The Leveller Issue 6 May-July 2011

Fight The Cuts Not The Elections!

In March the Assembly voted through a cuts budget of over 4billion. Over £700 million will be cut from health and over £150 million from education. The people implementing these cuts are looking us to return them to power in May. Increasingly working class people are seeing through the illusion of democracy and refusing to vote. After all, it only encourages the bastards!

That time is upon us again, the time where we get to sit down and decide who is worthy of our vote, of representing us at Assembly and Council level. And, lucky citizens that we are, we’re spoiled for choice! We have been presented with a veritable smorgasbord of candidates of all shapes, sizes and political backgrounds. As well as the line-up of usual suspects we have a gaggle of eager young hopefuls ready to pit their manifesto-writing skills against those of the jaded old warhorses. Freed from obscurity for 6 weeks only, these bushy-tailed campaigners are bounding from the shadows like dewy-eyed Disney bunnies, clutching handfuls of carefully thought-out speeches promising to deliver change and and create a better future if only we’d be good enough to put a wee mark next to their name.

The reality is, they’ll deliver nothing but countless annoying leaflets, and create nothing but a fire hazard in your hallway. Political parties, no matter what their size, and yes! even those who slap the sexy soundbite ‘Socialist’, ‘Worker’ or ‘Communist’ in front of their name, have absolutely nothing to offer. Sure, they might earnestly throw themselves into campaigns ‘fighting’ cuts, taxes, fees, whatever else is trendy and/or at the forefront of ‘working-class consciousness’ at the time (read – whatever will get them noticed), but the noticeable absence of any action or campaigning in the areas in which they’re not standing in election screams their true intentions in the face of anyone who cares to listen (some like to blame a lack of ‘resources’ – more appropriate is the term ‘sincerity’).

Along with the ardent lefties, an altogether more immediately sinister emergence has occurred. The far-right forces of the BNP (British National Party) and UKIP (UK Independence Party) have crawled their way out of the woodwork, presumably to blame the cuts on immigration. Well, that’s not strictly true. UKIP also state that they offer an alternative to the established Unionist parties by ‘rejecting bitter old sectarian politics’ and reaching out ‘across communities’ to keep Northern Ireland in the ‘democratic union’ of the UK. It’s good to know that the age-old Catholic v Protestant rivalry is now being transcended by racism; something which UKIP presumably think can bind our war-torn communities back together again. It conjures heady visions of peace walls being torn down, taigs and huns embracing in the once-divisive rubble, holding hands as they pick up debris, smiling lovingly at each other as they pelt the windows of migrant workers…. very progressive.

The establishment parties, of course, let’s not forget them! What are they promising? Well, that would be sectarianism, poverty, unemployment, cuts……. Basically just a proven version of what everyone else is trying not to admit. All have now turned round and stated that water charges are indeed on the way, and it won’t be long until they whip the cap off student fees in line with Westminster. So a two-tier education system for the privileged, and an annual bill of £300 on top of everything else in their box of treats. It’s an irresistible combination.

On a more serious note, the emergence of these right-wing forces is telling in itself. The decimation of public services, attacks on living conditions, cuts in almost every industrial sector leading to massive levels of unemployment – all of these things have caused poverty, anger and despondency, and overall a desperation for change. Can’t get a job? No, it’s not because of capitalism, it’s because the Poles have them all. Schools closing? That’ll be all the funding going to the Muslims. Waiting for a council house? Well, the government’s been selling off land earmarked for social housing for decades, but never mind that, did you notice that a family of Asians got one before you did? And by the way, the overcrowding in hospital’s got nothing to do with cuts and closures, it’s all to do with the waves of immigrants arriving daily on Great Britain’s shores.

Absolute shite, of course. Take a step back and the cause becomes clear – the inherent failure of the capitalist system. It doesn’t take a genius to know where the real finger of blame should be pointed, at the governments riding roughshod over workers. Even David Cameron has recognised that communities are in “discomfort and disjointedness”, although our great ‘leader’ then went on to place the blame, rather bizarrely, on “immigrant communities unwilling to learn English” than to acknowledge the real cause. Unsurprising that he should do so, seeing it is his party who are at the moment cutting the life out of working-class people; although it is nice in a way to see the Tories go back to their traditional values. The airbrushed and shiny face of the ‘friendly Conservative’ pre-general election was just plain weird.

Obviously, change is needed, permanent change. The problem is that the people promising it from your doorstep will never deliver it. Liberal or Tory, Green or Orange, Left or Right – all they will give in return for your vote are promises and policies as two-dimensional and false as their plastic posters which are currently adorning lampposts and telegraph poles.

Using the current system of ‘democracy’ to swap one set of tyrants for another is pointless, all a government can and will ever give are crumbs from the fat-cat table. Temporary reforms, such as the NHS, will be given with one hand to shut us up for a bit, then taken away with the other when times get hard for the super-rich. There is a growing realisation that this is the case, and with it a steady decline in voter turnout in election after election. The alternative is this – working-class people organising and taking control of their industries, communities and lives. Not entrusting our future to a bunch of power-hungry idiots, but seizing control ourselves. Making sure we live in a society where nobody is ever, or ever can be, in a position to oppress any other. Getting rid of a system which does nothing but fuck us over. Ensuring there is not only work available for all, but also within a system which is run by the workers, not an exploitative minority of parasites getting fat from our blood and sweat.

Anarchism is not a system of ‘no rules’, but rather a system of ‘no ruler’. It is based solely on the belief that the working-class has the tools and capabilities necessary for running the show ourselves, and indeed that this is the only way that true equality can ever be reached. We don’t need wars, famine, banks, sectarianism, division and corruption! We need class unity and change, to fight and win against a defunct system which has for so long got away with giving us nothing.

In saying all that, I must admit that all those posters do brighten the place up a bit. And on windy days, there’s nothing like seeing a four-foot image of a politician’s face smacking repeatedly against a lamppost.

Capitalism, Cuts and Taxes: Ya Cannae Fix It Hiy

As cuts, job losses and austerity continue to bite more than one recent article in right-wing cat litter liners like the Daily Mail have attempted to make the spurious argument that the ‘real divide’ in society today is not between ‘have’ and ‘have not’, but between the villainous Public Sector and the monolithic, long suffering figure of the taxpayer.

The taxpayer who has to stand helplessly by as the vampiric, non wealth-generating Public Sector sucks away his lifeblood, to fund abhorrent things like vaguely decent pensions for nurses and other parasites. Articles like this, aside from pandering to the prejudices of a large section of those papers readership demographic, are part of a broader strategy to create a false division between workers in the public and private sectors. A race to the bottom, a zero-sum game where poorly paid private sector workers cheerlead attacks on the living standards of public sector workers (who have, in some cases, marginally better pay and conditions) rather than focus their ire on the institutions that are launching vicious unconcealed attacks on ALL workers.

Of course other false divisions have to be sown….the native worker vs the foreign scrounger coming here looking for handouts, the employed vs the unemployed layabout living off, you guessed it, the taxpayer again.
Speaking as a public sector worker and a taxpayer I’m ashamed to be robbing over £70 a week from myself in tax and National Insurance. How do I sleep at night?

Of course, analysis of the cuts and the economic situation that anarchists dispute is not coming only from rabidly right-wing ideologues. There are notions coming from across the left spectrum that we challenge.

Members of UK Uncut have carried out several courageous actions in recent months, including an occupation of Fortnum and Mason in London on March 26th, at considerable risk and costs to themselves. While such direct actions are a welcome break with the pointless strategy of polite marches that can be easily ignored, or the dead-end of electoralism, it is worth mentioning our criticisms of the theory behind them. UK Uncut targets companies which deliberately avoid paying taxes in the UK. If this tax was collected, they argue, the ‘holes’ left in public funding by the economic downturn could be plugged and the cuts would not be necessary. Although a campaign like this highlights the fact that capitalism doesn’t even play by its own rules, it implies that if it just would, if we could force it to do so, everything would be fine.

We do not believe we can force capitalism to ‘fix’ itself. The working class must impose our interests on capitalism, against capitalisms interests, whether the state says it is affordable or not.

With an assembly election looming in Northern Ireland, various leftist parties and front groups are campaigning with an ‘anti-cuts’ manifesto. Mostly along the lines of getting themselves elected because they can definitely ‘make the rich pay’ to fix the economy. People Before Profits badly photocopied 1-sided leaflet promises to make the rich pay for ‘economic growth’ and ‘job creation’. This is still the language of capitalism, albeit couched in leftist terminology. Job Creation? Do we need another party to pimp NI as a cheap labour pool? Isn’t that why Peter and Martin go to the USA on St. Patricks Day?

Of course, you might ask why anarchists don’t pop up in these debates and tell people what we would do to stop the cuts, where we would get the money instead. First of all, we don’t think we have all the answers, but the idea that some leftist can get themselves elected and then just ask the rich to hand over the necessary amount of money (which is pocket change to them anyway, leaving them still-rich and still-powerful) is laughable.

Quite simply, anarchists are not interested in entering a debate where the accepted terms of reference are that there is X amount of money available and the only debate that remains to be had is how to divide it up. The working class can only ever lose where these are the accepted limits of debate, since it will never be divided up in our favour.

This leads us back to the poor old taxpayer whose hard-earned cash is being spent on a gastric band operation for a scrounging single parent asylum seeker on a million pounds a year benefits! We are not inclined to believe we would be better off if such ‘wastes’ didn’t happen. “You paid less tax this month sir, on account of us cancelling a fat mans surgery and sending a few Romanians back”. I don’t expect to be getting this note in my payslip anytime soon.

Of course we support workers who are struggling for higher wages, struggling against job losses, struggling against austerity. We always have and always will. But this is not to be confused with us having an interest in trying to ‘fix’ the economy; it doesn’t work in our favour even when it is working ‘properly’.

We don’t care about the ‘national interest’ because we know this only really means the interests of the rich. We are not concerned with writing up a different balance sheet that we think is fairer and asking capital and the state to consider it.

The only response to the cuts is for workers to impose our interests, regardless of how much money we are told there is or isn’t. This can only be done through the action of the workers directly, not through reliance on politics or Trade Unions.

No Going Back

Thousands attended the ICTU-NIC rally on the 6th April in protest at the killing of Constable Ronan Kerr.

Pauline Buchanan called on the assembled to remember Constable Kerr, his family and friends at this time and to re-affirm our opposition to violence and the right of every worker to go about their job without the threat of violence.

The Vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU, Pamela Dooley, remembered that the Trade Unions had came out in opposition to those who would drag Northern Ireland back two years ago. She stated that “we will not permit the clock to be turned back” and that the dissident republicans who killed Constable Ronan Kerr were the “enemies of peace”.

Kerr was described as a fine public servant committed to the “principles at the core of the trade union movement”. Dooley committed the trade union movement and people in their communities to building a future where no-one will ever again see violence as part of that future.

Those present observed a minutes silence and dispersed after a piper played a lament.

While those who murdered Constable Kerr want nothing less that a return to conflict in Northern Ireland we must take issue with NIC-ICTUs assessment of the sharing of values between the PSNI and the Trade Union movement.

We all oppose those who are seeking to heighten sectarian division  and drag us back to counting the cost in dead, bereaved, injured, incarcerated and maimed working class people – men, women and children.

We remember however the commitment of the PSNI to equality, openness and democracy evidenced  in the policing of student protests against fees a few months back. Young people were blockaded and repeatedly charged by riot cops from the PSNI for staging a sit-down protest in the road.

This is one simple example of the role of the police, any police, to protect the interests of the rich and put down any opposition. They are there to police and restrain our ability to protest and if we step outside the acceptable (i.e. most futile) forms of opposition they will use intimidation and violence.

On second thoughts though, perhaps at one level Pamela was right. The Trade Unions also seek to police and restrain working class protest, ensuring we comply to the most futile methods while they try and prove how well they can beg for the politicians. Just a pity politicians aren’t throwing out much in the way of scraps for performing poodles these days.

Returning to the point of the rally though, no-one should be killing or dying in any petty nationalist struggle or for any attempt at re-igniting one.

We Will March And Then What…

Wednesday the 6th of April saw Queen’s Students Union finally mobilise the student body against the imminent hike in university fees. (The police estimated 600 people on the march, while the NUS-USI estimated 4,500…) This comes after months of QUBSU denouncing marches and occupations by student groups, such as Free Education for Everyone (FEE), giving the impression that QUBSU have been embarrassed into this action. There were, however, some essential differences between this march and the more direct protests of previous months.

The QUBSU sanctioned placards read:

· ‘Education makes a nation, don’t kill it with cuts.’

· ‘Invest in us, we are your future.’

· ‘If you don’t freeze the fees, I’ll go overseas.’

· ‘Want my vote? Keep the cap.’

So this march actually asked the Stormont assembly to continue to extort £3,000+ a year from students for their education, with the ultimate threat that the ‘student bloc’ might vote for someone else, or even go to England – where fees are even higher! A scary prospect for the assembly, indeed.

It got worse. The march was shepherded from Botanic Gardens, down University Road, through Bradbury Place, to Great Victoria Street by a squad of armed police and surveillance equipped meat-wagons. The final destination was City Hall where the politicians were ready on the hustings. QUBSU president Gerard McGreevy blew his whistle and ‘rallied’ the crowd with pathetic chants such as:

· ‘Let’s hear it for education. Hooray!’

· ‘Keep, keep, keep the cap, I said keep, keep, keep the cap.’

· ‘1 – 2 – 3, keep H. E.! 1 – 2 – 3, keep F.E.!’

· (Thankfully, this was duly subverted into ‘1 – 2 – 3, FUCK THE FEES!’)

At present, McGreevy’s management cannot confirm a date for release of his debut rap album…

The politicians took it in turns to emphasise the need for ‘growth’ and make pitifully hollow promises in the hope of securing a few extra votes next month. It is worth remembering that after New Labour were voted in, in 1997, they used their mandate to introduce fees for higher education – and when the Tories were voted in last year they tripled the cost of fees. From this trend it appears that any further voting can only be detrimental to education. Representatives from all the main parties were on message, singing from the same hymn sheet, as usual. Even the SP and SWP representatives seemed afraid to speak out with any vehemence, perhaps understandable when one is trying to appeal to ‘the voters’.

Some of the crowd vented their frustration and anger with a chant of:

‘*insert name here* we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too!’

This incensed some older march attendees, who reprimanded the rabble for being so rowdy, asking ‘Do you even know what a Tory is!?’ closing their snide comments with ‘mere child’. An invitation was extended to the older attendees to continue the discussion in the dole queue in the near future. We await their RSVP.

There were many disenchanted faces on this march. Students who felt that, at last, they had the opportunity to make a united stand against fees were just railroaded into the politicians canvassing session. It’s the same old story of genuine anger and desire for real change being co-opted, rendered impotent, and subsumed into the hegemonic political framework. This particular march received next-to no media coverage – the QUBSU website barely even makes mention of it. When students took the task of protesting into their own hands on the 9th December last year, they were far more effective, and drew public attention sharply to the issue of education cuts.

The 6th of April 2011 will join the long list of marches ignored by arrogant and unrepresentative governments. 1,000,000 took to the streets in 2003 against the Iraq war – to no avail. 500,000 marched in London on the 26th March this year only to be dismissed by the Con-Dem coalition as unimportant.

Still, it was lovely weather for a walk, wasn’t it?

Des Pott, April 2011

Dissent Against Dissidents

Dissident Republicanism has once again raised its ugly head. Since the 1997 IRA ceasefire several minor Republican groupings have stood against the current strategy in place since the Good Friday Agreement, as promoted by their once erstwhile comrades in Sinn Fein. The two main dissident groupings are the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. A third group which styles itself Óglaigh na hÉireann was originally thought to be a CIRA splinter but it now appears these three groups may be working together while other dissidents, growing dissatisfied with lack of progress in the peace process, have been joining the ranks including former Provo bomb makers whose level of sophistication is serious cause for concern.

CIRA is fronted by Republican Sinn Fein (not to be confused with the mainstream Sinn Fein) which split from the Provos way back in 1986 and considers itself the ‘true heir’ of Irish republican values. RIRA is fronted by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, formed in 1997, and also considers itself the real face of historical Republicanism. Neither group has any significant popular support. In the 2007 NI Assembly Elections Republican Sinn Fein won just 2,500 votes on an abstentionist platform. Neither group offers any cogent political analysis but styles themselves on the type of outmoded romanticism long since dismissed by mainstream republicanism.

What then gives these groups the basis to continue to justify an armed campaign? The recent shooting of Ronan Kerr was not so much because he was a cop but because he was a Catholic cop seen to be legitimizing the peace process. The motivation was clearly sectarian. A 500lb bomb left on the Belfast-Dublin road in April has been called an attempt at ‘another Omagh’, and is further evidence of these organisations callous disregard for human life. The motivation is desperation, a perennial attempt to create a ‘spectacle’ which might drag loyalists back into a war and return us all to the dark ages. Meanwhile Gerry Adams, who once ‘justified’ similar actions, has offered to enter dialogue with the dissidents.

While it is fair to say that the PSNI continue to intimidate certain communities and that the peace process itself is an entrenchment of sectarian values, there is no justification and no mandate for these gangs to inflict their egos upon us. Organise! has made its position clear on all sectarian groupings and on the cops, who as henchmen of the State are perpetuators of capitalism but we also need to remind ourselves that there is an alternative vision to both the State and these terror gangs who offer nothing but misery and gravestones; one that brings workers together in common cause rather than the empty politic of one that rends them apart.

Pee O’Neill

Staking A Claim

The Falls Road in Belfast on Sunday 24th of April saw Republican Sinn Fein, Provisional Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the Workers Party and Eirigi all out to honour Ireland’s patriot dead and stake their claim to be the true heirs of the Easter Rising of 1916. The smallest pretender to the throne, the Republican Network for Unity went to Dundalk to state their case.

All of the above believe their organisations are the legitimate heirs of armed force republicanism, some claim that they are actually the legitimate government of Ireland (self appointed until a properly constituted government can be elected after Irish ’re-unification’). Claims are staked that the state they wish to establish will, of course be socialist and anti-sectarian while all of these organisations have singularly failed to break with sectarianism and all conform to a nationalist vision of the future that is in itself sectarian. Never-mind that their various armed and electoral campaigns are based on and reinforce sectarianism.

How is this sort of double-think possible? Its really quite easy when your view of sectarianism is that it is something that them there Brits, unionists, prods and nasty huns do on us poor wee taigs.  Perhaps that’s a wee bit hard on the sticks, they do try their best to break with sectarianism.

In Dublin Mary Lou accused the Free State traitors of trampling on the Proclamation, in Drogheda and Dundalk Uncle Gerry complained that they had given away Ireland’s economic ‘sovereignty’, something of a myth in these days of truly global capitalism. In Belfast Gerry Kelly attacked those who would usurp and sully the name of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

The Irps announced their new levels of political maturity evidenced in their standing in elections for the first time in 30 years. And in getting their members to dress up in black trousers and white shirts for the occasion. Very sharp lads.

Eirigi talked of a cycle of defeat and re-ignited armed struggle. They also myopically put working class Protestant opposition to republicanism throughout the troubles down to goading by people like Paisley.

RSF, who proclaim themselves ‘the soul of Ireland’ gave us more of the same.

In Dundalk the RNU talked about committing themselves to the (very scant) socialism of the Proclamation and ended with a quote from the mentally unstable Catholic nationalist Padraig Pearse promising to renew the fight.

So what are they all claiming and was there actually some sort of revolution begun in Ireland in 1916 that was actually socialist at all? We are reprinting a slightly amended article by Jason Brannigan that looks more critically at the creation myth of modern Irish republicanism as well as drawing some uncomfortable conclusions for those who still attempt to marry the doctrines of nationalism and socialism.

Jesse James

1916-1922: Ireland’s “Unfinished” Revolution?

The Easter Rising and the republic it declared were militarily defeated by the British authorities in 1916. This defeat was followed in 1918 by the electoral rise of Sinn Fein, in an election which saw the first woman MP (Countess Markievicz) returned to Westminster. General strikes took place against conscription in 1918, to demand the release of hunger strikers in 1920 and in opposition to militarism in 1921. Workers ‘Soviets’ were declared in parts of Ireland, the ‘war of independence’ was fought and the Irish Free State formed in 1922.

While these events were largely confined to the south and west of Ireland the north-east also saw the outbreak of sectarian conflict and the creation in 1920-21 of the Northern Ireland state.

Undoubtedly a period of flux, of struggle, increased radicalism and competing interests, opinions as to whether or not a revolution occurred, and how this revolution is defined, are largely connected with the political outlook of particular historians and more generally with political ‘traditions’ or ‘communities’ in Ireland.

Peter Hart, in his contribution to ‘The Irish Revolution, 1913-1923’1, points out the problems of definition and dating of the period:

What do we call the events of 1916 – 1923? Or should it be 1912-22 or 1917-21?2

While others have failed to define revolution or avoided the use of the term in favour of such descriptions as ‘war of independence’, ‘struggle for independence’, or ‘rebellion’3 J. M. Regan begins his study of the Irish counter-revolution with the following definition of revolution:

revolution a forcible overthrow of government or a social order, in favour of a new system.4

This definition includes, as does David Fitzpatrick in The two Irelands 1912-1939, the creation of the state of Northern Ireland in 1920-21 as a second or dual Irish revolution. The success of Ulster Unionist resistance to Home Rule, against the creation of a unitary Irish state, and the establishment of the north-eastern Home Rule state of Northern Ireland is usually portrayed as a counter-revolution. It is a counter-revolution which is, curiously although not uniquely, placed chronologically prior to the revolution itself (the Spanish revolution and civil war was preceded by the Francoist rebellion of July 1936), beginning as it does in the 1912 Unionist mobilisation against the prospect of Home Rule.

The determined opposition to the third Home Rule Bill by Ulster Unionism involved massive mobilisation, opposition to the British government of the day, the laying of plans for a provisional government to keep Ulster or a portion of it outside of any Dublin administered Home Rule Ireland, and the formation of an armed militia, the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913. Fitzpatrick asserts that Ireland “experienced revolution in several senses”5 from, as he dates it, 1912 to 1922. For Fitzpatrick:

The means by which the two revolutionary elites secured local power ranged from violence and the threat of violence to collective protest, propaganda, parliamentary and diplomatic struggle, and negotiation. The Ulster Unionists relied primarily on parliamentary agitation backed by the menace of armed resistance; the republicans shunned parliament but used propaganda even more effectively than armed force. Thus the creation of the two Irish states, though not achieved by purely revolutionary methods, entailed a revolutionary shift in power-holding.6

Revolutionary methods, and in large part their identification of the Irish revolution/revolutions, used by both Regan and Fitzpatrick rely on a definition of revolution in which the use or threat of violence is paramount. For Fitzpatrick:

The alterations in Irish political organisation were sufficiently lasting and profound to merit the term ‘revolution’.7

This is based on the transformation of Ireland’s constitutional status, the extension of the political influence of the churches and the securing of power by two local ‘revolutionary elites’.8

Consensus on the process that led to the formation of Northern Ireland as one of revolution is remote, particularly as Unionism, in stressing that it has and continues to act in defence of the Union against republican and Irish national revolution, casts itself in a conservative role. This may not sit comfortably with historic events or the ongoing propensity of Unionists and Loyalists to clash with the government of the United Kingdom. However, if this was not a revolution then the definition used to portray the formation of the Irish Free State as a revolution is itself undermined.

1916 is remembered in the history and commemoration of the dual blood sacrifices of Ulster Unionism and Irish ‘revolutionary’ nationalism. One lays claim to an assertion of Britishness in the sacrifice of the 36th Ulster Division at the Battle of the Somme and the other to the redemption in blood of the Irish nation. In rhetoric indistinguishable from that of Irish nationalist revolutionary Patrick Pearse, James Connolly was to write in ‘The Workers’ Republic’, less than three months before the Rising:

But deep in the heart of Ireland has sunk the sense of the degradation wrought upon its people – our lost brothers and sisters – so deep and humiliating that no agency less potent than the red tide of war on Irish soil will ever be able to enable the Irish race to recover its self-respect, or establish its national dignity in the face of a world horrified and scandalised by what must seem our national apostasy.

Without the slightest trace of irreverence but in all due humility and awe we recognise that of us as of mankind before Calvary it may truly be said:

Without the Shedding of Blood there is no Redemption.9

While labour, or a section of the labour movement, became identified with the cause of Irish nationalism, with Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army’s role in the Rising the relationship between Sinn Fein and the southern Irish labour movement was a one-way process not a partnership. Michael Laffan, while not questioning the occurrence of a revolution, points out that events:

…did not change the relationship between one class of Irishmen and another. Its impact was nationalist and political, not social and economic.10

The central issue for Sinn Fein and the IRA was the maintenance of nationalist unity. While some seemed to believe that all Ireland’s problems would disappear with independence Sinn Fein’s economic policies were based on a nationalist vision of self reliant capitalism. As labour took the decision to stand aside in the 1918 and 1921 general elections to allow Sinn Fein a clear run:

Sinn Fein accepted labour’s support as its due and offered nothing but platitudes in return.11

The ‘Soviets’ declared in parts of Ireland were not attempts at socialist revolution or workers control but pay disputes backed by occupation rather than strike action, all were handed back to their owners on conclusion of the disputes. Likewise the three ‘national’ strikes that occurred were in support of Irish nationalism more than in pursuit of working class demands and as such they could not extend to the north-east:

Despite the waving of red flags and indulgence in wild rhetoric there was little sign of revolutionary views, let alone Bolshevism, in the Irish labour movement.12

Women were to become more politically active and enter the political arena as never before. Images of Countess Markievicz in Citizen Army uniform, revolver in hand, powerfully signified a dramatically changed role for women in political struggle. Yet the role of women in the Rising, during the war of independence and with the outcome of the revolution was contradictory and to prove transient. Despite the growing role of women organisations like Cumann na mBan were to have a supportive role in relation to male political and military activity. Moreover the revolution and civil war was followed by a concerted effort to push women out of politics:

Those in the male leadership who had proven unwilling to allow equal participation during the War of Independence were, once in government, vociferous advocates, of measures designed to return women to the private sphere.13

By 1932 with De Valera in power the position of women was further undermined, his 1937 constitution “defined women’s contribution to the state solely in terms of hearth and home14. Margaret Ward concluded that:

Despite the valiant efforts of women to claim agency for themselves, the public world and mainstream nationalism were as heavily gendered as they had been prior to the First World War.15

Irish republicans aimed at far reaching change in the development of Irish culture. Building on the Gaelic cultural revival of the nineteenth century, republicans did aim at fundamental change in the lives of Ireland’s inhabitants:

their vision was linguistic and cultural rather than social and economic: citizens of the new Ireland would speak Irish not English.16

Irish nationhood was powerfully reinforced in the use of Irish titles and names in all areas of government and the state, even in those cases where the previous British system or department had been taken over largely unchanged, Irish ownership was stamped on it symbolically. As late as 1938 the mission to create an Irish Ireland was given precedence over ending partition by De Valera, speaking in Cork, following the transfer of the treaty ports from Britain to Ireland, on 11th July of that year he told a ‘victory ceilidhe’ that:

without the restoration of the Irish language, ‘what has happened today at Spike Island and Cobh will be very incomplete indeed, even if it is followed by our getting back in a very short time the whole of this country for the Irish people’.17

The process that led to the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, from the Easter Rising and the events which followed, can, in terms of the Irish state it attained, be said to have been a revolution. However this view of revolution is not unproblematic even by the standards of revolutionary nationalism itself.

The development of Sinn Fein ideology, based on the notion of inalienable national territory, rose in opposition to the growing likelihood of the Irish Parliamentary Party’s acceptance of a partitionist settlement. In this respect the ‘revolution’ was to do no better than constitutional nationalism.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 treaty fell short of the aspirations of a sovereign Irish republic with its national territory intact. For Sinn Fein the use of armed violence provided leverage in support of the electoral mandate gained in 1917 and 1918. Unlike the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sinn Fein could not influence the British government in the halls of Westminster due to its abstentionist policy. In the absence of such political wrangling something else was needed to bring the British government to the negotiating table with Sinn Fein. The use of armed struggle as the leverage which brought the British government to the negotiating table did not secure the republic or even the compromise of external association forwarded by De Valera. The fact that the IRA could not hope to militarily defeat the British government effectively undermined the position of the Dail’s negotiators.

The construction of an Irish nationalist historiography as one long process of opposition to foreign domination culminating in the establishment of the Free State became the point of reference for anti-treaty republicans and later northern nationalists who found themselves contained within the territory of the Northern Irish state. A history of unfinished revolution developed; in Northern Ireland from 1969 onwards republicans were to reassert that any progress first required the ending of British rule in Ireland and completion of the ‘historically justified’ mission of Irish nationalism. Here again the message is, by varying degrees, that labour must wait. Mirroring the sentiment that ‘labour must wait’ one time Progressive Unionist Party spokesman Billy Hutchinson has also claimed that ‘normal’ left-right politics can only follow resolution of the constitutional question. Of course in this instance the mirror image is the prerequisite securing of Northern Irelands constitutional attachment to the United Kingdom. The attitude of Irish nationalism to the unionist, or self-identifying British population, is to demand coercion from Westminster and involves a rather naïve belief that on ‘British’ withdrawal that they will realise their ‘Irishness’.

The definition of revolution, that allows events in Ireland from 1916 to 1922 to be called a revolution, is devoid of reference to social and economic transformation, a serious omission in any definition of the term. If it is enough to claim that the change of those holding power, accompanied by force or the threat of force, defines revolution, then Ireland had a revolution, perhaps even two revolutions, between 1916 and 1922. If however our definition of revolution demands a more radical departure, wide ranging changes in social and economic relations, a transformation in the everyday lives of working class people, then, despite the mythology and tradition of contemporary and modern Irish nationalists, republicans and socialist republicans, and the uniting of more radical elements behind the goal of Irish national sovereignty, Ireland did not have a revolution at all.

REFERENCES

1. P. Hart in J. Augusteijin (ed), pp. 17 – 33.

2. P. Hart in J. Augusteijin (ed), p. 17.

3. C. Townshend in J. Augusteijin (ed), pp. 1 – 16.

4. J. Regan p. xii.

5. D. Fitzpatrick p. 4.

6. D. Fitzpatrick p. 4.

7. D. Fitzpatrick p. 4.

8. D. Fitzpatrick p. 3.

9. J. Connolly in Aindrias O Cathasaigh (ed), p.197.

10. M. Laffan in P. J. Corish (ed), p. 203.

11. M. Laffan in P. J. Corish (ed), p. 212.

12. M. Laffan in P. J. Corish (ed), p. 202.

13. M. Ward in J. Augusteijin (ed), p. 182.

14. M. Ward in J. Augusteijin (ed), p. 183.

15. M. Ward in J. Augusteijin (ed), p. 183.

16. M. Laffan in P. J. Corish (ed), p. 203.

17. R. Fisk p.12.

Bibliography

D. Fitzpatrick, The two Irelands 1912-1939 (Oxford, 1998).

P. Hart, ‘Definition: Defining the Irish revolution’, in J. Augusteijin (ed), The Irish revolution 1913-1923 (Hampshire & New York, 2002)

M. Laffan, ‘Labour must wait’, in P. J. Corish (ed), Radicals, Rebels and establishments (1985), pp. 203-222.

A. O Cathasaigh, James Connolly the lost writings (London, 1997)

J. M. Regan, The Irish counter-revolution 1921-1936 (Dublin, 2001).

C. Townshend, ‘Historiography: Telling the Irish Revolution’, in J. Augusteijin (ed), The Irish revolution 1913-1923 (Hampshire & New York, 2002).

M. Ward, ‘Gender: gendering the Irish revolution’, in J. Augusteijin (ed), The Irish revolution 1913-1923 (Hampshire & New York, 2002).

Plaque Unveiled In East Belfast To Anti-Fascist Volunteer

On Saturday 17th April what has been described as a “unique cross-community event” took place in Thorndyke Street, East Belfast with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to socialist and International Brigades volunteer William Tumlinson.

Born in Thorndyke Street, Tumlinson was a socialist from a working class protestant community who rejected sectarianism, took part in the 1932 struggle against Outdoor Relief and who sacrificed his life in the struggle against fascism in Spain in 1938.

The plaque was unveiled jointly by Teach na Failte, the Lower Castlereagh Community Group, Charter NI and local Historian, John Quinn. In attendance were working class people from across the city, including former loyalist and republican prisoners, Irps, wombles, uvfers, local MLA and former PUP leader, Dawn Purvis, and various trade unionists, socialists and others.

Following the unveiling an event was held in the Cityeast building that was addressed by a variety of speakers including John Quinn and a number of former loyalist and republican socialist prisoners involved in the project. There was also a moving play that utilised the mechanism of a dialogue between Tumlinson and his mother to give an insight into his background and working class convictions.

Speaking at the event local historian John Quinn declared “This is not Catholic working class history or Protestant working class history. This is our working class history”.

Reclaim The Spirit of May Day!

Every year for 125 years May 1st has been celebrated as a day of workers resistance and solidarity. In Belfast every year thousands of working class people come together as workers ignoring divisions of orange and green of religion and race. But the reasons behind this tradition, its origins and its true history are often forgotten.

The history of May Day begins in the USA in 1884 at convention of the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions, the predecessor to the American Federation of Labour (congress of reformist US business unions). This convention marked the beginning of the global movement to win the 8-hour day. The plan was to spend two years persuading employers to adopt the 8-hour day as standard. In the USA the campaign was to climax on May 1st 1886, at which time all workers not yet on an 8-hour day would stage a nation-wide strike until the demand was met.

Many employers did not meet the deadline, and accordingly on May 1st great demonstrations took place all across the US. The largest was in Chicago where an estimated 80,000 people marching down Michigan Avenue. The business leaders saw it as a prelude to ‘revolution’ and demanded a crackdown. So when a strike broke out at Chicago’s McCormick Reaper plant it was brutally repressed by police, who fired on strikers and their supporters, killing and injuring several, on May 3rd 1886.

A mass protest was organised for the following day at the city’s Haymarket Square. Some 20,000 people attended the rally. As the last speaker was finishing it began to rain and a force of 200 police arrived to disperse the crowd. Up until then the meeting had been peaceful, a fact later testified to by the mayor of Chicago in court. But as the police moved in someone threw a bomb at the police, killing one. They opened fire, killing at least four workers and wounding many more. Several more police were killed, whether by workers or ‘friendly fire’ is unknown.

In the aftermath, unions and the homes of labour organisers and anarchists were raided all across the country. The 8-hour movement was derailed in the US where it was not enacted in legislation until 1935. Eight anarchists were arrested and put on trial. They were not accused of the bomb throwing itself but that by their words and publications they had incited the attack.

Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe, Adolph Fischer, August Spies, Louis Lingg, George Engel and Samuel Fielden were arrested. Albert Parsons evaded arrest, but in a show of amazing solidarity presented himself at the courthouse to be tried with his comrades. The trial was a fraud, the jury packed with people hostile to the cause of Labour. Parsons, Spies, Fischer, Engel and Lingg were sentenced to hang. Lingg escaped the noose by committing suicide in his cell. Schwab, Neebe and Fielden were jailed until June 26th 1894, when Governor John P. Altgeld ruled the trial a miscarriage of justice and pardoned all eight defendants. Scant comfort to the comrades and friends of the four hanged on November 11th 1887 despite world wide outcry.

2011 – THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

If we look around today, we see many of the gains that workers like the Chicago Martyrs fought for being swept away, whether it is the privatisation of our public services, victimisation and bullying at work, attacks on our conditions and standards of living, the assault on the ‘welfare state’, the huge rise in casualisation and use of ‘temp’/agency workers, or in the ‘austerity’ measures being implemented of ruthless cuts and price hikes. Our history is a history of struggle and resistance, a history that demonstrates that as working people we can organise ourselves and fight such attacks.

If we are to reclaim the true history of May Day, it is most fitting that we do so by renewing the struggles begun by the comrades we commemorate and celebrate today. We can, and must, build a successful campaign against the cuts, over the years we have defeated attempt after attempt at implementing water charges. By fighting the government’s attacks, resisting attacks on people on benefits, refusing to tolerate the intimidation of our fellow workers, by standing against racism, in the ongoing battle against global capitalism, we will fulfil the prophecy of August Spies, whose words are inscribed on the bottom of the Martyrs monument:

“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today

Just Another Religion: The Marxist Paradox

Religion is sensibly recognised as the demand to abandon free-thought and reason, and rather to: follow dogmatic doctrine, denounce rival sects as heretical, bow unquestioningly to wise and benevolent superiors, and trust in divine providence and the assured hand of fate. These same characteristics define Marxism (and its various bastard progeny) too.

Karl Marx famously described religion as:

…the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. (from Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

Paradoxically however, Marx’s notions of prostrate submission beneath the proletarian vanguard, noble myths, dialectical self-deceit, and historical-materialism all mimic the stupefying effects of religion. This renders adherents of Marxism in the same intellectual quagmire as Pharisees of other religions. ‘But Marxists are atheists!’ you may protest. No matter. Even though it drops the god-head and the promise of everlasting life, the Marxist brand of religion is as stultifying, repressive, oppressive, and menacing as even the most ardently fundamentalist Theism.

There are many parallels between Marxism and Theism. For example, the practice of deriving almost all of their ideology from one book (Torah, Bible, Koran, or Das Kapital), the ‘Cult of Personality’ surrounding figures such as Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith or Ché Guevara, or the habit of manipulating nationalist sentiments to advance their cause. The most important and condemning parallel, however, is that Marxism and Theism are equally the:

…decisive negation of human liberty… necessarily end[ing] in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice. (Michael Bakunin, God and the State)

Consider George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The replacement of Big Brother with a religious icon, Ahmadinejad or Ratzinger maybe, would not alter the dystopian nightmare one iota. ‘Double-think’ can be identified in the Vatican’s vacillation over purgatory – it is invented, preached as gospel truth, then retracted and turns out never to have been true; and in the USSR – Trotsky is a revolutionary hero, then he is declared a treacherous enemy, and then he was never a hero at all – but all along the Vatican and the Kremlin were equally infallible. ‘Negation of the negation’ and other such dialectical devices are a corruption of free-thought and rationale. ‘Thought-crime’ is also a common theme. Moses’ Decalogue forbade ‘coveting’ neighbour’s asses and so on (later reiterated in the New Testament, when Jesus declares those who have considered adultery to be already guilty of adultery). Marxist regimes prohibit free-speech, free-press, freedom of opinion – in other words, free-thought. This demands the impossible from their respective ‘masses’, everyone is de facto guilty of thought-crime – one outcome being the urge to finger-point the transgressions of others, to deflect unwelcome attention from one’s own ‘impure thoughts’.

This leads us to the importance of maintaining the herd – indoctrinating the young before they can think freely and reasonably, and inquisitions or purges against apostasy and defection. Richard Dawkins, has been vocal among many, against the idea of children being designated as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, whatever – they haven’t made a rational choice to join, they’ve simply been included and indoctrinated because of the religion of their parents. Even when particular sects hold off on official baptism to the age of 13 or 14, the young people involved have scarcely had an opportunity to weigh-up the relative merits of their myriad of options – they have only been told on good authority that their family’s religion is the ‘one true faith’ and the only path to avoid eternal fiery damnation. And so it is under Marxist authoritarianism, the same mind-numbing techniques of propaganda and manipulation of information are used to create unquestioning and obedient subjects who appear to participate fully, freely and wilfully with their particular regime of oppression. In China’s Cultural Revolution children were taught to recite Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ in its entirety, just like scripture. Even outside education, policies of misinformation meant that facts inconsistent with the regimes’ purported ‘truth’ were distorted or even unreported and suppressed. If techniques of homogenisation fall short, as is highly probable with the human mind’s will to knowledge and freedom, then punishment and correction must be used. The Spanish Inquisition and the Soviet NKVD used essentially the same tactics in torturing false confessions from their victims, and presented their absurd and horrific testimonies as a lesson to other would-be deviants – in both Theism and Marxism fear is a key tool for enforcing compliance.

In short, there are no real alternative options. Marxism and Theism represent themselves as absolute truths – and there are absolutely no absolute truths.

The central emphasis of the Torah, Bible, Koran, Das Kapital (and the texts of most other religions) is the certainty of a glorious end-point, the incontrovertible finale where good triumphs over evil. In Theism, all the faithful float up into heaven and all the baddies burn and suffer in eternal torment; In Marxism, there is perfect communism and all the capitalists are dead and gone. Historical-Materialism basically means that the march of the proletarian dictatorship cannot be halted, it is a certainty, capitalism creates the proletariat which rises up and crushes capitalism – the end. Marx’s positivist epistemology assured him that by examining past events and current trends (of the mid 1800s) he would be able to prophecy the direction of future events and how best to manipulate them. This all unravelled rather pointedly (as did positivism itself) during the 20th century, though there are still those who cling to Marx’s predictions – just as there are those who still follow the ramblings of Nostradamus. In common with the Zionists’ ‘test of a chosen people’, lingering Marxists argue that its current discredit and impotence is merely a temporary set-back in the inevitable meta-narrative, or that the original texts have been misinterpreted…

When someone allows themselves to be submitted to doctrine or dogma they are forfeiting their capacity for free enquiry. The shackling of the mind in this way alleviates the uncertainties, confusions and struggles of freedom – suddenly, a lighted path is laid out and you can ‘progress’ with confidence. But this is merely a myth, and an ignoble one at that.

Fortunately, however, the human mind never was, and never can be, bound by fixities. Hence it is forging ahead in its restless march towards knowledge and life. (Emma Goldman, The Philosophy of Atheism).

And for any Marxists who inadvertently read this, feel free to dismiss it as bourgeois deficiency, eh?

Paul Emick, April 2011

Altnagelvin Protest

A crowd of around 400 to 500 people gathered in the Guildhall Square in Derry on Saturday 26 March to protest the decision by the Health Ministry (and Executive obviously) not to fund the Radiotherapy Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital. Some speeches were heard from the ‘Pink Ladies’ breast cancer support group and various trade union officials before a smaller group set off to march across to the hospital. There had been the usual theatrics beforehand from UNITE official and former ‘Official Republican’, Liam Gallagher, who declared his opposition (on behalf of Derry Trades Council or himself, it was unclear), to Éamonn McCann speaking at the event because it might be seen as an electioneering opportunity or campaign endorsement. However, aside from the general supporters the platform and Square were crowded with the usual band of chancers, opportunists, reformers and morons seeking votes off the back of the issue. McCann was distinctly small fry compared to the presence of Shinners on one side and a small group of DUPers on the other (both with their flags naturally), SDLP politicians and a wee knot of unreconstructed Shinners (32 County Sovereignty Movement arseholes) in the middle. When the march to the hospital set off only the postcode road to socialism PB4PA (People Before Profit Alliance) people, a mad group of Strabane Irps masquerading under the equally mad title of the Strabane Unemployed Vanguard or some fucking thing, and some pink flag-waving 32CSM fuckwits joined in with the Derry anarchists and sane people who I like to believe formed the majority. The entire march was characterised by good humour, solidarity and a good level of public support mixed with attempts by almost everyone on it trying to appear not to be on the same march as the Real IRA contingent. At Altnagelvin there were some speeches from McCann and a particularly good one from a Donegal woman involved with a community health group. The general mood of the day was determined and optimistic and although only a small band of us made it to the hospital, the pressure mounting on the Stormont executive was already clear from the tone in Guildhall Square and the reaction of the party hacks all clamouring to claim their opposition to the mothballing of the new unit. We’ll wait and see.

Derry Anarchist Group

A new anarchist group has emerged in Derry recently. The Derry Anarchist Group has had a few meetings, taken part in some protest and solidarity actions and is currently planning for the future. The group includes a couple of former Class War activists and has had the support and goodwill of a number of unaffiliated individuals. A Facebook page (Derry Anarchist Group) has been created and the Group are seeking support and assistance from other class struggle anarchists and like-minded libertarians in the north west.

International News

Libya

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has ordered the abolishment of most of the government ministries and handing over their powers to the people. “For years, Libyans have been unhappy with the workings of their country’s ministries which have been transformed into a labyrinthine bureaucracy in which corruption and maladministration reign,” Kadhafi told Libya’s parliament late on Sunday.

Apart from the main departments of defence, internal security and foreign affairs and those responsible for strategic projects like the Great Man-Made River and airport and road construction, state ministries will be “abolished”, the Libyan leader said. The 37-billion-dollar a year budget allocated to the ministries should instead “be shared among the people so that they can manage their affairs themselves”.

He has stated that the cabinet is not needed as it had failed to manage the country’s huge oil earnings. He stressed big projects were behind schedule and so ordinary people should themselves devise a new way of sharing out oil revenues. “All citizens have the right to benefit from the oil funds. They should take the money and do whatever they want with it,” he said, according to Reuters.

Speaking of the failure of the committees he claimed “These committees will be replaced spontaneously by real committees to be created everywhere by citizens. Citizens will get part of the oil revenue directly. They don’t need intermediaries”.

Greece

In the early hours of April 14th, in the Athens suburb of Keratea, locals furious over the building of a new landfill site dug a two-meter deep ditch across the Lavriou Highway to permanently blocking traffic. Hours later, scuffles broke out with police who rushed to the spot. Athens’ top police officer has also recently asked for his men to be removed from the area.

“There is clearly a breakdown of the rule of law, and without the rule of law there can be no economic development,” said political analyst Takis Michas.

The opposition to refusal austerity measures by Greek workers has seen thousands sign up to the “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” movement. In reaction to this, the government is announcing reductions of up to 50% in road toll fees. Greece has also seen numerous strikes, occupations, demonstrations and riots, all of which are causing many to wonder if Greece is becoming ungovernable.

Portugal

Talks to negotiate Portugal’s bailout are due to begin in Lisbon. Representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will have met Portuguese authorities by the time we go to press to discuss what would be the Eurozone’s third bailout since the global economic crisis.

The negotiations, which are expected to last weeks, will set the terms for what is expected to be a $116bn deal.

The aim is to come up with a radical economic reform plan, including privatisations, labour market reforms and steps to shore up fragile banks by mid-May, weeks before Portugal is due to hold a snap election.

Portugal itself has also seen an increasing wave of protests with strikes on the Lisbon subway in recent weeks as well as demonstrations across the country organised through the Facebook which attracted over half a million people.

USA

Students from the Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca recently walked out in solidarity with Wisconsinites in unison with students in Portland. At 2p.m., teachers gathered to see off the high school students, and after hearing a speech by the principal Joe Greenberg, telling them that those who signed out to protest would be getting community service credit, the students left.

They marched down State St. to the Commons to gather, in which two students spoke on why they were there – chanting: “We love our teachers, and their union too!”, spelling UNION, “Ithaca Fights for Union Rights”, “Ithaca Fights for Teachers’ Rights”. After, they chanted at the Ithaca Journal, trying to get media exposure. They then went to New Roots charter school to get anyone who would to come out, marching them down to Ithaca High School (IHS). When they got to IHS, chanting on campus while the school was in session made officials come out telling the protesters to come back after school was over at 3:32pm.

South Korea

It has been two years since the management of Ssangyong Motor Company in Pyongtaek, South Korea, announced the layoffs of 1000 workers. Shortly thereafter, those workers occupied their plant and held it for 77 days, from May to August 2009, when they finally succumbed to a massive police and army assault.

In the immediate aftermath, many were arrested and some were sentenced to years in prison. Most, however, were laid off.

Two years after the announcement, fourteen people, both strikers and immediate family, are dead.

Five workers have committed suicide and five have died from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or brain haemorrhage. Doctors believe these were caused by severe stress in the aftermath of the strike and layoffs. Some of the suicides resulted from economic problems following the layoffs.

In Feb 2011, one worker on unpaid time-off died of a heart attack. Under the pressure of the layoffs, his wife had killed herself in April 2010. They had two children. The worker’s bank balance was close to zero.

“A Korean hospital also found that more than half the Ssangyong strikers it has seen are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and 80% are suffering from severe depression. Almost all the workers involved have reported a deterioration in their marriages. Their average post-restructuring monthly income, of 822,800 Won ($757), represented a 74 percent reduction from their previous salary.

After the defeat of the strike, 462 workers were put on unpaid leave. The promised one-year period has elapsed, yet the company maintains it is unable to begin reinstatement. Workers who retired or were fired are having difficulty finding new employment because of the Ssangyong “scarlet letter,” and have been making do with temporary jobs and day-to-day work. Also absent has been any social safety network to address their deteriorating health and financial anxieties”.

Egypt

Cairo, March 24 2011: Egypt’s newest trade union was established; the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority Workers. Hundreds of PTA workers attended the inauguration and preparatory conference of their independent trade union – at the Journalists’ Syndicate.

Joining this union are 60,000 bus-drivers, conductors, mechanics, and engineers employed in the PTA – from across greater Cairo. Tens of thousands have rallied for the establishment of representative, accountable and democratically-elected trade union committees.

Workers voted to break away from the General Union of Land Transport Workers, a yellow union within the (state-controlled) Egyptian Trade Union Federation. This new union is the fifth independent association to be established since 1957.

Italy

On April 6 more than 300 officers were employed in an “anti-terrorism” operation named ‘Outlaw Operation’ that specially targeted anarcho-insurrectionist activists. The operation was carried out in 16 different cities including Bologna, where police arrested 5 activists close to the squatted social centre Fuoriluogo and shut down the place. Another person was arrested in the nearby town of Ferrara and released straight after interrogation. 7 other people are under banning orders which restrict their movements and are also being investigated (just for your information, these measures are normally adopted when there is serious circumstantial evidence of guilt AND at least one of the following: risk of escape, risk of acquisition or of the genuineness of the evidence and risk of the offence being repeated).

The operation was part of an enquiry started in 2009 linked in part to anarchist publications and in part to recent attacks against detention centres and corporations like IBM and ENI (multinational oil and gas company). The network was believed to stay in touch through the anarchist zine Invece which when found in houses would be proof of belonging to the network according to the police (by the way, in mainstream media the zine has been described as a “clandestine” magazine…). The police also seized other publications and materials considered “incriminating”.

The 5 arrested are being held in Bologna for now. To send them messages of support, contact: Martino Trevisan / Robert Ferro / Nicusor Roman / Stefania Carolei / Anna Maria Pistolesi c/o Casa Circondariale, Via del Gomito 2, 40127 Bologna.

New Zealand

….between 80-100 attended the Rally for Christchurch Community Assembly on the 2nd April and went away inspired, energise and motivated to organise in their Communities, building on the solidarity and links made in the weeks following the quake which devastated the area in February.

What was special about the day was the absence of politicians and officials speaking at people, but really not saying anything at all. What was present was ordinary people verbalising their experiences and concerns, sharing their thoughts and issues freely, in an open forum.

Serious concerns that were brought up and discussed included issues around sewerage, housing, heating, public transport, health and majorly the authoritarian nature of the Government and CERA. Those present will be going back to their respective communities to hold assemblies, talk, organise and plan for the struggle ahead.

What is most certainly building is a movement rooted in the struggles of those most affected by the quake in the predominately working class suburbs of the east.

Expect the frustration and anger to boil over. Protests, pickets, occupations and civil disobedience undoubtedly lay ahead. Solidarity will be needed across the country and we must link this to the wider issues of austerity measures, cuts backs in the public sector and the most recent attacks on workers through changes to the ERA and Holidays Act….

For more information on these articles, and for news on local and international issues go to libcom.org

Red Flags Torn: A Brief Sketch of Some Problems With Unions

The ’80s have been back in fashion for a while now. It started ironically: a stonewashed denim jacket at a fancy dress party, a “Frankie Says Relax” t-shirt. But like all ironic jokes, it’s been taken too far.

As if getting an economy to match our shoes, we now have rising unemployment, attacks on benefits, and public sector pay cuts. And as it obviously didn’t matter who got in, we thought a Tory government would complete the look with the Labour Party back as the defenders of the poor, even using phrases like “working class” again.

We all know that any fightback will not come from the Labour Party (or any other party); it’ll be from workers, public service users, parents, pensioners, students, the unemployed. If we see a mass working class fightback, we can expect the trade union leaders to be there, at the rallies and demonstrations, urging us forward.

But looking at the struggles of the past few years, should this fill us with confidence? Are these union leaders behind us?

Some recent defeats and ‘almosts’

In 2009, Visteon factories in London and Belfast were occupied. After dragging its heels and giving poor legal advice, Unite encouraged workers to leave the occupied factories.

Eventually a deal was done behind closed doors and the union recommended acceptance of a partial offer that left the crucial issue of pensions untouched.

In 2008, strikes were prepared across the public sector. Workers in Unison, NUT and PCS all took action against the government’s 2% pay-cap, sometimes even on the same day.

After only two days of strike action Unison, the biggest of the three unions, took its dispute to ACAS. The arbitrating body’s decision being legally binding, this effectively removed its members from the dispute. The other unions soon followed suit.

In 2007, as the government threatened 40,000 job cuts at Royal Mail and attacked pay and pensions, wildcat strikes spread across Britain with postal workers refusing to cross each others’ picket lines.

The CWU soon called off all action to enter ‘meaningful negotiations’ which lasted weeks and came to no firm conclusion.

Demoralised and demobilised posties accepted an agreement basically unchanged from the first one.

But the CWU declared victory: they were guaranteed a ‘consultation’ role in the cuts.

These are just some examples; you can pick many more from recent and not- so-recent history. And they all raise the question: why are our unions so bad at what we expect them to do? Not being a force for revolution or anything, but bog-standard, Ronseal-advert, doing-what-it-says-on-the-tin, fighting for their members’ interests.

Union troubles, outside and in..

Trade union officials will blame the membership, saying they don’t want to fight. This might be true sometimes but didn’t the wildcatting posties want to fight? The Visteon workers, after occupying their factories, didn’t want to fight? There’s more going on than just the ‘workers aren’t up for it’…

It’s not all the unions’ fault. Since the Thatcher years we’ve seen so many new laws restricting strike action that British industrial relations legislation is amongst the most anti-worker in the developed world.

Where once wildcat strikes and secondary picketing were common, now they are a rarity. Even things like forcing ballots to be done in secret, posted from home, where workers can’t sense the solidarity of their workmates, is intended to discourage militant action.

But there’s a problem with this argument too. These laws were pushed through as a result of working class defeat, a defeat that the unions were complicit in. Unions had been disciplining their members for decades before these laws were even a twinkle in Thatcher’s eye.

Whether it be NUM official Will Lawther’s 1947 call to prosecute wildcatting miners “even if there are 50,000 or 100,000 of them” or the UPW slapping members with fines totalling £1,000 and threatening expulsion from the union (thus losing their jobs, as it was a closed shop) for refusing to handle post during the 1977 Grunwick strike, one thing seen time and again is union leaders moving against the militant action of their members. Putting it down to legislation passed in the last 20-30 years does nothing to explain such actions before then.

Bureaucrats

So the problems aren’t just external: we can’t just act like proud parents and say they fell in with a bad crowd.

The fact is the unions have come to resemble the companies we expect them to fight with highly paid executive decision makers, a downward chain-of-command and a career ladder that goes beyond the union and into the halls of social democratic governing institutions (think-tanks, Labour Party etc). Such a structure needs people to fill it: bureaucrats, who by definition are separate from the lives of the workers they represent. This is true even of former shopfloor militants.

Having left the workplace, their everyday experiences are not the same as those they used to work alongside. Their priorities and, more importantly, their material interests are not the same.

A victory for a worker means an improvement in working conditions; a victory for a bureaucrat means a seat at the negotiating table. But this seat for the bureaucrat doesn’t necessarily mean any improvement for the worker, as theCWU’s consultation ‘victory’ proves.

To say union bureaucrats have different priorities and interests is not just spite. It’s to underline that it’s not about them being “baddies.” Many committed militants become union officials because they want to be employed spreading struggle rather than just working for some arsehole boss. But the trouble is that ‘struggle’ and ‘the union’ are not the same thing and spreading the latter does not mean encouraging the former.

This has always been the case. The contradiction between workers and union bureaucrats has been going on in the UK for over a century. One such example was with the anarchist John Turner, an unpaid leader of the United Shop Assistants Union for seven years who in 1898 became a paid national organiser, travelling up and down the country recruiting to the union.

Though it grew massively, Turner had also started to change his approach. As conflicts flared up so would branches of the union; but as conflicts died down so did the branches. To keep a stable membership, he introduced sickness and unemployment benefits as perks of union membership.

The plan worked. A stable membership was established and by 1910 the Shop Assistants Union was the biggest in the London area. But the nature of the union had changed.

And even if Turner couldn’t see it, the workers could. The union bureaucracy became seen by many as an interference with local initiative and in 1909 Turner was accused of playing the “role of one of the most blatant reactionaries with which the Trades Union movement was ever cursed” .

The tragedy of John Turner1 is not as simple as him ‘selling out’; he remained an anarchist to the day he died. But as a full-time organiser paid by the union his priority began to be perpetuating the union rather than organising conflicts and soon his union was no different from the other unions.

This is because in the eyes of a trade union official, the union is not just the means to encourage struggle but the means through which struggle itself happens. Building the union is top priority and stopping things which get the union in trouble (like unofficial action) take on the utmost importance; after all, if the workers get the union into too much trouble, how will struggle happen?

Of course, an individual can take on a full-time union job and concentrate on organising conflicts rather than just recruitment.

But full-timers aren’t freelancers, their bosses (the union they work for), like any other boss, needs to see results. And ‘results’ doesn’t mean class conflict, it means membership recruitment and retention. Because without members, official trade unionism can’t do what it most needs to.

Meeting employers half-way

Criticisms of the bureaucratic nature of the trade unions are not uncommon on the far-left. Many conclude that we need to democratise or ‘reclaim’ the existing unions, while others more radically conclude that we need new unions, controlled by the rank and file.

However, this misses the point about what bureaucracies are and why they happen. Unions don’t play this role because they’re bureaucratic, they’re bureaucratic because of the role they play. That is, they try to mediate the conflict between workers and their bosses. The primary way this happens is through monopolising the right to negotiate conditions on behalf of the workforce.

What is crucial when trying to do this is maintaining as high a membership as possible, regardless of how detached from the workplace such a union becomes. As union density drops generally, unions solve this problem with endless mergers as high membership figures help maintain their influence with management (not to mention the TUC and theLabour Party).

If a union is to secure its place as the negotiator in the workplace, it not only has to win the support of its members but also show bosses that they can get the workforce back to work once an agreement is reached.

By having membership figures which they can point at to make sure management recognise them as the body able to negotiate wages and conditions, unions are also able to use this position to retain and attract members.

Equally, this influence with the workforce is what’s useful to management. Union bureaucrats offer stability in the workplace, diverting workers’ anger into a complex world of employment law, grievance procedures and casework forms.

As Buzz Hargrove, leader of the militant Canadian Auto Workers union, wrote in his autobiography: “Good unions work to defuse [workers’] anger – and they do it effectively. Without unions, there would be anarchy in the workplace. Strikes would be commonplace, and confrontation and violence would increase. Poor-quality workmanship, low productivity, increased sick time, and absenteeism would be the preferred form of worker protest.

“By and large, unions deflect those damaging and costly forms of worker resistance. If our critics understood what really goes on behind the labour scenes, they would be thankful that union leaders are as effective as they are in averting strikes.”

The legal restrictions on unions mentioned earlier are often called “anti-union” laws. However when looked at like this, it becomes apparent that these laws are not so much anti-union as anti-worker.

If anything, it strengthens the union’s hand by giving it a total monopoly on all legally recognised (and therefore protected) forms of action.

The same laws which help employers maintain order in the workplace can also be seen helping the union maintain its half of the bargain with the employers.

As a result, pro-union radicals often propose the ‘wink and nod’ strategy: that is, the union officially saying “come on, back to work, the union doesn’t condone this…” while giving a sly little wink while the boss isn’t looking.

But if bosses don’t think a union can keep up its end of the bargain then they won’t recognise them as negotiating “partners.” Why would they? Why would anyone repeatedly reach an agreement with someone else if they knew that person wouldn’t uphold their side of the bargain?

In order to function as representatives of the workforce, unions have to play by the rules including, where necessary, policing the workforce and directing militancy into the “proper channels.” The anti-strike laws reinforce this pressure by threatening unions with financial ruin if they don’t rein in legally unprotected actions.

This is where the pressure to discipline members comes from. It’s not a question of the right leaders with the right politics or of having the right principles written down in a constitution. It’s not about individuals, it’s about how structures work to fulfil their needs.

From John Turner through to today via the French CGT, American CIO, Polish Solidarnosc and countless others, unions have turned, through their role as mediators, away from their origins as expressions of class anger and into organisations disciplining the working class against its own interests.

Notably, the unions that avoided this fate are those that adopted explicitly revolutionary perspectives and consciously refused to play a mediating role, such as the Spanish CNT’s refusal to participate in works councils and union elections2.

So what then?

This article is just the start of a wider criticism of unions. But where unions seek to act as mediators and representatives they necessitate the creation of bureaucracies to take on this task and bureaucrats, separated as they are from workers’ lives, have different interests from them. They need primarily to maintain their seat at the negotiating table.

Therefore it’s no surprise that where gains have been made (even within a union framework) it has been through the threat or actuality of unmediated direct action: from the Lindsey Oil Refinery strikes to the wildcat-prone refuse workers of Brighton to the solidarity of truck drivers not crossing Shell truckers’ picket lines.

These strikes, which ended in unqualified victories for the workers, pushed the boundaries of trade union action, breaking anti-strike laws and taking place outside the official union structures (even if organised by lay-reps at local union level).

Our task is to encourage this sort of independent activity, to encourage the control of struggles through workplace meetings of all workers affected (regardless of union affiliation) and to encourage the use of direct action to get results.

These should be the guiding principles for us in workplace organising. Leave ‘reclaiming the unions’ to the Trots, they can build career ladders for bureaucrats. If union density is what creates militancy then the UK (at 27%) would be far more militant than France (8%). Clearly this is not the case.

We’re done building new bureaucracies; we need to take action without them.

1.More on John Turner can be found in The slow burning fuse – the lost history of the British anarchists by John Quail, some of which is online on libcom.org

2.There is of course much to be said about the representative role which the leadership of the CNT took in the Spanish Civil War and the negative effects which this had

Reprinted from Black Flag see

libcom.org/library/red-flags-torn-brief-sketch-some-problems-unions-ed-goddard

Monson Wins ISKA Title

Monson managed to grind-out a five-round unanimous points decisionin the fight for the new ISKA heavyweight (over 205lbs) MMA Championship belt. This win over Tony Lopez (himself 23 wins, 6 losses, so no slouch) marks Monson’s second MMA career championship belt, having been former Cage Warriors HW champ. While a highly decorated as a grappler, having been twice ADCC champ (1999 and 2005), in his 41-win mixed-martial arts career Monson hasn’t captured as much gold as he’d perhaps like.

This win suggests the 40 year old isn’t ready to give up hopes of getting back to the top. In late 2006, Monson lost a five-round decision against Tim Sylvia for the UFC HW title. He then left the UFC organisation and has since not been competing against the same calibre of opponent, but has instead racked up steady win streaks, and is currently unbeaten in his last 8 fights, including victories over Roy Nelson (now UFC) and Sergei Kharitonov (now Strikeforce) in 2009.

In terms of his future, Monson is hoping the UFC will call again, and is willing to drop to 205lbs (light-heavyweight). In an interview after the fight he said, “I fight April 30th in Switzerland[….] after that I gotta fight in France, after that hopefully the UFC will call… looking maybe to cut to 205, if that’s on the cards”.

The openly political Monson was charged in 2009 over an alleged graffiti incident on the Capitol Building and an army recruitment centre in Olympia, Washington, USA. Authorities claim that the graffiti, which included circle-As, a peace symbol and phrases such as “no poverty” and “no war”, cost apparently $19,000 to clean up. In October 2009 he was ordered to serve 90 days of work release while on electronic home monitoring, a punishment that will allow him to work to pay off the $21,894 in restitution.

Monson pleaded guilty to first-degree malicious mischief and second-degree malicious mischief for vandalism as part of a plea deal in exchange for the sentencing recommendation.

Monson has used fight press-conferences to criticise the US military presence in Iraq, and has been vocal about his wish to see the state and class society abolished. Monson had been involved with IWW in his home state, and last year, took time out before his fight at Cage Wars in Belfast to talk to local anarchists and fight fans about sport and politics. In previous years Jeff has met with anarchists in Manchester Solidarity Federation and CNT-Vignoles in Paris.

It will be interesting to see how Monson would cope at 205lb. When he won his first ADCC grappling title he was at a similar weight to light-heavyweight, and his early MMA fights were at that weight. The fighters at 205 will be faster but smaller than Monson’s recent opponents, at 5ft 8inch, Monson often struggled with reach against the +205 pounders, particularly against Tim Sylvia. Assuming he can make the cut to 205 again, and doesn’t lose too much of his trademark strength, it’ll be interesting to watch. It would be optimistic to suggest he’d handle top 205 guys now, but on an 8-fight win-streak, he certainly deserves a final shot in the UFC.

His next fight is next week against Maro Perak in Switzerland at Stength & Honor Championship 4. He will have one more fight at heavyweight after that, before his potential move to light-heavyweight.

Congratulations Kate and Billy!

Organise! would like to extend our official congratulations to Britain’s most famous sweethearts, Kate Middleton and Prince Billy.

Oh, I suppose that you all expected us to say something about the cost of the do to working-class people, and get on like big boring grumps, but we’re of the opinion that nothing should get in the way of a good party, not even a financial crisis. Even if it is the most expensive security event in Britain. Ever.

Sure, the MET are so skint that they’ve sent a letter to David Cameron pleading with him to help them out with the cost of getting thousands of cops out of their beds on a bank holiday to police the event, but so what? A couple more A&E closures should sort that right out.

We’re a bit hurt that we didn’t get an invite, but we’re blaming cuts in the postal service. Or maybe they were a bit scared that we’d turn up and make a scene, given that “anarchist groups, Irish and Islamic terrorists and lone individuals with mental problems” are topping the cop list of ne’er do wells to look out for on the 29th. Presumably the last group on that list include pissed-off workers who begrudge paying for the wedding after being systematically raped up the arse by government austerity measures, but they’re just not getting into the spirit of things. I mean, what’s £20 million between friends?

Organise! unfortunately can’t attend the event anyway, given that none of us can afford the plane fare. But we’ll raise a glass to the happy couple on the 30th during the May Day celebrations instead, and ask our comrades over the water to say hello to them for us on the day. Hell, we might even buy a commemorative tea-towel from the pound shop. Cos after all, it’s not every day that we all get to be collectively fucked over so blatantly and be told we have to not only like it, but pay for it as well. Oh, wait….

Sarah Mair

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