Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Future of the Left in Ireland

This month (October) saw the annual Peadar O'Donnell Weekend held in Dungloe, County Donegal.

Peadar O'Donnell, born in 1893, was a native of Dungloe and, in his formative years, saw the injustices and hardships of the time, leading him, at an early age, to become a social and political thinker.

Trained as a teacher, O'Donnell is more widely known today for his extensive literary accomplishments. But he was also an Irish republican activist, trade union leader and a socialist, following the ideology of James Connolly, and believed social revolution was the way forward for a strong independent Ireland.

The Peadar O'Donnell weekend and many who wish to discuss his life and times may now concentrate more on O'Donnell's writings, but, this year, a public debate was held entitled 'The Future of the Left in Ireland'. The debating panel was made up of political parties of the left, including éirígí, which was represented by party spokesperson Daithí Mac An Mháistír.

The general consensus of the panel was that the political right, regardless of which party flag they stood under, were united in doing as much as they could to undermine the left and with that, working people in general. This was no more evident than with the antics of Fianna Fáil, The Green Party, Fine Gael and Labour sidling up to each other to unite against the electorate in the Twenty-Six Counties and undemocratically force them back to the polls in the Lisbon 2 referendum. With lies and scare tactics they hoodwinked the electorate to vote yes, all in an effort to shore up the capitalist system of the EU.

These parties, some of who claim to be of the left, have been complicit in, if not directly responsible for, cuts in health and education, in farming and fishing and have connived at job losses nation wide. The unemployment figure in the Twenty-Six Counties is now heading towards 15%. Cuts are carried out by politicians and bureaucrats who do their best to secure their own jobs and exorbitant wages. Politicians who have claimed ridiculous expenses for lavish lifestyles paid for by the tax payer are let off the hook. All these actions are far from any notion of an egalitarian society.

It was noted by one of the panelists that the very fact that the debate saw over 100 people crammed into an upstairs room in a converted church at lunchtime on a Sunday to debate and discuss the politics of the left was such a change from what Ireland once was and was also indicative of the situation the country was now in.

Speaking during the event, éirígí spokesperson Mac An Mháistír said that the fundamental question that had to be asked of the left is what it is to be socialist and what it is those on the left have to do to see socialist thinking win out over the capitalist system.

He said that we must define our socialism and that Ireland could not be equal or have social justice without a rejection of capitalism, that we must reject the idea of the exploitation of the labour of people. Without the rejection of the idea of people having to work long hours 7 days a week but yet not being able to provide adequately for their families and having no prospect of sustainable employment, the capitalist system would continue to thrive.

Mac An Mháistír continued that, as a teacher, he noticed a difference in the youth in education in that they are now much more aware of the political system and are now asking questions and looking for answers to today’s inequalities and enquiring into who people such as Karl Marx were and what their political ideologies were. They are using these ideologies to analyse today’s society and finding in them an understanding. All of which could bode well for the future.

The question posed by Mac An Mháistír of what should be the direction of modern day Ireland's political left was echoed both from other panel members and those in the audience. This is only a question that can be answered by the people of the Irish nation.

Certainly, it is incumbent upon all of the leftist parties in Ireland to work together to find a common political direction that benefits people best. But the people of the nation must also use their power, on the streets, in the workplace and in the polls, to make a change for the better. Only then will we see an end to the corrupt and dictatorial politics of the right and a fairer, just and more economically stable Ireland.

We have much to do. As Peadar O'Donnell once said, "Let us fling ourselves among the most fervent of social and economic revolutionists. Let us enlist the labour world in our struggle with our tyrannical masters."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ICTU protest against cuts

Protest against pay and spending cuts, organised by ICTU. Friday 6th November. Assemble at The Blue Lagoon, Riverside, Sligo, at 2.30pm.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Basque Fight is a European Fight

Arnaldo OtegiThe arrest in the past two weeks of Arnaldo Otegi and nine of his comrades from the ‘outlawed’ Batasuna party and the pro-independence trade union LAB is another sign of the oppressive methods being employed the Spanish government to stamp out the Basque nationalist left.

Batasuna has been deemed banned by the Spanish state since 2002 when a law was passed which stated “that under certain conditions if a party supported terrorism it could be outlawed”. The law itself is so open-ended that any party could be banned, even if its so-called support for ‘terrorism’ was as slight as putting money in a collection box for political prisoners.

The raids on LAB’s offices and the arrests of its members outraged trade unionists across the Basque Country and Europe.

In response, around 40,000 people rallied in Donostia/San Sebastián last Saturday [October 17] in a demonstration that was supported by the six major trade unions in the Basque Country and several political parties.

The European Union, the US administration, the establishment press and the other leading lights of the ‘free’ world have so far failed mention the attack on democracy in the Basque Country.

Indeed, the Spanish Government is not carrying out these oppressive actions in isolation. In response to the repression, Batasuna lawyers brought an action before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) challenging the Spanish government’s right to outlaw it and other parties with similar political outlooks. In July 2009, the ECHR gave its ruling: “Disbanding the parties was a response to a pressing social need and that as such the existence of these parties was a threat to Democracy and that these parties contradicted the concept of a democratic society.”

Rally in Donostia against the arrestsThe ruling is a disaster for democracy across Europe as any government with a “pressing social need” could ban any party which is a threat to the status quo.

The plight of Batasuna and the other pro-independence Basque groups can be compared with that of the British National Party, which is allowed to stand in elections and take their seats in whatever assembly they are elected to, even though they openly espouse racial hatred and fascistic beliefs. This week, the BNP appeared on BBC, while, in another part of the EU, Batasuna’s leaders languished in prison cells for nothing more than demanding national independence.

What should be worrying for all political activists is that what is happening in the Basque Country could happen anywhere in the EU under the new rules of ‘democracy’ as laid down by the ECHR judgment of July 2009.

Basque activists in trade unions, political parties, youth groups and social movements are fighting a battle that we might all have to fight some day; a fight that has to be won or our rights as people to choose who we wish to govern us will be dead and buried with no chance of resurrection.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Protecting the Fat Cats

John and BrianThe revised programme for government in the Twenty-Six Counties was supported by an overwhelming majority of Green Party members when put to a vote at that party’s recent special conference.

Green Party members dutifully signed up to a programme that rehashes much of the original programme agreed over two years ago but which offers nothing to the thousands who have lost their jobs over the last 12 months and face losing their homes.

The truth is the Greens need this government to serve out its full term; otherwise they face the same fate as Fianna Fáil’s former junior coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats. Green Party members signed up for a deal that might offer their party a temporary stay of execution, but which condemns workers and their communities deeper into poverty.

The programme is strong on aspiration and short on detail. According to the opening lines of the agreement: “this is an unparalleled programme of reform in all areas of Government activity – in politics, economics and across our society. We will return this economy to a position of sustainable recovery. Never again will we find ourselves overly reliant on one sector or stream of revenue.”

Fine words, but they are utterly meaningless. If the Dublin government did not intend to once again attach our future to the vagary of the property market why, then, is €54 billion of tax-payers’ money being pumped into NAMA?

That there exists in the Twenty-Six Counties a deluded, deceitful and utterly incompetent government was reaffirmed just days after the publication of this document when minister of finance Brian Lenihan, with a straight face, announced in Leinster House that NAMA will, in fact, turn a profit of €5 billion.

Loans being taken on by NAMA include the former site of the Irish Glass Bottle factory in Ringsend, Dublin, bought at the height of the property madness by Bernard McNamara, a former Fianna Fáil councillor and a regular at Fianna Fáil’s annual Galway tent jamboree, for €413 million. Last week, it was valued at €60 million, representing an 85 per cent drop in value. In these circumstances, it is difficult to see how Lenihan came to his conclusion.

Bertie and BernardThat such a vast sum of tax-payers’ money is being gambled on the property market suggests that, far from learning any lessons of the Celtic Tiger property-fest, the Twenty-Six County government is intent on hitching the future of the economy inextricably to the private property market.

In relation to taxation, the programme states that “taxation will be simpler, fairer and have a redistributive effect”. There is no detail as to how it will, in future, be fairer and redistributive.

After all, Dublin government spokespeople have been at pains to emphasise that the focus of the forthcoming December budget will be cuts to public services rather than an increase in taxes. This programme confirms that position and will obviously be of some comfort to the coalition’s allies in IBEC.

Indeed, egalitarian speak of redistribution of wealth is nullified just a couple of pages later. The business class will be content to read that their interests are being protected with a guarantee that the shockingly low level of taxation will be maintained: “the multinational community will continue to be incentivised to intensify innovative, high-value activity and technological convergence which will provide quality jobs. We recognise the vital role played by low taxes in our economic success. We guarantee that the 12.5% rate of corporation tax will remain.”

So, while the ordinary tax payer and those reliant on public services are left wondering how they will cope come December when Lenihan intends taking a hatchet to the public sector, the business class is given absolute guarantees about taxation rates. At a Dublin Chamber of Commerce event last Thursday [October 15], Lenihan was the main guest and used the occasion to send a message to the wider public that further pain lies ahead. There is little comfort to be taken from his assertion that “we are all in this together”.

Another guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce dinner was tax exile Denis O’Brien, a man who certainly won’t be making any contribution to the common good. O’Brien bemoaned the media treatment of Dublin government ministers who had been exposed for their profligate use of tax-payers’ money.

Denis O'BrienThe resignation of John O’Donoghue upset the cosy boys’ network that has existed for so long in Leinster House; it made O’Brien a tad queasy; it was, he suggested, like “witnessing human hare coursing”. That government ministers have been belatedly held to account for their extravagant expenses offends O’Brien’s sensibilities. Considering the fact that he pays no income tax in the Twenty-Six County state, it is little wonder he’s not too bothered how it is spent.

O’Brien also likes to avail of the 12.5 per cent corporate tax on offer in the Twenty-Six Counties. His aircraft leasing company, Aergo, which has a head office address in Dublin but actually operates in Johannesburg, Chile and Nairobi, last week filed after-tax profits of US$15 million (€10 million; £9.1 million). Essentially, Aergo is a shelf company.

The purpose of this little arrangement is so that he can avail of the ridiculously low level of corporation tax in the Twenty-Six Counties. Tax on profits in the United States is set at 35 per cent; this is almost three times the 12.5 per cent rate in the Twenty-Six Counties.

O’Brien is not alone in his astounding arrogance; it seems to be a particular trait amongst Ireland’s ruling class. The CEO of the Health Service Executive, Brendan Drumm, pocketed a bonus of €70,000 (£63,775), which is almost twice the average wage. He is paid an annual salary in excess of €300,000 (£273,355). Meanwhile, the health service remains chronically under-funded and beds in Crumlin Children’s hospital are being closed.

Prior to their elevation to the lofty heights of government, the Greens used to be stringent in the condemnation of the inequalities in the Twenty-Six Counties. Those inequalities were a direct result of the low tax system in the state. One doesn’t have to be an economist to figure out that low taxes mean less money for public services. Low tax on profits, coupled with ‘wage restraint’ for workers, means greater wealth inequality.

Over the course of the Celtic Tiger, company profits far outstripped any rise in wages. Public spending in Twenty-Six Counties lagged far behind other EU states. In 2007, public spending was just 26 per cent of GDP; the United States, a country hardly renowned for its comprehensive provision of services, has, over the last 20 years, spent between 34 and 38 per cent. Bizarrely, the ‘new’ Programme for Government “recognises the vital role played by low taxes in our economic success”. Those who benefited from the low tax regime are the same people who are benefiting from the NAMA bail out and fat cat tax exiles such as Denis O’Brien.

Only if you can afford itAnother proposal cooked up by the Fianna Fáil/Green alliance is the imposition of domestic water charges. This is simply another form of regressive taxation that does absolutely nothing to preserve water. Domestic users account for just 10 per cent of total water usage in the Twenty-Six Counties and leakage from old pipes continues to be a considerable problem. While the Greens are proposing to install water meters in every house in the state, the failure of their Fianna Fáil partners to insist on the installation of dual flush toilets during the house building frenzy means huge water wastage.

Households in the Twenty-Six Counties already pay for the provision of essential services such as water and sanitation through income tax. Imposing an additional domestic water charge further places the tax burden upon those least able to pay. The Water Services Act 2007 already makes provision for the private sector in the delivery of water services. During the course of the debate on the Act, the then minister of the environment Dick Roche denied that the long-term purpose of the Act was to facilitate the introduction of domestic water charges: “I stress that the Bill before the House does not provide for or facilitate the re-introduction of domestic water charges,” he said.

During the course of the debate Roche had his George Bush Snr ‘read my lips’ moment when he asserted, “I repeat that the Bill is not a Trojan horse for domestic charges.” We have learned to treat the promises of Fianna Fáil Ministers with the contempt they deserve. It is likely that the long term plan is to privatise the service. For all of these reasons, attempts to impose water charges must be vigorously opposed.

The ‘new’ programme for government is simply more of the same. Workers are being forced to take the burden so that people like Denis O’Brien can continue to live in their tax exile status and avail of low corporate taxation. Trade unions have called a day of action for November 6. A maximum turn-out is essential. Enough is enough.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cutbacks to essential health services as Drumm receives €70,000 bonus

Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey has described as "scandalous" revelations that the Health Service Executive (HSE) are to pay out a €70,000 bonus to its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Manorhamilton native Professor Brendan Drumm. Casey said it was an "insult" to the patients and over-worked front line staff in our hospitals and other areas of the health services who have suffered as a result of cutbacks imposed by Professor Drumm and the HSE.

Casey was speaking as the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) met with management at Sligo General Hospital on thursday (Oct 15) over continuing bed closures and proposed job losses at the facility. The INO have expressed their concerns over the future sustainability of the hospital as a result of current and proposed cutbacks.

Casey said: "It is outrageous that the HSE and their political masters feel that such as bonus is deserved at a time when they are imposing severe cutbacks in essential front line services and staff. Our local hospitals, including Sligo General and Our Lady's in Manorhamilton, are being decimated by these very same people."

He added: "In recent times we have seen vital medical services being downgraded and withdrawn. These include the closure of an orthopaedic ward as well as Sligo's Stroke unit, despite HSE denials, and the removal of our much needed cancer care services to Galway. Nurses and other front line staff are losing their jobs in significant numbers causing huge concern for staffing levels and the impact that this will have on patient safety in our hospitals."

"According to the nursing unions, more than seventy beds have already been removed from Sligo General so far this year. With more staff cuts planned by the HSE, the reality is that the hospital will see a further reduction in the services it provides to the public, including the possibility of further ward closures.”

"What we are witnessing is the health and well-being of people being made to suffer to pay for the incompetence of the HSE and the greed of the politicians, developers and bankers that squandered the wealth of the Celtic Tiger. éirígí insist that not only must Professor Drumm not receive this unjustifiable bonus but that the HSE reverse the cutbacks and actually upgrade the essential services in our hospitals. They must also abandon completely their failed policies of a two–tier system of medical apartheid and privatisation of health care, all of which is based on a failed right wing ideology."

He concluded: "Their system has failed but there is a clear, workable and just alternative to ward closures, lengthy waiting lists, private hospitals on public land and excessive charges. éirígí believe what is now needed more than ever is the building of a first class health service that is truly free and equal, based solely on medical need and not ability to pay. A world class health service for all. The public deserve no less."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Free the Miami 5

A contingent of 15 éirígí activists were among those who gathered at the US embassy in Dublin on Monday [October 12] to call for the release of the Miami 5.

The five Cuban patriots have been unjustly imprisoned in the USA since 2001 as a result of their activities in disrupting right-wing terrorist plots against Cuba.

Speaking at the demonstration, éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac an Mháistír extended solidarity greetings from the party to Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, who are doing four life sentences and 75 years collectively.

Free the Cuban Five

Daithí said: “The Miami 5 are guilty of no crime, other than that of protecting their country from a terrorist attack, they should be released immediately and be allowed to return to Cuba.

“We are all aware of the hypocrisy and lies surrounding the charges they were convicted of 11 years ago. What we need to keep in mind is the real reason why the US administration has persecuted them as it has. It is the very same reason that the US has persecuted their homeland for the last 50 years.

“Cubans themselves are their own most eloquent and passionate defenders. The words of Frank Josué Solar Cabrales epitomises the magnitude of what the Miami 5 were intent on defending when they embarked upon their mission. He wrote of how: ‘the spirit of a whole epoch palpitates in the Cuban Revolution. Much of the destiny of humanity will depend in forthcoming years on the outcome of the Cuban Revolution. Today, capitalist prehistory not only signifies backwardness, servitude, and abysmal inequalities. Its levels of consumption, wastefulness, of irrational exploitation of natural resources, of aggression against the environment, have brought us all to a point which has put the very survival of the human species in danger’.

“What is at stake with the advance or backward movement of this revolutionary process is something as serious as our very own existence.”

Free the Miami 5

Daithí continued: “The very permanence of the Cuban Revolution signifies an enormous impulse to those who rebel, to those who confront domination, to revolutionary struggles across the globe, to the dream of making this world of ours better.

“The dream of making this world of ours better, and of defending that idea from those who would want to bomb it out of existence, is the real reason why the Miami 5 continue to languish in US prisons. In this context, their incarceration must be understood as a crime of epic proportions against the very notion of justice.

“The ethics and morality at the very heart of the Cuban revolution have already absolved the Miami 5. Let us hope it is not too long before the land of supposed liberty and justice finds it within itself to do likewise.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Greens vote to prop up Fianna Fáil a "shameful" decision

Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey has slammed Green Party members for voting on Saturday to prevent the collapse of the Fianna Fáil led administration. He described their decision to continue to prop up Fianna Fáil in government, to support the introduction of NAMA and to drop demands for no reduction in social welfare payments as "shameful".

Casey said: "This Fianna Fáil led administration has presided over the economic collapse of this state. As a result of their policies, almost half a million people here are now unemployed. They have imposed savage cutbacks in essential health and education services as well as introducing pay cuts and levies which have severely impacted on the living standards of low paid workers in particular."

He added: "That Green party members voted to continue propping up Fianna Fáil in government is appalling. Particularly shameful is the Greens' decision to back the bail out of developers and bankers through NAMA at the same time as they dropped their demand that there be no cuts in social welfare payments. Once again the scene is set for workers, particularly low paid workers and social welfare receipients, to pay for the economic crisis created by the political classes in leinster House and their banking and developer cronies."

"Workers and social welfare recipients did not create this crisis and cannot afford to pay for it. Yet the Greens have now given the green light to this administration to do precisely that, to scapegoat workers and the less well off in society and to punish them for the greed and incompetence of the political and business class."

Casey concluded: "Green party members had a golden opportunity on Saturday to bring to an end, one of the worst administrations in the history of this state. Shamefully they put their own political self interest before the needs of people of this state. I am now calling on Green party members here in Sligo and Leitrim to publicly explain how they can support this decision to remain propping up Fianna Fáil, to support NAMA and to drop demands for no cuts in social welfare."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lisbon – Illusion & Reality

Brian CowenAn indication of the power of the corporate state in the Twenty-Six Counties was revealed over the course of the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign.

The Treaty was passed at the second time of asking with 67 per cent in favour, while 33 per cent voted against, representing a 20 per cent swing from 2008 when 53 per cent of the electorate rejected Lisbon 1.

Just two constituencies voted No to the Treaty; Donegal North East and Donegal South West. All 12 Dublin constituencies returned a Yes vote, with Dún Laoghaire and Dublin South voting 81 per cent in favour. The highest No vote in the capital was recorded in Dublin North West, which was divided 55-45 per cent in favour. Tally returns indicated a strong No vote in working class areas of the city. Once again, workers’ rights were prominent amongst the issues of concern to voters, particularly in working class communities.

With a budget of over €5 million (£4.7 million); four of the five political parties in Leinster House backing the Treaty; a heavily biased media; the public support and finances of the business class; a Referendum Commission that dispensed with any semblance of impartiality; a trade union leadership that was content to play the government tune and a Yes campaign that served on the one hand to tap into genuine fears about job prospects and, on the other, to proclaim Lisbon’s powers of economic recovery; it was not all that surprising the Treaty was carried with a comfortable majority.

Given that the ‘right’ result was delivered, the Dublin government will have no difficulty accepting this particular referendum result. In matters pertaining to the European Union, democracy only counts when the people agree with the establishment. A year ago, we were told that the people didn’t have sufficient information on the Treaty and could not possibly have made an informed decision. It is unclear, given that, during the course of the campaign, the Yes side wanted to discuss just about everything else bar what was actually in the Treaty, how much better informed voters were this time around. The Yes campaign had a simple but effective message: ‘Vote for this, or the country sinks’.

Uncle EUThroughout the course of the campaign, there was a mood of both fear and anger amongst voters. Anger at being asked to vote for a second time on a Treaty soundly rejected just a year ago and anger at government bailouts to bankers and developers while nothing is done to protect or create jobs. However, coupled with this anger was genuine fear in relation to the jobs catastrophe. In May 2008, during the first Lisbon Treaty campaign, there were 205,900 people in the Twenty-Six Counties on the live register. In just over 12 months, an additional 224,000 people have lost their jobs as unemployment soared to 429,400. A steady diet of news stories predicting economic collapse in the event of a No vote and the wallpapering of streets with posters hailing ‘Yes for Recovery and Yes to Jobs’ convinced many to swing from the No to the Yes side.

Since the announcement of the result of the Lisbon Treaty, the posters proclaiming that a Yes vote would create jobs and put the Twenty-Six County state on the road to economic recovery have been disappearing fast; almost as quickly as announcements of savage job cuts have been landing on news desks around the country.

In a seven-day period after the Lisbon result was declared, over 1,000 jobs cuts were announced in different sectors across the state: 670 jobs at Aer Lingus; 200 jobs at Linen Supply; 60 jobs at Moffat Engineering in Dundalk; 30 jobs at Condron Concrete in Tullamore; 65 jobs at GE Money in Shannon and Dublin and 80 jobs at Tecnotree telecommunications company in Clare. Meanwhile, O’Brien’s sandwich chain, with 800 employees, has gone into liquidation.

Serious questions must be asked in relation to the timing of the announcement of job losses at Aer Lingus. The Dublin government holds a 25 per cent stake in the company. Public acknowledgement of such massive jobs losses could have seriously undermined the government’s case during the referendum campaign and put the SIPTU leadership under pressure to withdraw their support. The sight of the vulture-like Michael O’Leary, who put €500,000 (£468,000) of Ryanair’s money into supporting the Yes campaign, waiting in the wings to pick over the carcass of Aer Lingus may have been too much for many workers to stomach.

The role of the trade union leadership in securing a Yes vote, thereby saving the Dublin government from collapse, was shameful. Jack O’Connor, president of SIPTU, addressed delegates at the union’s annual conference last week and denounced the Thatcherite policies of the coalition government as they slash their way through the public services while simultaneously conferring largesse upon the banks.

Jack O'ConnorOf course, O’Connor is correct in his critique of government policy; however, a flick through the admittedly dense and at times complex Lisbon Treaty would have enlightened him that this was not a document written in the interests of workers or in defence of public services. The question is why did he and the leadership of the trade union movement offer the government a life line and call on workers to support a treaty that gives a legal framework to the race to the bottom? The fig leaf of the charter of fundamental rights was erroneously offered as evidence of the protection workers would receive in a post-Lisbon world. SIPTU members locked out of their jobs at Dublin Port for the last three months and still awaiting the leadership of their union to initiate a campaign of support can take little comfort.

In the course of his address to SIPTU delegates, O’Connor also took the opportunity to castigate social partnership as a ‘myth’. While, again, his analysis is correct, it has come a little late.

For the last 20 years, social partnership was treated by the Dublin government and the trade union leadership as the Holy Grail. To criticise social partnership was considered sacrilege.

Social partnership was premised on tax cuts in return for ‘wage restraint’ and an input from trade unions and other social partners into social and economic policy issues. Over the course of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, profits soared at a rate that far outstripped wage increases. Public spending lagged well behind most other EU states. Significant sections of the public service were privatised while banks and developers dictated economic policy. While all of this was happening, the trade union leadership was telling workers that ‘partnership’ was the ‘only show in town’. Meanwhile, trade union leaders got their ample posteriors appointed onto state boards.

What exactly they were doing on these state boards is not entirely clear. A case in point is the role of IMPACT general secretary Peter McLoone, who was appointed chair of the board of FÁS in 2006. He had former SIPTU president Des Geraghty there for company. Neither of them cried foul as the FÁS board presided over a regime that allowed senior executives to use tax-payers’ money like it was their personal bank account. They were equally silent when its director general Rody Molloy was rewarded with a pension worth €111,000 (£104,000) a year, a tax-free lump sum of €333,732 (£312,020), and a taxable ex-gratia payment of €111,243 (£104,106). He also got to keep the company car. It seems that, for some within the trade union leadership, the lines have become blurred as to whose interests they are supposed to represent.

Pat CoxDuring the course of the referendum campaign, ICTU general secretary and Central Bank director David Begg stood shoulder to shoulder with Peter Sutherland, chairman of BP and Goldman Sachs, Jim O’Hara, CEO of Intel, and Harry Crosbie, one of the state’s biggest property speculators, as ‘patrons’ of the ‘Ireland for Europe’ group. This is the organisation that was jointly headed by former Progressive Democrat TD Pat Cox and Ireland’s chief Europhile Brigid Laffan.

One would find it difficult to select such a quintessential bunch of Thatcherites than this lot. They formed part of what has been erroneously described as ‘civil society’ groups. The media gave the impression that these supposedly non-political civil society groups were akin to the local parish committee banding together to engage in the democratic process. There aren’t too many parish committees that could rustle up €1 million (£935,000) as ‘Ireland for Europe’ did to engage in the ‘democratic process’.

Another of the mythical civil society groups that emerged during the campaign was ‘Women for Europe’, headed by Olive Braiden, who was one of Fianna Fáil’s 1994 EU Parliament candidates and who has spent most of her life in government appointed jobs.

This ‘independent civic minded’ group listed its campaign headquarters as 84-86 Lower Baggot Street. This, co-incidentally enough, is home to the employers’ group.

Fianna Fáil also played a role in the establishment and running of ‘We Belong’, which was fronted by the party’s former press director Olivia Buckley. Not to be outdone, Earnest Enda’s Baby Blueshirts were well represented in the Generation Yes outfit, which claimed “not only will we argue for a ‘yes’ vote, but we will explain clearly and simply, what exactly the Treaty does”. It went on to argue that the Lisbon Treaty would ensure an end to human trafficking. By not accepting Lisbon, we apparently would be guilty of standing by and doing nothing. A particularly mortifying element of its campaign was the sight of young women sporting t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘We only kiss boys who vote Yes’.

Big business interests played their part too.

IBEC plastered the state with posters. ‘Yes to Jobs’ they proclaimed. Curiously enough, there weren’t too many job cuts announced during the course of the campaign. Less than a week after a Yes vote was secured, normal service has resumed and over a thousand workers have been told they no longer have jobs.

Michael O'LearyRyanair and Intel, both of whom refuse to recognise trade unions, ploughed €1 million (£935,000) into the campaign. IBEC were also keen for employers to ensure that companies facilitated workers in exercising the franchise and sent a memo to companies suggesting they be ‘flexible’ in their approach on polling day. Emails were sent to workers reminding them of the ‘benefits’ of voting Yes. Within two days of the passing of the referendum, IBEC hopped out a press statement calling for the suspension of the state wide wage agreement reached last year and looking for a pay freeze until 2011.

So the referendum has been lost, the European Union elite hurtles on to its capitalist dreamland and, soon, Tony Blair, a ‘man of peace’ according to Brian Cowen, will be president of the EU. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan would undoubtedly beg to differ. Not surprisingly, Cowen neglected to mention during the course of the campaign that he intended giving Blair his full backing for president. Either way, the people of Europe will have no say in who is elevated to this powerful position that has a central input into EU foreign policy. It is unclear whether the Czech president will sign the Treaty as recommended by that country’s constitutional court.

What is absolutely clear is that the passage of the Lisbon Treaty will deliver neither jobs nor economic recovery. It will offer nothing to those currently being thrown on to the dole queue. It will give no protection to the Dublin Port workers or the Coca Cola workers locked out of their employment.

What it will do is speed up the process of privatisation of public services and diminish our ability to decide our own economic future. However, with the passage of Lisbon the corporate state has won but a short-term victory. A third of the electorate stood firm in the face of the lies and threats of the Yes campaign.

Given that the majority of the establishment parties supported the Treaty, that is a significant proportion of the population that lacks a political voice. Major battles lie ahead over the coming months. The working class faces an onslaught over coming months as government and bosses seek to drive home its perceived advantage in getting Lisbon through. The trade union leadership has failed to defend the interests of the working class preferring instead to embrace the political establishment. What is required is the building of a new movement of progressive forces comprising republicans and socialists ready to take on the battle and provide the alternative.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lisbon result - Good news for Big business, bad news for workers

Sligo éirígí activist Gerry Casey has expressed his disappointment at the Lisbon Treaty referendum outcome saying that the Fianna Fáil led administration will take it as a green light for intensifying their ongoing attacks on workers rights and living standards. He also claimed that the referendum campaign has exposed the myth that Fine Gael or Labour presented an alternative to Fianna Fáil when it comes to the economy and the cutbacks being imposed on the people of this state.

Casey said: "This result is good news for big business and the political elite but more bad news for workers and those less well off in our society. This result gives a green light to the Fianna Fáil led administration to continue and intensify their attacks on workers pay and employment conditions. It gives them a green light to proceed with the bail out of the banks and developers, through NAMA, while they impose further cutbacks in social welfare and essential public services such as health and education."

In relation to Fine Gael and Labour support for Lisbon and the economic policies enshrined within the Treaty, Casey said: "Despite the petty squabbling in public and across the chamber in Leinster House between Fianna Fáil and the so-called 'opposition' of Fine Gael and Labour, this referendum campaign has exposed the myth that these 'opposition' parties represent an alternative to the present administration. The reality is that when it comes to the economy there is no substantial difference between any of these parties as they are two sides of the same coin."

He added: " By engaging in a united front with Fianna Fáil in supporting Lisbon, Fine Gael and Labour have signed up to the very economic policies enshrined in the Treaty that created the economic wasteland that we are currently in. They have signed up to the economic policies that created this recession, which sees up to half a million people unemployed, sees ongoing attacks on workers rights and living standards and has resulted in severe cutbacks in our health and education services."

"Instead of offering an alternative to Fianna Fáil, the so-called 'opposition' offer nothing but more of the same discredited right wing, greed before need, unbridled capitalism that has led us into this crisis. By supporting this government and ensuring that it remains in power by supporting Lisbon, Fine Gael and Labour have betrayed the very people they claim to represent. They too will now share responsibility for the implementation of NAMA and the cutbacks that are imminent."

He concluded: "For our part, éirígí will continue to oppose the current economic policies being imposed and supported by the political and business establishment. We will continue to defend the rights of workers and to defend essential public services from further attack. While Irish workers may have lost this battle in terms of Lisbon, the struggle is far from over. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that workers take to the streets in larger than ever numbers to protect their rights and livings standards and to resist the imminent McCarthy report, taxation commission report and budget cutbacks."

Lisbon Passed, Democracy Damaged

Cowen and Barroso, the empire builderWhen the ruling class in the Twenty-Six Counties wants something bad enough it will do pretty much anything to get it. This is one of the main lessons to be taken out of Saturday’s result on the second Lisbon referendum.

For working people in Ireland and around Europe the result was, frankly, not a good one. On a turnout of 58 per cent of the Twenty-Six County electorate, the Lisbon Treaty was passed with a Yes vote of 67 per cent.

After ripping up the result of the first Lisbon referendum because they didn’t like the result, the Twenty-Six County government, the official ‘opposition’, IBEC, the state and corporate media, all the main churches and, shamefully, most of the trade union hierarchy spent months and million of euros spreading fear and peddling lies. Who said class was dead?

Those who run the Twenty-Six Counties in the interests of the rich removed the mask of political pluralism and gave public opinion both barrels. Even the leaders of the main universities in the Twenty-Six Counties warned students and staff that voting No would impact negatively on ERASMUS programmes. It was one of those rare moments where the vested interests of those who are really in charge stood naked for all to see.

Yet, despite the fear-mongering and the threats from the business class, 33 per cent of those who voted, 504,606 people, stood firm and voted No. On top of that figure there is the 42 per cent of the electorate who didn’t cast a vote. How many of those hundreds of thousands of working people concluded there was no point voting No to Lisbon 2 because of what happened to Lisbon 1?


Those who did vote No again, concentrated in the working class, the exploited, the neglected and the ignored, provide the potential for a radical grassroots movement for revolutionary change in Irish society. Those Irish citizens who were denied the right to vote – the people in the occupied Six Counties – provide equal potential for the building of such a movement.

Speaking on TV3 after the result was confirmed, Fianna Fáil’s Conor Lenihan feigned great offence at the suggestion that his party, Fine Gael and the Labour Party collectively represent the interests of the ruling class in the Twenty-Six Counties. In their strenuous efforts to get the Lisbon Treaty passed, however, Mr Lenihan and his ‘opponents’ may just have confirmed that fact in the public mind, once and for all.

Despite the Lisbon result, things are slowly changing in Irish society and it’s not the sort of change that, when it comes to fruition, will suit the agendas of Fianna Fáil, IBEC & Co.

Following the result, éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac an Mháistír said: “While the political establishment in the Twenty-Six Counties succeeded in getting Lisbon passed today, they only did so by undermining the very concept of democracy itself. The holding of a second referendum on a treaty that had already been rejected was a profoundly anti-democratic act which should never have happened. That 1.8 million Irish citizens living in the British-occupied Six Counties were denied a vote in both referenda only exacerbated this injustice."

“"The fact that the entire Twenty-Six County establishment, including the main ‘opposition’ parties, the bulk of the trade union leadership and the main churches were all complicit in supporting a second referendum demonstrates just how thin the veneer of democracy in this state actually is."

“"The overt role that private corporations such as Ryanair and Intel played in promoting a Yes vote marks a new and profoundly worrying departure in Irish politics. The Twenty-Six Counties is moving ever closer to a de-facto fascist corporate state, where the interests of the business and political class become indistinguishable and inseparable.”"

"On the pattern of voting, Daithí said: “The results from yesterday’s referendum have yet again demonstrated the glaring class divide that exists across the Twenty-Six Counties, with the wealthier sections of society backing a treaty which they believe will best serve their interests. Despite all the scare-mongering of the Yes side, working-class communities across the state came out in large numbers to reject the Lisbon Treaty, just as they did in June 2008 – - for this they are to be commended."

“"Working people saw in this treaty a continuance of the very economic policies that have led to mass unemployment, savage wage cuts and tax hikes. They rightly saw this referendum as an opportunity to reject the failed economic policies of the EU and Dublin government elite.”"

Daithí concluded: “ "While it is disappointing that the Lisbon Treaty has been passed, the arguments of the Yes camp will be exposed over the coming months. Voting Yes to Lisbon will not lead to jobs or recovery. Instead, it will lead to savage cut-backs, the privatisation of public services and the further erosion of Irish sovereignty and democracy. When that happens, we in éirígí will be there to challenge those who would put the interests of the few ahead of the many."

Brown Not Welcome - – Britain Out of Ireland

Belfast éirígí activists this morning [Monday] erected a number of banners in the city to mark the presence of British prime minister Gordon Brown in occupied Ireland.

The banners, bearing the message 'Brown Not Welcome – Britain Out of Ireland', were unveiled at different prominent points in the city, in full view of rush hour traffic.

éirígí general secretary Breandán MacCionnaith said: "It has become increasingly clear this year that the British government’s attitude towards Ireland remains what it always was. Plastic bullets have been fired indiscriminately at civilians, 28-day detention has been implemented and the British army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment is officially operating in the North."

“"As British prime minister, Gordon Brown bears ultimate responsibility for these repressive policies.”"

MacCionnaith continued: "The nationalist parties at Stormont must now recognise the mess they have got themselves into. The British prime minister was able to fly into Belfast this morning and portray himself as the impartial arbiter in a dispute between bickering natives, with the approval of a substantial section of those who are supposed to be opposing Britain’s presence here."

“"Even in the event that some policing and justice responsibilities are handed to the Stormont administration, real power will continue to lie in Downing Street, Whitehall and Westminster. This is not an exercise in democracy, it is the fine tuning of the British occupation."

“"Stormont politicking and appealing to the good will of British prime ministers is a dead end. The real solution lies in the building of a mass movement that will actively oppose the British occupation. éirígí is fully committed to that task.”"

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vote NO to Lisbon on Friday

éirígí are urging people once again to vote NO to the Lisbon Treaty. We opposed the Treaty last year on the grounds that it was fundamentally undemocratic, would increase the militarisation of Europe and would erode workers rights and living standards even further.

So has anything changed in this Treaty since it was democratically rejected in June 2008? No it hasn’t. Absolutely nothing has changed. The Treaty we rejected then is the exact same Treaty we are being forced to vote on again this year. Not a single word has been added to the Treaty, not a single word has been taken away.

Claims that the European Union (EU) have listened to the concerns of the Irish people and have given “legal guarantees” on certain issues are untrue. These supposed “guarantees” do not over-ride the Treaty’s contents. They are not legally binding, are merely political promises from discredited politicians and bureaucrats and are worth as little as the paper they are written on.

So instead of accepting the democratic will of the people of this state, they rejected it outright and are forcing us to vote again. That decision shows their contempt for democracy itself. For the EU and the political establishment here, democracy is only a concept that is to be upheld when the people do as they say and when it serves their political and economic interests.

Whenever the people vote against the interests of the EU elite, as the French and Dutch people did in 2005 and as we done in rejecting the first Nice Treaty referendum and Lisbon last year, democracy is a concept to be discarded and treated with contempt.

There is also a deliberate effort to mislead the public and scare them into voting yes. They tell us there are no plans to further militarise the EU yet the Treaty explicitly says otherwise. It seeks to strengthen the EU’s and NATO’s military capabilities, it commits ALL states to increase its military spending and it creates a mutual defence pact which would further erode this states supposed neutral status.

The yes campaign also tell us that a yes vote is essential to end the recession and to ensure economic recovery. This is totally untrue. They conveniently ignore the fact that it is the very policies enshrined within the Lisbon Treaty that created the economic crisis that we are in. Voting yes to Lisbon will not end the recession, it will deepen the economic crisis.

As a result of these very policies, the greed before need, privatisation agenda at the heart of the EU project, we have seen unemployment levels sky-rocket, we have seen essential health and education services slashed and workers have seen their wages cut and their living standards plummet.

A yes vote would see a continuation of those failed and discredited neo-liberal capitalist policies that created this economic ruin. Lisbon puts the interests of business above the rights of workers and will accelerate a race to the bottom in terms of workers pay and conditions.

While this type of Europe is acceptable to the political and business establishment, that vision, which will result in further attacks on workers living standards and working conditions, is not acceptable to éirígí and to all those interested in workers rights and a more democratic society.

Business interests group IBEC, multi-national firm Intel and the trade union-busting Ryanair who have a vested interest in the neo-liberal free market policies espoused by this Treaty are pumping more than a million euro into the yes campaign. Lisbon clearly serves their interests as their bottom line is to make as much profit as possible regardless of the consequences for their workers or for wider society.

Also lined up alongside Fianna Fáil telling us to vote for Lisbon are the so-called opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour. At a time when the country is crying out for an alternative to Fianna Fáil, it is clear that despite all the rhetoric and inter-party squabbling, there is nothing of substance separating these ‘opposition’ parties from Fianna Fáil when it comes to the economy. Neither Fine Gael or Labour are a credible alternative and are merely mirror images of Fianna Fáil. All they have to offer is more of the same discredited policies espoused by Lisbon and responsible for our mass unemployment and widespread cutbacks.

The simple fact is that Lisbon is fundamentally an undemocratic Treaty. It places business interests ahead of workers’ rights, puts privatisation and the ‘free market’ at the heart of Europe and seeks to build a more heavily militarised EU. Once again for those reasons éirígí believe it essential that we vote NO on October 2. Don't put your trust in those who caused this economic meltdown. There is too much at stake for all of us and our families.