaking the risk implicit in the delegation. The NALGO Irish Workers’ Group10, of which I was also an activist, contributed a sum too from their meagre resources, for which I was very grateful personally and appreciated also as an example of internationalist solidarity.

And so, after a mad rush to sort out and renew my Irish passport, which I had never needed to travel between Britain and Ireland but would for most other destinations, I arrived late and stressed out at Heathrow Airport to meet the others of our delegation bound for Kurdistan.

Just in case anything should happen to me over there, I informed a few of my siblings over in Ireland, insisting my parents not be told until I telephoned that I had returned. There seemed no point in them worrying while I was away. We are not very good at keeping secrets from one another and, of course, someone told my mother, as I found out later.

* * *

ISTANBUL

          The introductions were brief and hurried before we entered the queue for the Departures gate. Arnold, our English interpreter for Turkish, I had already met several times through the solidarity committee. In addition there was a jocular English photographer called Paddy, a London Afro-Caribbean male trade unionist by the name of Damien from North London and an English woman trade unionist called Rose from another part of England.11 The initial list had contained another two but they had to drop out for various reasons.

It was late afternoon on a cloudy day around four hours later when we landed at Istanbul airport and in the city we booked into a four-star hotel, apparently arranged by our hosts. Just as New York is seen as the main city in the USA but the capital is actually Washington DC, Istanbul is seen as Turkey’s main city but its capital is actually Ankara. That evening we went out for a little stroll around the older part of the city and to eat and a little later, were brought to a pub apparently frequented by the Turkish Left. After a few pints I sang a couple of Irish songs which seemed well-received but cannot now remember which they were.

The following day we learned that our departure on the next leg of our journey had been delayed and so we had time for a little sight-seeing. After coffee in one of our host’s flats overlooking the Bosporus Strait, where we were told that we were on the European side and on the other was Asia, we split up to see some of the sights. With one other I visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“Blue Mosque”) opened in 1616, functioning as a mosque for Muslim prayer but with parts open to non-believers.

The ‘Blue Mosque’ at sunset, Istanbul.
(Image source: Internet)

A historic monument in Istanbul is the bronze Serpent Column, created from melted-down Persian weapons, acquired in the plunder of the Persian force’s camp after their defeat at the battle of Platea in 479 BCE, erected at Delphi but transferred to Constantinople

The “Serpent Column” cast from defeated Persian Empire invader weapons by the victorious Greek cities.
(Image source: Internet)

(heart of the European side of Istanbul) by Emperor Constantine I “the Great”. Listed on the column were all the Greek city-states that had participated in the battle. Although a part at the top was removed, the Column survived a number of disasters, including the tragic burning and sacking of the city at the hands of the Fourth Crusade (although it was a Christian city) by forces under the Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo in 1204 AD.

Then we got word to be ready as that night we’d be taking a plane to Batman. Really, Batman? Not to Robin? They had heard the jokes before, of course. Batman is a town in the province of the same name, south-east of Anatolia or Asia Minor, i.e in Kurdistan but more to the point, was where our hosts were based – the Petrol Is trade union.

On the journey, looking down from the passenger plane, I could see vast mountain areas seeming like a wrinkled and rucked fabric, in many places covered or streaked in snow. A little over two hours later, we landed at Batman airport.

* * *

TURKISH KURDISTAN

          Batman was a bit of a shock, to be honest. Not so much the very small airport but the town itself, which seemed to be little more than a long and very wide high street forking at one end. A few shops, cafes or restaurants on one side of the road and some half-constructed buildings and empty sites on the other. A cow walked down the street unattended, stopped by a rubbish bin and began to eat waste cardboard; cows’ stomachs of course can break down cellulose and extract nutrition from it – but still, not what one from our parts of the world expects to see in a town.

On a map of the Kurdish area of the Turkish state, Bitlis would appear to be roughly in the middle; Batman is a little over 100 kilometres from there, heading south-westward.

Map of Eastern Anatolia showing Ankara, capital of Turkey to the west and the Kurdish region to the east. Our delegation traveled mostly through the quadrant west, south and east of Batman. The Syrian border is to the south, Iraqi to the southeast.

After spending the night in a very quiet and basic enough Batman hotel but with single rooms each, after breakfast of bread, biscuits and coffee, we got a taxi to the regional Petrol Is headquarters, a large building but which seemed almost empty, where we were asked to wait. After an hour the area where we were, somewhat like an auditorium in size but without many chairs, had begun to fill up. The first thing that struck me was that they were all men – even the administrative staff, it seemed – so that I felt sympathy for Rose. She was wearing a long scarf over her head in recognition of the cultural norms of the area and, although I was not at all sure that I agreed with that, in the end it was her decision.

Eventually the President of the regional branch arrived and we sat down with him and a few of his committee, with some other Petrol Is members standing around us. We were drinking chai, light-coloured tea without milk and with nearby sugar-cubes to add to taste.

The discussions were in Turkish, with Arnold interpreting for us and for the union President. After the introductions, the President welcomed “the British trade unionists” who were coming to enquire about conditions and promised the assistance of the union while we were there. Naturally I couldn’t let that go and asked Arnold to translate the following for me:
“For my own part, as an Irishman in a British trade union, thank you for your hospitality. The British state has occupied my country for hundreds of years and we have struggled – and continue to struggle – for full independence.”

The regional President acknowledged the statement but no doubt understood that I was by inference making a point also about Kurdish members of Turkish trade unions. I was interested in precisely the nature of that relationship and a little later probed deeper, with Arnold of course translating. The President limited himself to stating that the union’s HQ in Turkey supported the regional branches in their struggles for better wages and conditions and for freedom to organise. Of course, even if he were an ardent nationalist, he would have to be very circumspect; there were certain to be State spies in the union.

Petrol Is workers were scattered around the region at oil depots and refineries and often living away from home for long periods. Inclement weather could be an issue as could work accidents. Wages were considered generally good but did not keep up with the rising prices of necessities, not to speak of more luxurious goods – a common experience of the working class around the world.

After about an hour he bade us farewell and we were introduced to our driver for the rest of our stay, Genghis.12

Genghis spoke little English but was fluent in both Turkish and his native Kurdish. A good-natured man in his early thirties who lived locally with his wife and children, we were to spend a week in his company as he drove us many hundreds of kilometres. His salary, accommodation and traveling costs, we understood, were being paid by the union.

After Genghis dropped us off back at our hotel, I and some of the others fancied a couple of beers with relaxed conversation but were in for a surprise – the area was under islamic norms. Not only did the hotel have no bar – there were no bars. No alcohol? It is amusing now that some of us seemed more shocked by the prospect of no beer than the fact that we were in an insurgency war zone.

There was, however, a shop where we could buy cans of beer. What kind of islamic no-alcohol policy could that be? We asked no more questions, bought some beers and discreetly brought them back to the hotel, piled into one of the bedrooms and relaxed with a couple of cans for awhile.

Paddy and Damien were quite lively and amusing guys, Arnold and Rose quieter. Of the first two, Paddy was the perhaps the funniest. He seemed to think I looked like Sean Connery (some people years ago thought that) and kept calling me “Big Sean”. He was a freelance professional photographer. Damien was a member, like myself, of a NALGO branch but in North London. Rose was not only on the executive committee of her trade union but also on the joint union area committee.

After a while, we separated, each to his or her own room. Next morning, we were to be up at 7am, meet Genghis and begin our investigative journeys. We’d stop off at a cafe for breakfast on the way.

* * *

ARMY ROADBLOCK AND A CANNON-SHELL HOLE IN MY WALL

          Driving into a town (I can’t remember which one now) we could see light cannon and heavy machine-gun missile impact marks on the walls of houses.

Suddenly ahead was an Army checkpoint and turning back now they’d seen us would be suicidal. There was nothing to do but to drive up and greet them casually. I was thinking either this is purely coincidence and nothing is likely to happen or it is not and something will definitely happen to us here.

One of the soldiers returned Genghis’ greeting, looked at his passengers and asked to see our ID. I didn’t know whether he was entitled to see more than our driver’s documentation but I was certainly not going to make an issue of it as guns trump legal arguments every time.

The soldier went away with our passports and Genghis’ driving licence, presumably to his officer. An Army truck was blocking our view and we couldn’t see where he was. I looked casually around, saw more bullet-holes. Everywhere.

A little later I saw the soldier coming back towards us and I started doing breathing exercises. He handed over our documents and bade us goodbye. Genghis pulled away slowly – damn right!

From a jeweler in Mediyat I bought a silver ring with a black stone set in it. The shops, a row of what looked like sheds, with bars in front but no shutters we could see, were mostly empty, possibly in fear of the Turkish Army. I am not sure whether it was in that town or another that we booked into a hotel, free of charge again.

Bringing my haversack up to my room on the first floor, I looked out the window on to the street below. When I turned back to the room I got real shock: there was a small diameter cannon shell hole in the wall! It might have been only 20 or 30mm but it seemed huge to my eyes. The shell must have gone in through the window without exploding and then into the wall opposite, again apparently without exploding. Still, anyone in the path of that shell would have been killed.

Small-calibre cannon shell or heavy machine-gun bullet hole in a Kurdish wall.  (Image source: Internet)

The bed was below the level of the window ledge and any time I wanted to go to the toilet from my bed, I crawled there on my hands and knees – and back again the same way. And you know what? I never felt stupid doing that, either.

It was raining out so we stayed in and, sitting smoking later that night, the front door open so I could see the street clearly, the owner started talking to me and had me brought free cups of chai. He could speak fair English.

Was the room ok, he asked? I asked him about the shell hole. Did I want to change rooms? No, not at all thanks, I just wanted to know what happened (I was thinking maybe a shell wouldn’t land in the same place twice).

Apparently a few days previously, in another part of town, Kurdish guerrillas had ambushed one of the Turkish armoured cars, destroyed it and got away. The Turkish soldiers, enraged, shot up the town, including his hotel.

“I am a businessman. My hotel is a three-star hotel. But because I am Kurdish, the Army can shoot up my place,” he said, “I get no compensation and me and my staff could have been killed”.

* * *

MASSACRE OF CHILDREN

          One day Arnold told us that there had been a terrible incident two days earlier – the Turkish Army had killed people in a village – did we want to go? Of course we did!

He would make enquiries whether they would want us to visit – after all, we might be bringing more trouble on them.

With their agreement obtained, we set off some hours later. I cannot now remember the name of the village, which was reached by a track off the road. The area was pretty level and the houses were single-storey and rectangular, with white or greyish walls, somewhat similar to the adobe houses one sees in westerns set in the southwest of the USA or Mexico. Entering the village, we passed one of the houses, blackened with huge scorch marks.

Invited into one of the houses, firstly I was surprised at the couple of steps up into the building, secondly by the carpets on the floor inside and thirdly by a TV set in the corner. It was just not what I had expected when viewing the buildings from the outside.

They were all men inside (unless there were women out of sight), apparently village elders and some young men. We sat down on cushions on the carpet to hear the story, translated by Arnold.

Two nights earlier, men had come and knocked at the victim’s house, the one with the scorch marks, saying that they were guerrillas and asking the son, a young man, to come out to talk to them. His mother said “They are not guerrillas” and asked him not to go. He replied that there would be trouble for the family if he did not and so he would go. (What his mother was implying was that the men outside were either soldiers in disguise or State proxy assassination squad people). The son left and they heard him and the others walk away.

After a little, the young man’s father picked up his gun (it is common for people in those areas to have a gun) and went out after his son. A little later, firing was heard down the track.

Eventually, when people went to investigate, they found blood on the ground in some places but no bodies. Their belief was that the son was being mistreated in some way, the father intervened and perhaps shot some of the men but that he and his son were killed too. Then the surviving men took the bodies away.

But worse, much worse was to come, which was what had brought us out there. For the Army arrived and announced a curfew on the village throughout the day and, that night, an army vehicle (the words sounding like a “panzer flamethrower”) had driven up and incinerated the house, the victims including six children. They showed us the photo, the little charred bodies laid out side by side. It was hard (sometimes still is, thinking about it) not to cry, not to scream in rage13.

We said we would tell who we could, thanked them and left. I imagined in turn being the son, then the father, then the neighbours. I did not want to imagine being the victims in the house. We were quiet in the car for a long time.

* * *

DIYARBAKIR

          Diyarbakir is the capital city of Turkish Kurdistan, a city then of maybe a million or more in population (the estimate for the metropolitan district now is 1.7 million). The Turkish State has had a policy of forcing the Kurds out of their small towns and villages – especially those in the mountains – and directing them in one manner or another to the big city. Such a population reallocation makes the countryside easier to control, removing ‘the sea (the people) that the fish (the guerrillas) swim through‘, to paraphrase a famous phrase of Mao-Tse-Tung. The British did it in Kenya and the USA in Vietnam, in somewhat different manner but the principle is the same. Of course revolutions happen in cities too and urbanisation tends towards proletarianisation of the majority, which may cause a different kind of problem for the Turkish ruling class in the long run.

Genghis left us at the hotel and headed home, about 50 kilometres. He wanted to see his wife and children and he’d also heard that the Turkish police had called at his house and questioned his wife. She seemed to be ok but he was worried. And so were we.

Handing in our passports at the Diyakakir hotel registration, we filled in our forms and a boy took them to the local police station as required (this had not been the case in Batman or in Istanbul but perhaps copies had been supplied). We had of course described ourselves as tourists.

While we were eating, the boy returned with the passports and said something to Arnold, who smiled. “He says the police said ‘They are not tourists’,” Arnold told us in response to our queries. My heart gave a little jolt – but what did I expect? Of course they were keeping an eye on us. And letting the boy hear, knowing he would communicate it back to us …. intimidation? Kind of reassuring because what would be the point of intimidation if they were going to arrest us anyway, or worse? Well, maybe to soften us up a little beforehand ….

I pushed the thoughts out of my mind.

The following day we had a number of meetings arranged, the first at a kind of municipal building, was with trade union representatives, many of them women: teaching, municipal service both manual and clerical, health workers’ unions. It was slow work since everything had to be translated – ours mostly into Turkish, I think and theirs into English for us. These were much more explicit about their problems with Turkish State repression: censorship, cultural eradication, arrests, threats, a few assassinations by the State proxy so-called “Turkish Hizbollah”14. This was their reality, day in, day out.

About a year later, looking at a list of the names of Kurdish activists assassinated by these State proxy gangs, I recognised the name of at least one of those we had met and talked to, a woman teacher and trade union activist. And felt guilt, the thought that maybe our visit had been part of the decision to kill her. But of course, all Kurdish activists were and are vulnerable, even sometimes abroad – and the Kurds want their stories told out there in the world.

Another meeting took place in what they were calling their human rights centre and here I got the impression of the human rights people working closely with the Kurdish political party – not the PKK, which was banned but perhaps a reformation of it in part, to comply with Turkish laws and allow them to stand in elections. They already had municipal councillors but were heading for Turkey-wide elections. Having the status of a member of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara didn’t really protect one that much, as a number of elected Kurds have found over the years.15

For some reason we were kept waiting there for over a hour, although other people were coming and going. I was hungry and not impressed but then, what did I know of what other concerns they might have? Eventually we got to talk to a couple of the human rights people and the politicians. They were very concerned to talk in terms of human rights and not Kurdish independence or even autonomy. With all the people hanging around and listening (which I thought a most inappropriate way to have our meeting), it seemed unwise to push them on that issue. Also, these people too were in constant danger of arrest and even assassination.

We never made any promises to anyone, except that we would report back and try and get publicity for their struggles. We outlined the possible outcomes, such as more media coverage or our trade unions taking up a policy of solidarity with them … but we could not even guarantee that.

Later we wandered through a market area; Damien was anxious to buy a kilim rug and haggled with the seller until they reached agreement. I know that haggling is expected but it is something I cannot do and I left empty-handed.

Back at the hotel, we received a phone call from Genghis – he’d collect us the following day and drive where wished to. His family was ok, the Army had just asked where he was, his wife told them he was away on a driving job for the union but she did not know where. Of course, they knew that – it was a reminder by the Army of his vulnerability and of his family’s.

* * *

THE ANCIENT AND OLD

          We did get to see some other things, not so directly connected with human rights, conflict or politics.

The Zoroastrian monastery, looking like a fortress standing on its own but I cannot remember where it was. We were received courteously, allowed to see the church and served chai. Did the Army bother them? Rarely but sometimes, was the reply.

Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna, is the oldest monotheistic religion on record and one of the world’s oldest active religions. Its number of adherents generally world-wide is declining but was reported recently to be increasing somewhat among some of the Kurds. With a single god and good-bad split influences, along with free will and responsibility for one’s actions, it would seem to have influenced the creation of the Judaic faith, which in turn led to the creation of Christianity and, somewhat later, Islam.

The religion’s Wikipedia page contains this possibly contradictory entry: “Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians at around 190,000, with most living in India and in Iran; their number is declining. In 2015, there were reports of up to 100,000 converts in Iraqi Kurdistan. Besides the Zoroastrian diaspora, the older Mithraic faith Yazdanism is still practiced among Kurds.”

Nomads

Another time we drove past a group of nomads on a hillside, their big black tents pitched wide, their flocks of sheep nearby. I would have loved to have talked to them but we were expected elsewhere without time to stop. These were probably Yoruk people.

Ancient site threatened

Hasankeyf is an ancient settlement area along the Tigris river in the south-east of the Turkish state, i.e in Kurdistan. Although it was declared a conservation area by the Turkish Government in 1981, it is now threatened by a dam to be built by the Turkish Government of today. Even back then when we visited, the threat was known although further away.

With a history spanning nine civilizations, it should have World Heritage status. According to Wikipedia:

The city of Ilānṣurā mentioned in the Akkadian and Northwest Semitic texts of the Mari Tablets (1800–1750 BC) may possibly be Hasankeyf, although other sites have also been proposed. By the Roman period, the fortified town was known in Latin as Cephe, Cepha or Ciphas, a name that appears to derive from the Syriac word (kefa or kifo), meaning “rock”. As the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire split around AD 330, Κιφας (Kiphas) became formalized as the Greek name for this Byzantine bishopric.

Following the Arab conquest of 640, the town became known under the Arabic name حصن كيفا (Hisn Kayf). “Hisn” means “fortress” in Arabic, so the name overall means “rock fortress”.”

The site we visited was of the caves, rather than the city. There were thousands of man-made caves, of which we only saw a few. Paddy displayed his Arabic phrases with an elderly man sitting outside a cafe, while we bought some chai. Up to fairly modern times, people had lived in some of the caves, we were told.

Doomed lovers

In Cizre, over 166 km from our Batman base, we went to see the alleged grave of Mem and Zin, star-crossed lovers without any apparently religious significance but whose grave is cared for and visited by many. We were allowed to enter but there was not much to see – the interesting content is in their story, written down in 1692 and which is performed in a mixture of prose and poetry.

Painting depicting the Kurdish legend: Mem lies dead, mourned by Zim.
(Image source: Internet)

Mem, a young Kurdish boy of one clan and heir to the “City of the West” falls in love with Zin, of the “Botan” clan and daughter of the Governor of Butan. Their meeting is during New Roz, the ancient fire-festival of the Kurds still celebrated today (often with political independence symbolism) but their union is prevented by a man of a different clan who some time later causes the death of Mem. Zin dies mourning at his grave in Cizre, being buried beside her deceased lover.

Bakr, the author of Mem’s death, is killed by the victim’s friend and he is buried near the lovers so that he can witness their being together. However, his hatred is such that it nourishes a thorn tree to grow, sending roots deep into the earth to separate the two lovers, even in death.

Sadly, I knew very little of this wonderful story then and had to look it up on the Internet much later.

Workers on a cotton plantation

On another occasion, on impulse we pulled in off the road at a cotton plantation. The manager politely made time for us, talking about the product, its cultivation etc. Although most Turkish cotton is grown in the Aegean region, there were fields of it here. The cotton grown in Turkey is long-threaded, with fewer joins, therefore higher quality, especially for towels: strong and smooth and not too absorbent.

Were his workers members of a union? He didn’t know, that would be their business. They were well treated; in any case, he did not receive any complaints. Would it be possible to talk to some of the workers? Alas, no, they were in the middle of their shift. But he did not suggest an alternative time when it would be convenient.

New Roz celebration by Kurds in Diyarbakir, capital of Kurdish region of the Turkish state 2017.
(Image source: Internet)

* * *

AT THE IRAQI AND SYRIAN BORDERS

As our time in Kurdistan drew to a close, Arnold asked whether we’d be interested in seeing the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Of course we would! After Arnold’s brief discussion with Genghis, we set off. It is approximately 300 kilometres from Batman to the Border but we might have been around Mardin by then, which is nearer. Our road wound higher and higher through hills into the mountains and we rarely saw traffic on the road; as we got nearer we’d need to be more cautious. In a quiet mountainy area we stopped beside a stream to stretch our legs and for Genghis to take a short break. Always interested in nature generally and water life in particular, I wandered to the stream and to my amazement saw crabs very like the marine shore crabs of home, both in appearance and size. I soon caught one and had my photo taken holding it up.

A middle-aged and young woman appeared on the road and I greeted them in the few words of Kurdish I knew to which they responded with a muttered reply and turned away. It was probably to do with gendered cultural mores of the area but they might also have seen us as something to do with the Turkish state or even foreign intelligence people operating in the area. I released the crab back into the water, watched it make off sideways, its pincers threatening. We got back in the car and drove off towards the Border.

The US-led Coalition forces in March 1991 had imposed a no-fly zone on the Kurdish region of Iraq from which even Iraqi helicopters were banned, which of course brought some relief to those areas suffering repression after the US-incited uprising. But it also gave the Kurdish tribal leaders unfettered access to Iraqi-drilled oil wells. And so the plunder began.

Stopping a few hundred yards from the Iraqi border we watched the trucks coming over from the Iraqi state, pause momentarily, hand something over to the Turkish soldier on “border control” duty and drive on. Each lorry had an additional fuel tank welded on underneath with little clearance before the road surface. All illegal, of course, according not only to Iraqi but international and even Turkish law. It was a lonely spot for Turkish soldiers garrisoned there but no doubt a lucrative posting. And surely Turkish Government officials were taking a bigger rake-off, though nothing as crude as being slipped a bribe at a border crossing.

After that we went to visit the Syrian border. This time it was just to see, set back a little from the road, a barbed wire fence stretching east-west. On the other side was Syria but with nothing to see there. Just for the sake of having done so, I picked up a pebble on the Turkish side and threw it over the fence – when it landed, it looked no different to the Syrian pebbles.

* * *

CARRYING CONTRABAND?

          On our last evening, in the hotel in Batman, we trade unionists were taken aside and asked to carry sheets of typed paper in secret back to London. The precise nature of the content was not revealed to us but they did not contain maps or diagrams, which we confirmed with a quick riffle through them.

We were disturbed and also somewhat angry and resentful, one more than the rest, who refused. Under protest, for all the good that would do me if we were searched, I agreed, distributed the papers among my belongings and said no more about it. I chose not to examine them too closely on the vague principle that the least I knew the less I could tell and to this day am not entirely sure what the contents were. Rose, having said little in the first place, packed them away quietly. I had the impression that this quiet woman was the bravest of us all, certainly of us trade unionists.

Next morning we got up at a decent hour, had breakfast and headed out to the local cafe-restaurant to kill time before we needed to head out to the airport, where waiting would be even worse than where we were.

We did not see Genghis again but learned that he had returned home and things seemed ok. The State police must have known where he was now but had not detained him. If they questioned him he could, we supposed, say he knew nothing except the places we had asked him to go to, for which he was being paid. That would be his wisest course of action and hopefully the one he’d adopt. Hopefully too his union would exert itself to protect him.

The street being so quiet, there was little to do but chat over chai or coffee, read or look out the window. So even if we had not been somewhat nervous, it would have been difficult to miss the car that passed down the street a number of times, going first in one direction, then the other, with two men inside, wearing sunglasses.

“Political police”, I said to Arnold. He glanced out the window, nodded, returned to sipping his chai. Nobody else said anything.

At the airport, there was no sign of the plainclothes cops, only the armed Turkish airport guards and customs officials. We were processed pretty quickly and then on to the Turkish airline passenger jet, bound for Istanbul. We sat down, somewhat relieved but knew there was still the next airport to get through.

But twenty minutes later, we were still there with no sign of preparations to take off. And then there they were, the two of them coming through the plane’s forward exit, in their suits and sunglasses.

As they walked casually down the aisle towards me, I tried to empty my head and concentrate on my breathing. Tried to feel at ease so I would look it. They passed me and I did not turn my head. A little later, they passed me again heading back forward. Over the top of the passenger seat in front, I watched them as casually as I was able. They were talking to a couple of male members of the cabin crew, near the exit. About to leave? Informing them that some of their passengers were going to be arrested? Just making us sweat a bit more?

The conversation with the cabin crew was dragging on. Then a kind of wave from one and they ducked their heads to exit on to the stairs.

A crew member closed the hatch and dogged it securely. The engines whined, then slowly increased in pitch. The plane began to taxi, stopped, turned slowly, the engine noise increased to a roar and …. the plane jumped forward to gather take-off speed.

I heaved a sigh of relief. We were safe now, at least until our disembarkation at Istanbul. Then the flight to London and safety. Well not entirely … there would be another hurdle at Heathrow: customs and police. But they wouldn’t be interested in some papers, would they? British political police? Well, the very worst they could do to us would be detention and interrogation, possible but unlikely custody, trial and sentence. The Irish in Britain were subject to the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act, a “temporary” suspension of civil rights introduced in 1974 and renewed annually. I had some experience of arrest and detention in Britain and, however bad it might be, I was sure there would be no close comparison with a Turkish jail. And I’d be within reach of family visits.

POSTSCRIPT:

          The journey back to London was without incident. I handed the “contraband” papers over to the intended recipient and that was that; phoned my family to let them know I had returned safely.

Our delegation and some of the solidarity committee arranged to meet in order to prepare our report. Rose was back on her home ground and corresponded by email, while Damien attended a few meetings. Paddy contributed his photos. Arnold and I and one other did most of the writing text, discussion and editing and in time an attractive and informative report, magazine-size with a full-colour cover was produced, featuring some of Paddy’s photos. I submitted a copy to each of my funders, sent one home, kept one and ………. None can be found now, apparently.

After reporting to my union (a brief announcement recommending the reading of the report, offering to speak at meetings and to bring other speakers), I expected to receive invitations to speak on the subject of the Kurds and the Turkish State, hopefully in support of a campaign such as a tourism boycott. No such requests came from activists in my union branch.

In all, I received one invitation to address a very small meeting in North London with which I complied and tried unsuccessfully to organise one myself in the University of North London. There were no other invitations nor meetings organised by the solidarity group, which seemed to be a singular failure to capitalise on the delegation, so well organised and the report, so well produced.

I had told Arnold, once we got out of Turkey, that I thought the walk through the plane in Batman of the Turkish political police was intended as a warning to him. The rest of us had not been there before and were unlikely to return whereas he was a fairly regular visitor. I told him that the next time he visited, they would lift him. I was wrong; his next visit was with the Liberal British peer Lord Avebury, a campaigner for human rights in Turkey. But the next visit after that, without Avebury, he was arrested and spent some weeks detained in a Turkish jail before various efforts combined to have him released.

I lost contact over the years with Damien, then with Rose and eventually with Arnold too. Paddy disappeared, resurfaced, then disappeared again. There seemed little more I could do for the Kurds and in any case, had completed my course of studies and was searching for and taking up full-time employment and involved in other struggles, though I attended the occasional Kurdish solidarity public event.

In Turkey, the State’s war against the PKK has continued on and off, with the latter varying their combat position and also reducing their demand from Kurdish independence to regional autonomy within Turkey. This position developed after 1999 when the PKK’s co-founder and leader Abdullah Ocalan was kidnapped in Kenya by the CIA and Turkish Intelligence and brought to Turkey, where his death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty. Ocalan was kept in prison on his own in an island prison until 2009 and has published articles and books from jail, among other things arguing for a “peace process” for Turkey, the delivery of which he insists requires himself set at liberty16.

In 2014 and 2015 the Turkish Army attacked the PPK fighters and the civilian population of a number of cities, including Cizre and Sirnak (see Links), turning large areas into rubble, killing and injuring many and causing huge numbers of refugees (the total lost housing has yet to be replaced).

The Kurds in Syria have been the only effective force to repel ISIS (Islamic State) in the area bordering on Turkey and also rescued a great many Yazidis from murder, rape and slavery by the ISIS fighters. Later the Kurdish armed forces there received US Coalition aid and a few years ago their commander stated in an interview that they and the Coalition were going to overthrow the Assad regime. They went on to build the nucleus of a federal administration defended by their fighters (reputedly about 40% of which are female – see Links for video interviews).

Turkey attacked Kurdish cross-border traffic (supplies, recruits) but more recently invaded Syria ostensibly to support the jihadist anti-Assad forces that they support but more seriously to attack the Kurdish YPG, which they consider an offshoot of the PKK. Many Arab states are unhappy with Turkey occupying Arab land.  Assad is unlikely to agree to Kurdish regional autonomy, even the US seems ready to drop them and the future looks dark for the Kurdish forces there.

In Iraq the Kurdish movement, mainly organised along tribal lines originally, split into war-bands during the Second Iraq War fighting alongside the US Coalition forces.

They took part in the plunder of Iraqi non-Kurdish areas, including Baghdad, along with other forces and shootouts between different warbands were not unknown. The Kurds have their oil-rich area protected within Iraq but the overall administration of Iraq is a US-dependent puppet regime and very unstable.

In Iran, suppression of Kurdish national identity continues under the religious regime.

The Kurds continue their struggle, the largest nation without a state.

end. 

CIZRE, TURKISH KURDISTAN – MARCH 2 2016: A man looks out at ruined houses of Cizre. Turkish authorities scaled down a 24-hour curfew imposed on the mainly Kurdish town of Cizre in southeast Turkey, nearly three weeks after declaring the successful conclusion of military operations there. The curfew was lifted at 5 a.m., allowing residents to return to their conflict-stricken neighborhoods for the first time since December 14, but it will remain in effect between 7:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. Residents began trickling back at first light, their vehicles loaded with personal belongings and, in some cases, children. Many residents were killed and injured and even today not all the ruined housing has been replaced (Image source: Internet).

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

1Later Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF Bomber Command, later still Marshal of the Air Force Sir Arnold Harris, First Baronet of Stowford. As well as his WW2 record, he was proud of his earlier career of attacking people rising up against the British Empire and was recorded as saying that “the only thing an Arab understands is a heavy hand.”

2 Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdish for ‘Workers Party of Kurdistan’)

3Forcible relocation of Kurds and settling Turks in their areas had been official State policy since the time of Attaturk.

4On one infamous occasion, some of the Syrian peshmergas were reported to be collaborating with Turkish troops in their attack on PKK guerrillas.

5Quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_uprisings_in_Iraq#Casualties. Although this authority was part of an imperialist occupation puppet regime, the figures may well be accurate.

6I would have applied for a stand-alone Irish Studies course if that had been available but there was not one in the whole of the UK and very few even of the combined kind. This in a state which has had an association through invasion, colonisation and war of nearly a thousand years with Ireland! Although my History modules included some Irish history I also did modules on British colonialism in India and Africa, Latin American history, Palestine ….. I didn’t regret them either.

7Executive Committee

8Formed in 1981 after the Federation of Irish Societies (in Britain) had refused to have any official mention, even of condolences to his family, on the death of Bobby Sands which took place during their Annual General Meeting. The IBRG was radically different from the FIS, campaigned against anti-Irish racism in the media, for the release of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Judith Ward and others, for the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for Irish national self-determination, for the implementation of the McBride Principles to the occupied Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”), for ethnic monitoring and anti-racist measures to include the Irish and for an Irish diaspora dimension to health, welfare and educational services in Britain. Its activists represented a variety of ideologies but all somewhere on the Left, anti-racist and anti-imperialist.

9National Association of Local Government Officers, which union I had joined while employed by the Inner London Education Authority. When Margaret Thatcher abolished that organisation in 1990 its employees were dispersed to the Education Departments of the 12 London Boroughs and the City of London and I was allocated to Lewisham, one of those boroughs were I was already working; in effect, a transfer to different management but working in the same places, with less resources and less mobility. In 1993, NALGO, already the largest British trade union, joined with NUPE and health service union COHSE to become Unison: for awhile, the largest trade union in Europe but which is now the second-largest union in Britain.

10NALGO recognised the right of oppressed sections in society to organise their own groups within the union; those recognised by the union received some funding for running costs and educational activities. At this time such groups included those of Lesbian & Gays, Disabled and Afro-Caribbean. The activists of NALGO IWG campaigned energetically to change the union’s policy to recognise anti-irish racism, to demand the freedom of the framed Irish prisoners, against strip-searching of Irish Republican prisoners, against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The IWG was never recognised officially and its work was blocked both by the Left and Right in the union’s leadership, mostly by procedural obstruction in preventing motions being heard at the Biannual National Conference or weakening them when they rarely succeeded in reaching there.

11None of those are their real names.

12Not his true name.

13That photo was published at the time in other media and in our later Report but I have failed to find it on the Internet.

14None of the Kurds I spoke to believed that this was a genuinely independent organisation, although it might have contained some Islamic fundamentalists recruited by the Turkish State. Another paramilitary assassination squad, fascist in ideology with which the State colluded was Ergenekon.

15In November 2018, the European Court of Human Rights adjudged that a Kurdish representative to the Turkish Parliament had his detention in custody deliberately extended in order to hamper his party’s electoral work. Selahattin Demirtas had been arrested on ‘suspicion of illegal activities’ two years earlier and was still in jail awaiting trial. Demirtas, 45, was a co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and accused of links to the outlawed PPK, which he denied. He was also convicted last September of “terrorist propaganda” arising out of a speech he made in public in 2013. The ECHR judgement did not result in Demirtas’ release but it did push the State to begin his trial the following month; he faces a possible sentence of 142 years in jail.

In 2015 thirteen of the 55 elected parliamentarians of HDP, the Kurdish nationality party, were jailed and the State took over direct control of 82 municipalities, arresting town mayor members of the Kurdish party.

16Ocalan (nicknamed ‘Apo’) has iconic status among many Kurds and a Kurdish picket or demonstration without his image on placards or banners would be a rare one. This was an aspect of the Kurdish independence movement, particularly of the ‘Turkish’ part, with which I made plain on a number of occasion that I did not agree. Similarly, the experience of the so-called peace processes around the world has demonstrated that they are in reality pacification processes which bring an end to armed struggle but leave all or most of the causes of the conflict unresolved.

LINKS FOR REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Kurdistan

Kurdish Republic 1923: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdistansky_Uyezd

Kurdish Republic 1946: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Mahabad

Iraq regime chemical attack on Kurds: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/halabja-the-massacre-the-west-tried-to-ignore-qsl8n6nspc7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halabja_chemical_attack

Armed conflict between Turkish state and Kurdish resistance:

By Avebury: http://kurdistan.org/turkeys-kurdish-policy-in-the-nineties/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdish%E2%80%93Turkish_conflict_(1978%E2%80%93present)

Photos Turkish military damage to Kurdish city of Cizre: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/03/kurdish-residents-return-to-their-devastated-city-in-southeast-turkey/472122/

Turkish military damage to Kurdish city of Cizre: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/kurds-look-rebuild-their-destroyed-homes-turkeys-sirnak-1247957161?fbclid=IwAR1WIS_YV38yu4daCW2kcDCchRDiIayGNTMm8WmwBsLgGW7ILGYhTCUGYVg

Istanbul monument: https://medium.com/stories-to-imagine/horses-a-column-the-battle-that-changed-the-world-12aa3604067f

Ergenekon group: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-23581891

Kurdish elected representative detained unreasonable length of time: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/european-court-orders-release-kurdish-politician-demirtas-181120093432466.html

Arrests and jailing of Kurdish elected representatives:  https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/20/turkey-crackdown-kurdish-opposition

Ancient and Old

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2018/2/5/the-quest-for-identity-how-kurds-are-rediscovering-zoroastrianism

Hasankeyf archaelogical site threatened: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasankeyf#Archeological_sites

Yoruks (nomads): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%C3%B6r%C3%BCks

Synopsis of the story of the star-crossed lovers: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mem_and_Zin?fbclid=IwAR2K7umXF41Awt0wwo6lbZXVB-3KIRY8AUwu7Wow5U477oJyYMwuoNbZZ2E

Quite propagandistic but very interesting video (2014) of interviews with Kurdish female fighter’s unit in the Syrian Kurdish region (note Apo’s i.e Ocalan’s) iconography; the language is Kurdish but with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aEwvfmk8Tc