CULTURE: Being a working class writer in Ireland

By Dave Lordan.

On the same Easter Week of the 1916 rising, a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition was held in Dublin. Chaplin, well-known to be a socialist as well as the world’s leading entertainer at the time, had a mass following among the Dublin working classes.

Truth be told, among many in the Dublin working class, there was probably as much interest in the Charlie Chaplin competition as there was in  what the crowd of poets with guns and big ideas were at in the GPO. There were many dozens of entries to the lookalike competition and the various merits of each were discussed in newspapers and among young and old in working class communities. For many, the Chaplin lookalike competition must have seemed a supremely important event, and the unannounced eruption of the Rising an unwelcome distraction.

The story goes that about halfway through Easter Week — while field guns pummelled the GPO from across the street, and the rebels inside did their best to hold tough and return fire — one of the most impressive of the Chaplin lookalikes decided to amble Chaplinesquely right down the middle of O Connell St, in between the hostile lines.

Both sides, it is said, ceased fire and both sides, it is said, looked on in appreciative amazement at the slick and entertaining performance — as unexpected and courageous as the Easter Rising itself.

Once he/she/they had finished the cannon-silencing performance, they turned and bowed in both directions, and a general applause broke out. No observer could have told which portions of the noise of the applause was British Loyalist, and which emanated from the clapped hands of Insurrectionary Irish.

Minutes later, once the fabled impersonator was out of range, the unresolved hostilities resumed and bullets sought heads to explode in every direction.

Art does not ask or expect of its appreciators that they subscribe to one political point of view or another; does not inquire as to whether they be on one side of the class and anti-imperialist struggles or the other.

Mozart was popular among the officers of the death camps. Trotsky recognised the avid fascist Céline as the greatest of inter-war French novelists. No contemporary liberal novelist could or presumably would claim to be of equal artistic stature to the religious reactionary Fyodor Dostoevsky.

So it’s not the purpose of this essay to dispute this fundamentally supra-political aspect of art. Great art disintegrates all borders, ignores all our divisions. Within this universally levelling effect, the aesthetic bears a radical promise of no nations, borders, classes or any kind of unequal and agitating divisions on Earth — “all the people together in harmony,” as John Lennon sings it.

Art is Utopianising in its collective effect on us as a species — it unites us by temporarily obscuring or abolishing our real divisions and without asking for a sacrifice of our individuality. Though of course it does so only temporarily, only in the realms of feeling and imagination, and without much actual impact on borders and class divisions in the here and now.

It is important not to have the illusion that making art, generally speaking, is a kind of political activism. Art is most often not political activity so much as it is the suspension or deferral of political activity.

Bertolt Brecht wrote many songs and poems and plays and novels aimed at, and enjoyed by, millions of German workers in the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism came to power anyway and would likely have done so in exactly the same way had he never in his life bothered to write a single line.

All the protest songs and singers of the 1960s and 1970s couldn’t prevent the election of Reagan and Thatcher.

There certainly are occasions when art and artists can make a centrally important contribution to social causes. The relationship between Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League is one such good news story, as is the successful resistance to the Carnsore nuclear reactor here in Ireland.

Others will have more examples, I’m sure, but all will be exceptions to a general rule of artistic creation, which is that it takes place in a separate sphere from political activity, and with its own traditions and orientations which are different to and even opposed to political activity. Activism always seeks to highlight the social divisions that anthropologists argue it is art’s social and evolutionary role in human societies to paper over and obscure.

On the other hand, this grand distinction between spheres of activity makes anyone trying to fuse them a priori a subversive. And it is obviously true that a poem on a picket-line or an artistic online video can inspire and promote causes.

But it is usually the case that artists make their best contributions to social movements in the same way as plumbers or nurses — that is, by handing out leaflets, turning up to meetings and demos etc. — by blending in rather than standing out.

Similarly, the cultural value and aesthetic quality of a work of art has nothing to with the class background or political opinions of who has produced it or who is relaying or performing it.

Nor does the personal morality of the artist have any bearing at all on whether the music they compose will be beautiful, or the book they write un-put-downable.

W.B Yeats lived a long and luxurious aristocratic life paid for by the hard labour of Irish peasants.  He owed the inspiration of many of his plays and poems to the lore of Irish peasants. The music and diction of much of his poetry is simply a refined version of the daily speech rhythms of the Irish peasantry.

Nevertheless, he enthusiastically supported the war crimes of extra-judicial torture and execution of socialist and republican POWs from peasant backgrounds during the so-called Irish civil war. Yet he remains the most melodious and memorable Irish poet of the early 20th century.

Margaret Atwood’s practical support for apartheid Israel in breaking the cultural boycott does nothing to reduce her status as one of the pre-eminent global novelists.

Conversely, some of the worst poetry ever written has emerged from council estates where a local loudmouth has discovered an online rhyming dictionary and decided to inflict their thoughts on world affairs on us in toddleresque rhymes.

So when we talk about how injustice and inequality manifest themselves in class society in relation to the arts, we are not talking about anything to do with aesthetics or the internal qualities of works of art.

Demanding increased access to art for workers

Working class people, despite the obstacles they face, make and appreciate art in countless ways and by various means. There, obviously then, is no one way of being a working class artist, and there is no ‘working-class aesthetic’ as such. Therefore, a socialist party should have no aesthetic policy or prescriptions whatsoever.

The role of a socialist party or movement is to campaign for increased working class access to the arts, period. It is never to poke its nose into the processes of artistic creation. A Stalinist policy of interference in artistic creation and limiting artistic freedom must be totally rejected and struggled against for art as well as for politics’ sake — there are no ‘socialist realist’ novels worth reading.

None of this means that we cannot highlight and unpack some distinctive ways in which working class communities have evolved artistic traditions, and which are markedly distinct from the dominant bourgeois way of doing things — ways that might incorporate something subversively political, above and beyond the artistic.

My focus is on illustrating just this kind of politicised working class literature. For any worker to start making art is by definition to make the case that we are not born solely to consume and be exploited — that we too, just like the bourgeoisie, are capable of both creating and appreciating on the higher plane of art. It is in this sense that we can agree with Michael Hartnett when he writes, “the act of poetry is a rebel act”.

The work of art is always concrete and historical, whether it be artefact or current. Art has all the apprehensible qualities of the real, whether it is a song that passes us by in three minutes or a statue of a mother deity that has withstood 65,000 years on Earth. Because of this, we can both share an encounter with an artwork, and differ widely in our opinions of it, as we can with all other historical events and objects.

But we can say definite true things about works of art as well. We can keep in mind that the work of art is a self-contained object that can only be authentically judged in relation to other self-contained objects of the same kind. As stated above, we cannot judge art by the nature of the person or person who produces it. The work of art is supremely indifferent to the name and nature of he/she/they who made it, be they saint or sinner.

And yet class is a determining factor in who gets to make art and appreciate it in so many unjustly political ways.

For example:

1) Working class access to arts education

Access to quality arts education is not provided at all in many Irish public secondary schools, and only at the most rudimentary, amateur, and unenthusiastic levels in most of the rest. Despite the overwhelming pedagogic evidence of a hugely positive impact on teenage mental health, there is no creative writing curriculum in public secondary schools.

Even more disgracefully in the year 2019, there is no multimedia creativity education (production of podcasts, videos etc.) whatsoever in Irish secondary schools. By contrast, private schools have all of the above. Well-off parents can and do pay for additional extra-curricular arts education, giving their children a huge advantage.

2) The lack of Arts Council support for predominantly working class art forms.

Literary funding in the Arts Council goes almost exclusively to predominantly middle- and upper-class forms such as the page poem, opera, and so-called ‘literary’ fiction.

There are no funding streams for performance poetry, rap, storytelling, singer-songwriters or bands, online video, podcast, digital music production — all forms that are far more accessible to and engaged with by working class people as both producers and consumers of art.

This is nothing but institutional class prejudice.

3) The cost of being an artist.

Many successful writers (it takes 15-25 years to become a successful writer) are sustained by crucial financial support from their well-off families.

Most of us do not have such parents and so we are systematically excluded in yet another way.

So to level the playing field, we need not a few legislative tweaks, not just a token couple of panels on ‘being a working class writer’ at literary festivals few working class people have ever heard of, but a complete overhaul of education, art funding, and arts access from the bottom up — that is, a revolution.

Part Two of this essay will appear on Irish Broad Left next week.

Photo above shows Christy Moore performing to protesters at an anti-nuclear protest at Carnsore Point, Co Wexford, in 1978. Picture by Eddie Kelly.

Dave Lordan is a writer and community educator and socialist activist. Check out his work at www.davelordan.com.

How my Autistic Traveller son is changing the world

By Rose Mairie Maughan.

Before I had my son, as a Traveller activist, I thought I was good person, a good human rights activist in solidarity with all struggles – but there was one I could have been more supportive and aware of; that is, the Autistic struggle. 

Before he was diagnosed I thought I knew what being Autistic meant but in reality I actually knew very little. After we got his diagnosis, I learned a great deal about being Autistic from reading and training – but the real learning came from my son and the wider Autistic community.

I learned that autism is a neurological difference impacting on how an Autistic person sees, feels and responds to the world and how they communicate. My little boy taught me what being Autistic really means and opened my eyes to the Autistic struggle, which has many similarities to our struggle as Travellers.

For example, the Autistic community suffers social exclusion; lack of acceptance and understanding; discrimination while trying to obtain employment and services; they are often viewed as ‘broken people that need to be fixed’ and are forced to live in a world that is not sensitive to their needs as Autistic people. 

Some Autistic children suffer serious abuse, are abandoned to the care system and even killed simply because they are Autistic, misunderstood or not accepted by their parents. Some parents search endlessly for a ‘cure’, but there is no cure because autism is not a disease.

Autistic children are bullied, and currently there are hundreds of Autistic children across Ireland and the UK with no school place for next September. Most are waiting for vital therapy and some are on waiting lists for up two years in many parts of Ireland. Just like us Travellers, due to this oppression and lack of acceptance, the Autistic community has a high suicide rate of nine times higher and a life expectancy of 54 years, something that is seldom talked about and needs to be addressed.

Once my eyes were opened up to this struggle for acceptance and human rights, my heart broke for the Autistic community and for my son – not because they are Autistic but because of the abuse, discrimination and oppression they are forced to endure.

Comrades: Evaleen Whelton, Autistic activist from AUsome Ireland, and Rosemarie Maughan, activist and ally 

As a part of my journey of learning about autism, I knew that I had to try help as an ally, not just to create a better future for my son but for all Autistic Traveller children and the wider Autistic community. I noticed many more Traveller children being diagnosed with autism but as a community we were not talking about it or the issues these children and their families were facing.

I started to think: where are the Traveller Autistic adults? How come I had never met one? Surely there are Autistic Traveller people who have struggled through life without a diagnosis or suitable support? That’s when I decided I had to create more awareness and acceptance within our own community. I wanted to start the discussion as a community.

Since his diagnosis, I have been creating awareness mainly through social media as I am on a career break at present. After spending many years working within Traveller organisations, I am now focusing on investing in my son’s development. Recently I started a blog inviting in Autistic voices to educate us on what being Autistic means and how it impacts their lives, as they are the experts – not me, and not professionals. All too often marginalised groups, such as my own, are the subject of studies but are left out of the conversation and this was something I did not want to practice myself. 

Utilising the information gleaned from my consultations with Traveller parents, Autistic Traveller adults and the Autistic community, I gave a presentation on ‘hearing the Traveller Autistic voice’ to the Seanad on July 9, 2019, which was the first time these voices and experiences were ever mentioned in terms of Traveller policy.

I am ashamed to say that if my son hadn’t opened up my eyes to the Autistic struggle, I may not be doing what I am now, working as an ally to Autistic Travellers and the wider Autistic community. Many Travellers and Autistic people thank me but really the thanks must go to my son as he is the reason for the positive change occurring within our community in terms of us talking about being Autistic, and Traveller Autistic issues being named and discussed in the Seanad for the first time ever. He is the reason for the growing collective action between Travellers and the Autistic community; for bridges being built between our communities; and for a greater awareness and acceptance within our community. What a massive achievement for a little boy of six years old! 

The most important lesson I have Iearned from the Autistic community is that it is their preference to be referred to as Autistic rather than as ‘having autism’. This excellent video explains the reasoning perfectly and I would urge everyone to watch it; words really do matter and the way that we use them has an enormous an impact on the way that Autistic people are viewed.

If people are referred to as ‘having autism’, then autism itself will always be viewed as a disease, an illness, something that can and ought to be fixed – as though Autistic people are in some way deficient. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Autism is a part of a person’s identity, much as my ethnicity as a Traveller is a part of mine and should therefore be viewed as such. Unless and until this happens, then disgusting and dangerous practices such as forcing Autistic people to drink bleach and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) ‘therapy’ will continue to be promoted.

I was shocked and appalled upon discovering that Autistic people are continuously forced to defend their existence and their legitimacy by lobbying for the end of these extremely dangerous ‘cures’ for Autism. There is a growing movement of Autistic people and allies protesting the use of MMS bleach, where parents actually force their children to ingest bleach, a truly horrific practice by anybody’s standards.

This bleach is banned in Ireland; however, it is still being used and promoted, primarily online. Unfortunately, under the guise of ‘free speech’, a promoter of this abhorrent practice has been invited to speak at a two-day event in Waterford in November. While they may choose not to speak about this particular, well-documented view of autism at the event itself, their presence is nonetheless very distressing for the Autistic community and its allies. Free speech is one thing; promoting misinformation and pseudo-scientific quackery that is physically damaging to Autistic children is quite another. 

The Autistic community are also calling for the end to the extremely damaging ABA therapy, which is nothing short of conversion therapy, trying to make the Autistic child ‘less Autistic’. Unfortunately although a lot of today’s therapies claim not  to be ABA, the principles are the same, attempting to alter certain Autistic features such as increasing eye contact, which Autistic adults will tell you is very difficult to do at times and actually not necessary for effective communication. Many people listen better and process what is being said without having to give eye contact.

If we continue to force people to undergo harmful practices and to change fundamental aspects of their being in order for the rest of us to feel more comfortable, then we’re not only letting the Autistic community down, we are letting ourselves down. As with other minority communities, it is up to us to learn from Autistic people how we can challenge what we think we know about autism and adapt ourselves accordingly. 

Below are links to Autistic led groups, blogs and pages where you can learn what I have learned. I hope you listen to the Autistic community and, like me, become an ally to them standing in solidarity and supporting the rising of the Traveller Autistic Voice

Rose Mairie Maughan is a human rights activist working within the Irish Traveller Movement since 2004.  Follow her blog here.

Informative links: 

Konfident Kidz

Facebook group: Irish Travellers in solidarity with the Autistic community

An autistic person’s view of the anti-vax movement

The ableist history of the puzzle piece symbol for autism

Hashtag: #TravellerAndAutisticCommunitySolidarity.

Pride: Not for sale

By Damien Thomson.

Pride month is over, so now what?

While company logos on social media accounts will start going back to their original colours and remove their rainbow filters, Queer folk won’t be putting anything away in boxes. 

The gestures of solidarity are indeed widely appreciated within the Queer community, but July 1st tends to be when the hangover from it all kicks you in the head. After being unambiguously appropriated for business strategies, Queer identity is then binned while boardrooms start looking at the next quarter’s biggest sales focus. Heterosexual summer starts, and Queer lives stop being openly ‘celebrated’. 

Allies or profiteers?

There is nothing genuine about how companies appropriate Queer culture and identity for their market strategies. What is thinly veiled as a gesture of solidarity, is, of course, a chance for maximising profit – nobody even doubts that.

What makes it socially acceptable, though, is that LGBTI+ folk are taught that they should be receptive and grateful for whatever support they get. Having an ally, you’re told, is better for you, even if it is a corporation. The more normalised being Queer is, the better, and Coca Cola can help you with that.

Pinkwashing protest

For a company whose target audience is especially geared towards young people, it is an unmissable opportunity to glitter up its brand and associate it with the ideals that underpin the Pride flag. Tesco has a float in the parade; Facebook reminds you what day it is; and your bank sends you a push notification to wish you a Happy Pride. Pinkwashing can be disorienting in a world where you’re told you should take all the help you can get.

There is an ongoing and deliberate trend of depoliticising Pride and turning protest into party – and I mean just a party, the two are certainly not mutually exclusive! By taking the protest out of Pride, companies and even well-intentioned allies are contributing to the hollowing of the struggle (or better yet, struggles).

Stonewall riots

This year’s Pride has been particularly important to commemorate and recall the foundations of the modern LGBTI+ movement, 50 years on from the raids of the Stonewall Inn in New York. Remembrance is symbolically important, but it also serves as a useful litmus test.

Many of the protesters who took to the streets the day after the Stonewall raid would probably be perplexed looking at a Pride parade in 2019. While bound to be ecstatic with the amount of participation and (general) acceptance in most European cities, there is no doubt that most Pride parades would be seen as far-removed from their origins. 

The riots of Stonewall were about Queer folk standing up against police violence, then leading into the creation of a movement rooted in solidarity. In an era where homophobic and transphobic violence is on the rise, even in Europe, Pride cannot just be a time to just celebrate. It needs to be a reminder to rebel.

The liberal and assimilationist gains of marriage equality and adoption rights compound the atmosphere of merrymaking instead of manifestation, of partying without protest.

Depoliticising Pride

But the depoliticisation of Pride is not just a coincidence, it is a very deliberate attempt to make money off the backs of marginalised and oppressed folk, often using the poster-boy of white, male, middle-classed privilege to plaster over the diverse lives and experiences of oppression within Queer communities. The less political Pride is, the more brandable it becomes.

Recently two women were assaulted on a London bus after refusing to kiss on demand for a group of young men. While the public outcry was overwhelming, the victims were keen to note that “this is not a novel situation”, and that the media attention around their story was amplified by being “two attractive, white cisgender women”.

But the violence and oppression experienced by Queer communities is not just that which makes headlines. It’s real, it’s diverse and it’s becoming more frequent with the rise of fascism across the world.

So is it really okay for Ben & Jerry’s to hand out free rainbow flags at a Pride parade with their logo in the middle as if it were some sort of Queer crest? Is that really an act of solidarity? Is H&M’s €9.99 “PRIDE” T-shirt really that good to us when it’s shipped over from the sweatshops in China? I think a PFO is in order (Please Fuck Off).

So next year don’t pay for a ticket to that private ‘Pride party’, don’t participate in the pinkwashing of business strategies, and don’t feel obliged to accept everything that looks like a gesture of solidarity. Stand as part of the struggle.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.

The Irish elections: Results and prospects for the left

By Sean Byers.

The results of the recent elections in Ireland correspond to the fragmented and radically uncertain times we now inhabit. They reveal continuities in terms of the resilience of the dominant parties as well as changes in the overall composition and balance of political forces in both jurisdictions.

In the North’s local elections, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin have comfortably re-emerged as the two largest parties. The DUP will be the happier of the two, increasing its share of the vote and losing just eight seats despite a succession of scandals and the party’s ignominious role at the centre of the Brexit saga.

This is partly thanks to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) offering nothing but a pale imitation of the DUP to a dwindling constituency of octogenarians, the result of which will almost certainly be the former’s continued decline in years to come.

It also reflects the absence of a compelling working-class political alternative within Unionism, the persistence of key faultlines across society and zero-sum nature of politics in the North, which enables the DUP to retain mass support on account of being viewed as a bulwark against nationalist gain and the prospect of Irish unity.

Sinn Féin’s vote was down slightly on the last election, though the party held on to the same number of seats (105) won in 2014. This is no disaster. However the party leadership will have been left pondering why they haven’t built on the remarkable gains recorded in 2014 and again in 2017, why they haven’t managed to dispense with the SDLP, and why they have instead lost support in different directions.

A ‘liberal’ surge in the North?

A number of commentators have remarked that the northern elections were significant for the success of what have been variously described as the ‘centre ground’, ‘moderates’ or the ‘Others’. These headlines, whilst capturing an ambiguous desire for change among sections of the population, serve to obscure important differences between the parties as well as the class, ethnonational, ideological and geographical dynamics at play.

Overall, the Alliance Party made the largest gain of the share of first-preference vote and the number of seats in the local elections, while Naomi Long took the third European Parliament seat from the UUP. Alliance’s strong opposition to Brexit coupled with its support for equal marriage and abortion reform has succeeded in winning over significant numbers of liberal Unionists in more affluent areas.

As Henry Patterson has argued, the party now represents a class which has “an objective interest in the continuation of the Union but … no desire to be bothered by rowdy debates about the national question”. The party’s appeal, which rests on the vacuous slogan of “Demand Better” and the rejection of ‘tribal politics’, is also what makes the Alliance ill-equipped to deal with the constitutional question, the intractable problems of devolution or the multiple challenges facing working-class communities.

The Green Party’s increase of four seats to a total of eight in the local elections in the North is perhaps more significant from a left perspective. It could be argued simply that the Greens captured a similar demographic to Alliance’s core vote. But the Green brand has also benefitted from a growing awareness of the urgency of climate breakdown, particularly among young people.

Belfast City Council moves left

Significantly, the Green Party of Northern Ireland is more unambiguously left on key economic questions than the ‘centrist’ label implies and more amenable to the anti-capitalist slogan of ‘system change not climate change’ than their counterparts in Britain or the South, despite operating within a more restrictive economic and political environment. The presence of four Green councillors in the chambers of Belfast City Council could, however, help to shift the city’s policy agenda in a more left-wing direction.

Adding to the leftward dynamic in Belfast City Council is an increase in the number of People Before Profit (PBP) councillors from one to three. As in Derry, where the party gained two seats, PBP strengthened its support in Belfast on the back of tireless campaigning around the impact of welfare reform. Here Sinn Féin’s strategy of targeting PBP’s position on Brexit appears to have worn thin among some of those most badly affected by the punitive, privatised Personal Independence Payment regime and rollout of Universal Credit.

Adding to the leftward dynamic in Belfast City Council is an increase in the number of People Before Profit (PBP) councillors from one to three. As in Derry, where the party gained two seats, PBP strengthened its support in Belfast on the back of tireless campaigning around the impact of welfare reform. Here Sinn Féin’s strategy of targeting PBP’s position on Brexit appears to have worn thin among some of those most badly affected by the punitive, privatised Personal Independence Payment regime and rollout of Universal Credit.

The PBP contingent, together with the Greens, could potentially form an influential bloc that challenges the neoliberal bureaucracy, not to mention the powerful corporate interests that have captured key policy areas, and helps to pull Council politics in a leftward direction. We may already be seeing glimpses of this with the rejection of plans to drill for fossil fuels in the Belfast Hills.

In other parts of the North it is possible to detect signs of left-wing growth that defy the singular narrative of ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’ advance. For example, the election of the PBP’s Eamonn McCann and Shaun Harkin will strengthen the existing anti-austerity critiques offered by Independent left republican councillors in Derry and Strabane. Likewise, in the rural conservative districts of Fermanagh & Omagh and Mid-Ulster, we have seen the election of Independent socialists and left republicans who have their roots in trade unionism and community-based campaigns around issues such as health, education and the environment.

That is not to say we should place great stock in local elections or electoralism as a substitute for the building of mass organisations and systemic change. But rather it is to suggest that these results present limited openings for strategic interventions at a local government level, to help build something from the ground up. The ambition for the combined forces of the left in Belfast, for example, should be to move towards – and beyond – something like the Preston model, replacing the fundamentally neoliberal, carbon-heavy model of urban development that has been instituted in the past decade.

The state of left politics in the South

The two dominant parties, Fine Gael and in particular Fianna Fáil, will be satisfied with the gains they have made against the propitious backdrop of economic ‘recovery’. Winning just over half of the vote between them, they are some way short of restoring the two-and-a-half party system that was broken in the wake of austerity and the Right2Water campaign. However, Fianna Fáil will be confident of using their strengthened vote in Dublin and elsewhere as a platform for success in a general election, particularly if they take a left turn to put clear water between themselves and Fine Gael.

‘Green wave’

For many, the big story of the European and local elections was the surge in support for the Green Party, which increased its number of council seats from 12 to 49 and took two MEP seats. Again, the Greens have been the main beneficiaries of an emerging consciousness around the impending climate crisis, especially among a younger generation.

Many of these young people who voted Green will have no memory of the party’s experience of coalition government with Fianna Fáil between 2007-2011. But the Green Party’s social basis remains solidly middle class and there is no sign of it moving away from the individualised, anti-working-class solutions favoured by party leader Eamon Ryan.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will already be thinking about how to hijack the green movement or woo the Greens, Social Democrats and Labour, whose combined vote of 14 per cent would almost certainly put one of the two main parties back in government in the event of a general election.

Fine Gael will be buoyed slightly by the exchange of transfers between their candidates and those of Labour and the Greens. Fianna Fáil, meanwhile, has already managed to craft deals with the centre-left in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and in Dublin City Council, where there appeared to be the possibility of an (albeit messy) broad left alliance.

Such horse-trading is a built-in feature of the local political system and does not necessarily reflect the national picture. But whatever about the ‘green’ concessions that have been granted as part of these deals, the decision to back Fianna Fáil will have confounded those supporters of the smaller parties who were hoping for a new departure.

Left opposition falters

For Sinn Féin and the Trotskyist left, the two main left-wing opposition forces, along with the Independents4Change group, the elections will have prompted a lot of soul-searching. The loss of half of their council seats – 78 for Sinn Féin and 17 for Solidarity-PBP – is nothing short of devastating for the two parties which had attracted mass working-class support for their anti-austerity message in the 2014-2016 period.

The scale of these losses appears to have been determined by a number of factors including the choice of candidates, vote mismanagement, the absence of a compelling narrative in the context of economic ‘recovery’, the sense that the left parties have not delivered change at a local level and, for Sinn Féin, internal difficulties that have prompted resignations across the state.

Above all, the political left will have cause to reflect on the low turnout in working-class urban areas. This reflects the dissipation of popular energy since the height of the Right2Water protests while also suggesting a disconnect between the left parties and large sections of the working class.

Sinn Féin’s problems

This disconnect is most pronounced in the case of Sinn Féin, which, having established itself as the biggest working-class party on the island in 2016, has strayed furthest from its base in the intervening years. Rather than investing in the building of an oppositional, class-based politics in cooperation with other social and political forces, one that would present a long-term challenge to the right, the leadership has opted for the misguided strategy of becoming the hegemonic, catch-all nationalist party – a 1930s Fianna Fáil in 21st century Ireland.

This strategy comprises a number of key elements. Firstly, the adoption of a more liberal, rights-based discourse in response to issues such as equal marriage and abortion. Secondly, in the context of Brexit, the move from a position of critical engagement with the EU to one that is more engaged than critical. Both of these moves had the added appeal of speaking to the concerns of liberal Unionists.

Thirdly, and relatedly, gestures towards reconciliation and the shedding of some trappings of the party’s past. Fourthly, the uneasy combination of pro-workers and pro-business rhetoric.

And finally, the pivot away from an ‘anti-establishment’ message to one that assures the middle classes of Sinn Féin’s readiness to govern, culminating in the Ard Fheis decision that the party would be willing to enter coalition government as a junior partner. The defence of this decision – that any coalition arrangement would be formed around an undefined ‘radical republican’ programme – neglects the fact that the leadership would determine what ‘radical republican’ means in that eventuality.

To some extent, this catch-all strategy is designed to align the party’s southern trajectory with that in the North, where the Provisional republican movement has made the transition from insurrection to parliamentary politics and from a more explicitly socialist orientation to accommodation with the demands of neoliberal, power-sharing governance.

It should be enough to point out that this is poor from a principled left-wing perspective as it weakens the basis for a class-based alternative and implies greater hardship for workers and communities. But it is also founded on a misreading of conditions in the South, where the ‘respectable classes’ retain a deep-seated hatred of Sinn Fein; where the cause of a united Ireland has been taken up by bourgeois and ‘civic’ nationalism, depriving Sinn Féin of the leading role in that particular struggle; and where the political space is wide open to the left, not in the congested centre-ground.

All of this is well understood by the Sinn Féin left, which has been fighting a rearguard action within the party for the past two years or more. As Sinn Féin’s collective leadership meets to discuss its ‘identity crisis’, there will be pressure to identify a quick fix that enables the party to get through the next election.

Faced with calls that the party should double-down on centrism and moderate its tone, the leading voices of the left will be arguing, publicly and privately, for Sinn Féin to tack leftwards, revise its position on coalition government, rebuild in working-class communities and seek closer cooperation with other radical social and political forces. This appeal to restore the dynamic of 2014-16 and recalibrate it for the present will carry significant support within and outside of the party.

But whereas Sinn Féin’s centralised organisational culture has so far guarded against the formation of an official left caucus, the situation may require that the left’s struggle over the future direction of the party north and south becomes more organised and assertive.

Solutions?

There are no easy answers to these challenges. But there are a number of observations that are worth making about the current political moment and its implications for the left:

  1. The fragmented state of the Irish left is a persistent problem. For instance, one might question the logic of Clare Daly’s decision to swap Dublin for Brussels and stand against Lynn Boylan, one of the strongest advocates for a principled red-green politics in Europe, or the failure of Solidarity-PBP to agree on a single candidate for the same constituency. However, these debates overlook the more pressing issue of low turnout and the political disenfranchisement of the working class. A turnout of just 50 percent in working-class districts would have seen both Daly and Boylan elected and yielded a much better performance for left formations across the island, particularly as transfers between parties to the left of Labour show that their voters understand the principle of unity.
  2. The steady decline in political participation among the working class is largely down the failure of parties to speak to their interests. There is of course a need for the left to develop and cohere around a common narrative that goes beyond the anger of the austerity period. But it is the embrace of a ‘progressivist’, post-class politics which has led to the collapse of traditional socialist parties across Europe and now threatens to stunt the development of a radical alternative in Ireland. It is a mistake to think that there is any future for the left in avoiding the main faultline across Irish society, one of the most unequal in Europe, when the moneyed interests are clearly thinking and organising along class lines. As the experience of British Labour shows, a new politics must be organised around the interests of those “who have the greatest incentive to upturn the economic order”. New thinking need not mean moderation; it can be radical, insurgent and positive.
  3. There is no harm in developing better lines of communication or exploring the possibility of electoral pacts. But any ‘left unity’ worth talking about has to be grounded in practical cooperation on an issue-by-issue basis: the forging of effective alliances without necessarily pushing for a merger. Right2Water provides the model for a single-issue campaign which briefly united grassroots community actors, trade unions and the political left – and may have to be revived as the government looks to introduce ‘excessive usage’ charges. The Raise the Roof housing campaign has not managed to emulate the success of Right2Water, but may yet realise its promise with the adoption of more militant tactics. Trade union and political pressure has also delivered significant legislative gains in the area of workers’ rights. The next big political project for the left is ensuring that any green transition tackles the questions of ownership and power, and delivers a just outcome for workers and communities. This will require an escalation of grassroots activity, trade union interventions and the formation of red-green alliances on a national and international basis.
  4. There is no shortage of locally focused single-issue campaigns which have (re)politicised spheres that had been marked as non-political and registered small victories against capital. But they are limited by the absence of a radical context and a ‘political instrument’ which is capable of raising ‘a national project that can unify and act as a compass for all those sectors that oppose neoliberalism’. In lieu of this political instrument, the trade unions can play an important role in facilitating and integrating as much of this activity as possible, in order to help build the required forces to bring about a transformative situation.
  5. The refusal to do business with the two conservative parties is not an empty slogan. Rather it forms a basis upon which trust can be built up between political forces on the broad left. There should be no rewards for talking left and walking right. In addition, this principle recognises that each time a party of the left props up Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, they provide them with the material for their rehabilitation whilst killing off the prospect of a class-based oppositional politics.
  6. Events have rapidly produced an all-island dynamic witnessed, for example, in the mobilisation and solidarity around issues such as equal marriage and abortion rights as well as the growing support for a united Ireland. But increasingly it looks like this united Ireland will be delivered by bourgeois and civic nationalism in cooperation with liberal Unionism. This, and the poor state of conditions in the North, drives home the necessity of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary left organising and fighting on an all-island basis.
  7. The electoral sphere is one site of struggle for socialists. However, all parties of the Irish left have been guilty of working primarily within the confines of parliamentary politics and adapting to the rules of electoralism. This has operated to the detriment of building working-class organisations which are capable of challenging the material power of capital outside of the political institutions. It is vital that we invest time and energy in rebuilding the trade union movement, tenants’ unions and community organisations, and realise the potential of struggles at the point of production and social reproduction. It is this ‘construction of forces’ outside of the state which, coupled with an effective political strategy, will hit capital where it hurts and provide the social basis for a genuinely transformative movement.

Dr Sean Byers works as a researcher with Trademark and helps run the blog Brexit, Europe and the Left. Author of Seán Murray: Marxist-Leninist and Irish Socialist Republican (2015), he has published widely on the themes of socialist history and politics, post-conflict Northern Ireland and left political economy. He is an active member of Unite trade union and Belfast Trades Council. Follow him on Twitter @Sean _Byers84 and follow Trademarkon Twitter @TrademarkBF.

Romani and Traveller activists deliver action plan on Romani Resistance Day

Aspiring Romani barrister, Brigitta Balogh, independently organised a parliamentary event in Westminster on 16 May 2019 to mark Romani Resistance Day, officially commemorating the Romani heroes of 1944 for the first time in the United Kingdom.

The “Press for Progress” conference was a working event intended to set out a 10 Point Action Plan to the government and ministerial bodies on how to improve the lives of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the UK. Participants had the opportunity to engage in critical discussion and create guidance for the government on how to proceed in future when drafting policies affecting these communities.

The event was chaired by Andy Slaughter MP, who was joined in a panel by Jonathan Lee from the European Roma Rights Centre, Lisa Smith who is the Chair of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers, Mihai Calin Bica, a campaigner at the Roma Support Group, and Brigitta Balogh, a Bar Professional Training Student at City University of Law.

The 10 recommendations are intended to be distributed amongst civil society organisations, and government and ministerial bodies. The attendees of the event request the government to promote and protect the rights and entitlements of these underrepresented marginalised communities, in reference to the 10 Point Action Plan set out here. In order to press for meaningful progress in the lives of Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers in this country, we recommend that ministers and policy makers:

  1. Create and fully implement a National Roma Integration Strategy and appoint a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller person as the main national contact point in the United Kingdom
  2. Reinstate the part of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 that places a statutory obligation on authorities to provide sites.
  3. Establish a funding scheme specifically targeting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in order to support both secondary and higher education students. This scheme is to be based on the methods set out by the Roma Education Fund to ensure Romani empowerment by promoting participation in professions in which Roma are underrepresented.
  4. Reject recent policy proposals to make every form of trespass a criminal offence.
  5. Introduce a statutory definition of Gypsy and Traveller, for use in all relevant areas such as housing, planning, accommodation assessment, education and health. This will incorporate those living a nomadic way of life and those who have ceased to live in this way for purposes that include: educating children; illness; old age; and lack of pitch provision.
  6. Introduce a definition of anti-gypsyism in the United Kingdom to help acknowledge and raise awareness of the discrimination faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. Discrimination includes hate speech, hate crime, cyber bullying, social exclusion and direct or indirect institutional racism. The definition is to be used in active monitoring schemes that identify and record racially motivated incidents.
  7. Simplify the EU settlement scheme to ensure it is accessible for Roma and other groups who may be lacking the necessary documentation, language and IT skills.
  8. Establish a government obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to collect and monitor racist incidents of bullying in schools, including acts against Gypsy/Roma and Irish Travellers.
  9. Establish a Romani and Traveller Women’s group as part of Parliament. This is to be based on the Council of Europe recommendation to promote Romani Women’s political participation.
  10. Allocate funding and appointing a national co-ordinator to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month.

The 10 Point Action Plan was drafted by participants who attended the event:

Stephen Marsh
Lara Simak
Zachary Whyte
Tom Hoeksma
Sioned Morgan
Natalie Ayre
Jonathan Lee
Lisa Smith

The Action Plan was finalised in consultation with:

David Watkinson
Michael Haggar
Lynne Townley
Colin Clark .

Photo above picturing the activists involved is by Brigitta Balogh.

Talking period poverty with Homeless Period Ireland

Interview with Claire Hunt by Evelyn Flynn.

Evelyn Flynn, a medical student from Dublin, sat down with Homeless Period Ireland’s Claire Hunt to talk period poverty. 

EF: What is Homeless Period about? How did it come about?

CH: In December 2016, the Homeless Period Dublin initiative was born with a view to helping women and girls who found themselves unable access to basic sanitation and female hygiene products every month. In 2017 I took over the general management of the Homeless Period Dublin initiative.

A social media campaign was launched to highlight this issue. Through this campaign it became apparent that this was a national issue. Emanating from this campaign, a decision was made to rebrand the initiative to Homeless Period Ireland (HPI). This rebranding aimed to help create awareness nationally and, more importantly, increase the number of drop-off points (places were the general public donate female sanitary and hygiene products) as well as increase nationally reach the frontline services that have direct access to the women in need.

The aim of Homeless Period Ireland is to donate period products (pads, tampons, liners, wipes) to those who otherwise would go without.  The donations are brought by volunteer drivers to homeless outreach centres, direct provision centres and women’s refuges. The Homeless Period Ireland is an initiative, not a charity, and is 100 per cent reliant on volunteers for distribution and collection of sanitary products.

EF: Period poverty is clearly global, but why is it such a problem in Ireland in particular? 

CH: It’s no secret that Ireland has a severe homelessness problem. This has never been properly addressed by successive governments. It was only a matter of time before the issue of homelessness became a national scandal, which I believe it now has, and people are now starting to talk about it. 

Period poverty is just one aspect of overall poverty, but it is a subject that no-one wanted to talk about until recently. There are also women and children who are spending years in direct provision centres with no access to products. These are just some of the most vulnerable in society and are easily forgotten. What Homeless Period Ireland aims to do is make a small difference in people’s lives who find themselves in difficult situations. It is one less thing to worry about.

EF: What should the government be doing on period poverty? What are your demands? 

CH: It’s rather simple. Free access to sanitary products in all publically owned facilities including schools, universities, prisons, direct provision centres and refuges. We have seen great strides made in Scotland, England and Wales in this regard and our politicians are starting to sit up and take notice.

In fact, a motion was recently passed in the Dáil by a cross -party female caucus on this very subject. We hope that the Minister for Finance makes the appropriate provisions to roll out a scheme where free products are provided in the next budget.

EF: Homeless Period Ireland seeks to mitigate the undignifying results of period poverty, but what are its causes? 

CH: Period poverty stems from poverty itself. However, this is a female-only issue and traditionally the men in our society would not discuss a topic like this. Over time a taboo has surrounded the subject of periods as they are viewed as “icky” or with disgust. However, periods are a women’s health topic and should be treated as such. Until we can change people’s mindsets, the issue of period poverty will never be properly addressed. After all, without periods, there is no human race.

EF: There are many different menstrual products out there, how does your initiative ensure good quality products for everyone? Is there a problem with some cheap brands? 

CH: Homeless Period Ireland is happy to accept products for distribution regardless of the brand and the women who benefit from the public’s generous donations would say likewise. However, we have seen in some instances that certain brands are not fit for purpose and end up being a false economy.

We would advocate that when the Minister of Finance hopefully makes provisions in his budget for the supply of products that good quality products are sourced. Women also have different needs each month with some needing better products to keep themselves properly protected. As the old saying goes, “buy cheap, buy twice”.

EF: Periods are still extremely stigmatised. What’s your vision of world free of period-shaming? What does that look like? 

CH: We need to normalise periods and that starts with education – we need to educate both girls and boys about periods. We also need to see products more available in schools, universities, sports stadiums, etc. Availability and visibility of period products will help to break the stigma. 

EF: Homeless Period Ireland really hits home on the particular challenges of combating period poverty for homeless women in particular. Can you explain a bit more the particular challenges faced by homeless women in relation to period poverty?

CH: Imagine you stepped in a puddle. Your sock is wet, and your shoe is wet. You are far from home, so you have to walk around all day with your wet sock and your wet shoe with the cold seeping into your skin and bones. Your friends may mock you because you were so silly to step in the puddle in the first place so you say nothing. Imagine that happens for up to seven days in a row … and that it will happen again next month. That, sadly, is the reality for a lot of women experiencing period poverty.  

Claire Hunt runs Homeless Period Ireland and Evelyn Flynn is a medical student with an interest in women’s health. Follow Evelyn on Twitter @EvelynCFlynn.

You can follow Homeless Period Ireland on Twitter @HomelessPeriodD and on Instagram @homelessperiodireland.

The paradox of plenty: Why we all need to worry about precarious work

By Marie Sherlock.

Looking from the outside in, the Irish economy is performing really well at the moment – on course to have the second-highest GDP growth across the European Union (EU) this year. Malta and Ireland have alternated positions at the top of the EU28 scoreboard for GDP growth for the past five years.

Yet ask any young worker on average earnings about their prospect of ever purchasing a home, particularly in Dublin, or a hard-pressed young couple trying to pay childcare and a mortgage or rent out of their combined average earnings and they will probably tell you they don’t feel they are doing particularly well at the moment.

Income distribution

This issue goes to the heart of how income is distributed in Ireland. It is measured in two ways: the first relates to how much workers can claim from the proceeds of output in terms of wages and taxes paid, relative to the owners of capital who elicit a return in the form of rents, dividends and interest paid on loans owing. This is the labour-capital share of output. The second relates to how evenly that labour and capital income is dispersed between various households.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a five-fold increase in GDP here in Ireland. Based on adjusted labour share data in the EU commission’s ameco database, we know that back in 1987 some 65.9% of national income was distributed to households. Thirty years on in 2017 that wage share has dropped to 37.1%; the lowest across the EU28.

Labour’s share of the pie is shrinking

So the overall pie has got bigger but the slice for households from employee’s income has got proportionately smaller. Importantly, within that slice, we know from ESRI work on long-run income growth and income distribution that all households are better off now compared to households across the income distribution three decades ago.

What stands out is that with the exception of the lowest 10 per cent of earners, all households saw their income more than double between 1987 and 2014. Trying to understand exactly how much higher-income households are better off becomes complicated when we factor in non-earned income. This is generated from rents, dividends and share options. For the top 10 per cent of earners, self-employment earnings and income from other sources account for some 15 per cent of overall income.

What has all of this got to do with precarious work? In short, developments within the world of work, within workplace technologies and an emerging global trend towards even larger corporates threatens to skew the balance between labour and capital further and to widen the divide within labour income.

Precarious work and automation exacerbate imbalance

Plain old-fashioned greed in the world of work remains, with many trade unions reporting the emergence of a more aggressive breed of employer. New technologies are transforming how firms produce through increased automation and the digitalisation of production and the emergence of digital platform companies are transforming how firms are organised. These technological advances plus government tax and enterprise policy are combining to ensure the growth of increasingly large firms.

We know that precarious work in Ireland is not new. My union SIPTU started off originally as the ITGWU and was formed over 100 years ago to organised casual labour on the docks in Dublin.

What is potentially new, though, is that the developments set out above will exacerbate the existing imbalance between workers and business and that this will have far-reaching implications for incomes, for future consumer demand and the sustainability of the public finances.

In its 2017 discussion paper on managing automation in a digital age, the Institute of Public Policy Reform (IPPR) in the UK note that the changes brought about by technology challenge some of our fundamental assumptions about how the world of work operates. In particular, they highlight concerns about how technology may alter “the role of employment as a primary means of distributing reward, labour’s position as a central factor of production, notions of scarcity and returns to scale and how we organise working time.” Many of these factors point to an increasing precariousness and insecurity of work.

Taking these concerns to their logical conclusion, the IPPR notes that automation and the control of many by a small number of robots may give rise to the “paradox of plenty.” In short, technological innovation may give rise to higher output but lower gain for workers and a widening inequality in the distribution of income between the owners of capital and workers. Not only would this have very serious implications for workers and their household income, their reduced purchasing power would also have a serious longer term impact on the wider macroeconomy.

US superstar giants concentrate resources further

Technology is not the only future driver of a global and national trend towards declining labour income. The rise of so called “super star” firms also plays a part in concentrating greater amounts of resources in fewer hands.

In its 2018 Economic Outlook, the OECD highlighted an increasing trend among companies in advanced countries who are oriented towards allocating an increasing share of profit towards their cash pile as opposed to sufficiently reinvesting in their business. At a time when returns from bank deposits are at historic lows and the returns on investment are very high, we would expect firm investment to be booming. Instead companies have opted to sit on large profit piles and not distribute the gains between the owners and workers.

When we look at the Irish situation, the experience of US multinational corporations (MNCs) stands out. The presence of US superstar firms has long been a feature in Ireland with global leaders in pharmaceuticals and technology located here. In his comparison of multinationals located here, John Fitzgerald highlights the extent to which US MNCs do not repatriate their cash.

US tax rules have meant for many years that US companies located abroad could “defer” repatriation of their profits and thereby put off paying US corporation tax. Ireland’s low corporate tax regime meant it was more attractive to “park” profits in Ireland. While changes were introduced to the US corporate tax code in 2017 to limit the amount of tax deferred, the new rate is hardly penal. The result for Ireland is that approximately 40 per cent of corporate tax revenues in this country comes from just 10 companies, the bulk of whom are US multinationals.

How are profits distributed via taxes and wages?

So where does that leave us? While Ireland’s public finances may enjoy the benefit of US multinationals paying significant corporate tax bills here, there is a wider and longer-term issue as to how profits are distributed via wages, how they are taxed and how they are reinvested back into companies. The macroeconomic impact of concentrating greater market power and greater resources in fewer hands means there is less to be redistributed to incomes, taxes and by extension, social spending.

Special tax deals for REITS worsen housing crisis

Or another way to think about it is to understand how real estate investment trusts (REITs) operate in Ireland and their impact on Irish tax revenues, housing supply and the precarious life of so many renters. In order to encourage investment into rental and commercial property in Ireland, the Irish state waives the corporate tax liability on the rental income generated by these trusts and it waives the capital gains tax on any property disposals provided such sales do not take place within the first three years of purchase.

The outcome? Much of the new or recently built housing supply, typically in the form apartment dwellings, has been purchased by REITs with the result that control over this type of housing supply is becoming concentrated in the hands of a few and with that, the ability to set rental prices. This is not good in terms of rental market competition and rental price, it elevates the insecurity of individual renters to a whole new level in that large swathes of renters could face a change in ownership and all that that brings, and it is not good for the public finances in that it deprives the exchequer of revenue that could be used to build additional much-needed housing.

Direct regulation of companies

So how should we respond? No one measure will ensure greater distribution of income to workers. But a series of actions can. There is a growing volume of research that has found that increased financialization of companies is a strong predictor for the decline in wage share within countries. So a strong case must be made for enhanced financial and prudential regulation of companies. As a start there needs to be greater transparency in the reporting obligations of unlimited companies.

In order to protect workers from precarious working conditions, we need to see stronger enforcement of existing labour rules so that they are worth the paper they are written on. And we need to have stronger welfare systems to mitigate the uncertain effect of flexible working conditions. We know from looking at the experience within the Nordic countries, that there is a high correlation between well designed, flexible welfare systems, lower than average wage dispersion and a higher than average wage share.

Collective bargaining rights

And finally, we need a strong legislative framework to support collective bargaining in this country. That involves the right to bargain and to be recognised for trade union negotiations. In Ireland at the moment, there is the right to benchmark wages against other workers doing similar work, provided certain criteria is met. That is not the same as the direct right to be recognised for trade union negotiations.

Again there is a growing volume of research that shows that higher union density and greater union coverage are associated with a higher wage share and lower income inequality respectively. In their review of studies on the income share, Guschanski and Onaran (2017) highlight that union density is the most robust or consistent variable exerting a positive impact on the labour share within a sector when compared with all other variables.

Union density is the proportion of workers in union membership within a workplace. And in terms of the distribution of income within that wage share, 2015 research by OECD economist Oliver Denk finds that top earners obtain a smaller share of the total wage income of an economy when a majority of all workers are covered by collective wage bargaining. He used data from Eurostat and the international trade union database ICTWSS to compare wages shares with collective bargaining coverage.

Technological advances and the increasing concentration of market power by companies in certain sectors means that the power balance between workers and employers remains greatly skewed. In that context, precarious and insecure work will remain part of the workplace landscape. Overcoming it requires stronger unions and more collective bargaining- something SIPTU is striving towards every day.

Marie Sherlock is Head of Policy & Equality in SIPTU. Follow her on Twitter @marie_sherlock.

Ailbhe Smyth: Repeal warrior speaks on future challenges for abortion rights

Ailbhe Smyth has been fighting to repeal the eighth amendment banning abortion since it was inserted into the Irish Constitution in 1983, and has been fighting for women’s liberation and LGBTI rights since the late 1980s. More than any other individual, she has provided the consistent leadership, energy and commitment to alliance-building that resulted in the historic victory of the Repeal movement in 2018. She spoke to Irish Broad Left editor Emma Clancy on Saturday April 20 about the significance of the campaign’s victory; the ongoing problems in implementation; and solidarity with those in the North fighting for their reproductive rights.

When I spoke to Ailbhe Smyth last week, it was just days after the three leaders of the Together for Yes campaign – Ailbhe, Grainne Griffin and Orla O’Connor – had been recognised for their work by Time magazine, who named them as being among the 100 most influential people of the past year.

“This recognition was terrific, of course”, Smyth said, “but not for us as individuals. It was a very important decision made to put the three co-directors of Together for Yes on this list because it put the issue of abortion itself at the very centre of this international and influential agenda.

“The Repeal campaign had a big impact internationally, and this recognition by Time should be viewed as a ‘hooray’ for women, copper-fastening the victory of the Repeal campaign in the international mainstream.

“Consider the international context: There was a specific reason why we were recognised for our successful campaign for women’s rights at a time when these rights are coming under attack around the world. Our victory was a much-needed morale boost for the pro-choice activists fighting for their rights in so many countries, including in Brazil, in Poland, and in the US itself, where there is a massive attempt by the conservatives to roll back hard-won reproductive rights at the state and federal level.

“We also welcome Time’s recognition of our movement because it demonstrates that despite the rapid growth of the far right around the world over the past several years, Ireland was able to buck this trend in 2018, just as we had done with the marriage equality referendum in 2015. So we have proved that people and communities working together can stand up and overcome the far right and the threat they pose.

“That is particularly significant at this precise moment, when we have progressives and socialists fighting to resist the drift to the far right in the crucial European Parliament elections in May. At this particular moment, there is enormous value in our campaign being named, recognised and applauded internationally. It is an affirmation that abortion rights matter, that women’s lives matter.”

A ‘phenomenal moment’

Ailbhe and her fellow pro-choice activists are not sitting on their laurels. At an event held on 13 April 2019, the Coalition to Repeal the 8th met for a working conference with its members, focussing on key topic such as international solidarity, ‘The North is Next’, and implementing the new abortion law and services.

In our interview, Smyth outlined some of the practical problems of implementation of the new law in the southern state, as well as problems with the legislation itself. In a way, she said, the real work is just beginning.

“We were always very clear in our broad campaign, involving 120 organisations, that Repeal was just the first step. We had to remove the obstacle preventing legislation for provision on abortion; we always viewed that goal as the first step in a much longer and more complex process. As soon as the eighth amendment was gone, a huge amount of hard work would have to take place,” Smyth said.

“Stage one was Repeal. Stage two is the very challenging work of making sure that the legislation is implemented properly and that services are provided for everyone who needs them.

“In fact the legislation itself is actually more progressive in certain ways than we had hoped for or anticipated when we started this process after the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 was enacted in the Dáil. The broadening of the the legislation came about as a result of hard lobbying and campaigning over years, and were given shape and substance by the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly.”

Like most pro-choice campaigners at the time, Smyth viewed the creation of Citizens’ Assembly with scepticism. “We saw it as a delaying tactic by the government and a way for the government to hide behind a smokescreen – regardless of whether the outcome of their deliberations was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. But pro-choice activists engaged fully with the Assembly regardless, and ensured that they heard the facts and the evidence, and, most importantly, the real-life stories of what the denial of abortion rights had meant for women in Ireland for decades.

“The Citizens’ Assembly gave genuine consideration to what abortion rights really meant to women’s lives in reality, and in the end, they gave a resounding ‘yes’. They voted firmly in favour of the legalisation of abortion here in Ireland for up to 14 weeks without restriction, and up to viability where there is a risk to a woman’s health. They also voted in favour of abortion in cases of fatal foetal anomaly.”

The Joint Committee in the Dáil then broadly upheld the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, although it did not vote for abortion for socio-economic reasons, and reduced the ‘on request’ time limit from 14 to 12 weeks.

“Ireland took a new direction when we voted to repeal the eighth amendment, and it was a phenomenal moment. We were asking voters to take this major step in a new direction on this, and asking them to affirm that they believed women should be able to make their own reproductive choices,” Smyth said.

“The referendum result indicated that we had indeed undertaken this huge turnaround as a people and as a society, as abortion had previously been considered so taboo, unacceptable, unspeakable.”

On 26 May 2018, the Repeal the Eighth campaign won the referendum with a massive 66.4 per cent of the vote. The new legislation came into effect on 1 January 2019.

Transforming culture in the health sector

Smyth said: “The outcome was better than we hoped, but the reality is that women’s autonomy is still subject to a set of laws in place regulating our bodies. I am opposed to any laws placing restrictions and regulations on women’s bodies and limiting the right to abortion. But that was always going to be the case, especially in Ireland. It means we have further work to do. To my knowledge, Canada is the only country in the world in which abortion is not subject to legislation. ”

Ailbhe went on to say that while the new law is to be welcomed, there are certain specific restrictions causing problems for individuals and groups of people.

“The legal profession, the medical and healthcare professions have all had to undertake a sharp turn on this issue since January; they have had to make a 180-degree turn in their mentality, and transform a culture of prohibition to one of making abortion legal and accessible. It is inevitable that there will be some problems in achieving this transformation, especially as we are only 100 days or so into the process. But it is very important, of course, that these problems should be resolved promptly.”

Training has has already taken place or is ongoing for health professionals, including GPs, midwives and nurses, and training in abortion provision is also taking place in public hospitals. Precise numbers are difficult to estimate but around 1,000 medical professionals have had training since 1 January 2019.

There is a political debate going on between different groups of GPs – one group argues that medical abortions should not take place in a general practice setting. However, a larger group of GPs have responded to this claim by stating that abortion provision is now already established in a GP setting in Ireland, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, and that limiting abortion provision to specialised abortion clinics only would add to the stigma and shame felt by women seeking an abortion.

Smyth believes these debates are inevitable but is already heartened by the strong response in favour of normalised and accessible abortion care from growing numbers in the healthcare profession.

“We need to support this cohort of progressive doctors, nurses, midwives and healthcare providers as they are engaging genuinely with their colleagues in general practice and in hospitals to put abortion services in place to meet people’s real needs.

“All hospitals are now offering some level of service, although only 10 hospitals have full abortion services. But I believe that all hospitals have now realised that they have a legal obligation to provide the services that the people effectively voted for in the referendum. Most hospitals appear to be developing provision and training.

“It is about moving the whole profession along – and the health service as a whole – and the hospitals are very aware of this. There have been complaints made that guidelines have been slow to come into the hospital system, so the process is not complete; it is ongoing and requires further development. Of course, as campaigners and activists we would all like to speed up that time so that everyone who needs an abortion can access it here in Ireland.

“Doctors need to be reassured that the people support them. The people voted overwhelmingly in favour of this. And there are so many people in the medical profession working wholeheartedly right now to make choice a reality. They need and deserve our support.”

Smyth said that abortion rights campaigners are hearing relatively positive feedback about the state-run Health Service Executive (HSE) My Options website and helpline aimed at providing information, including about abortion services, for people experiencing crisis pregnancies. “In general in the HSE I think there is a broad willingness there for people to work together to make this happen,” she said.

Legislative problems

“As we always knew, some of the biggest problems are those contained in the legislation itself. The so-called ‘three-day cooling-off period’ is a prime example. The insertion of this patronising provision was a strategy to try to mollify the reluctant politicians, and it is proving to be problematic in all the ways clearly outlined before the referendum by health professionals, lawyers and campaigners,” Smyth explained.

“The ‘cooling off’ period involves three visits by a woman to a GP; the first one where she indicates she wants to have an abortion; the second visit after the three day period; and then typically she will have to go back to the GP a third time for the actual service (i.e., the ‘abortion pill’), provided she is within the nine-week period.

“This is clearly not good for women psychologically or emotionally. But practically it can pose major problems. People from rural areas especially are experiencing problems. There may not be any GP locally willing to provide abortion services, and they will have to travel to another town, or perhaps to to Dublin or Cork to see a GP. This means time off work, travel costs, and childcare costs which may well prove very difficult. Where a woman is unfortunately in an abusive relationship, it may be very difficult for her to ‘explain’ these visits.

“There are specific difficulties which can arise for trans people, for women living in poverty, for women with disabilities, for migrant women and particularly for asylum-seeker women living in Direct Provision, who are appallingly supposed to survive on €19.50 a week.”

Smyth said to make abortion provision genuinely accessible, medical and health services must put supports in place to respond to the needs of specific groups, especially people who are marginalised, who always take the hardest hit where access is restricted.

“We have a lot of work to do to ensure that women who are marginalised have genuine access to these services. We always have to bear in mind that people do not come in one uniform shape and size; we live in a society riven with inequalities and these inequalities come to the fore as barriers that are so important when a person may be in a state of anxiety or turmoil and in need of an abortion.”

‘Conscientious objectors’

“So-called conscientious objectors in the medical profession are causing problems of access for women, particularly in rural areas. But they cannot simply turn a woman away; they are legally obliged to provide her with a referral. A woman who knows or suspects that her local GP is anti-abortion will most likely have to travel to a GP in another town. Rural women are hardly a marginalised group numerically, but given the negative response of some GPs, they may be made to feel that way,” Smyth said.

“We are trying to limit the damage that can be done by a small number of people who are trying to obstruct and thwart women from going about their absolutely legal business. It will take some time to get the new reality into the heads of those who oppose abortion – that providing abortion is the law of the land, and a human right that can no longer be denied. Opponents need to be made aware that they cannot obstruct people from accessing their rights without committing a breach of law, and being sanctioned in response.”

Abortion after the 12-week ‘on request’ period

“Within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, abortion access is straightforward – at least in principle. Medical abortion (the abortion pill) is not administered by GPs in Ireland after the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and in the nine to twelve-week period, women are referred by the GP to a hospital service,” Smyth said.

“After 12 weeks, abortion is available only in restricted circumstances: where there is a risk of ‘serious harm’ to a woman’s health, and where there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal anomaly, which means that the foetus is affected by a condition which is likely to cause its death before or within one month of birth.

“At this early stage of service provision we do not yet have official data, in the public domain, on how either of these situations is working out for women. But I think it is fair to say that problems may well arise when it comes to ‘serious risk’. ‘Serious’ is a subjective term, not a scientific one, as doctors pointed out to the Joint Oireachtas Committee. It is open to differing interpretation, and dependent on the judgment of the medical professionals. Similarly, there are likely to be difficulties with late diagnoses of fatal foetal anomaly.

“A key point we need to bear in mind, once past the 12-week period, is that the law has not fully decriminalised abortion. As it stands, medical professionals are still liable for prosecution and imprisonment if they perform an abortion outside the strict terms of the law. This obviously has a chilling effect on doctors’ activities.”

The Abortion Support Network, which supports people who need to travel from Ireland (north and south), the Isle of Man, Malta and Gibraltar to have a safe, legal abortion, have told Smyth that travel from the south of Ireland has dropped significantly this year. Ailbhe said this is a very welcome indication that “in general the law is working for the majority of people seeking abortion, but that there are certainly problematic areas which will have to be reviewed and resolved”.

Upcoming review of the legislation

The existing legislation is due to be reviewed within three years. Smyth says abortion rights campaigners will be pushing very hard for full decriminalisation of abortion to resolve the problems with late diagnoses of foetal abnormalities, and to ensure that the abortion should be able to take place without the subjective ‘serious risk’ requirement. The three-day cooling off period also has to go, she said.

“We were also promised safe access zones by the minister of health, but for a variety of reasons, the bill has not yet come before the Dáil and we don’t yet have this legislation in place. It is urgent that we get it into law. There were a few extreme examples of protests, harassment and intimidation of women, especially in January.

“The Taoiseach has said he is seeking advice on this matter from the Attorney General on the conflicting rights at play here. But it should be abundantly clear that in any conflict between the right to free speech and the right to safe access, the fundamental right to security must be paramount. It is absolutely crucial to have safe access – so we need this legislation in place now.”

Solidarity with women in the North

Ailbhe said the coalition of activists and groups who worked together on the Repeal campaign continue to work closely together, with several shared priorities. One of these is to ensure the effective, swift and smooth implementation of the existing legislation in the south to make sure that all women, including those from the most marginalised groups, have access to abortion services if they require them. Another priority is monitoring the problems in the existing legislation, and building a case for reform to be submitted to the government as part of the three-year review process.

Of course, building solidarity with the pro-choice activists in Northern Ireland, where women are still denied basic reproductive rights is a top priority of the all-island campaign networks.

Smyth said: “There is a tremendous sense of solidarity. Last week we held an event where the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth met for a conference where activists sat on a panel themed, ‘The North is Next’, with northern pro-choice activists such as Dawn Purvis taking part.

“There is a tremendous commitment to solidarity ideologically, but there is also huge level of practical solidarity through the close cooperation of organisations such as Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice.

“The victory of the Repeal movement undoubtedly had a big impact in the North and gave a huge morale boost to organisations like Alliance for Choice. And that is brilliant. But for me, solidarity is not about telling people how to follow your own campaign, however successful. Each jurisdiction has its own set of unique circumstances and specific context. There is no template to follow.

“What we can do is respond to requests for practical solidarity, respond to questions about certain lessons we learned, and turn ourselves into a resource that can used by the people on the ground who understand their own jurisdiction and its particular challenges best.

“I would hope that we can keep the pressure on politically in the North. What I hope to see in future is unified legislation on unified abortion service provision on the island of Ireland – that’s the kind of solution we have to put on the agenda.”

Defending women’s rights internationally

Smyth concluded by pointing out that women and their reproductive rights have been a permanent target of the far right, meaning vigilance and solidarity in the coming years will be exceptionally important.

“International solidarity on abortion rights is becoming more important than ever in the current political climate where we have an upswing in the far right in Europe, the US and around the world.

“Women’s rights and women’s bodies are always one of the prime targets of the far right – so we have to continue to work together, support each other, and share our resources in order to defend the gains we have won and push for more,” she said.

Photo pictured above: Ailbhe Smyth (centre), with Orla O’Connor, left, and Grainne Griffin, who collectively were named as among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people as the three co-directors of Together for Yes.

Ailbhe Smyth is co-director of Together For Yes and Convenor of Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment. Follow her on Twitter @ailbhes. Follow the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment @repealeight, and Together for Yes @Together4yes. To support the Alliance for Choice in the North, follow @All4Choice.

Trade unionists can bring class politics to debate about united Ireland

By Ruairí Creaney.

Irish unity is on the agenda. Across Ireland, it is being discussed in the media, at dinner tables and workplaces on a daily basis. While the endless calamity of a Brexit led by hard-right Tories, and the possibility of a hard border being imposed on our country against our will, has ensured that the debate on Irish unity has largely centred on our membership of the European Union, there is much more at stake.

The debate has begun, but it has struggled to move beyond questions of national identity and what Irish unity would mean for businesses and trade. Little attention has been paid to what it would mean for the working people who make up the majority of this island.

To broaden this debate, a group of us in the Irish labour movement recently launched Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland (TUNUI), an initiative aimed at shifting this debate to the left and at putting economic and social justice at the heart of the discussion, rather than just focusing on what it would mean for the business classes. We want to articulate a specifically trade union-led vision for Irish unity and why this issue is one that should be a concern of workers.

So far, we have secured the public support of 150 trade union officials and senior activists, including two veterans of the famous 1984 Dunnes Stores anti-Apartheid strike. To properly initiate the debate on constitutional change within the labour movement, we will be hosting a conference, entitled ‘Uniting Ireland – Uniting Workers’ in Dublin this summer. We are inviting trade unionists and progressive activists from across Ireland to attend this conference and take part in this historic and exciting debate.

Bringing class politics to this debate

The trade union movement is uniquely positioned to offer three important contributions to the discussion on reunification.

Firstly, TUNUI want to bring class politics into the debate. The partition of Ireland not only divided our country geographically; it divided the labour movement and it divided working people along sectarian lines in the North. This product of the counter-revolution benefited only the wealthy establishment on both sides of Britain’s border in Ireland.

The trade union movement represents the interests of the mass of working people who create society’s wealth as opposed to the wealthy minority who control it. We recognise that the interests of working people are in direct conflict with the bosses. When workers seek better pay, the bosses seek ‘efficiency savings’ in order to boost profits.

No such thing as a ‘national interest’

Consequently, we recognise that while class conflict exists, there can be no such thing as an Irish ‘national interest’, as if we all seek the same thing. Nations are made up of classes with competing economic interests. The economic interests of Michael O’Leary, for instance, are very different from those of the Ryanair baggage handler. The interests of the tax-dodging corporations and the lawyers and accountants who facilitate them are not the same as an overworked nurse or a primary school teacher.

An opportunity for a new beginning

Irish reunification will be a chance for our country to have a new beginning, and will present an opportunity for progressives to ensure that the mistakes of the last century are not repeated. Constitutional change will mean that we could steer our economy from serving the interests of multinational corporations and towards serving the needs of working people. That means ending the scandalous tax haven system in the south, establishing universal free health care and introducing proper trade union rights for every worker.

Throughout the debate on Irish unity, much of the focus of civic nationalism has understandably been placed on protecting the rights of Irish citizens in the North that are under threat as a result of Brexit.

Little focus, however, has been put on advancing the economic and material conditions of working people. The whole discussion up to now has been contained strictly within the realms of what Mark Fisher described as ‘capitalist realism’.

The ownership of industry and our natural resources is not up for debate. The imbalance of power between capital and labour will not change. The harsh rule of the market is seen as an inevitability. As with so much else in our neoliberal age, ‘there is no alternative’.
We seek to challenge this narrative. We want to ensure that constitutional change will lead to a massive social transformation that will improve the lives of working people.

More that unites than divides us

Secondly, the trade union movement is Ireland’s largest civic society organisation, encompassing people from every ethnic background. There is a colonial myth that working people in the North are bloodthirsty tribes that despise each other and are incapable of having a civilised debate about our collective future.

Furthermore, there is an insidious and snobbish narrative that unionist workers are afraid of having a debate about Irish unity. This is offensive, patronising and dismissive to an entire section of society and ultimately displays an underlying prejudice against working-class people.

Trade unionists have the ability to break down racial, ethnic and sectarian barriers and organise working people based on their class interests. We want to ensure that this debate moves beyond the issues of identity of ‘unionist’ and ‘nationalist’ and towards broader issues of who gets to own our natural resources and how the wealth of this country is distributed. We know that there is more that unites us than divides us, and class politics is how we achieve that unity.

Independent advocacy of working-class interests

Thirdly, and most importantly, we want to empower working people to advance their own rights. Some in civic nationalism have called on the Irish Tories of Fine Gael to protect the rights of nationalists in the North. Again, these rights have not included economic rights.

No mention has been made of the fact that Fine Gael has always opposed the basic right of workers to collectively bargain; that they are opposed to the right to housing; and actively undermine the public health system in order to promote the private for-profit health sector. Why would anyone seriously believe that these people are suited to protect the rights of people in the North when they are undermining basic rights in the south?

Organise for real change in trade unions

Rather than appealing to Tories like Leo Varadkar or the institutionally neoliberal European Union, the most effective way for working people to protect and advance their rights is by organising into strong trade unions and fighting for those rights. This is how we won the 8-hour working day, the weekend, paid annual leave and every other right many of us take for granted.

For those of us involved with Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland, reunification is not about nationalism. It is about democracy and participation.

We are not nationalists; we are trade unionists, democrats, socialists and internationalists. The debate on Irish unity has already begun, and it is vital that trade unionists step up and articulate our vision for society.

If we fail to do so, we will abandon that ground to corporate interests and they will mould a new society in their interests. This would be a continuation of the tax haven status of Ireland, the crumbling public health system and mass homelessness. Trade unionists avoid this debate at our peril.

Ruairí Creaney is a spokesperson for Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland. Follow him on Twitter @RuairiCreaney.

Image above : Trade Unionists for a New and United Ireland at their Linen Hall Library launch in February. Pictured from left are former Siptu division organiser Christy McQuillan, Debbie Coyle of Unison, Mick Halpenny of Siptu and spokesman Ruairí Creaney. Picture: Mal McCann.

Climate Emergency Manifesto launched by the European Left

By Damien Thomson.

On Tuesday 16 April, Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the Environment Committee in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, calling for “Cathedral Thinking” on climate action – a reference to the huge and immediate mobilisation of empathy, panic and money at the sight of the Notre Dame in flames. The real panic, she said, should be about the “house on fire” – the planet – leading to a mobilisation of funds, emergency emissions reductions and state-led direction of the transition.

Today in Strasbourg, the Left group in the European Parliament GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left), has launched a Climate Emergency Manifesto ahead of the European elections taking place at the end of next month, firmly marking Just Climate Action as the group’s number one priority.

The manifesto, which explores six overarching demands for effective climate action, comes off the back of two recent developments: the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report from October 2018 strongly pushing for policymakers to limit global warming to 1.5°; and the global social movement known as ‘Fridays for Future’. These two developments have shaken the political foundations of the European Union (EU) in particular, and called into question its climate credentials. 

Climate emergency demands emergency response

The latest IPCC report paints a dark picture of the current pathway we are on. It gives us less than 12 years to enact “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to every aspect of the economy to stay below 1.5° of global warming. We are already at 1° of warming above pre-industrial levels, and at 1.5° the chain reaction of climate catastrophe will be unleashed as we surpass the tipping point. We are already in climate chaos at cliff-edge: the emergency brakes need to be activated now.

At the 24th UN Climate Conference held in 2018 in Poland (COP24), Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, stood up on a platform with the Canadian environment minister and other posing ministers to hold a big banner stating ‘High Ambition Coalition’. This was their way of trying to affirm that they are the leading parties at these high-level climate negotiations – leading for higher climate ambition. Needless to say, no-one was really convinced. 

The EU’s feeble attempt to promote itself as a global climate leader looks even more pathetic now in the context of over one million students across the globe coordinating a world-wide strike on 15 March 2019.

These young people are clearly not impressed with the self-congratulating Commissioner Arias Cañete’s level of ambition, nor of any state that claims it is doing enough. After all, the CV which qualified him for the portfolio he runs is based on his family ties to the oil industry itself. The next global strike scheduled for 24 May 2019 will set the tone for the European elections, demanding that radical climate action is on the agenda. 

As students gathered last month with their placards and chanted in more than 1,000 locations in over 100 countries worldwide, there wasn’t any rallying to congratulate the EU or the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ Ministers. Nor did young people chant “Carbon Tax Now” or “Secure the Rulebook!” They demanded climate justice.

The manifesto presented today by GUE/NGL is a response to this call and is commensurate to the demands of the striking youth.  A central demand to the global movement is a declaration of climate emergency – to effect an emergency response to an emergency situation. This manifesto is the Left’s way of hitting the panic button and declaring a climate emergency, as well as putting its climate commitments out there before the elections for all voters to see. 

Left approach rejects the market’s pseudo-solutions

The anti-capitalist Left has a nuanced approach to climate action – one that is clearly distinct from the Greens and Social Democrats, and of course, the Liberals and beyond who always appropriate the language of climate action to cover up their prioritisation of profits.

The Greens and Social Democrats prize the market and economic growth just as much as Conservatives, and consistently vote for the liberalisation of the EU energy market for instance, withdrawing the directional control of the energy sector away from elected governments.

Any real Leftist would reject this. We demand that governments are behind the wheel on the transition rather than watching markets fluctuate, and crucially, we are the only ones that reject the perpetual growth mode – the root cause of the climate crisis.

By removing the responsibility of climate action from governments and lawmakers and placing it in the invisible hands of the market, the Greens and Social Democrats have actively played an important role in this climate disaster.

While their intentions may well-motivated, the Greens have been the driving force in pushing climate responsibility off the desks of world leaders, by pushing for the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) carbon market, commercialised energy markets, the monetisation of pollution and carbon pricing – all policy recommendations from the fossil fuel industry itself. 

Climate crisis requires anti-capitalist action

The conclusion here is clear – only by being anti-capitalist can one be a climate activist. Anything less than this is the preservation of the status quo. Greening capitalism is indeed the most sinister form of climate action delaying. 

The manifesto launched by the Left goes to the very heart of the economic model that has created climate change. Overturning global capitalism may not be realistic within the next 11 years, given how it morphs and self-replicates in the search of commodities, but the forces of capitalism can be resisted. It is precisely here – in counteracting capitalist forces – where an effective response to the climate crisis lies. 

Keep fossil fuels in the ground

The solutions to climate change must come from outside the capitalist framework, beyond the logic of a market transition.  This is why this manifesto is about directly regulating the fossil fuel industry – keeping fossil fuels in the ground and phasing out their use altogether with strict time-bound targets.

It is about massive public investment, matching the financial responses already seen at times of war, responding to terrorism, or saving the banks. It is about regulating sectors to ensure sustainable practices, stopping the wild flurry of extraction and environmental abuses produced by capitalism. The Left is the only group bringing forward this critique and this response.  

Core to this manifesto, and a prism used throughout it, is that of the principles of climate justice. For the Left, these are not just pretty words to speckle our manifesto – they are guiding tools and tests. We stand for climate policies that empower communities, not debilitate them. We stand for a rights-based approach to climate action, including a right to renewable energy. We want an integrated sustainable development approach to climate action – ensuring the fight against climate change interlinks with the struggles against poverty, gender inequity and socio-economic inequalities. 

Just and effective climate action is our number one priority, and anything less than this is a climate crime. 

A copy of the manifesto in English can be found here. Other language versions can be found on the GUE/NGL website

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left and the climate campaign coordinator for the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.