Two separate political prisoner solidarity pickets took place Saturday 13th in Dublin City centre, one on O’Connell Bridge and the other at the Instituto Cervantes, the cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy, on the one-way traffic system at Lincoln Place, linking Nassau Street and Westland Row.
The first, at 2pm on the pedestrian reservation on O’Connell Bridge, was the fourth weekly one organised by a broad coalition in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz, who had ended his hunger strike in a Spanish jail on its 31st day earlier in the week. The second picket, outside the Instituto Cervantes at 3pm, was organised by the Irish Republican group Saoradh, not only in solidarity with Basque prisoners but with all political prisoners, although Patxi’s struggle had given the original impulse for a picket at this time. In addition, Irish Republican prisoners in Port Laoise had on Friday embarked on a 72-hour solidarity fast.
Patxi Ruiz is one of around 200 Basque political prisoners serving sentences in the Spanish and French states, almost invariably, in jails far from their homes, their families and friends, if not too sick, elderly or too young, having to travel long distances to visit them. Ending the dispersal policy was one of Ruiz’s demands, the end of beatings by warders another. He also called for the automatic right to attend funerals of close family (he had been denied permission to attend his father’s funeral) and the resumption of family visits. It is not known whether any of those demands have been conceded but thought unlikely.
Although Ruiz is one of five prisoners who have publicly rejected the new path of their movement’s official leadership announced in 2012, his struggle was supported during the hunger-strike by protest mobilisations across the Basque Country, involving pickets, solidarity fasts and sit-ins, protest marches and car-cavalcades. After ten days the official leadership criticised his following through statements by the political parties Sortu and EH Bildu (the latter may be seen as a successor to Herri Batasuna). More recently, the leader of EH Bildu Arnaldo Otegi, generally seen as the main architect of the shift in 2012, publicly attacked the hunger-striker and his support movement, including the Amnistia group, accusing them of directing the whole thing against his party. Amnistia, whose full name translates as “Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression”, replied that they had more important things to focus on than damaging that party’s electoral chances, such as conditions in the prisons, the liberation of their nation and of the working class.
Patxi Ruiz’s struggle found support internationally: a monster petition in Argentina, a rally in Italy, a mass picket in Barcelona and a number of public expressions of solidarity in Ireland. An ad-hoc coalition of four groups composed of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee and Anti-Imperialist Flying Column, all in Dublin, along with Derry Anarchists mobilised to support the prisoner’s hunger and thirst strike. A hunger strike can be sustained by a healthy individual for a number of weeks without irreparable harm, however going without fluids is not only painful but hastens collapse of a number of bodily organs. Fortunately Patxi Ruiz decided to end the thirst part of his strike on the 18th of May.
“The method political prisoners choose to protest is their choice, not ours,” one of the organisers said in Dublin on Saturday; “our role is to support them and publicise their situation. We don’t have access to the mass media, so if we need to highlight something, what we have is our social media along with whoever shares our posts — and our presence on the street.”
Their first picket was on O’Connell Street in front of the GPO on May 23, the second by the Jim Larkin monument in the same street on the 30th and the last two on O’Connell Bridge in June, while in Derry people gathered at the Free Derry Corner monument every Saturday. Each week photos were taken, some sent to the Basque Country and some published on social media, with an update on the situation.
SECRET POLICE HARASSMENT IN DUBLIN
One of the secret policemen who was harassing the protesters on Saturday. (Photo credit: Clive Sulish)
During a number of those pickets, participants were approached by plainclothes Gardaí, of the political surveillance section colloquially known as “the Special Branch” and required to give their names and addresses. Although the Special Powers Act does give the Gardaí quite extensive powers to question and even detain suspects, they are supposed to have a reasonable suspicion that the suspects are committing – or about to commit — a crime. It is hard to imagine in this case that such reasonable suspicion existed in the minds of these Gardaí and much easier to believe that the purpose is a cross between intimidation and amassing files on people who are carrying out a peaceful protest and breaking no law. Meanwhile a vocal group of far-Right people demonstrating against pandemic restrictions have been staging protests in front of the GPO, reportedly without any interference by the Special Branch. A number of participants commented that the Irish Council for Civil Liberty should be doing something about this abuse of Garda powers.
The secret political police were again very much in evidence at the second political prisoner solidarity picket on Saturday. Organised by the Irish Republican organisation Saoradh, it began at 3pm and soon collected a half-dozen of these gentlemen who proceeded to demand names and addresses from all present. Unable or unwilling to state which crime they suspected the picketers were committing or about to commit ensured that in the case of a couple of strong-willed individuals who understood the provisions of the quoted Act, the ‘Branch officer was unsuccessful. In a couple of other cases their inability to question in the Irish language left them also without success when confronted with some who were fluent and insisted upon their Constitutional right to have the whole exchange conducted “i nGaeilge”. Some of those problems the ‘Branch had encountered before with the picketers in O’Connell Street and on O’Connell Bridge.
Neither Gardaí nor protesters remarked upon the irony of the presence of Oriel House less than 100 metres away on the corner of Westland Row. The building, which operated as a police station during the Irish Civil War, was notorious for the torture inflicted on detainees within, as well as being used as an operations base for kidnapping and murder by the Free State Army and Gardaí.
IRISH REPUBLICAN PRISONERS IN PORTLAOISE ON 72-HOUR FAST
The protesters, who included some from the earlier protest on O’Connell Street, were spread following the curve of the pavement outside the Instituto, which was closed. A number of Basque flags were in evidence, along with a Palestinian one and a number of Irish ones too. Banners and placards completed the display.
Some time into the protest, the picketers gathered to hear a statement read out on behalf of the Irish Republican prisoners in Portlaoise prison, Co.Laois, Ireland. The statement had been published on social media earlier in the week as part of an announcement of a 72-hour fast of Republican prisoners en Portlaoise, commencing on Friday and expressed solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and other political prisoners arising from the struggles of the Basques, Catalans, Palestinians, Kurds and socialists in Turkey.
The Portlaoise prisoners’ statement went on to point out that they too are political prisoners as are those in Maghaberry and to denounce the strip-searching and sectarian abuse in the latter, along with the antiquated conditions in Portlaoise, as well as the special courts that are used to jail them on both sides of the Border. It also criticised people who campaign about faraway struggles without seeing those at home, along with some ex-prisoners who had signed a recent appeal in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz but who, according to the statement, did nothing about the current Irish political prisoners. (The End Internment Facebook page of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland lists around 70 Irish Republican prisoners, mostly in Portlaoise or in Maghaberry).
A statement from the Saoradh group was read out too which, though shorter, covered much of the same ground. Both statements were applauded by those present and the protesters dispersed soon afterwards.
The Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns) are a feature of Basque Society, in particular in the Southern Basque Country, i.e the part under Spanish control. Founded by members of the Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left, run by supporters and frequented by sympathisers, they have been a place to have a drink and some pintxos, have a coffee and chat with friends, hold social events and large group meals, as well as occasional meetings. The Spanish State is now seizing their funds.
In 2016 the Audencia Nacional, the Spanish National Court, handed down a judgement that the funds of these taverns are forfeit, in what the Abertzale Left party Sortu called “the greatest political and economic plunder since the Civil War”. This is a reference to the wide-scale misappropriation of funds, machinery and land of the losers of that war by the victors, General Franco and his supporters. The wealth of many individuals and families in the Spanish State today can be traced back to that theft.
While a number of these taverns were closed down in the past, most kept going, supported by their loyal clientele and local communities. Although the punitive judgement of the Audiencia against the Herrikos was in 2016, its origin dates back further to the reign of one of the Audencia’s ex-judges, Baltazar Garzon, who infamously claimed that every aspect of Basque independent expression was linked to the armed organisation ETA. Baltazar, loved by liberals, claimed that “everything is ETA”, under which dictum homes were raided, activists tortured and jailed on their “confessions”, political organisations banned, social and cultural centres closed, along with newspapers, radio stations and social media.
EXPROPRIATION TAKES PLACE DURING A MILITARISED LOCKDOWN
This expropriation is taking place, as commented the left-wing media Izquierda Diario, in the midst of an emergency pandemic lockdown in which more than 7,000 sanctions in little over a month have been applied by the military and police who are in charge of and patrol the streets. (Unlike Ireland and many other countries, people in the Spanish State are not permitted to take exercise outside their homes, whether maintaining social distances or not).
“While the judicial apparatus cannot process the massive claims of illegal dismissals, unpaid wages, unpaid ERTEs” (temporary compensation for loss of earnings due to the pandemic) commented the Diario, “or thousands of resources for fines during these days for the restrictions of the pandemic, yes there is time to seize the money of more than 100 taverns.”
While it is true that in many areas there are privately-owned bars sympathetic to the movement and that also in many areas dissenters from the line of the Abertzale Left official leadership decline to use the Herrikos, nevertheless the disappearance of the latter must entail serious damage to the social and cultural base of the broad Basque independence movement.
Mick Healy interviewed me about a number of my experiences in revolutionary work over the years and this is Part 1 (Part 2 will shortly be published), nearly all about some of my three decades in London. It contains a number of errors by me, for example the apartheid rugby team was South Africa’s one which were not called the “All Blacks”, that being New Zealand’s. Also I believe the giant Hunger Strikers solidarity march in London was to Michael Foot’s home, not Tony Benn’s. Still, here it is for what it’s worth with many thanks to Mick.
Diarmuid a long time political agitator was active in London from 1967, in interview part one, he talks about his involvement with Marxism-Leninism-Anarchism. His involvement in the Vietnam and Rhodesia solidarity campaigns, Anti-fascist mobilisation, solidarity Ireland, family squatting. In addition the campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 1969 Peoples Democracy march from Belfast-Dublin.
Dem were de days …. hard days and nights but busy! 1970s Britain in relation to Ireland was the decade in which the British troops were sent into the Six Counties, the war with the IRA began, internment without trial was introduced, Army massacres of civilian protesters took place and the IRA took the war to Britain. The British State introduced legislation to terrorise the Irish community, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and framed 20 Irish people on murder and murder-related charges. 1980s Britain was the decade in which, due to the hunger strikes, the Irish community stood up, shrugged off the terror of the PTA and took to the streets. At the start of that decade too, the Irish in Britain Representation Group was founded.
In the 1980s when IBRG branches were being set up across the country one of the biggest problems was finding somewhere to meet. There were many Irish Centres, but most of them did not want an Irish group with a political agenda meeting there. Most of them were attached to Catholic churches who promoted a reactionary agenda or they were commercial venues who worried about their alcohol licence as well as police surveillance and threats to their future.
Manchester IBRG found a home at St. Brendan’s Irish Centre in Stretford. Originally the Lyceum Cinema, it opened as an Irish Centre on 25th April 1961. Surrounded by streets of Victorian houses it became the home for many of the Irish who emigrated to the Manchester district in the 1960s.
St. Brendan’s Irish Centre
St.Lawrence’s Church which was located next to the Centre organised an Irish community care organisation which met Irish…
A legal offensive by the management of the Shelbourne Greyhound Racing stadium failed to prevent protesters picketing the venue but did succeed in splitting their alliance. The Irish Council for Civil Rights voiced its concern over the implications of the legal case.
This happened back in January and sorry I didn’t get to it then. However, the campaign is ongoing and lessons of the case are still relevant.
Six protesters, who became known as the “The Greyhound Six”, were named in application for an injunction by the Greyhound Stadium, along with “persons unknown”. The legal case followed on local residents receiving a letter threatening them for allegedly supporting the Stadium, a letter which the campaigners deny sending and which looks more like dirty tricks by Greyhound racing supporters.
However, when the case came to court it transpired that four of them, without consulting the other two, had agreed to do a deal with the Stadium. This resulted in all six being banned from protesting within 50 metres of the entrance to the Stadium.
The two who had not agreed to the deal, Laura Broxson and Tawnie Ocampo, appealed the judgement to the High Court and won, Shelbourne Park also having to pay the court costs.
What does all this mean in effect?
It is clearly undemocratic and unwise for defendants to decide on a course of action without consulting their co-defendants; they don’t have to agree with them but they should at least consult with them
The likelihood is that had all the Six stood together against the injunction, they would all have won
Had they done so, future targets of protests would have thought twice before seeking an injunction against protestors on a public highway
The unilateral action of the Four not only restricted their own protesting but potentially endangered the rights of other protesters in similar circumstances, a point taken up by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, which had themselves joined to the High Court appeal and had this to say:
ICCL welcomes the settlement today in the High Court in the case of Shelbourne Greyhound Stadium v Broxson and Others.
ICCL became aware of the case in December and sought to become joined in the case, as we believed that nature of the injunctions being sought in the case gave rise to serious issues concerning the right to peaceful protest. In particular we were concerned at the nature and extent of the injunctions being sought, and the fact that injunctions were being sought not only against named defendants but also against “persons unknown”.
The High Court joined ICCL as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in January, recognising that ICCL is an expert body with regard to civil liberties and human rights, and that important issues concerning the right to protest arose in the case.
ICCL was represented in the case by Sheehan and Company Solicitors and by Conor Dignam SC and Mark William Murphy BL. This legal representation was on a pro bono basis supported by the Voluntary Assistance Scheme of the Bar of Ireland.
GREYHOUND RACING IS CRUEL
Many, perhaps most people will be under the impression that greyhound racing is a harmless sport. However the campaigners say that quite apart from injuries suffered by dogs on the tracks, the number of dogs bred for this activity means that a huge number of dogs are killed because of being considered not up to competition standard, whether as young dogs or those too old to race. Campaigners claim that over 6,000 dogs are killed annually and some animal welfare organisations believe the figure may be as high as 10,000. “Surplus” dogs have been proven to be sold abroad for meat and dogs of racing or stud standard have also been exported for racing, though both are illegal.
In addition, the demand means that greyhound bitches may be fertilised more often than healthy, constantly churning out pups for the industry.
It is the commercial drive that brings these results and the support of the betting public that sustains it – but not that alone, since the Irish State supports the industry with an annual grant of 16.8 million euro. Recently in the Dáil an attempt to remove this state subsidy failed as most TDs voted in favour of continuing it. Few countries apart from Britain and Ireland have greyhound racings stadia – and none in Europe.
Should you wish to support the campaign against greyhound racing and live in Dublin, you may wish to attend the protests on Saturday evenings and, when Tuesday evening racing resumes, on that day too.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION
Organisations: OPAGE (Ordinary People Against Greyhound Exploitation) and ARA (Animal Rights Alliance).
“Sinn Féin is not like other Irish political parties” goes the propaganda campaign against the party by media commentators and rival mainstream politiciansduring the elections. What nonsense! It is exactly like the other main Irish political parties – and that’s the problem.
Their opponents’ main objection seems to be that Provisional Sinn Féin was widely seen as the political wing of the armed resistance group Provisional IRA and, although the IRA have dissolved and decommissioned their weapons, the party still carries that mark in the eyes of its detractors (and, it must be said, fondly in the eyes of some of its supporters).
This propaganda campaign is acutely unhistorical. A few short lessons in Irish history might be of use here.
The Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, the revolutionary socialist James Connolly and anarcho-sindicalist Jim Larkin. In 1913 both advocated arming union workers to resist armed police attacks. In 1916, the Irish Citizen Army they founded was part of the armed Rising and two of their leaders were among the 16 executed by British firing squads.
The party stayed neutral during the Civil War and was an opposition party to the Cumann na nGaedheal government. Since then, the Labour Party has been in Government only as a coalition partner – most times with the right-wing Fine Gael party. Except for it links with trade unions, the party has little claim to having “Labour” in its name and has turned away from everything if which its founders believed.
Fine Gael was formedin 1933 when two smaller groups joined Cumann na nGaedheal, which had been the governing party of the partitioned Free State from 1923 up until the merger. Michael Collins and his followers were the kind of people The founders of Cumann na nGaedheal were among the pro-Treaty and Free State supporters, i.e people who until then had been active in leading or supporting a campaign of armed resistance to the occupying British forces, including assassinations, ambushes and robberies. The Free State began the Civil War in 1922 by an artillery bombardment of Republican positions in Dublinand over the next few years carried out repression on the civilian population, torture, summary executions of prisoners of war as well as State executions – and assassinations. The victors handed the reins over to Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923.
The parties that joined Cumann na nGaedheal in 1933 were 1) the National Centre Party, essentially a big farmers’ quasi-fascist party and 2) the Army Comrades Association (the fascist “Blueshirts”). Of the mainstream Irish political parties, Fine Gael has stayed truest to its founders and base.
Fianna Fáil emerged from a split from Sinn Féin in 1926; interestingly, much of what is being said against Sinn Féin by establishment political commentators now – and worse — was said then about Fianna Fáil: “murderers”, “revolutionaries” (and even “Communists”!). The party first entered power in 1932, its leader De Valera having been — little more than a decade previously — a leader of the Republicans during the Civil War, opponents of the Treaty and of the Irish Government of the time. It freed the Republican prisoners locked up by the Cumann na nGaedheal government, also having a special police force (“Broy’s Harriers”) to persecute the Blueshirts, who aspired to taking power as had Fascists in Europe.
By 1939, the Fianna Fáil government had introduced the savage repressive legislation of the Emergency Powers Act to intern republicans without trial and after a successful habeas corpus challenge by Seán McBride (one of the founders of Amnesty International), the Government brought in the Offences Against the State Act, was re-arresting Republicans and interning them without trial again (around 2,000). Two Republicans died on a hunger strike protest in Mountjoy Jail. Under Fianna Fáil the State executed six Republicans and some more are alleged to have died as a result of their treatment in the concentration camp.
In 1957, a Fianna Fáil government once again brought internment without trial into force, the colonial administration of the Six Counties having done the same the year previously. The last prisoner was released by FF in 1959.
From having been seen as the main political party of Irish Republicanism, Fianna Fáil became in a short time the preferred party of the Irish capitalists (the “Gombeen” class) and has been in government more than any other party, more often indeed than the party that won the Civil War and set up the State.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER IRISH PARTY
There is no historical basis for saying that Sinn Féin is very different from the other Irish mainstream political parties. It has traversed a similar path to all those others, perhaps most similarly to Fianna Fáil – it’s just a more recent arrival on the mainstream scene. It is already very like other main Irish political parties and is getting to be exactly like them.
That is not a compliment.
This is a party that, in recent decades, had a revolutionary Irish republican – or at least nationalist – position. It strongly opposed the partition of the country and the colonial occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory. With the latter came — naturally enough — opposition to the colonial police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary but this was much more than an ideological opposition: the RUC was an armed force created specifically for the repression of Irish Republicans and acted consistently against the Catholic minority in the Six Counties, which SF sought to represent and among which it organised.
The colonial Statelet itself, with its gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, sectarian allocation of housing and employment and its Special Powers Act, was the sworn enemy of the Sinn Féin party. And when British troops were sent in 1969 to repress the civil rights uprising, of course Provisional Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA fought them too.
The Provisional IRA gave up armed struggle against the British in 1998 and, although it maintained its armed force for control of its community for some time afterwards, eventually dissolved its organisation. By then it had already decommissioned its weapons.
In 2007 the SF party became part of the British colony’s administration in Stormont, with Martin McGuinness, former chief of the IRA in Derry, partnering Ian Paisley, notorious Loyalist religious sectarian and social bigot.
That same year the party agreed to support the armed and sectarian police force and in the reorganisation of the RUC had the name changed to “the Police Service of Northern Ireland”. The essence of the force, naturally, remains the same.
All the austerity measures inflicted on the working class by the administration since the party entered joint government of the colony have been approved by Sinn Féin MLAs.
In 2011, despite an official SF policy of opposition to the visit of the Queen of England, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, to the 26 Counties (the Irish state), leaders greeted her (one in person) and urged no protests be made against her visit.
In 2019, SF welcomed Prince Charles on a two-day visit to the colony and to the State; this man is not only son of the English Monarch but ceremonial commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, authors of the massacres of Derry’s Bloody Sunday (14 dead) and Ballymurphy (11 dead) for which not a single soldier or commander has ever been tried. The SF Mayor of Derry, however, refused to meet him.
This year, 2020, the Six-County part of the leadership of Sinn Féin joined others in publicly seeking recruits for the PSNI, while the 26-County leadership withdrew from its previous position of seeking abolition of the repressive emergency powers of the Offences Against the State Act.
In the 26 Counties, SF long ago indicated its willingness to join in a governing coalition with some one of the other mainstream political parties: i.e capitalist, neo-colonial political parties.
On so many occasions, it has shown itself to be like the other parties and prepared to ditch formerly-declared principles for what it considered a political advantage, proving itself a “safe pair of hands” to the rulers of the system.
Yes, Sinn Féin is indeed a party like any other Irish mainstream political party: capitalist, neo-colonial, undemocratic and supporting State repression. As to the latter, why not? It won’t be SF that the State will be repressing — it’ll be Irish Republicans. And if SF ever get where they want to, into majority control of government – they’ll have plenty of opponents themselves to drag before those non-jury courts.
“A man the ages will remember.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Kevin Rooney (reprinted by kind permission of author).
Michael Joseph Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan Co. Kerry on 18 September, 1905. His parents were John Daniel Quill and Margaret (née Lynch). Fighting injustice seemed to be in his blood. He remembered: “My father knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around”. His Irish-speaking family’s home served as headquarters for the No. 2 Kerry Brigade Of The Irish Republican Army during the War Of Independence Of 1919-1921. His uncle’s house was so well known for rebel activity, it is said that the Black and Tans in the area referred to the house as “Liberty Hall”; a reference to James Connolly’s ITGWU Union Headquarters in Dublin which was to prove prophetic.
IRISH REPUBLICAN ACTIVITY
While still a boy of 14, Michael was a dispatch rider for the IRA during the War of Independence. He served in 3rd Battalion of the No. 2 Kerry Brigade. Once on a scouting mission, he stumbled on a patrol of Black and tans asleep in a ditch. He stole all their ammunition without rousing them. He eventually graduated to carrying a rifle and organized a group of about thirty boys in the village into an IRA scout group, and drilled several times a week.
When the Civil War began in 1921, Quill joined the Republican side which opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War Of Independence. He took part in the re-capture of the town of Kenmare from The Free State Army in August of 1922, one of few Republican victories. He was said to have been involved in robbing a bank for the IRA during the war. He was much affected by the brutality and violence dished out by the Government Forces (Free Staters) to his Republican comrades in Kerry who were captured.
The worst atrocity was the Ballyseedy massacre where eight Republican prisoners were killed by being tied to a landmine, which was then detonated. In March of 1923, at total of 23 Republican prisoners in Kerry were killed in similar manner, or summarily executed by shooting on different occasions. Another five were officially executed by firing squad. The most of any county.
His mother died in September 1923. The local priest refused to request a temporary amnesty so that Michael and his brother John could attend her funeral without risking arrest by National troops. It left a lasting bitterness in him toward the Catholic Church.
During the Wars, he met many prominent Republican leaders of the time who passed through his area; including Eamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Liam Deasy, Dan Breen, Erskine Childers among them. While still young, he conversed with these great minds.
EMIGRATION TO THE USA
After the war, Quill found opportunities limited for him as he had supported the losing side. He was also blacklisted after a sit-in strike with his brother John at a saw mill in Kenmare. He emigrated to the US, arriving on 16 March, 1926 in New York, where he stayed with an aunt on 104th Street in East Harlem (New York).
He hustled to make a living working a series of menial jobs which included what was called “bootlegging”: smuggling alcohol during Prohibition, during which time the sale of alcohol was illegal in the US. He worked passing coal and peddling roach powder and religious articles in Pennsylvania coal country. While there he wrote his father his observation that “the cows and pigs in Kerry were better housed and fed than were the miners’ children in America.”
Quill returned to New York and met a young Kerry woman named Maria Theresa O’Neill, known as Mollie who came from Cahersiveen. With the onset of the Great Depression she became unemployed and decided to return to Ireland. She and Quill maintained a patient long-distance courtship, keeping in touch with weekly letters.
Quill found employment with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) railroad in 1929. He worked several jobs before becoming a ticket agent. The IRT, the largest transit company in New York attracted employment from many Irishmen; particularly Republican veterans of the Irish Civil War like Quill. There was a joke that IRT stood for “Irish Republican Transit”. Their advantage over other immigrant groups was that they already spoke English. Coming from mostly farm land, they were also able for the twelve to fourteen-hour days demanded of them seven days a week. About half of the employees were Irish.
Moving from station to station, he got to know many of the employees. Along with deplorable working conditions, Quill also observed discrimination based on racism and bigotry, which he hated. He said: “During those twelve hour nights we’d chat about the motormen, conductors, guards etc. whose conditions were even worse. They had to work a ‘spread’ of 16 hours each day in order to get 10 hours pay. Negro workers could get jobs only as porters. They were subjected to treatment that makes Little Rock (Arkansas) and Birmingham (Alabama) seem liberal and respectable by comparison. I also saw Catholic ticket agents fired by Catholic bosses for going to Mass early in the morning while the porter ‘covered’ the booth for half an hour. Protestant bosses fired Protestant workers for similar crimes, going to Church. The Jewish workers had no trouble with the subway bosses. Jews were denied employment in the transit lines”.
INFLUENCED BY CONNOLLY’S WRITINGS
While working a 12-hour overnight shift, Quill passed the time with reading to supplement his education, which had ended with National school. The main influence on his political thinking was James Connolly. Connolly had also organised unions in New York, where he lived for a few years before returning to Dublin where he was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.
Quill’s second wife Shirley later wrote: “Connolly’s two basic theories were to guide Mike Quill’s thinking for the next three decades: that economic power precedes and conditions political power, and that the only satisfactory expression of the workers’ demands is to be found politically in a separate and independent labour party, and economically in the industrial union.” He then set about organizing a union. He stood on his soap box during lunch hour in power-houses and shops all over the city.
Quill recalled: “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers; we were all poor, we were all overworked, we were all victims of the 84 hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up.”
Quill and some of his fellow Irish immigrants became involved in Irish Worker’s Clubs that were established by James Gralton, and were affiliated with the American Communist Party. Gralton’s political views got him deported from Ireland in 1933 as an “undesirable alien”; even though he was born in Co. Leitrim because of pressure from the Catholic Church. This made him the only Irishman ever to be deported by the Irish government.
Quill didn’t find much difference in the attitude of Irish-American Organisations that were Catholic church-based. Quill recalled: “We went to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, but they would have nothing to do with the idea of organizing Irishmen into a legitimate union. We went to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they threw us out of their meeting hall. They wanted no part of Irish rebels or Irish rabble. That was the reception we got from those conservative descendants of Ireland’s revolutionists of a hundred years ago.”
Making no bones or apologies, he said “I worked with the Communists. In 1933 I would have made a pact with the Devil himself if he could have given us the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. The Communist Party needed me, and I needed them. I knew what the transit workers needed. The men craved dignity, longed to be treated like human beings. The time had come to get off our knees and fight back.”
FOUNDING A TRADE UNION
On 12 April 1934, Quill, along with six other Irishmen including Thomas H. O’Shea and Austin Hogan from Co. Cork, and Gerald O’Reilly from Co. Meath formed the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). All seven including Quill were members of Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organisation that succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were said to have initially applied the rules and practices of secrecy from that tradition. Quill was to remain a silent financial supporter of the Republican cause in Ireland his whole life.
Like Quill, they were all influenced by Connolly’s ideas and writings; in particular, Connolly’s 1910 pamphlet “The Axe To The Root” where he wrote specifically about a recent 1910 transit workers strike in New York that had failed, known as the New York Express Strike.
Connolly wrote: “It was not the scabs (strikebreakers, replacements) however, who turned the scale against the strikers in favour of the masters. That service to capital was performed by good union men with union cards in their pockets. These men were the engineers in their power-houses which supplied the electric power to run their cars, and without whom all the scabs combined could not have run a single trip.”
The very name of the union was a tip of the hat to James Larkin and James Connolly’s Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU). In fact the word “Transit” is more normally used than “Transport” regarding that industry in the US. Thomas H. O’Shea was the Union’s first president, followed by Quill, who would remain president for the remainder of his life.
The Union began with a membership of 400, then eventually represented all 14,000 IRT workers. An African-American porter named Clarence King was elected to the first TWU executive board. In 1937 there was a sit-down strike on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT); the second-largest Transit company in New York. Two BMT employees at the Kent Avenue Brooklyn station were fired for union activity. The 500 members of TWU in the company secured their re-instatement. It eventually represented all BMT employees as well.
Quill began to involve himself in city politics and was elected to the New York City Council in 1937 representing the American Labor Party. His whole career people loved or hated him, with no middle ground. He returned to Ireland to marry Mollie on 26 December 1937. They would return to New York to live, where she bore a son; John Daniel Quill, named after Michael’s father. Theirs proved to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. Quill filled this void first with drink, later with extramarital romance.
While in Ireland, he met with Michael O’Riordan from Co. Cork, who was headed to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic in that country’s Civil War; which side Quill supported. Michael Lehane, the child of a neighbor from Kilgarvan, also went to Spain to fight fascism.
In 1939, he organized a rally against anti-semitism in a heavily Irish neighborhood in The South Bronx attended by four thousand. This was in response to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-semitic campaign preaching to New York’s Irish. Fr. Coughlin was born in Canada of Irish parents, but moved to the US. He began radio broadcasting in 1926 in response to a Ku Klux Klan anti-catholic attack on his church in Michigan, but moved into political commentary and also moved far to the political right. Fr. Coughlin’s sympathies to the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini got him removed from the air later in 1939.
Having little use for the church, this is how Quill summed up his personal philosophy: “I believe in the Corporal Works Of Mercy, the Ten Commandments, the American Declaration Of Independence and James Connolly’s outline of a socialist society. Most of my life I’ve been called a lunatic because I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. I organise poor and exploited workers, I fight for the civil rights of minorities, and I believe in peace. It appears to have become old-fashioned to make social commitments; to want a world free of war, poverty and disease. This is my religion.”
TESTIFYING AT MC CARTHY HEARINGS
In April of 1940, former TWU President and founder Thomas O’Shea; who had been earlier been ousted from the union testified against his former fellow union leaders including Quill. He alleged that the union was in complete control of the communist party and their goal was to promote revolution through strikes. Quill testified in the US House Of Representatives before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denied these allegations, calling O’Shea a “stool pigeon.” He told Chairman Martin Dies: “You are afraid to hear the truth about our union. You can’t take it, but the American labour movement will live.”
Also in 1940, the city purchased the BMT and IRT. This put Quill in the path of every New York mayor from then on, beginning with Italian-American Republican Fiorello LaGuardia. Years ahead of his time, in 1944, Quill introduced a bill in the City Council to establish free childcare centers for working mothers. Also in 1944, he ended a TWU wildcat (unauthorised) strike in Philadelphia initiated by a racist reaction to a contract that secured promotions to conductor for eight black porters.
After World War II and the Holocaust, Quill said “We licked the race haters in Europe, but the millions of Jewish dead cannot be restored to life”. He was re-elected to the City Council also in 1945. His election campaign manager was Shirley Ukin, a fiery former communist born in Brooklyn Of Russian-Jewish parents with whom he began a longtime affair. She had worked with him in TWU from the beginning. In the late 40’s the union expanded to include airline workers, utility workers and railroad workers.
Also after the war, under pressure from the government on communists in the labor movement but mostly his own dissatisfaction and mistrust caused him to purge the communists out of the Union. In 1948 he secured a large increase for subway workers from Democratic Mayor William O’Dwyer, a native of Bohola, Co. Mayo.
In the 50’s he supported the candidacy of Democrat Robert F. Wagner for mayor. Wagner’s German-born father, a US Senator for New York (Democrat 1927-1949) had authored the Wagner Act Of 1935 that created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protected workers’ rights to organise and strike.
Quill’s past relationship with the communist party continued to be criticised. He was nicknamed “Red Mike”. Wagner was elected to three terms and his administration was able to come to collective bargaining agreements with the TWU.
IN THE US TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AGAINST RACISM
Mollie died August 16, 1959. In 1961 he married Shirley; his longtime girlfriend who had previously been married and divorced twice. She would later carry on his union work and write his biography. Also in 1961, Quill received a letter from twenty-five TWU members in Tennessee protesting the Union’s support for Civil Rights and de-segregation. He responded by inviting a prominent black Civil Rights leader to address the Union Convention, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he admired.
He introduced Dr. King as “The man who is entrusted with the banner of American liberty that was taken from Lincoln when he was shot 95 years ago.” This was indeed high praise as the only two pictures in Quill’s office were of President Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly. The two became friends. As far back as 1938, Quill made a statement much like Dr. King’s famous speeches: “If we, black and white, Catholic and non-Catholic, Jew and gentile, are good enough to slave and sweat together, then we are good enough to unite and fight together”.
In November 1965, John Lindsay was elected Mayor. The aristocratic Protestant Republican whose name he intentionally mispronounced as “Linsley” immediately rubbed Quill the wrong way. Quill quipped: “we explored his mind (Lindsay) yesterday and found nothing there.” This was amid the union negotiating a raise for its members due to inflation caused by the War in Vietnam, of which Quill was typically an early critic.
The TWU had always threatened a strike that could cripple the city of New York, the largest in the US; a city of 8 million where many people’s commutes involve travel across rivers. Manhattan, the center of commerce is an island. Quill knew and stated that this was from where came the union’s power. Quill had seen many Mayors come and go and such a situation had always been averted.
Before he took office, Lindsay felt empowered and entitled to “call their bluff”. He felt such a strike was illegal as it would endanger public safety as transportation is a public utility. He also seemed to feel the union was incapable of pulling it off as history had shown. Irish-American newspaper journalist Jimmy Breslin observed: “[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Lindsay was sworn in on 1 January 1966. The same day, 33,000 members of the TWU announced a strike and 2,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) also joined them. This demonstrated James Connolly’s lesson from “Axe To The Root” put into action.
A legal injunction was issued to stop the strike along with an order for the arrest of Quill and eight others: Matthew Guinan, Frank Sheehan, Daniel Gilmartin, Ellis Van Riper, and Mark Kavanagh of the TWU and John Rowland, William Mangus, and Frank Kleess of the ATU) effective at 1am January 4th.
Quill tore up the injunction and famously said in his thick Kerry accent: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” Only two hours after being imprisoned; Quill who was sixty years old and had health issues with his heart, suffered a heart attack and was sent to Bellevue Hospital. He had ignored all medical advice from his doctors and the strain of the battle was taking its toll. Ironically, he had to wait two hours for an ambulance because the strike had indeed brought the city to a grinding halt.
15,000 workers picketed City Hall on 10 January. The strike ended on 13 January with a huge victory. The TWU had secured the workers a package worth $60 million. Hourly wages rose from $3.18 to $4.14 per hour. Quill seemed to be on the mend and was released from the hospital on 25 January. Quill died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on 28 January. Like ancient Irish High King Brian Boru, he had won his greatest victory at the cost of his own life. His coffin was draped in the Irish
Upon his death, the TWU Express newspaper reported: “Mike Quill did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for the TWU and its members.” His friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said of him: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life: Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember. This is a man who has passed on but who has not died.”
In 1987, The Michael J. Quill Cultural & Sports Centre was opened in the predominantly Irish-American hamlet of East Durham, NY featuring an authentic Irish cottage and the largest scale map of Ireland in the world. There is also a Michael J. Quill centre in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. In 1999, the MTA named the West Side bus garage the Michael J. Quill Depot. The TWU today has a diverse membership of over 100,000.
*Originally posted by K. Rooney September 23, 2018
by Diarmuid Breatnach
In 1964 the TWU offered the Irish Government to carefully remove Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street. Quill wrote that the scale of the statue and its location would give the impression to visitors that the Irish looked up to Nelson and that it meant to them what the Statue of Liberty meant to US citizens. The TWU volunteered to pay for its removal and its replacement with a more appropriate one among which they included Pearse, Connolly or Larkin.
The Irish Government passed the letter to Dublin Corporation (now DCC) who claimed that since the column was managed by a Trust, the Corporation had no power to remove it.
Two years later, the 50th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, a ‘dissident’ group of the IRA, Saor Éire, took matters into their own hands and demolished the structure, commonly known as Nelson’t Pillar.
Yet another repeat: the nth judicial victory of the riders against Deliveroo. On this occasion, the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid (TSJM) ratified the ruling in favor of 532 deliverers of the digital platform by recognizing them as employees and not as freelancers, as the Labor Inspection of the capital had ruled.
The TSJM dismissed the appeal filed by Roodfoods Spain S.L.U., the holding company of Deliveroo, against the ruling pronounced on July 22nd last year by Madrid’s Social Court No.19. Back then, the court had concluded that the distributors were workers of the company.
“In the provision of services by the deliverers affected by the process, during the period to which the liquidation act refers, labor conditions prevailed, which leads to the judgement of the demand”, states the text accessed by this media. (Trans: ??)
FIRST GREAT COLLECTIVE VICTORY OF THE RIDERS AGAINST DELIVEROO
Therefore, the TSJM insists on the relationship between the home delivery company and the riders: “The details or characteristics of an employment relationship concur when assessing the existence of habituality, periodic retribution, dependency and subject to orders and business instructions, alienation of benefits and risks and very personal nature of the provision of service”.
A Labor Inspection report estimated that the deliverers were false self-employed and that Deliveroo “covered up” an ordinary labor relationship with them. The General Treasury of Social Security took up the challenge and filed a lawsuit, which was decided by the judge. The oral hearing, held on May 2019, had the testimony of more than 500 riders.
The workers’ lawyer, Esther Comas, highlights the “importance” of the sentence. Not only because it affects 532 workers, “but because it makes a very exhaustive examination of the conditions of employees who, in turn, can be extrapolated to other colleagues in the same company and even from other platforms [Glovo and Uber Eats]”, the member of the Madrid Ronda Collective pointed out to Publico.
Also, the UGT union welcomed the decision of this court: “We consider this judgement very important since it summarises everything that we have been fighting for and which coincides, in its conclusions, with another ruling by the Madrid TSJ on Glovo’s working model,” UGT explained in a press release.
The collective fight of the riders adds another victory. In June 2019, Social Court No.5 of Valencia also ruled in favor of the delivery riders. Delivery riders in cities like Barcelona or Zaragoza await an oral hearing for the law to recognize them as employees, based on the judgements pronounced against Deliveroo and Glovo.
And, despite the infinity of reports prepared by the Labor Inspectorate in different provinces, digital distribution platforms 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 14,337 people, UGT estimates that Social Security lose up to 76 million euros, according to the report on digital distribution platforms by Work, presented last September 6th.
“THERE ARE MORE OF US THAN THERE ARE OF THE BULLIES”
Learning of the intention of a far-Right coalition to hold a rally at Cork Town Hall on 4th December, a coalition of anti-racists and anti-fascists containing a range of Left and Irish Republican organisations, community and anti-deportation groups organised a counter-rally which dwarfed the numbers of the racists and fascists, who object to migrants, asylum seekers and LBGT people. Two TDs and a number of councillors also attended.
One of the organisers, Tracy Ryan, said that she had her two sons with her at the rally. “I’ve brought up my children to believe that everyone is equal and everyone deserves the same opportunities and chances in life,” she said.
The specific rallying issue for the far-Right on this occasion, as it was in Dublin on 14th December last year (see https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/dublin-counter-rally-outnumbers-racists-and-fascists/), was the legislation proposed by the Fine Gael Government against “hate speech”. The mixture of social conservatives, racists and fascists that make up the far-Right in Ireland have been complaining for some time that they are being denied freedom of speech, in particular since the most prominent member of their ranks, ex-journalist Gemma O’Doherty, had her two Youtube channels shut down by Google in 2019 after, according to Google, she broadcast racist statements and continued to do so after one of the channels was suspended for a week.
There is a wide variety of views on the proposed legislation outside of the far-Right, some socialists and Republicans remarking that “hate speech” is too wide a label and that they have seen such legislation used against themselves when they denounce prominent politicians or businessmen, the police or Loyalists. What unites all these groups demonstrating against the far-Right is not a defence of the Government’s proposed legislation but a determined opposition to allowing the far-Right to gain a foothold in Ireland, from which it may expand to introduce a fascist regime, reversing gains in social legislation, banning oppositional groups, terrorising minorities and restricting further the rights of unionised workers.
Opponents of the far-Right point out that they begin by seeking freedom of speech to attack minority groups and their political opponents but once they have established a base, move to physically removing their opposition and banning freedom of speech of anyone who disagrees with them.
“There are more of us than there are of the bullies”, said one of the organising group, speaking to news media the day before the counter-rally. Poet and community worker Kathy D’Arcy added: “We are one people, one human race, one unified city whose people are known throughout the world for kindness, friendliness, good humour and inclusiveness.”
Declan Power of Waterford, organiser of a much smaller rally of the far-Right over the same weekend, rejected the accusation that they were racists or had any other agenda than freedom of speech. However at the event Diarmuid Ó Cadhla, of a group called The People’s Convention, revealed that he wanted to limit migration and was against the Government’s policies which, he alleged, are for “globalisation and open borders”. Presumably this was a reference to one of the conspiracy theories of the far-Right, viz. that the EU allegedly has a policy of opening all borders to mass immigration and replacing the Irish with foreigners. Laughable as this may seem to some and flying against all the evidence as it does, it is believed by some on the far-Right and used to whip up fears and hatred of migrants.
HISTORY OF ANTI-RACIST MARCHES IN CORK
The rally on 4th January this year was far from being the first anti-racist demonstration in Cork: an anti-racist march took place in March last year and or five years before that, there had been an anti-racist march in Cork every year.
Speaking in advance of the anti-racist march last year, Joe Moore of Cork Says No to Racism pointed out that while racism still exists in Cork, it is “a small number of people who have racist views towards minority religions, asylum seekers Travellers and the Roma community.”
Mr. Moore also pointed out some gaps in State provision, stating that the school books for children contain no mention of the Traveller community in Ireland, which itself has housing and education issues.
There is also a history of fascism in 1930s Cork when the Blueshirt fascist movement was opposed by anti-fascists and socialists inside and outside the IRA. Ironically, while opposition to the Fine Gael Government’s proposed legislation is the purported rallying point for the far-Right, the Blueshirts were one of the three groups that joined to form the Fine Gael party (which is why many opponents of the party call them “Blueshirts” to this day).
The Ivy Restaurant in Dawson Street Dublin, which steals part of its workers’ tips to make up their wages, continued to do so despite protests throughout 2019 and their only response to the campaigning has been to install and lower blinds whenever the protesters gather outside. Two members of staff were sacked for protesting the theft of tips (which customers assume are going to the staff) and trying to organise a trade union at their workplace.
The Stop Tips Theft Campaign has been focusing on the Ivy not only in order to rectify the injustices there but also in order to clamp down on the practice in some other eateries and to prevent it spreading.
On 17th December 2019, the campaigners again picketed the restaurant for the last time for 2019, mixing serious calls for justice with songs with adapted lyrics and many wearing Christmas regalia.
It is scandalous that tips are being taken from these workers in what is now called the “hospitality sector”, who tend to the least-union-organised and also the worst paid and treated – which is exactly why the Ivy owners and management think they can get away with this.