Archive for October, 2009

Utter Speculation. A Hung Parliament and Abstentionism.

October 31, 2009

Just thinking out loud and very speculatively in this post. Whehn Fianna Fáil decided they would establish some kind of presence in the north, they said that while they might stand for elections in the Northern Ireland Assembly, they would never seek seats at Westminster. Not, I suspect, out of any principles, for I believe they have none, but just to avoid the possibility of being in government in Dublin and negotiating with an EU partner government they were in opposition to in London. PSF long ago abandoned absentionism as a political principle, but they still refuse to take their seats at Westminster. They do, however, use the office facitilies they are entitled to there, and claim expenses. There were however noises during the expenses scandal that this arrangement would no longer be acceptable in a newly-changed climate, though the issue seems to have dropped off the radar. PSF are also of course already administering part of the UK, and so the refusal to go to Westminster is more symbolic than anything else.

I think it’s fair to say that most people expect a quite crushing Tory victory at the next UK general election. I’m one of them. Not so Michael Heseltine, who thinks that a hung parliament is more likely.

But in order to get an overall majority, David [Cameron] has got to have the biggest swing, with two exceptions, since the war.
I think David is doing a very good job, I think that the odds on him winning are significant, but the overall majority is a mountain to climb and I think he’s been absolutely right in making this point clear.
I think it’s very unlikely we’ll see a Labour government, that I do believe.
Then you come to another problem – there are not many parties… that will form any sort of relationship with the Conservatives, so the Conservatives have got to win outright or be sufficiently the largest party that there isn’t a coalition against them and they face the House of Commons, which of course will mean a relatively short Parliament.

It’s an interesting possibility. I would agree with him that there is next to no chance of a Labour victory, but if the economy takes an upturn, Labour succeed in mounting a strong campaign, and disillusioned voters chose the Liberal Democrats rather than the Tories in sufficent numbers, there might be some chance of a hung Parliament. At which point, Northern Ireland’s 18 seats may or may not prove crucial, as they proved after John Major’s narrow majority after 1992 was chipped at by by-elections and Tory splits, and the UUP forged an agreement with him.

In a hung Parliament, the seats PSF hold (now five, and likely to be the same after the next election I think) could make them a serious player in Westminster deal-making. Given that the Tories are once again unambiguously the Conservative and Unionist Party and formally allied to the UUP, and that they are likely to make savage cuts in public services and benefits in line with their underlying Thatcherism that would hurt Northern Ireland disproportionately, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in such circumstances pressure would emerge from within northern nationalism to take the seats in Westminster to protect nationalist interests. In such a scenario, the case for retaining absentionism might well be weakened. Would pragmatic people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness spurn such an opportunity to have the British government dancing in part to their tune? I’m not sure. It’s likely that they would, on the grounds that it is not their job to determine the government of a country they wish to see leave Ireland. But then again, who remembers “no return to Stormont” and “not a bullet, not an ounce now”? Nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility.

International Solidarity for Coca Cola Workers and Seán Garland

October 27, 2009

greekcocacolademo

This post also appears over at Cedar Lounge Revolution.

The strike by Coca Cola workers over plans to sack 130 workers and outsource their jobs pits Irish workers against Coca Cola HBC Ireland Ltd, which is a subsidiary of the Greece-based Coca Cola HBC. Following a request from the International Department of The Workers’ Party, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the workers’ organisation PAME organised a protest in solidarity with the Irish workers at a recent shareholders’ meeting of Coca Cola HBC in Athens. The KKE has also been a strong supporter of Seán Garland, with a delegate from their international department who was present at the 2005 Ard Fheis when Seán was first arrested taking part in protests, and protests taking place in Athens within days. The KKE also raised the issue in the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, two musical giants have added their voice to the campaign against the extradition of Seán Garland, who is due to appear in court again tomorrow. The 90-year old folk music legend Pete Seeger has been active in left-wing politics since the 1930s. Like the Hollywood Ten, he refused to plead the fifth amendment against the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee, and was subsequently convicted of contempt of Congress, a conviction subsequently overturned. Seeger opposed the Vietnam War, and was active in the US Civil Rights movement. He was one of those who helped popularise its anthem “We Shall Overcome”. His is a powerful voice to be added to the campaign against the extradition, and hopefully will help raise the profile of the issue in progressive circles and beyond in the United States. Christy Moore, who of course needs no introduction here, has also added his support to the campaign, another sign of his long-term commitment to progressive causes. Both of their signatures are signs that the injustice of attempting to extradite Seán Garland to the US is plain for all to see.

And the British branch of the Campaign to Stop the Extradition of Seán Garland is holding an awareness music and social night to raise the profile of the case in Britain. It will addressed by Councillor Ted Tynan of The Workers’ Party. It takes place in the Green Room in Lewisham High Street on Saturday October 31st at 8pm.

Internationalism is alive and well.

Griffin on Question Time

October 22, 2009

This is also over at Cedar Lounge Revolution.

I have to say I was never spectacularly exercised by this issue of the BNP’s leader Nick Griffin appearing Question Time. I think the British far left’s obsession with them is way over the top, and often has more to do with trying to give their own members something to do and to recruit new members than anything else. Having watched the show, the whole thing was a waste of time, and you would thiink that the only political issue of the week was the BNP – basically the whole show except for about 8 minutes on the Daily Mail on Stephen Gateley was about them, and even that became about them to an extent. Naturally the overwhelming majority of the audience and the other people on the panel, not to mention the BBC’s David Dimbleby, were all determined to show that they abhor the BNP. Tell me something I don’t know.

Having said that, there was one issue worthy of serious consideration for the left. During the inevitable debate on immigration, Griffin must have been sitting laughing to listen to the representatives of the mainstream parties vie with each other to sound opposed to immigration. I found Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, repeating the mantra of “we must have an honest debate about this” particularly nauseating. Jack Straw did make the point that he was having an honest debate. I thought that was an important point. The right tries to get round this issue by saying that anyone not calling for immigration to be effectively halted is being dishonest. That is in fact the most dishonest contribution possible to the discussion of immigration. It’s clear though that the left in Britain has some serious work to do on the issue of immigration. Serious work.

The last question was whether the programme represented an early Christmas present for the BNP. It’s hard to say. Griffin did not a bad job, trying to defuse things through laughter and referring to the other panelists by their first name as though he was just a normal panelist. He did though let the mask slip somewhat over homosexuality (although if I recall right Searchlight had some interesting things to say about Nick Griffin and this issue), and when he denounced the BBC as part of an ultra-leftist establishment. He also was exposed as effectively telling lies on several occasions. The Labour and Tory representatives were convinced they had exposed the BNP, and to an extent that is what happened, with some of Griffin’s more embarassing comments being displayed to the public. Having said that, there was quite a lot where Griffin appeared perfectly in line with the rest of the panel, and as I noted already, there can be no doubt that his party has succeeded in driving the immigration debate to the right.

So I think Griffin will be happy enough, but so will the other panelists. The real question it seems to me though is what happens when the BNP is on next time. Even if it’s only once a year, you can’t keep having the should they be part of the show in the first place debate. By its nature they are going to be normalised to some extent. But we cannot forget the reasons they are there in the first place. They have two European seats. So they already have quite a lot of credibility. Being on Question Time or not won’t change that. Only work on the ground, and possibly there own stupidity, will. I remember seeing an interview with Warren Mitchell, who played Alf Garnett. He said people would come up to him and praise him for sticking it to the black people. And so it is with Griffin – people will have seen what they wanted to see regardless.

Solidnet Not on Facebook

October 20, 2009

You’ll see a link at the side of this page to the international socialist website Solidnet. A Facebook account has appeared under the name of Solidnet, but the Solidnet team have emailed to say that it has nothing to do with them. Just to let people know.

SNP: A Brave Move to Protect Public Housing

October 18, 2009

I’m impressed. Very impressed. Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that in Scotland the right to buy council houses has “had its day”.

She said: “We’re building record numbers of houses, but our ambition to substantially increase the supply of homes for rent will be frustrated if we sell them off under the right to buy.
“That is why I believe that the right to buy has had its day.”
She said the reforms to right to buy, first introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, would safeguard up to 18,000 houses, providing rented homes for those who most needed them.

Given the fact that in many respects the engine of huge parts of the economy and in many respects politics of the UK (and for that matter the Republic) over the last two decades or so has been shifting housing stock from public to private ownership, and the associated building boom of private housing, this is a brave, and much-needed move by the SNP. Although it no longer carries the political dangers that it would have in the past, it still is a move motivated by a more communitarian vision of politics than that which has dominated British politics since Thatcher took over.

Public housing goes to all sorts of important issues about the type of society we want – the role of the state and public responsibility, environmental protection (ask anyone whose new house is on a flood plain about this), the motor of economic development and others. The brand new housing estates in the south of Ireland with literally no-one living in them are indicative of the problem of having the construction of new homes as the engine of your economy, never mind the impact of so-called toxic assets worldwide on the economy and the taxpayer, although again it is hard to find a better example than the Republic’s NAMA of the idiocy involved. Much of the debt people labour under is driven by the issue of home ownership, and property speculation.

NICRA raised the slogan not just of one man one vote, but also one family one house. It’s long been my opinion that the drive to have one person one house introduced under Thatcher is environmentally and socially unsustainable. Not only that, but I think that it will be necessary in future to adopt a more continental model of people living in flats rather than houses. As a WP member once said to me, where would you build large factories in west Belfast now – the space isn’t there; it’s all been given over to houses. The need for social housing is all the greater because of the increase in immigration – part of the reason for the increase in racism in Britain has been perceived competition for increasingly scarce public housing.

Given these circumstances, I think that the SNP position is a major step forward, and one which I hope to see extended elsewhere. They deserve a lot of credit. A good job.

Halloween: Beyond Evil

October 15, 2009

Codex_Gigas_devil

The headline doesn’t refer to Rob Zombie’s rubbish remake of John Carpenter’s classic movie. It refers to a story I saw on BBC Newsline yesterday. I wanted to post on it straight away, but it wasn’t online. However, Henry McDonald has ridden to my rescue (much to my chagrin it must be said) here. Basically, a minister of the Independent Methodist Church (the amount of splits in protestant churches suggests that all is not lost in terms of bringing Irish protestants round to the idea of a republic), Reverend Jonathan Campbell, has said that the annual Derry Halloween Festival, which sees tens of thousands of people gather in fancy dress, in Derry “makes evil look innocent”. Halloween, we are told by the good Reverend is

one of the two major days for Satanists. God’s word clearly condemns and warns people about celebrating or glorifying Halloween or the occult. One of the main reasons we as a church are opposed to the carnival is that children are being disturbed. People are being deceived – they look on it as harmless fun, but it isn’t. We are doing this because we care for the people of Londonderry, and this is harming parents, children, families in Londonderry

Now, I’m not at all averse to the idea that Derry makes evil look innocent even at the best of times. However, I can’t help but think that this is utter madness. I can’t say that I want to ruin my Halloween by seeing thousands of drunken delinquents fighting and copulating on the streets of Derry, but it is hardly a form of Satanic activity. I do wonder sometimes if the reverends who complain about Halloween, Harry Potter, rock music, dancing (but not line dancing – clearly a satanic activity) etc need to get out more. After all, the parks and the cinemas are open everywhere even on a Sunday. They can’t be that stuck for things to do, can they?

Poverty and Class in Northern Ireland

October 14, 2009

A very interesting post from WP Ard Comhairle member Justin O’Hagan over at the Irish Left Review on class and poverty in NI. The stark inequalities in NI are laid out in facts and figures. This is exactly the sort of thing the left needs to be producing more of. Definitely recommended reading.

WP NI Regional Conference 2009. A Report.

October 14, 2009

A range of people including some from different parties and organisations and none attended The Workers’ Party Northern Ireland Regional Conference on Saturday October 10th. As well as WP members and supporters, there were trade unionists, people from voluntary organisations, and members of other parties, including the British Labour Party, the Irish Labour Party, the Communist Party of Ireland, and the Ulster Unionist Party. Apologies if I missed anyone out, as is entirely possible. I thought it was a good, positive day, with lots of good discussion, and there was a clear sense among the people present that there was a real chance for the left to better cooperate. Jenny of East Belfast Diary attended the morning session, and her account can, indeed should, be read here, both for her account of the debate and her own thoughts.

The theme of the morning session, after introductory remarks by WP General Secretary John Lowry outlining the purpose of the conference and the political situation reagarding the left and also sectarianism in Northern Ireland, was Opportunities for the Left in Northern Ireland. The speakers were Gerry Grainger, Michael Robinson of the Irish Labour Party’s NI Constituency Council speaking in a personal capacity, and former Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey. All three gave very interesting, and very different talks. Gerry Grainger analysed the economic crisis, and addressed important, and perhaps perennial, questions for the broad left. These included how we should define the left in the context of NI, how the social democratic and transformative (i.e. revolutionary) left could better cooperate, and what we are entitled to expect from the trade unions, especially when the political left in NI is weak. As well as discussing the possibility for growth of the left, he spoke of the need to defend as far as possible jobs and public services, and expressed a hope that the trade unions could play a more active role in these areas.

Michael Robinson’s talk centred mainly on the Assembly, and how the commonplace statements of our local politicians about the bloated public sector and the need for efficiencies etc were actually undermined by work undertaken by their own departments. Using facts and figures, which of course I failed to note down, he pointed out that the people making a lot of decisions knew next to nothing about the things they were responsible for; instead of reading the relevant documents they relied on cliches. He also attacked the privitisation of government functions, and the handing over of key areas of policy to undemocratic appointed bodies (in light of a recent report criticising the Executive’s economic strategy as failing to deliver high value jobs, this strikes me as particularly important at this time). Like the other speakers, he saw there being opportunities for the left.

Chris McGimpsey, speaking as someone who identifies with the left in a party now firmly dedicated to the right, and as the representative of a tradition rarely heard from, was very interesting. He talked about his own experiences of representing the Shankill, and its traditions of labour politics, though speculated that he lost his seat due to a lot of the older Northern Ireland Labour Party voters dying out. He reckoned though that the UUP’s decision to link to the Tories potentially opened up space for other parties, especially as the constitutional issue has been parked. He spoke of the possibilities of the left cooperating on concrete issues that concerned everyone, and that this type of cooperation was the best way to build cooperation and left progress.

The debate from the floor saw people in broad agreement with the speakers. Issues raised included the reasons for the failure of the Civic Forum (especially resentment from politicians) and the possibility of restoring it; whether it might be possible to have a minimalist programme around which the left could unite for the next election (this was raised by a member of the British Labour Party, and it seems to me that such a programme would most likely be significantly to the left of that endorsed by the British and Irish LPs elsewhere, which should reduce the potential problems); the fact that both unionist labourites and left social democrats may well face choices on whether to stay or go from their organisations in the future; and whether a new think tank along the lines of the Wolfe Tone Societies could provide a model that would allow people within parties to cooperate with each other more effectively, while also drawing in people with much to offer who had never been in parties or who had no wish to return to party politics. This last proposal received a lot of support, and will hopefully be acted upon in the not too distant.

The afternoon session started with an update on the Seán Garland campaign, although the Reverend Chris Hudson had literally been sent on a mission from God (the Garland petition is still available to be signed of course, and support is still very welcome), and then moved on to a discussion of unionism in the 1960s. Marc Mulholland, author of a book on unionism under Terence O’Neill, provided an analysis of unionism in the 1960s. He discussed how O’Neill was a strange fit for the Unionist Party, and was basically a snob holding most of his own MPs in such contempt that he built a new toilet for himself to avoid them. More fundamentally, he argued that the main aim of the Unionist Party was to ensure it kept control of Stormont. This explained its hostility towards independents and the NILP, which made a serious dent in the unionist monolith, before O’Neill’s technocratic plans for modernisation clawed back much lost ground. Once August 1969 had erupted, and Westminster became more directly involved, unionism’s aim became to ensure that the British did not sell them out. He stressed the fear that unionists had that they would be swamped by catholicism and nationalism; in this context, gerrymandering sought to contain nationalist political representation within acceptable bounds rather than to eliminate it altogether.

Roy Garland’s extremely engaging talk supported much of what Mulholland had said. Although he is now very much on the progressive wing of unionism, Garland was effectively a Paisleyite in the Unionist Party in 1969, and he talked about his experience of Tara in the years that followed. He explained how his politics had come to change in those years to the extent that by 1972 he was convinced that militancy was the wrong path. He spoke about the importance of religion to the circles in which he moved (he could end up at church 5 different times on a Sunday), and also of fear. Fear of Dublin and of catholicism. He, like Mulholland, pointed to the reality of class tensions within unionism, and these were important in convincing him that there was a need for an alternative type of politics.

The discussion that followed centred round class and unionism, but also saw comparisons drawn about the power of culture and religion in ensuring the continuation of reactionary politics north and south. The conference closed with good remarks from WP President Mick Finnegan, which discussed the south as well as the north. All in all, I think it was a successful day, with the conference achieving its aim of providing a space for the discussion of left politics among a wide section of progressive opinion. It looks hopeful that there will also be concrete developments as a result, so plenty to look forward to for next year’s.

Communist Party of Greece Statement on Election Results

October 6, 2009

The Communist Party of Greece, the KKE, is a party for which I have a great deal of admiration. It is stitched into Greek society in a way that no similar party is – or has ever been – in these islands. Its election results were slightly down – it lost one seat – but it remains the leading force on the Greek hard left, with over 500,000 votes, 7.5% of the vote, and 21 seats in the Greek parliament. The difference between its influence and organisation and that of parties with similar support in these islands is instructive. The increase in its vote since the elections of 2004 – nearly doubling – is a lesson to us all. A great example of what a disciplined and organised revolutionary socialist party can achieve in all areas of life.

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From: Communist Party of Greece, Monday, 05 October 2009

http://inter.kke.gr , mailto:cpg@int.kke.gr

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On the Results of Elections of October 4

With stronger persistence in order to comply to the peoples needs

On Sunday evening as the count of votes was still in progress, Aleka Papariga the General Secretary of the CC of KKE made the following statement:

“In our opinion the electoral result, which is marked by the heavy defeat of ND and the victory of PASOK, does not reflect the positive developments that took place in the people’s consciousness all these years, during the governance of ND and combined with the experience from the governance of PASOK. What we told to the people, namely that a storm, a wave of anti-popular measures is coming, will soon come true. KKE declares that it is all-ready to take more initiatives, to assume more responsibilities in order to create a current of unity among the people, that is the united front of workers, peasants, self-employed; a current of unity that will embrace those employees and those poor popular strata who voted for ND and those who gave the victory to PASOK.

Of course, the electoral result of KKE is not in accordance with the confirmed influence it exerts on the people as well as with its role and its stance towards the development of struggles. Furthermore, it is confirmed that the people’s indignation and discontent, even the positive developments in the people’s consciousness cannot reach the ballot-box and be dynamically expressed as long as the labor movement and the people’s movement in general is not in a state of regroupment and counterattack. Responsible for this are the leaderships in the local trade union organizations as well as in the great majority of Labour federations and Labour centers.

In our opinion, there is a change in the government but not in the policy of the government. The ship has changed its “captain” but not its route. As it stressed in the pre-electoral period, KKE will seek to abolish the demarcation lines among the people that divide employees, peasantry and self-employed between voters of ND, PASOK and other parties; it will work in order to strengthen and stress the real demarcation line which is: on the side of monopolies and plutocracy or on the side of people? This is especially important because we are in conditions of a crisis. The consequences of the crisis are under way, they have not been completed yet. At the same time, there is a European plan – also PASOK and ND plan- for the recovery of the economy, which means that reactionary measures for harder class exploitation are under way. Social security will be the first target of these measures. Nowadays, there is a need for the people to realize their power. People have not shown their power in the ballot-box. It will be proven that the main issue is not a strong, government but the readiness of the people to repel its aggressiveness that will intensify in the next few years.

We would like to thank the friends, the supporters of the Party, those who voted for KKE for the first time and there are many of them who managed to reach the ballot-box despite the intimidating dilemmas. We will get in contact with those who had decided to vote for KKE and at the last moment did not manage to take this courageous and essential step under the influence of the propaganda for a self-sufficient government.

KKE is stronger after this battle. Along with KNE it will be more self-demanding in order to respond to what the people expect from it: to be at the front line for the struggle for the rallying of forces, for the unity in the struggle, for the prevention of the worse that is coming and the struggle for some solutions that relief the people”.

Workers’ Party Northern Ireland Regional Conference – October 10th 2009

October 2, 2009

Below are the details of the Northern Ireland Regional Conference of The Workers’ Party. The Conference is not a policy making body, so there are no motions or the like. Instead the aim of the conference is to encourage debate among as broad a segment of left and progressive opinion as possible. All are welcome to attend and contribute.

The Workers’ Party
Northern Ireland Regional Conference

Saturday 10th October 2009

Wellington Park Hotel

Belfast

10.45am Registration

11.00am Opening Address

John Lowry, General Secretary

11.30am Opportunities for the Left in Northern Ireland

Workers Party Speaker

Chris McGimpsey: Former Ulster Unionist Party Councillor

Michael Robinson: Irish Labour Group in Northern Ireland

Incorporating Question and Answer Session

1.0pm Lunch

2.00pm Stop the Extradition of Sean Garland

Reverend Chris Hudson

2.20pm Unionism in 1969

Dr. Marc Mulholland, St Catherine’s College, Oxford

Response: Roy Garland, Member of the U.U.P. 1969

Incorporating Question and Answer Session

3.45pm Close of Conference

4.00pm Music in the Upstairs Bar