The Red Plough
WORKERS RIGHTS! OR WORKERS CONTROL? WHERE NOW?
IRELAND, EVICTIONS, HISTORY, PRESENT TIME
THE EUROPEAN UNION, PERFECT COMPETITION: A HYPOCRISY
On Saturday March 2nd 2013 Liberty Hall Dublin was the venue for a conference entitled “100 Years Of Struggle, WORKERS RIGHTS IN IRELAND” . The conference was hosted by Sinn Fein and organised by the party’s Workers Rights spokesperson, David Cullinane . It was attended by between 350 and 400 people from trade unions, socialist and republican organisations.
Much of the debate focused on the present government policies in the 26 counties regarding austerity and the recent, yet to be balloted on, agreement reached between some trade unions and the government regarding public sector cuts. Equally much was discussed on the 1913 Dublin Lockout in its centenary year the two main union people involved, Jim Larkin and James Connolly. The conference was well advertised both in and around Dublin as well as in the Sinn Fein newspaper, An Phoblacht.
In the February edition of the newspaper David Cullinane stated
“If Jim Larkin were alive today, I’m fairly sure he would like ourselves in Sinn Fein and ordinary citizens to be standing up for their rights, to be looking at how we could strengthen workers rights and build a republic worthy of the name and encapsulating the ideals and vision that fuelled the spirit of 1913”.
A caption of Jim Larkin on the same page of the same edition announced ’Jim Larkin would like to see ordinary people standing up for their rights’.
This is, of course, perfectly likely to be true but when we are talking of Connolly and Larkin we are talking of workers control of the means of production, distribution and exchange; In fact working class control of society through the revolutionary overthrow of the present system, the status quo!
This differs greatly from workers rights within the present state of affairs because those who giveth rights may taketh them away!! Put simply if we had a government which may be sympathetic to the needs and aspirations, within the status quo, of the working class and produced a set or bill of rights legally binding on employers, perhaps granting more power to the trade unions, particularly Shop Stewards, without nationalising industry, modern or postmodern, then another government, more inclined to do as they are told by the ruling class can take these rights away via new legislation. Workers rights within capitalism do not necessarily threaten capitalism. On the contrary they could appease the system and in the process safeguard it by separating moderate working class people from hard line Marxists who can see the wood from the trees.
During the afternoon session these were points many wished to raise from the floor. Unfortunately this was not to be. The second session of the afternoon included, among others, Siobhan O’Donoghue who is the Director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, Jack O’Connor, General President of SIPTU (Services, Industrial, Professional, Technical Union), Peter Bunting, Assistant General Secretary for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Northern Division), also present were Sinn Fein’s County Councillor for Tallaght Central, Maire Devine and Jimmy Kelly, Irish Regional Secretary of the UNITE trade union along with John Douglas from Bray who was appointed General Secretary of the Mandate trade union in 2005. This motley crew comprised the panel who the audience thought would be open to questions from the floor.
Well they were. Four people were given speaking time from the floor, about one in a hundred, to obviously minimise the prospects of any awkward points, , or tricky questions being asked.
Jimmy Kelly made the most sense arguing vehemently the need for strong shop stewards in the workplace and equally aggressive shop stewards committees. This brought back memories as trade union representative many years ago. It was always instilled in us on training courses that
“the shop stewards are the backbone of any trade union”
and not the bureaucrats and other highly paid full time officials. Nice one Jimmy. Jack O’Connor was arguing or, more to the point not very convincingly trying to argue, the merits of the latest Croke Park Agreement.
That is a prudent point the Croke Park Agreement. An agreement already existed with at least a year to run. Why then was there a need for another one? Another agreement which will result in job losses in the public service and worse terms and conditions for those who remain! The agreement was offered to the trade unions at the talks, which some unions rightly walked out of including Jimmy Kelly and the UNITE delegation, under the threat of accept these terms or we will “legislate” by the government. What kind of negotiations were going on? The truth is there were no negotiations. The word negotiation has been replaced by the term consultation, negotiations are rapidly becoming a mode of communication from the past. Who is to say that next year the same government will not demand another round of talks with the sole aim of more cuts in the public sector, which would be concurrent with European Union policy. Would Jack O’Connor and the SIPTU representatives still be telling workers this is the best, in fact only, show in town?
What the shop stewards committees should be asking their full time officials is when are you going to get off your knees and fight? Organising for a general strike should have began long ago but did not. Why? If things continue down the avenue of destruction which they are travelling trade unions and trade union agreements in Ireland and Britain in fact European wide are in danger of becoming, similar to the Magna Carta, articles of history.
Workers will be able to tell their children and grandchildren about the days of public sector employment, when everything has been privatised again in line with EU policy, about the days when they worked in the public sector. About how a job for life was virtually guaranteed and a good pension guaranteeing a safe and pleasant retirement were common place. They will also be able to tell their off springs about the day some of their trade union leaders went on a sabbatical to Croke Park and when they came back all these securities had gone! Sweet Dreams!!
IRELAND, EVICTIONS, HISTORY, PRESENT TIMES:
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE!
Historically the ills suffered by the Irish people have been, justifiably, laid firmly and squarely at the feet of British Imperialism. In the six counties this blame can still be afforded to the occupying power, Britain, along with the government of the so called “New World Order” the United States.
Evictions, that is evicting people from their dwellings who can not afford to pay their rent, was common place in Ireland during the 19th century. People such as Captain Charles S. Boycott, among others, acting as agents for, normally absentee British and Irish (Protestant, Catholics and Dissenters could not own land of any size) landlords prowled the land for victims of their predatory trade. This form of private landlordism in Ireland was/is an export from Britain and was/is used by the landowning class ruthlessly!
Charles S. Boycott was the land agent for the Earl of Erne and was himself a small landowner. He managed the Earls large estate on the eastern shore of Lough Mask, Co. Mayo. Lord Erne himself lived on a 31,000 acre estate in Fermanagh and very rarely travelled to Mayo thus leaving the running of the estate to Boycott. On many occasions Boycott certainly let the tenants know where their place lie and was known for his unreasonable approach to matters involving rents, particularly tolerance involving rent arrears. On one occasion, among many, he refused the “fair” rent offered by his tenants.
On this refusal Boycott issued eviction notices to the “offending” tenants which resulted in mass resistance. On September 22nd 1880 Boycott sent his bailiff, guarded by police, to deliver eviction notices to his tenants. This act of, at very best provocation and at worst class war, caused great anger and fury among the tenants who attacked the bailiff and police driving them off the land. The bailiff sought shelter in Lough Mask House.
The local Land league (the Land League was an organisation of resistance formed by, among others, Michael Davitt) decided that this would be their first test of resistance and moved into confrontational mode. The local League of Ballinrobe,
“led by father John O’Malley, decided on an ostracism campaign aimed at Boycott“.
On September 24th all Boycotts servants, farm labourers and other staff members walked out of their employment in protest and in support of the Land league. In Ballinrobe Boycott was refused service in the shops, by the blacksmith and in the laundries. Boycott was desperate and advertised far and wide for assistance to help save his crops.
On November 11th around fifty Orangemen arrived from Ulster for this purpose. They were headed by six Ulster landowners with ten servants in attendance protected by 200 troops of the 19th Hussars, two companies of the army service corps ammunition wagons ambulances etc. To witness this scene the average observer could be forgiven thinking this was a military build up for a major battle in a war with another power!. Such was the length and expense Captain Boycott would go to save the crops of Lord Erne. Such incidents were not confined to Captain Boycott as evictions and retaliation across Ireland were common place during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries under British rule, not only in rural Ireland but, as today, in the cities and towns as well. We must now ask ourselves has anything really changed?
In 1922 the Irish Free State, Saoirstat Eireann, came into being. The expectations of the people, having being conned into accepting this new status quo as opposed to the “Republic” were high. They were expecting governance, by their own elected representatives, would improve their lot considerably. These expectations were highest among the proletariat and rural poor. Social change was now perceived as a right and not an act of benevolence.
How disappointed they were to become over the coming decades. The condition of these people did not improve though that of the new ruling class or bourgeoisie appeared to rocket. The state of the working class and rural poor was much the same as when the British were there. These days when civil strife was on the streets it was soldiers of the new Free State Army which would be called upon to quell any disturbances. Evictions continued against poorer people who could not afford the private landlords rent, just the same as it was before when the British were there!
The conditions of the dwellings of the working class and rural poor were much the same as previous and the rents equally extortionate!! However these poor wretches had no need to worry, because through their poverty and enforced homelessness, they could stare upwards and salute their own flag.
No longer did the “butchers apron”, the Union jack, fly over Dublin Castle or the GPO but the Irish Tricolour. This of course was supposed to make everything all right. After all who needs a roof over their head when they can look with amazement at green letter boxes and a different flag? The same principle applies to those so called loyalists who are presently kicking up a fuss over the flying of the Union Flag in the six counties. Who cares about unemployment, cuts in benefits, the inability to clothe the kids or put decent food on the table, the flag comes first!! Whoop it up for liberty”.
The first government of the Irish Free State was Cumann na nGaedhael (precursor of the modern Fine Gael party). One of the first problems the new government faced was that of the Irish Civil War. This was a conflict between the former united republican forces comprising those who accepted the treaty, and the formation of the Free State which fell far short of the Republic which had been fought for, and those who wished to fight on for the Republic. These events put many decisions and policies the new government may have wished to introduce on hold. However when the Civil War ended in a victory for the pro-treaty forces, with the assistance of British artillery which the republican forces lacked, the poverty, unemployment and evictions continued.
Liam Mellows once wrote,
“Ireland does not want a change of masters, it would be foolish, surely, to free Ireland from foreign tyranny today, and less than twenty years hence to have to free it from domestic tyranny”.
This unfortunately is what happened. The unemployment remained acute and the new Free State governments attitude towards striking workers pursuing better pay and conditions and the ability to pay their rents was not dissimilar to the previous regime. What was lacking from the national struggle was, of course, Socialism. James Connolly warned against such a scenario and as early as 1899 flippantly stated in a biting article:
“Let us free Ireland! The rack renting landlord; is he not also an Irishman, and wherefore should we hate him? Nay let us not speak harshly of our brother - yea even when he raises our rent. Let us free Ireland! The profit grinding capitalist, who robs us of three fourths of the fruit of our labour, who sucks the very marrow out of our bones when we were young, and mayhap a patriot, and wherefore should we think harshly of him? Let us free Ireland says the patriot who won’t touch Socialism. Let us all join together, says he, all classes and creeds. And, say the town workers, after we have crushed the Saxon and freed Ireland, what will we do? Oh, then you can go back to your slums, same as before. Whoop it up for liberty! With the Green Flag floating o’er us and an ever increasing army of unemployed workers walking about under the Green Flag, wishing they had something to eat. Same as now! Whoop it up for liberty”.
This is just a short exert from one of James Connolly’s speeches which are as relavent today as they were at the time of writing. The new Free State government were as guilty of failing to tackle poverty and evictions as their British predecessors, in fact it could be justifiably stated more guilty. More guilty because much more was expected of them by the people. The population did not expect indigenous Irish landlords showing the same inhuman attitudes as their predecessors. Well the new breed of Irish landlords were/are equally as brutal as were their British counterparts. Connolly’s words still ring out in many an evicted former tenants mind.
The Free State is now named the Irish Republic or Republic of Ireland since 1949. Now we are in the 21st century and evictions are still happening on a daily basis, just as they always have! The 9th March edition of the Irish Independent front page headline read:
’Finance chief crass and out of touch over mortgages’.
The reader could be forgiven thinking this was the twenty six counties Minister For Finance but they would be wrong. The finance chief referred to, was Secretary General John Moran, a mandarin in the Civil Service, arguably the real, unelected government of any Liberal Democracy along with permanent parliamentary secretaries. The clue is in the name, permanent, people who are always there irrespective of which particular party holds the superficial office of government!
The newspaper continued
“Mr Moran said homeowners could not expect the taxpayer to subsidise them to remain in a house ‘that is beyond their reach’ “
In other words if they can’t pay evict them, see any parallels? The lead article continued :
’The senior civil servant’s testimony to the Dail Public accounts Committee annoyed both Fine Gael and Labour Party ministers as it left the wrong impression with homeowners and the banks’.
Actually it left the correct impression because it is what the government want without losing votes. Therefore the “civil servants testimony” could not cost John Moran votes because he and other people like him are not elected. They just strongly advise on decision making! The government wish people to be under the impression that “repossessions”, a modern name for evictions, “should be a last resort”.
Perhaps they are, but it did not prevent the banks offering mortgages to people who never stood a chance of paying them off. Just because a person or persons are called “homeowners” it does not mean they own their own home as many are finding out!! The fancy name is merely a posh sounding pseudo for tenant, except unlike their corporation counterparts, in the tenancy sense, if they miss a payment eviction notices, often without warning, will ensue. Perhaps Mr Moran would like to see hundreds of Captain Boycotts rampaging around the state kicking doors down and forcibly evicting people. Well there are plenty of Irish debt collectors and bailiffs who are more than happy to oblige, just give them the nod and offer a bounty!
Remember the words of James Connolly back in 1899, see the similarities with 2013? So since the partial independence, and bourgeois independence at that, was achieved in 1921-22 what, apart from the flag and letter boxes, has really changed? Evictions are still going on, under the stewardship of an Irish government. The Brits and their Westminster domination over the six counties may well be responsible for the ills of the working class in that part of the country but, in fairness, would an Irish administration be any better? Another of James Connolly’s quotes
“you can remove the English army from Ireland, hoist the Green flag over Dublin Castle unless you build the republic on socialist lines your efforts will be in vain”.
THE EUROPEAN UNION, PERFECT COMPETITION: A HYPOCRISY
The idea of the modern European Union is to strengthen and defend the interests of European capitalism and, in particular, the larger echelons of the European bourgeoisie. The likes of Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ryan Air fits comfortably into this category, as does the likes of Denis O’Brien, Tony O’Reilly to name but a handful.
Mr O’Leary is very often harping on about the virtues of “competition”, bringing down prices for the consumer and, what he perceives as, improving services. However if Michael O’Leary does not get his way he resorts to the threat
“it is the customer who will have to pay more”,
a kind of mass blackmail. He recently got a knock back surprisingly enough from the European Union via the European Commission regarding his latest bid to take over Aer Lingus, something he appears hell bent on getting. O’Leary had some cock-eyed idea to subsidise a relatively unknown small carrier, the British owned Flybe, by Ryan Air, keeping its trade name and thus using it to convince regulators that it can provide competition to the routes Ryan Air would have acquired through their purchase of Aer Lingus. This was a step too far even for the European Commission as this small company would have the same company structures as the subsidisers and would, to all intents and purposes, be part of the same company due to these subsidies under a different trade name.
Some years ago I was travelling up to Dublin from the country and stopped off for a pint. Reading the Irish Independent I was surprised, but not astonished, to read of Michael O’Leary’s criticism of competition. He stated
’there is too much competition about’
referring to small airline companies who he, O’Leary, believed should go to the wall. One minute the man is singing the praises of competition, often referred to as “perfect competition” (Economics: David Begg, Stanley Ficher and Rudiger Dornbusch: P. 133) and in the next instance “there is too much of this “competition”.
What it would appear O’Leary really means is that Ryan Air or, more to the point Michael O‘Leary, should swallow up all these small companies and create a private monopoly. This private monopoly would increase the profits of Ryan Air and the salary of Michael O’Leary. It would also make many aviation workers unemployed increasing the “reserve army of labour” (Marx) in that particular industry, thus suppressing wages of those still in employment. In fact for those in employment so called “perfect competition” hangs like the Grim Reaper and the spectre of unemployment over their heads. Workers are competing one another out of a job for the benefit of the capitalist class and their redundant political and economic system.
Michael O’Leary is not alone in this crusade to maximise profits across the European Union. The object appears to be a huge “reserve army of labour” thus suppressing wages and increasing profits. Many of the smaller companies in this sea of sharks will go under, though their former owners will never be poor unless they break the bourgeois rule book, and a few mega firms will have monopolies in their various fields. The Aviation industry and Michael O’Leary are just one stark example.
However O’Leary though big in Irish terms is above mediocre though not mega by European wide standards. He must be careful not to become a victim of his own execution squad! The question which must be asked is why are state run monopolies, making a small profit or even non-profit making but very good providers of goods and services not allowed under EU rules to hold a monopoly, yet private profit making inferior providers are? Any further nationalisation of industries is against European rules, for example if a British government decided to re-nationalise the railways they could well find themselves in trouble with the European Union. The EU is a united front of European capitalism and a club for the same capitalists. If its good for this class of parasites why not the working class and neo-working class?
Just like the European bourgeoisie the proletariat of the same land mass should be organising along similar class lines. An injury to one is an injury to all should be our motto and the goal a Union of European Socialist Republics under workers control. As capitalism is no longer the preserve of any individual nation state, and in Irelands case this stage has yet to be completed certainly as a 32 county unit,, but the property of the European bourgeoisie. The modern owners of the means of production, distribution and exchange have spread their wings and are now European and global entities.
The term “internationalism” once the preserve of the various “international socialist” movements of the proletariat applies in these days of postmodernism equally to the international bourgeoisie, which the European branch is a significant component part. Equally a response to this widening of capitalism away from the traditional nation states to a global concept would probably need a global response.
Such a response from those “parties” organisations trade unions or pressure groups which claim to want an end to the capitalist system must begin, if ever, in one country. For example today in Ireland we have many trans-national corporations operating. The profit from these organisations is factored into the Gross National Produce (GNP) figures of the sending country and not the Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) calculations of Ireland. It is primarily (the largest single group) Irish labour power, along with workers from other countries, which is creating the wealth, as is the case with any host countries workers labour power, but the rewards are going elsewhere.
Once “perfect competition” is eliminated these large companies, along with domestic conglomerates, will have the monopoly. All for the profits, mega profits, will belong to a few hundred individuals. An attack on a worker employed by one of these firms in Ireland should be regarded as an attack on the entire workforce of that company irrespective of the country it is based in. The same must apply to any mistreatment of a worker in, for example, Kenya for the same company. An injury to one is an injury to all.
As capitalism increases its internationalism so too must the workers movements. No longer listen to the bullshit about “we must be competitive” often orated by government and IBEC spokespersons, remember their equivalent in other countries are telling the workforce there exactly the same. It is divide and rule, competing each other out of work to increase the profits of the minority class.
Back to our indigenous brigand Mr O’Leary, the champion of “perfect competition”, who perhaps dreams one day of ruling the sky’s like some giant Condor! Unfortunately Mr O’Leary is likely to find an even bigger predator from a larger country, for example the USA or China (which is, if it ever was, no longer communist). However watch O’Leary because he is just about shrewd enough to grab himself a place on the board of one of these mega conglomerates. This would, if it were to happen, occur after he has made all of Ryan Airs staff unemployed. It should be remembered Mr O’Leary is one of a number of people who pretend to believe in one thing, in this case “perfect competition”, while having an ulterior motive of achieving something else at the expense of thousands of others.
How can the working class fight against this? Well one thing is for certain voting in a party who promises the world in opposition and find out that in office their hands are tied wont change much. Read Harold Wilson’s memoirs. Very well meaning in opposition but toothless in government.
This is because the present form of government in any Liberal Democracy is there to govern the interests and on behalf of the bourgeoisie. This class of people are now the ruling class of Europe and the globe. As capitalism expands so too do its defence mechanisms, hence the idea of a European Army and Europol (European Police Force) and on a global scale Interpol. These are all means of control if needed which, albeit, a last resort would be used ( see A descriptive History Of The Irish Citizen Army: Epilogue by Kevin Morley).
Capitalism exploits all of us and no longer recognises national borders. The technological revolution has superseded the Industrial variant and advancements in Information Technology have generally, though not exclusively replaced the old manual and craft forms of industry. However the means of production, distribution and exchange, computers and various forms of digital mechanisms along with the traditional forms are still in private hands.
It is still the historical role of the proletariat, with the new forms of industry often referred to as the “neo-proletariat”, to seize these means of production and put them to use for the benefit of all. We can not allow the likes of Michael O’Leary to continue peddling misleading information regards “perfect competition” when he really means the opposite and other lies designed to confuse the workers. The question is: how do we seize the means of production, distribution and exchange as a class? Perhaps a general strike may be the starting point!