ONE LEAVES DETENTION THIS MORNING; THREE DETAINED THIS EVENING

Diarmuid Breatnach

Anti-Water Tax protester leaves Dublin court today at liberty after two months but Gardaí arrest three Pro-Choice campaigners this evening, pepper-spraying at least one of them while held immobile on the ground.

Arrested impeding Irish Water vehicles

Stephen Bennet was brought from Mountjoy Prison this morning to Dublin Criminal Court to face “Public Order” charges relating to “obstructing” Irish Water vehicles in Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey and refusing to comply with Gárda instructions to desist. The Dún Laoghaire court had imposed conditions for releasing Bennet on bail which included a curfew, staying away from Irish Water vehicles and a large financial surety. Declaring the conditions unreasonable and a restriction on his civil rights to protest, Bennet had refused to agree to the conditions and the judge had taken to jail.

Some of the crowd of supporters welcome Bennet as he emerges into the court ground floor lobby. His daughter Saoirse can be seen the left holding Bennet's grandson. Unfortunately, Bennet himself is hidden by a supporter moving forward as photo was taken.
Some of the crowd of supporters welcome Bennet as he emerges into the court ground floor lobby. His daughter Saoirse can be seen to the left holding Bennet’s grandson. Unfortunately, Bennet is hidden as he moved forward as photo was taken.

Up to 30 supporters crowded into the court this morning to hear Bennet’s case being tried. There was also a large number of Special Branch Gardaí (political police in plain clothes) and a smaller number of uniformed police. A Garda Sergeant Gilmore from Dun Laoghaire station gave evidence of having confronted Bennet at York Road in Dún Laoghaire, where the accused had been sitting in the road and at Dalkey, where he had been “marching extremely slowly”. Sgt. Gilmore quoted the Public Order Act to Bennet and ordered him to desist but Bennet had declined to comply. Defence Counsel maintained that there was “a reasonable doubt” as to whether Bennet had been in violation of laws initially which would have rendered his subsequent refusal to comply with Garda instructions not an offence. Since there was no question of accusation of breaches of the peace, assault or criminal damage, the point at issue was whether the Public Order Act was applicable. State Prosecution Counsel argued that blocking or slowing traffic was creating “a nuisance”, to which Defence Counsel replied that causing a nuisance was part of the purpose of a protest, in order to make it effective. Sit-down and marching slowly protests had not been tested in Irish law, said Defence Counsel but quoted a number of cases from the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg where the Court had ruled in favour of applicants’ rights to protest even when the applicants’ states had found them in violation of their laws and penalised them.

Some of the supporters outside the Dublin Court today
Some of the supporters outside the Dublin Court today

The Judge retired to consider the case and when he returned he found Bennet guilty on all charges and sentenced him to a total of around €800 in fines, in default of which a total of 11 days in jail. One one charge, he sentence Bennet to two months’ imprisonment but, since that was time already served awaiting trial, Bennet was freed to cheers from his supporters, including his daughter Saoirse and his grandson, who had been born while he was in jail.

Belfast mother charged with giving her daughter an abortion-inducing pill

At 6pm this evening a protest took place at the Spire in Dublin in solidarity with a Belfast mother who facing criminal charged for having given her daughter a pill which induces abortion in very early pregnancies. The pill is freely available in Britain and legal there but the 1967 Act which legalised abortion in Britain has not been enacted in the Six Counties.

West side, O'Connell Street central pedestrian reservation, Dublin, just near Spire
West side, O’Connell Street central pedestrian reservation, Dublin, just near Spire

4,000+ Women Travel placard
The event had been organised by the Workers’ Solidarity Movement and Real Productive Health organisation in order to express solidarity with the mother and also to link the struggle of women in the 26 Counties with those in the Six, women in both parts of Ireland having to travel to another country, Britain, to avail of abortions and similar protests took place in Belfast and in Galway.

East side O'Connell Street, Dublin, just near Spire
East side O’Connell Street, Dublin, just near the Spire

A number of people spoke and soon afterwards some excitement stirred through the crowd and they began to examine the roof of the GPO where something was going on. Very shortly after that a Garda squad car with siren blaring and blue lights flashing tore along O’Connell Street and turned into Henry Street.

Another group at the protest
Another group at the protest
Sitters and Standers mid-way through the demonstration
Sitters and Standers mid-way through the demonstration

Violent Garda arrest scenes

People broke away from the pro-choice demonstration and gathered in Henry Street as other Garda squad cars, a motorbike, a cycle Garda and a number uniformed and Special Branch Gardaí on foot poured into the street. The scene was  was somewhat confusing for many but what was clear was that the Gardaí had torn the shirt off one one young man, handcuffed him and put him, stripped to the waist, in a squad car. Another young man was also handcuffed and ended up on the ground with a number of police on top, one of whom pepper-sprayed him while in that position. This action provoked shouts from onlookers and uncertain physical intervention. As a third was arrested and bundled into a police car, the word went around that these were pro-choice demonstrators who had got on to the GPO roof (presumably using the scaffolding to the side of the building) and that they had attempted to display a banner up there.

Man arrested after shirt torn off in squad car in Henry Street
Man arrested after shirt torn off in squad car in Henry Street can just be discerned in the back seat of the squad car
Another of those arrested in Henry Street; he ended up on the ground with a number of police on top before being put in the car.
Another of those arrested in Henry Street; he ended up on the ground with a number of police on top before being put in the car.

People gathered around the Gardaí, some of whom threatened to arrest those arguing with them. The Gardaí were then seen to be picking up a banner to put in the back of one of their vehicles when a woman cried sarcastically: “A banner! Oh, thank you for saving us from a banner!” Others joined in shouting: “Bad banner! Bad banner!” amidst other calls from protesters and passers-by generally expressing an opinion that the police action had been unnecessary, repressive and over the top in violence and in numbers. Indeed, the numbers of Gardaí present who had suddenly appeared did suggest to many that they had been kept in readiness to move on the pro-choice demonstration at some point or were aware that some publicity action had been planned. Protesters who attended Store Street Garda station soon afterwards were told that the accused would be charged and released on bail “in a couple of hours”. The wording on the banner apparently had been “ABORTION CHARGES ARE BOLLIX”.

WSM video of scenes at the arrests: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPwZlWYW3kE

WSM Video of the rally just prior to the arrests: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFp_AzsFIa0

Workers’ Solidarity Movement statement on the arrests http://www.wsm.ie/c/wsm-statement-garda-arrest-pro-choice-campaigners-july2015

Some in crowd beginning to argue with Gardaí as others look on amazed
Some in crowd beginning to argue with Gardaí as others look on amazed
Two placards in the crowd earlier, a reminder of what it was about
Two placards in the crowd earlier, a reminder of what it was about

End.

THE WOMEN STARTED IT

(Reading time: 5 mins)

Diarmuid Breatnach

We celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th but are we aware that on that day in 1917, women started the Russian revolution?  It was one of the many contributions of women the world over to the struggles of humanity.

BACKGROUND

          There were many causes of discontent with the ruling regime in Russia in 1917: it was monarchic, autocratic, repressive, incompetent. It had put the country into a war with Germany and Austria, which was in its third year. People were very hungry with food shortages for a number of reasons including the trains being used to transport war materials and soldiers rather than to bring food into the city. Nationalities within Russia and Greater Russia were denied self-determination.

Peasants were serfs to the aristocracy, who could beat, imprison and even hang them. Officers, always from the aristocracy or — to a lesser degree — from the professional classes regularly struck ordinary soldiers or had them whipped. The officers were also for the most part grossly incompetent.

The Christian Church (Russian Orthodox) was allied to the regime and corrupt. Free speech was suppressed and the secret police could be anywhere; the regular police were brutal and could not be challenged by ordinary people. Wages were often barely enough to live on.

START OF THE REVOLUTION

          Petrograd was the Imperial capital city of Russia (the name had been changed in 1914 from St. Petersburg, which sounded too German) and in February and March 1917 a number of factories there were on strike for better wages.   In particular, on March 7th (February 22 according to the calendar in use in Russia then), workers in the large Putilov works went on strike. The factory owners sacked the workers but not had not yet replaced them; there were some clashes with police.

The following day, March 8th (by our calendar), International Women’s Day, women in Petrograd organised a number of meetings and rallies. Led by no political party but in an atmosphere of deep discontent throughout the city, the women’s activities became increasingly energetic and militant. Demonstrations began to march, demanding bread and the women went to factories not yet on strike, calling on the workers to down tools and join the demonstrations. As as many as 50,000 did.

Two days later, a general strike had seized Petrograd’s manufacturing industries, much of the city’s services and even some commercial business, bringing clerks, teachers and students to swell the numbers in protests. Everywhere there were street meetings, marches; red flags and banners began to appear among the crowds. Slogans hardly considered before were shouted and became current, including calling for the monarch, the Tsar, to abdicate or to be deposed.

Demonstration during the "February Revolution" 1917. Note the prominence of women in the demonstration.
Demonstration during the “February Revolution” 1917

The Petrograd police were powerless to control the demonstrators who would have turned on them had they intervened. On the 11th, three days after the women’s mobilisation, the Tsar called on the Russian Army to intervene and to shoot demonstrators.

Russia had the largest single army in the world and despite the war, thousands were still in Petrograd. They had been used in the past against the workers and in 1905 had massacred people on a demonstration to petition the Tsar. But now, after three years of war and shortages, they were not keen to do so and particularly reluctant to open fire on women. Soldiers began to mutiny and, when threatened by officers, often shot them instead.

On that day, the Chairman of the Duma, the parliament which the Tsar Nicholas had kept powerless, sent an emergency telegram to the Tsar, who was at the Headquarters of the Russian Army, asking him for urgent action. The Tsar’s reply was dismissive – his wife, the Empress Consort Alexandra, had written to him that the problems in Petrograd were being exaggerated.

A Russian Army barricade during the "February Revolution" -- the soldiers refused the orders of their officers to shoot demonstrators.
A Russian Army barricade during the “February Revolution” — the soldiers refused the orders of their officers to shoot demonstrators.

But the garrison of Petrograd, including elite units, had mutinied by the 12th, four days after the women’s marches and demonstrations. In addition the Cossack troops, usually reliable in shooting and sabring demonstrators and rioters, were disobeying the orders of their officers to attack the people (although they had not joined the mutiny). Officers began to go into hiding as more of them were being shot by soldiers from their own units. Symbols of Tsarist rule were being torn down in public places.

Two days later, on the 14th, the socialist parties and organisations established the Petrograd Soviet, last seen there twelve years previously, in 1905, before it was crushed by the Russian army. The Petrograd bourgeoisie were frightened but were unused to ruling except as permitted to by the Tsar, who himself now seemed unable to control events. Their powerless Duma (parliament), although ordered closed down by the Tsar that morning, set up a temporary committee to restore law and order and later, their Military Commission as part of the Provisional Government they created.

Thus began a period of dual authority in the city – the revolutionary workers, soldiers (and later, sailors) through the Soviet on the one hand and the bourgeoisie through their Military Committee on the other.

The Petrograd Soviet set the tone for what was to come by approving a number of points in Order No.1, effectively the first law drawn up by the Soviet, point 4 of which stated:

The orders of the Military Commission of the State Duma shall be executed only in such cases as do not conflict with the orders and resolution of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.”

The Soviet was making sure it could not be overruled by the new unelected body which the bourgeoisie had set up, the Provisional Government, or by its Military Commission.  

Senior Army and political appointees advised the Tsar to do what just over a week previously would have been unthinkable – to abdicate. On the 15th, the Tsar abdicated on his own behalf and of his son, nominating instead his brother, the Grand Duke Alexandrovich, to be Tsar. But he in turn knew he had no support as things stood and refused the “crown”.

July Days Russia 1917
Demonstrating workers shot down by Army units in the Russian “July Days”, 1917

The Russian monarchy of centuries had been overthrown — only seven days after the women’s mobilisation in Petrograd.

Maneouvers by the different sides continued during May and June, including an attempted military coup by senior officers commanding army units away from Petrograd. The fortunes of the revolution swayed back and forth across the country until demonstrations in July supported by the Anarchists and the Bolsheviks were suppressed by army units loyal to the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries political parties in power.

Workers were being disarmed, soldiers re-submitted to the old discipline and revolutionary leaders were being hunted; the War was also ongoing.

In October, the Bolsheviks seized power, ended Russia’s involvement in the War and began to construct a socialist state.

Two years later the people had to fight to defend it against a right-wing military uprising supported by eight states, including the Allies but were successful in the end.

But it was the women who had started the ball rolling seven months earlier on March 8th, with their rallies and demonstrations and calling the workers out from the factories. Henceforth too, they played their part in government, in building the country and in the armed forces, particularly during the war against fascism and in defence of the USSR from June 1941 to the fall of Berlin and Nazi Germany in 1945.

Nearly 200,000 women were decorated and 89 eventually received the Soviet Union’s highest award, the Hero of the Soviet Union. Some served as pilots, snipers (some of the ace snipers at the famous battle (or siege) of Stalingrad were women), machine gunners, tank crew members and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles of nursing, construction, administration, factory work and of course food production.

end.

Soviet female combat pilots in WW2. The USSR was the only state to have female combat pilots.
Soviet female combat pilots in WW2. The USSR was the only belligerent state to have female combat pilots during WW2.