Brendan 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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”
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.
Brendan Ogle: Almost inevitably the day that Britain will not leave the European Union (EU) has arrived. Westminster is in chaos and our nearest neighbour is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. A general election there may not be far away. Maybe the contempt the Irish establishment has shown for the very idea of Jeremy Corbyn as British PM will be tempered by the thought of Boris Johnson in Downing Street.
But, intriguing as these questions may be, there are more fundamental matters at hand. The far right is on the rise across Europe, and in the coming elections up to a third of seats could well go to these extremists. In Italy, Austria and Sweden serious far right movements have arisen and taken – or come extremely close to taking – power. The Brexit debate itself was disproportionately influenced by UKIP, while France has long had a strong National Front. During recent visits to Germany, I have been surprised to see in practice just how quickly the AfD has arisen and become influential, particularly among the working class. These events do not happen in a vacuum.
The EU itself, and the stifling consensus that sustains it in its current form, is directly responsible for creating the conditions within which these threats are arising. Moreover, the complete failure of a progressive left to form a continent-wide movement insisting on fundamental EU reform adds to the impending sense of crisis.
Brendan Ogle:‘The Final Verdict’ edition of Michael Clifford’s book A Force for Justice – the Maurice McCabe Story is jaw-dropping. Throughout its 370 pages, Clifford paints a picture of the dreadful Ireland we all fear exists, but had hoped doesn’t.
If you think you know the full details of the sustained abuse of Maurice McCabe from news clips and headlines, you don’t. The complete dysfunction of the police force in Cavan/Monaghan and beyond is described in great detail in the book.
Drunk Gardai turning up at suicide scenes, sexual assaults by bullies on a bus going un-investigated, the savage beating of a female taxi driver by a beast who was allowed to go on to commit murder, patrons of a night club being run over in a car park, oh yes, and piss put in a vinegar bottle in a fish and chip shop.
All of these extreme acts of criminality were mismanaged by Gardai, and Maurice McCabe was having none of it. And when he spoke out to highlight it, as he was duty bound to do? Garda management were having none of him.