Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
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.
The Telegraph reports the work of Professor Bryan Simon which argues that Starbucks has had an extremely detrimental effect on community life. The report comes ahead of the launch of Simon’s book on Starbucks, Everything But the Coffee. Based on research in nine countries, Simon argues that although Starbucks supposedly offers a communal experience, in reality most of its shops represent a conglomeration of individuals.
“People immediately create their own little private, gated communities. You come in, set up your laptop and put on your headphones,” he said yesterday. “You couldn’t be more alone in public if you wanted to be.”
Simon compares the coffee shops of today to the coffeeshops of the past, and their role in providing a forum for debating issues of political importance.
He said the rise of Starbucks and its rivals was a far cry from the British coffee houses of the 18th and 19th centuries “which were the cornerstone of democracy with a small ‘d’”.
The most interesting part of the article though is that which discusses the class aspect of Starbucks, and its relationship to the aspirational consumerist lifestyle. By opening up in expensive areas, and charging high prices, Starbucks creates a feeling among its clientele that they are successful, sophisticated, and fashionable. This is a reflection of how modern consumer capitalism seeks to provide atomised consumers with the illusion that they are part of a broader community. Whether it is the self-congratulatory recognition of a fellow owner or an iPhone or whatever the gadget du jour is, or online fora to discuss ownership of a pricey item, it provides people with a sense of being part of something bigger and yet exclusive, while in reality hindering the development of genuine community feeling. As Simon points out, sitting in a room with like-minded people is not the same as engaging with them.
In this sense, Starbucks is representative of a broader issue within society. Capitalism has succeeded as never before in driving out a sense of the collective, and the organisations capable of collective action. Whether it is non-union workplaces or the fetishisation of the small business by Maggie Thatcher, the impulse is the same. To wage an ideological war against the solidarity necessary for class politics. Starbucks stands for many things. But it is perhaps as a representative of the fall in solidarity that it is most significant.
Couldn’t resist that title/groan-inducing pun for a post about the precipitous decline in the numbers of schools teaching history at A Level, and even at GCSE in Northern Ireland, as reported by the Irish News (link will probably soon require subs). In a country as obsessed with its history as Northern Ireland, it seems incredible that a quarter of all secondary schools are opting out of A-Level history, while 20 schools, around 10%, are not offering GCSE history. Although history remains a strong subject – about 8% of pupils sit it for A Level – its future (and the future of those who teach it at both secondary and tertiary level) is obviously endangered if schools continue to cut it. There is also a class divide emerging, with history weakest in the non-grammar schools, where it seems students are being encouraged to take vocational qualifications and perceived softer subjects, like media studies.
This raises a number of issues for the Left. The first relates to the question what is an education for – is it, or should it be, mainly for the production of technologically proficient and compliant workers who never think about broader societal issues, or should it be to create more rounded individuals who can function as good citizens. There is also the issue of how young people come to political consciousness. In this day and age, when politics is presented purely as managerialism, when political, let alone class consciousness is low, and the left has difficulty getting its message across in a culture saturated with the likes of Lindsey Lohan’s sex life and the X Factor, it is less likely than it has been for decades that young people will think seriously about politics. The study of history – of issues like the Russian Revolution, Hitler’s Germany, the French Revolution, and Irish history – exposes them to the ideas that have motivated progressive forces in the past, and often gives young people their first introduction to the political and social factors that have shaped the world they grew up in. If large numbers of young people – especially working-class young people – no longer encounter these ideas during their education, then the left will suffer for it in the long run. In a place like NI, where the left already struggles desperately, this is a very worrying trend.
There was an interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 on the battles between church and state over the spread of secularism in Spain, which is being repeated tonight at 8.30pm. The Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been promoting a secular agenda, legislating for gay marriage and speedy divorce. His government has also introduced new classes called Education for Citizenship, which have provoked a great deal of resistance from the Catholic Church and its schools, because they deal with issues like sexuality, divorce and abortion. These are the same battles that have being going on in Europe, on and off, for the past two centuries, since the Enlightenment raised the demand for the separation of church and state.
Here we have the words of one of the Catholic parents opposed to the new classes
“If you are able to lead kids to a certain way of thinking, you can have full control of them – that’s what I think the government is trying to do now,” complains Agustin Losada, a parent whose formal objection to the new classes is supported by Madrid’s Conservative regional government.
Mr Losada adds: “The right to educate children in moral principles does not belong to the government, it belongs to the parents. It’s a principle that’s recognised by our constitution.
“By forcing everybody to study this kind of subject, the government are trying to impose a view which is not in line with what some parents could think.”
Here’s the rub. The Catholic Church is of the opinion that the state should leave the moral education of its flock to the Church, regardless of the fact that people live within society, and that if society is to work, people must behave according to its norms. This is of course a fundamental clash in views of what forms government and national identity should take in Spain. Should they reflect Spain’s Catholic heritage, or should they reflect the civic ideals of modern democracy? The Bishops are clear. The effectively warned people that they shouldn’t vote for the Socialist Party, but it was re-elected, and is pushing ahead with its programme.
The response from the church and the opposition Popular Party has been guerrilla warfare, with schools teaching their own versions of their classes with the support of local governments controlled by the opposition. My personal favourite was in Valencia, where they are teaching the classes, but in English so that the pupils cannot understand them. Viewing the opinion polls and listening to the programme, it seems that the church is doomed to failure on this issue, but the fact that the Popular Party is lining up behind it means that that cannot be taken for granted. While the situation is reminiscent of other European struggles over the past two centuries, it also calls to mind the struggles over Darwinism and secularism in the United States.
Of course these are themes not unfamiliar to people in Ireland, north and south. The southern Irish constitution as originally written by Fianna Fáil embodied Catholic social teaching – as did the policies of the Treatyite government before it – and the effects are still felt to this day. In the north, religion remains the overwhelmingly most important factor in social and political relations. Although great progress has been made, the fight for our own secular democracies and politics north and south go on. Still, if Spain can change, so can we.
I have posted a review of the Baader Meinhof Complex film over at Cedar Lounge Revolution. It discusses the film, and the ideological and political bankruptcy of these terrorists.
Interesting interview here with the Portugese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, who remains a member of the Portugese Communist Party, one of the leading forces for progressive politics in Europe, and a dynamic actor in Portugese political and cultural life.
See here for a discussion of an article by Ronan Bennett on Channel Four’s forthcoming TV show The Devil’s Whore, set during the period 1640-1660.
Every year, I froth at the mouth about Remembrance Day, and the way in which it is used to justify and whip up support for current imperial adventures. In addition, I am sickened by the way in which a war that cost tens of millions of lives over the oppression of the peoples of other continents is trivialised by presented as a good things by idiots because Catholics and Protestants fought in it together, and we should all unite and honour their memory. Well no. We shouldn’t. We should condemn imperialism. And we should condemn the type of facile politics that produces the trivialisation of the greatest imperialist war in history. And reject them. If people want to wear a poppy, it should be a white one. I loathe the idea that people in the UK must wear a red poppy given what it represents in my eyes.
I want to stress however that I understand that people want to remember their loved ones at this time, and I honour all those who gave their lives and much else in the fight against fascism.
Anyway, imagine how excited I was looking over Cedar Lounge Revolution’s blog statistics to see a search about Nadine Coyle refusing to wear a poppy. I had missed this story completely. Nadine is a young woman I greatly admire (as I know does fellow blogger Splintered Sunrise), and this raised her in my estimation. However it seems that the absence of her wearing a poppy in October – not even November – was due to a wardrobe malfunction, though not of the Janet Jackson kind.
Still it is a reminder of how much Jon Snow is to be admired for refusing to bow to the hysteria. And that on this day, we ought to remember all the victims of imperialist wars, and renew our opposition to them, and to the system that produces them. La lutta continua.
UPDATE: A truly disgusting article, especially from someone who considers himself a Christian.
I said that when I posted on Cedar Lounge Revolution, I would flag it up here. I have just posted there my review of last night’s programme World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West. The short version is I didn’t like it very much. Click here to find out why.