A FAIR SOCIETY REQUIRES COMPROMISE

New Blog by Brendan Ogle.
This week we had an emergency debate on a vote of no confidence in the Minister responsible for that emergency, Eoghan Murphy. Just days before we had four by-elections where barely one quarter of the electorate bothered turning up, so four new TD’S took part in the debate. I watched Tuesday’s debate live. Amid all the theatrics and finger pointing this much was clear: the Government believe the free market is the only way to provide housing, even on public land.

IN THIS REGARD IT IS OUR GOVERNMENT WHO ARE ‘EXTREMISTS’

Did you know that 5% of renters pay 75% of their total income to their landlord? This is one, just one, of an extraordinary array of statistics linked to our housing and homeless emergency.

This week we had an emergency debate on a vote of no confidence in the Minister responsible for that emergency, Eoghan Murphy. Just days before we had four by-elections where barely one quarter of the electorate bothered turning up, so four new TD’S took part in the debate. I watched Tuesday’s debate live. Amid all the theatrics and finger pointing this much was clear: the Government believe the free market is the only way to provide housing, even on public land. They are wedded to that ideology, see nothing at all wrong with it, and even think it’s ‘caring’. The Government’s definition of ‘caring’ is best encapsulated by Minister Regina O’Doherty who thinks it is ‘caring’ to refuse to award a 10c increase (yes 10 cents, it’s not a misprint) to our lowest minimum wages workers in a city where apartments costing €300,000 are described by Government as ‘affordable’.

That position is not caring. Rather it is an extremist position lacking in compassion or compromise.

I have just come from the launch of the ‘Jesuit Centre for Faith & Justice (JCFJ)’ strategic plan for 2019-2023. I am not a religious person but I like to think I am a compassionate one, and the Jesuit’s do fantastic work here in the areas of social justice and inequality. They are not extremists. They are realists in social and economic terms. Their plan focuses in on the three key areas of Housing, Climate Action and Penal Reform and their champion is Fr. Peter McVerry. In his address earlier he made reference to the report being a ‘critique without fear of losing Government funding because we don’t get any.’ This was more than just a quip, and everybody present knew it.

Yesterday the Chief Executive of the ‘Peter McVerry Trust’, which does rely on substantial Government funding, made what I still consider to be ill-advised comments about the political debate the previous night, basically saying that changing the Housing Minister would have been pointless. When Apollo House was order to be closed by the High Court in January 2017 the same Trust, and Dublin City Council too, swore affidavits in Court that there were enough beds in Dublin City then for all homeless people. Those oaths looked ridiculous then, and they look even more ridiculous now. They were simply untrue. But what sort of extremist Government requires such unquestioning compliance from emergency service providers like these in order to ensure the provision of essential funding streams for our most vulnerable?

Of course citizens shouldn’t require ‘charity’ or emergency services for a roof over their heads.  That notion in itself is the manifestation of Fine Gaels’ extreme political ideology. Basic decency, fairness and the concept of ‘society’ should be enough. One of this morning’s speakers was JCFJ’S Kevin Hargaden who noted that ‘it has been decades since the wealthy have carried such a light load’ and that it was as a result of this fact that ‘social services have been devastated’

Kevin also pointed out what should be obvious but is often lost in the cascade of extremist and divisive Government policies, and the clamour of their apologists in the ideological sect that is Irish media – ‘poverty is not a natural disaster’. Indeed it is not. Everything we see on our streets now, that we witness every day, is the result of a political choice. We are a rich country, a very rich country. Yet our streets are strewn with human suffering, degradation and economic isolation. It’s brutal in its contempt for ordinary people. 

I learned this morning too that 75% of the occupants of our prisons are suffering from addiction, and of course there are only a small number of assistance programmes available. Where they exist they only do so to save Government blushes, as opposed to any sincere effort to stop the anesthesia of those who our Government are content to abandon to the fringes of ‘recovery Ireland’.

EXTREMISM

We now live in a country where those who believe a roof over their heads is a human right and social need, where those who want a living wage, who seek tax justice, who expect a health service that provides services based on need as opposed to wealth are treated as the ‘extremists’. And yet a Government that is presiding over the worst housing emergency since the famine, that allows employment abuses that are so bad some go back to the days of slavery (I have the records and real life testimonies in my office) and which is wilfully stealing our children’s youth and hopes for basic needs to be met in the future claim to be, and are allowed get away with describing themselves as ‘holding the centre’.

No

They are not. They are the extremists. They and their bullying, arrogant greed, their selfish pandering to their rich paymasters, their recklessness with our taxes and their non-collection of much more, their sociopathy which is now bordering on psychopathy, and their careless delusion of compassion. The carnage which is now the lived experience of far too many is a result of Government extremism. But enough from me. Peter McVerry, in the best letter I have ever seen printed in The Irish Times, sums up the extremism best:

Sir, – I attended court with a young homeless boy who had been charged with theft of a bottle of orange, value $1.

Another homeless man was charged with theft of four bars of chocolate, value €3.

Another homeless man was charged with theft of tow packets of Silk Cut cigarettes.

A TD, on his way to, or from, his full-time, very well paid job in Brussels, stops by at Dail Eireann to sign in, so that he can collect his full €51,600 expenses for his attendance in the Dail. – Yours, etc.

Fr PETER Mc Verry SJ

Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice

Direct provision is wrong, but it does not justify racism

Dunnes Stores AA plaqueBrendan Ogle: On Saturday,  I was to speak at the 35th Anniversary of a stellar event when we Irish stood up against racism. It was when eleven young Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin refused to handle South African goods to highlight the then system of apartheid in that country. They ended up being on strike for two years and nine months, gaining both national and international attention for this great cause. Nelson Mandela praised the workers for their actions stating that their action, in far-away Ireland, kept him going through many of his difficult days in prison. The workers won their strike, eventually forcing the Irish government to ban all South African produce from entering Ireland. What an achievement it was.

As I considered these events on Thursday a debate was taking place on RTE radio’s ‘Liveline’ about race. Some of those taking part were at pains to describe it as being about something else – direct provision – but it was about race alright. We were told that the Government wanted to move twelve (that’s 12, not 12,000) asylum seekers or refugees to Achill, temporarily, and the island had awakened from its autumnal slumber. There was ‘a vigil’ at 2:30 in the afternoon. We Irish love our vigils. The candles at this one would want to be made of good stuff though, because the point of this vigil was ‘to get information’ about the plans to house the twelve needy people. We were told that there were ‘no amenities’ by a few of the people who live there, presumably with amenities. Some also made the point that in the original proposal that among the twelve there would be ‘too many men’, but nobody made the case for what particular bit of ‘men’ might be an issue.

Continue reading “Direct provision is wrong, but it does not justify racism”

SUPPORT THE STUDENT CLIMATE STRIKE-THERE IS NO PLANET ‘B’

Next Friday, 20th September, young people across the globe will march down the streets of their cities and towns singing, chanting, carrying banners and placards to demonstrate against  impeding climate chaos and the lack of political action to avoid or avert the grave risks we are all facing.  This is not hyperbole, it is simply the facts, the scientific consensus. We are destroying the planet and the half-hearted measures proffered by political entities are wholly inadequate to deal with this crisis.

Climate chaos poses great risks to our planet, to food crops, to water quality and to human health.  Rising sea levels will have an adverse effect on migration; it is estimated that 10% of the world’s population will be climate refugees by 2050. By 2048 there will be no fish left in our oceans.  Young people face an uncertain future and the toll on human life will be considerable if action is not taken, and taken immediately.  This is an emergency of unprecedented proportions.

A report published this week described preparations for climate crisis as “gravely insufficient”.  One of the main obstacles is a lack of political will to implement the radical changes that are needed.

Ireland has consistently failed to reduce carbon emissions and is likely to face billions of euro in fines from the EU as it fails to meet both its 2020 and 2030 targets.  The governmental response to this crisis has been weak and without vision.  Government Ministers have been blatantly two faced on the issue, claiming on the one hand that climate action is a priority and even posing for photographs with young climate activists, while on the other hand continuing to issue offshore exploration licenses and preventing the passage of the Climate Emergency Bill.

Government will acknowledge that the planet is in grave danger because of human industry and out of control consumption yet they continue to push the very policies that are causing that damage; like increasing the national herd and handing out licenses for oil exploration. This is hugely irresponsible.

The over reliance on carbon tax as a solution is unsound as a policy.  Ring-fencing money to implement good policies is necessary but that is only one relatively small step out of numerous steps that are needed.   As it stands a carbon tax implemented by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil will only serve to push the costs on to consumers and ordinary people.  And those political parties will do very little to tackle the biggest polluters. Just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions on the planet and nothing is being done to curtail their behaviour.

The need for radical and visionary policies is now.  Our society has to consider huge changes in how it produces, consumes and embraces transition. That starts with the need to stop measuring our society in the narrow parameters of economic growth, profit making and GDP.  The pursuit of economic growth has led to a high level of inequality whereby Ireland, as one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, lags way behind its neighbours in terms of public services. We currently have over 750,000 people at risk of poverty and the highest level of homelessness than at any other time in the state’s history. 

Taking new and brave decisions is the only way we will be able to stop climate chaos.  For example Ireland should be moving forward to introduce free public transport as other countries and cities in Europe are now doing. The fact that the minister for Transport has ruled out this move is an indication of why Ireland is currently the EU’s worst performer on climate action. They have failed to take this seriously.

Unite the Union commends the lead given by international school students and urges those members to come out and support the September 20  ‘climate strike’.  There are events taking place across the country and details of actions taking place near you can be found on the Global Strike Action website.

Climate change is the biggest challenge to our generation, and is a trade union issue and a class issue; it is riven with inequality and will leave no part of the economy untouched.

The greatest strength we have is solidarity and organisation, the Trade Union movement has to be a vehicle for the struggle against climate change.

There is no planet ‘B’.

THIS IS NOT ANOTHER CALL FOR ‘LEFT UNITY’

Striking workers at Harland & Wolff Shipyard 2019

Harland and Wolff shipyard in East Belfast may not seem to be the most obvious example of ‘left unity’ you can think of. Yet, currently, the workers in that famous yard have taken a stand in effectively blockading the work-site to prevent their jobs from being ripped out from under them, and their community. As I write there are hopes that this action may yet have created the space for a buyer to come in and rescue the plant that the bumbling British Government refuse to nationalise, even as the Stormont administration continues its disappearing act failing the people and workers of Northern Ireland.

Notably, as often happens, it is from crisis that unity has emerged. Workers with no wages have been supported by their fellow union members, and others, with financial and other support to keep the plant, and hope, alive. This support has been provided across borders of culture and mind. This is ‘left unity’ in action. Workers coming together to support the protection of each other’s jobs.

This coming November Unite will sponsor a new event, the ‘Unite The Union Champions Cup’. On 8 November in Belfast Linfield Football Club will host either Dundalk or Shamrock Rovers and three days later a return fixture will take place in the South. A Trade Union will, for the first time ever, sponsor a football contest between two clubs deeply rooted in working class communities with very different histories. It may well come just days after Brexit when, if the sociopaths leading the British Conservative Party have their way, a border with necessary checks will be re-imposed on this island.

Unite are taking this initiative because we believe our equality agenda is key to delivering a better Ireland for us all. We will promote anti-sectarian work by challenging sectarianism, not hiding from it. We want to promote our anti-racist ethos by addressing it, highlighting it and working in communities to tackle the growing scourge of racism head on. The rights and needs of the LBGTQ community needs discussion too and it, and the vital issue of women’s rights, will also feature in the promotion of this new event.

Will it work?

Who knows? But we are trying to build working class unity, ‘left unity’, in new and exciting ways.

Doing.  

We hear many calls for ‘left unity’, and as much bemoaning its apparent absence from across the political spectrum. Even the establishment right constantly point to the failure of ‘the left’ to provide an opposition that they would try to kill at birth (and have done in the past) should it ever show signs of emerging.

Recently one of the smaller political parties called for it again. To the media. This worthy and welcome call came timed for press coverage and late Summer ‘Think-Ins’ and spoke of a letter nobody has seen. The detail of the call was interesting. It spoke of both a failure to build a housing campaign on the scale of Right2Water and the need to exclude Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from discussion, something I wholeheartedly agree with.  

Yesterday (Monday) I was driving to work listening to Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1. The Irish Labour Party, with a mere 7 Dail seats, were having their ‘think in’ and RTE gave their leader Brendan Howlin a prime time slot to discuss. What they discussed was the potential for Labour to win 7-10 seats in the next Election (they won 37 in 2011 and spectacularly blew it) and whether they would again prop up a right wing Government if they did so. We were told that Senator Ivana Bacik again opposed such a scenario, and Brendan Howlin again supported it. There would have to be a special post-election convention (that’s them deciding what to do with your votes AFTER you have cast them) and it would be ‘difficult’ for the party, but it’s likely that they would enter Government again.

D’ya think?

You may be expecting me now to remind you of how this is just a replay of the 2011 ‘debate’ Labour had when they decided that ‘Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way’ would in fact be Frankfurt’s way and spent the next 5 years skewing the working class with such relish that they became despised. It seemed they fell over themselves to get the Ministries (housing, water, public expenditure) where they could do the maximum harm to the most vulnerable. Well no, I’m not going to talk about that. Go back further. Labour have served the second highest total number of years (19) in coalition Government in the state, second only to Fianna Fail. On every single occasion the Party has asked itself whether it should prop up a right wing Government it has answered ‘yes, we’ll take those Ministers jobs alright’, and on every single occasion it has weakened itself and damaged the working class. Not only have the positions not changed in decades, but even the names are the same. As long ago as 1989 Ivana Bacik and Brendan Howlin were having the same ‘debate’, with the same inevitable outcome.

If we are ever to see Ireland’s first progressive Government this pantomime must be called out, not facilitated on ‘the left’. What do I mean by this?

The recent extolling of the water charges movement in the left call for unity seems to me to miss an obvious point. The water charges movement didn’t begin with politicians. Or Trade Unions. The most united campaign we ever had began when a woman in Cork said ‘thou shall not pass’ to a water meter installer and her neighbours followed her lead. She led! Soon the Community in Edenmore did the same. Citizens led. Unions supported with money and logistics, the politicians got behind the campaign, but the water charges movement won (for now) because it was bottom up, not top down.

History will recall that when it came straight after to the housing emergency the campaign that was formed could not have been like Right2Water because it was deliberately structured to be the complete opposite to Right2Water. It was structured to be headed and controlled by politicians with some limited union support. It even brought the Labour Party itself in from the cold, opened the door to the party that had by 2016 presided over the sharpest rises in homelessness in Ireland since the famine. It was not about ground up community building where parties and unions respond to community building. And so, unfortunately, it didn’t work and the crisis turned into an emergency.

Right2Water campaigners 2015

So where to now?

A number of things strike me. Imagine if all those calling for ‘left unity’ from within their own divided parties actually just left and started to work together for a bigger, greater good instead of fighting for 1 or 2 percentage points in polls and elections.

Then imagine if we just all accepted that Labour are simply part of a 2.5 party ‘state establishment’ that needs to be counteracted and that they are as left, right and opportunistic as Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have ever been, and we just aren’t falling for their theatre anymore.

And then imagine if we stopped just calling for ‘left unity’ and got on with building campaigns together, working together, soldiering together and being humble enough to show respect to each other while we did so. Right2Water worked (so far) because it stuck to simple core principles and was community driven, ground up.

Next Saturday (11 am in Abbey Street) the ‘Tom Stokes Unite Community Branch’ will begin the work of building a Deaf Community Branch, and we are also on the verge of building a ‘Hospitality Branch’ for workers – many of whom are migrant workers – being abused in the sector by outfits such as the disgraced ‘The Ivy’ in Dublin. There is work afoot, and work to be done. And yes, let’s talk about not repeating the mistakes of the past for once.

I’m  finishing by asking the question again, of everyone. Maybe it is time people started to come up with honest answers:

Do you want to be a small part of something really big, or are you content to be a big part of something small?’

(LOOK OUT FOR OUR NEXT BLOG AT THE WEEKEND FROM UNITE’S RHONA McCORD ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND HOW WE NEED TO ALL GET BEHIND THE STUDENTS LEADING THE FIGHTBACK ON THE ISSUE.

TO GET INVOLVED IN THE ‘TOM STOKES UNITE COMMUNITY BRANCH’ EMAIL karen.doyle@unitetheunion.org

Address at launch of ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’

Brendan Ogle Buckingham fire station 270619On my own behalf and on behalf of Unite, I couldn’t have been more pleased than to have been asked to say a few words at this event last night: the launch of ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’, held in the Fire Station Artist Studios on Buckingham Street in Dublin’s North Inner City.

Here’s what I had to say:

When I first got to read ‘The Systematic Destruction of the Community Development, Anti-Poverty and Equality Movement by Patricia Kelleher and Cathleen O’Neill last Autumn it was a real wake-up call. This seminal work described how the 1980s and the 1990s saw the emergence of a vibrant state-funded community movement. and how this has been displaced since 2002 with what Cathleen and Patricia describe as ‘a shift from participatory democracy to neoliberalism’.

The book being launched tonight, ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’, carries the reflections on this period – and what has happened since – of eleven people with such a breadth of experience in the community sector that a permanent record of the work done, the successes, the failures, the changes and the challenges is essential.

Continue reading “Address at launch of ‘Personal Journeys in an Unequal City’”

Elections 2019 – All is by no means lost for a broad left front

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The recent local and European elections need to be reflected upon, in terms of where we are at in the hoped for delivery of Ireland’s first progressive Government.

To save time, we need not fall into the trap of overly complicating what such a Government would do, or how that progression would be defined. A progressive Government would enact policies and address issues in a way which re-distributed wealth top down for a change. It would reduce inequality, not increase it. It would put public good above private interests. And so, Ireland’s first progressive Government would be entirely different to the current Government, and radically different to the even worse Fine Gael/Labour administration from 2011-2016.

The policy platform with the principles that such a Government would follow already exists. These principles are not radical, unless seen from a far right perspective, the perspective of most political and economic commentary in Ireland. The ten principles at issue are neither extreme, nor unworkable. On the contrary, they provide the basis for a broad popular front that would bring real reform to our tax base, our public services, our environmental outlook and our failing democratic structures. As recently pointed out – in ‘The Journal’ no less – the Right2Change policy platform contains all the ideas and principles that could bring much needed unity among those who seek it on Ireland’s dysfunctional left. If we stop arguing with each other and shooting ourselves in the foot that is. Continue reading “Elections 2019 – All is by no means lost for a broad left front”

Vote4Change this Friday!

Brendan Ogle: On Friday we go to the polls in local and European elections, and Unite members do so on the back of an exciting and radical 2019 Irish Policy Conference last week. In addition to two exciting new initiatives in the areas of mental health awareness and a community-based sporting initiative, the Conference was packed with motions about workers’ issues, equality issues and a political alternative.

It would be dishonest to pretend that the non-emergence of an electable progressive Government in the Republic following a decade of brutal austerity is not beyond disappointing. One would have expected that the nationalisation of billions of Euro of private banking debt, running down of our public services, the health disasters and the ideologically created and maintained housing emergency battering the working class would have led to some ‘class unity’ politically, and a coming together of a real ‘left’ at last. And if that isn’t enough to bring us together, does the onset of far-right intolerance and hate speech not require a unified response?

Unfortunately however, it seems we are as far away from Ireland’s first left government as we ever were.

In Unite, however, small steps are being taken, and through Unite in the Community we now have a dedicated branch – the Tom Stokes Branch – aiming to continue to pursue the ten Right2Change policy principles. From your Right2Water to your Right2Jobs & Decent Work, or your Right2Sustainable Environment, these policy principles hold within them the ethos and direction for any progressive Government seeking to make Ireland a better country for everyone.

Continue reading “Vote4Change this Friday!”