Bolivia’s Coup of November 2019 and the Failure of Evo Morales

Evo Morales waving the colourful flag of the Movement Towards Socialism against a black, night-time background. He is smiling and so are the people around him, some of whom also wave flags and others have musical instruments.
Evo Morales: an indigenous, radical union leader whose compromises
with big business lost the support he needed to resist the coup of 10 November.

On Tuesday 12 November 2019, Jeanine Anez, a fierce, right-wing opponent of socialist Evo Morales, took power in Bolivia with the backing of the police and the military. This represents a setback for the working class and indigenous people of Bolivia (and beyond). It was a setback that could have been avoided and the main lesson is a simple one: socialists cannot succeed in bringing about lasting change from the top downwards.

In 2005, Evo Morales became Bolivia’s first ever elected indigenous President, he maintained this position for nearly fourteen years. How did an indigenous, radical union militant and leader of coca growers become the president of Bolivia?

This article seeks to explain the rise of Morales and the MAS party (movement towards socialism) government and the process of change it brought to the people of Bolivia and its economy. This explanation has to be found in a wider understanding of the history and politics of Latin America.

Latin America is one of the most unequal regions on the planet: according to Meirke Blofield’s 2011, The Great Gap: Inequality and the Politics of Redistribution in Latin America inequality in Latin America has been an entrenched characteristic since colonization, he states that in 2009, 189 million people in the region lived in poverty.

Latin America has a long history of reliance on world markets and transnational powers for its survival. Following a history of colonialism, in post-independence, Latin America prioritised exporting its vast abundance of natural resources over developing its economy domestically, leaving the region weak, underdeveloped and vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles of capitalism. The Great Depression of the 1930s hit the region very hard as demand for exports dramatically reduced.

World War II and the subsequent rebuilding years following the war created a stimulus to world trade internationally and Latin America’s exports began to rise. By 1955 manufacturing was ahead of agriculture in real GDP terms. Latin America adopted a form of Keynesian economics with welfare supports and social democracy. It wanted to turn from free market economics to focus on domestic development using Import Substitution Industrialisation (ISI) as a protection from the turbulent and at times devastating consequences of Laissez Faire economics.

ISI focused mainly on high export Tarriffs, domestic industrial growth as opposed to agriculture and saw a rapid growth in urban populations across the region, it shielded many from the full force of market demands through subsidies, it gave labour rights, gave land rights to indigenous groups and initiated public health, education and housing programs.

A square made out of coloured squares which run in diagonals: 1 yellow, bottom left; 2 orange; 3 red; 4 purple; 5 blue; 6 green; 7 white; 6 yellow; 5 orange; 4 red; 3 purple, 2 blue and 1 green, top right.
The Whipla: the flag of some native people of the Andes

While this protectionism gave some improvements to the quality of life it did not tackle the deeply entrenched inequality that remained a consistent across the region: those who mainly benefited were the formal work force, the middle class and the elite.

Latin America was still dependent on core countries for export and import, technical and intellectual know-how and loans to help cover the high costs of its welfare programme demands. In the 1970s, the global economy experienced another shock, in the form of an oil crisis and war in the Middle East.

The downturn affected the Latin American region in many ways, the revenue from and rate of exports reduced; the cost of imports increased; inflation across the region exploded, leading to an ever-increasing debt for every Latin American country. For example, in Bolivia the inflation rate in 1984 was at 1,300% by 1985 it was 11,805%. By 1983, total debt in Latin America was nearly 300 times the rate of its exports. The region had to turn to the International Monetary Fund for assistance in paying its soaring debt from international capital.

Loans from the IMF are significant for countries as they signal to international markets and lenders that the country is credit worthy. The IMF insist on neo-liberal structural reforms from a borrowing country: the IMF is the last resort for countries, they are rarely able to refuse.  Structural reforms consist of reducing state spending, privatisation of state assets and resources, also the privatisation of health, housing and education resources, a more precarious labour market with few labour laws, minimal welfare supports. This austerity often led to authoritarian regimes and military control in order to implement such goals.  As Jean Grugel wrote (in Grugel & Riggirozzi’s 2011 Governance after Neo-liberalism in Latin America):

By the early 1980s the social fabric of the region was in tatters, the horrors of civil war, military aggression and state sponsored repression created a willingness among ordinary people and their leaders not to push too far in the way of redistribution.

 A change in international relations and a horror at how the military regimes treated its citizens brought a third wave of democracy in Latin America in reaction to authoritarian control.

The third wave worked in two ways: through free market economics and liberal politics. This created a very minimalist form of democracy and its only requirement was free and fair elections. Neoliberalism believes in reduced state intervention and control that the free market can regulate itself and will eventually reduce inequality using trickle-down economics. It is in the context of this third wave that, despite its limitations, radical movements could begin to find political expression, including in Bolovia.

Bolivia has a wealth of natural resources including forestry, minerals, lithium and more recently, oil and natural gas reserves. Additionally, there are large swathes of agricultural land with a strong livestock industry and significant soya bean production. The wealth and development from these resources have never been equally distributed among all sectors of the Bolivian population.

According to Linda Farthing’s 2019 article, ‘An Opportunity Squandered? Elites, Social Movements and the Government of Evo Morales’, the elite within Bolivia have run the country in their own self-interest for over 200 years drawing from their own class to ensure the positions of the presidency, the senate and the judiciary were tightly within their power. 

The neo-liberal era in Bolivia did not reduce inequality; the New Economic Policy negotiated by the IMF was implemented by three consecutive right-wing state managers from 1985-2002. This shock treatment caused profound economic and political exclusion of popular sectors, threatening their very livelihood leaving them without defences.

Nevertheless, this inequality was challenged in a number of dramatic outbreaks of social struggle by workers and their allies. In 1952, for example, Bolivia experienced a social revolution.

Bolivia 1952, massive crowds of workers march behind white banners, the most prominent of which reads VIVA EL M.H.R.
A massive, workers-led revolution swept through Bolivia in 1952

The implementation of the New Economic Policy in the 1990s saw reforms in labour laws, reductions in mining, and an increase in gas production. The traditional unionised sectors from rural areas were destroyed.  People sought employment and began organising in more urban environs. The USA under the new economic regime were facilitated to destroy coca growing and coca farmers. This brought traditional union organisations, national liberation movements and indigenous groups together: earlier in the twentieth century, these groups did not have perceive common ground with each other. These challenges and new formations of popular sectors and their subsequent struggles against the New Economic Policy lay the foundations for the MAS party and the presidency of Evo Morales.

The period 2000 – 2002 saw powerful social movements such as the 2000 water war in CochabambaAymara and a protest movement in Chapare of coca growers.

The original strategy of MAS was in extra-parliamentary activism, grounded in anti-neoliberal, anti-imperialist and rank and file democracy. Its power lay in the great number of different organisations involved in the party, including neighbourhood groups, unions, precariat workers, women’s groups and indigenous organisations. These groups were able to mobilise against neo-liberal reforms and eventually topple two successive right-wing presidents.

Jeffrey Webber’s 2017 The last day of Oppression and the First Day of the Same:  The politics and Economics of New Latin American Left, points out that Bolivia had a huge opportunity for fundamental, transformative and structural change from 2000-2005 as it was in a:

… revolutionary epoch this saw a combined rural and urban rebellion of a liberation struggle to end the interrelated process of class exploitation and racial oppression.

Post 2005, however, the class composition leadership layers of the party, its ideology and political strategy began to shift from a revolutionary organisation to a reformist outlook. When it began to contest elections and needed the middle-class urban voters, its leadership began to reflect an outlook formed more by the intelligentsia and middle class than that of workers.

The election of Evo Morales and the MAS party brought significant improvements to the lives of those who have suffered consistent inequality, poverty, racism, sexism and exclusion in Bolivia. According to Linda Farthing the victory of MAS expanded formal rights for women and indigenous people, leading to a significant increase of both within the MAS party and in positions of power in government.

Bolivia has seen one of the greatest drops in poverty: it has tripled the minimum wage, provided massive public investments in rural areas with new schools, hospitals and roads, and initiated the biggest land reform since the 1952 revolution. Despite opposition from the USA, MAS ensured that coca production became an indigenous right. The Morales leadership introduced a more radical constitution, voted on by referendum, his leadership brought a reduction in violence and a more stable situation for the majority of Bolivian people.

Yet Evo Morales’s administration failed to deliver on its more radical promises.

The domestic elite and transnational capital still had control of important sectors of the economy: banking, insurance and construction (mainly in LA Paz the capital and Santa Cruz the headquarters for the hydrocarbon and agribusiness sectors). After Morales’ first electoral victory to the presidency, the ruling elite still maintained power in the senate parliament.

The elites in La Paz initially resisted the new Morales regime, but the flow of capital from large government contracts and a limited expansion of state banking soon saw the economy thrive and profits grow and with that the La Paz elites were happy to cooperate.

The Santa Cruz elites, on the other hand, have always been part of the regional autonomy movement and have rebelled against central government whenever they have come under pressure to deliver to the state an increased share of the economy.  To thwart Morales, the Santa Cruz movement formed a coalition with three other regions with a neo-liberal ideology and a discourse of light skinned superiority. At its height, this coalition mobilised a million people, almost bringing the Morales government to crisis, but the rebellion didn’t last as Morales had the support of social movements across the country. The right did manage to gain concessions from Morales regarding land reform, which saw many of the elites keep illegally acquired lands.  Nor did Morales fully nationalise gas production, which had been an election promise, but managed to secure a much-improved deal which brought a huge amount of capital to government funds.

A woman, dressed in white with a large sack of made of purple cloth is walking past graffiti which translates as: Gas is not for sale, damnit!
An indigenous woman stands in front of graffiti that says: Gas is not for sale, damnit!

The process of change in Bolivia under the Morales government saw much improvement for many, but there came a point where its momentum towards change began to falter. Workers remained in precarious employment. The rate of unionisation dropped despite the country having a strong militant history of union organisation. Bolivia under Morales, despite the name of his party, was not a socialist state, the elite still owned vast swathes of land, foreign investment grew under Morales and this gaves the elite power and leverage. In short, the left administration scored some success but failed to deliver on its radical promises.

Morales continued to negotiate and work with domestic and foreign capital even after increasing his political power after the 2009 election. The process of change in Bolivia has not seen a socialist society emerge, nor could it when the strategy was to work with the local elites and global powers, to obtain the resources for reform.

Morales and twenty members of his administration had to flee for their lives to Mexico following threats from the army and police on 10 November 2019. Their ability to rouse the population and especially the working class against this coup had been deeply undermined by years of disenchantment as well as a perception of interference with the election of 20 October 2019 by Morales’ supporters.

Of course, Independent Left are against the coup and for a restoration of Morales. But we also have a wider vision.

Time again in Latin America and beyond the demands of capital have clashed with aims of governments that have declared themselves socialist. And every time, whether the Castro regime post-Cuban revolution, or that of the Sandinistas, governments that tried to manage their local part of a world capitalist system ultimately failed to transform society.

You cannot bring about socialism on behalf of the working class while in partnership with big business. Instead, we have to take over the workplaces and run them on entirely different lines, with entirely different goals and with very different politics to those of Morales.

Review: Ken Loach’s ‘Sorry We Missed You’

By John Flynn

The redoubtable Ken Loach has followed up his Palm D’Or winning I, Daniel Blake with a devastating drama about a family struggling to make ends meet in a precarious working environment. Along with his longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty, Loach has crafted a very necessary film about working life for so many people today.

Ricky has gone from ‘shit job to shit job’ since the crash of 2008 derailed the family’s prospects. A constant plaintive refrain heard throughout the film by different family members is: ‘I just want to go back to the way things were’. Ricky takes a job as a self-employed delivery man believing (probably out of desperation) that it will finally give him the means to succeed. But, in order to put down the deposit on the van of £1000, he convinces his wife Abbie, a home carer on a zero-hours contract, to sell her car. From these desperate beginnings things soon begin to get worse. This brilliantly acted film will leave you emotionally spent as you watch this increasingly frazzled couple attempt to battle the exhaustion of long hours in high stress conditions and the fall-out of neglect at home.

There is a scene in the film that nicely weaves the personal with the political and provides a wider background to the film. Abbie is visiting Mollie, a favoured care recipient. Against the rules of the agency that she works for, (you’re not supposed to be friendly with your clients!) they are enjoying a fugitive moment of companionship sharing photographs with one another. Mollie shows her photos from the 1984 miners’ strike where she helped run the canteen. They are treasured memories of friendship and solidarity but from a tragic defeat for the labour movement. Abbie’s funny photographs are from her courtship with Ricky (at a rave), from a happy time when it seemed that they were going to buy their own home. But, the collapse of Northern Rock put an end to their hopes. It’s only in the photographs that Ricky and Abbie look happy. Now, they are exhausted and struggling to cope. A moment of marital intimacy is aborted because Abbie says she feels so sad she could cry for a week.

You always get a character in a Loach film who articulates very convincingly the point of view of the class enemy. Here, we have Moloney, ‘patron saint of nasty bastards’. He thinks that a company’s shareholders should erect a statue to him because he runs such a brutal operation for them. In the interview at the opening scene he gives Ricky some insidious language about this new economy, ‘you don’t work for us; you work with us’, but, before long, we see the brutal reality behind this rhetoric. Drivers are constantly monitored by their scanners, on severe time constraints, liable to sanctions, if they fail to meet targets. Ricky is horrified when his friend gives him a plastic bottle for emergency piss stops. But this is reality for the armies of delivery drivers frantically meeting the orders from companies like global giant Amazon. In an interview, scriptwriter Paul Laverty sardonically quipped, ‘I can’t imagine Jeff Bezos pissing in a plastic bottle because a meeting went on too long!’ When Ricky does need to use the bottle one time to relieve himself, he is savagely beaten and robbed. As he sits in the hospital waiting room with Abbie waiting to her from the X-ray results, Maloney rings him to inform him that he is liable for over £1500 because of the robbery. This, after he had incurred numerous sanctions after missing work because of domestic issues with his son, Seb. The reality of the new economy: all the costs to the worker.

Ricky and Abbie have two kids, Sebastian, the eldest and Liza Jane. Though Liza, Jane looks distraught at what is happening to her family (one terrible moment, when she bursts out crying after confessing to something is utterly heartrending), she is performing well in school. Sebastian, or Seb, is in trouble at school. He seems completely disabused of the entire system, and shoplifts spray paint for his graffiti art. The scenes with Sebastian and his friends are probably the only ones that point to self-activity or self-expression: Seb even sold his winter coat to purchase spray paint! When Sebastian gets arrested for shoplifting during a particularly fraught time for the family, Ricky collects him at the police station. Luckily, he meets a kindly copper who gives him a well-meaning talk about how fortunate he is to have a loving family and that he can get his life back together and be what he wants etc. The message of the film for me would imply that all this is well meaning nonsense. Sebastian’s graffiti collective is closer to some truth about class war politics than pieties about bootstraps and knuckling down.

Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You is a devastating critique of precarious work

It has always been a great strength of Loach that he manages to get such brilliant performances from inexperienced actors. The performances of the four main actors in Sorry We Missed You are superb, particularly in some emotionally fraught scenes. The cumulative effect of watching Ricky and Abbie struggle through the long working days (“What happened to the 8-hour day?” Mollie says at one point) and try to deal with the issues at home is really devastating. This is one of the most unflinching portrayals of working life ever seen on screen but also, one with an obviously deep sympathy for the characters. Ken Loach is one of the great socialist filmmakers.

So, it is probably surprising that the film ends on a note of such despair. I watched the film in the IFI with two friends and we were distraught at the end, in shock, could hardly look at one another. When you remember earlier Loach films also during times of defeat, like Riff Raff, there was some satisfaction when Robert Carlyle burned down the building site at the end in revenge against a brutal employer. Here, we don’t have that. I am thinking that Loach sees the total hopelessness of the current system and that it must go. But, destruction of this atomising system of colossal enrichment of the few is a collective project.

Google and Facebook workers’ protests grow

On 1 November 2018, workers at Google’s HQ in Dublin struck

Back in the late 1980s, after the defeat of the air traffic controllers in the USA and the miners in the UK, a great many activists gave up on their hopes that working class people could lead a revolt against capitalism. Andre Gorz, for example, had written a book, Adieux au proletariat (Farewell to the Working Class) which became popular on the left. His argument was that the traditional working class had changed in such a fundamental way that we would never again have the power to lead a transformation of society.

What the book (and those influenced by it) failed to appreciate is that the working class is always changing. Industries rise and fall, with consequences for patterns of employment. But the fact that all companies exploit their workers to maximise profits is a constant. And it is a constant that means after a new company has been running for a while, its employees will try to organise themselves.

Take Google and Facebook, two very important examples of new workforces, especially for Ireland. Right now there is major unrest by staff worldwide in these companies along with a drive to unionise.

The struggle for trade union rights at Google

At the end of October 2019, a row broke out at Google over a new tool for Chrome that automatically launches a pop-up when staff book a room capable of holding 100 people or more. Google says that it’s just a roadbump to stop unnecessary invitations but employees anonymously leaked news of this tool with the allegation that it was designed to warn management of attempts to hold organising meetings.

Workers have mocked the tool, circulating memes such as one showing Professor Dolores Umbridge teaching a defence against the Dark Arts class. Beneath her, it says: ‘Google decree number 24: no employee organization or meeting with over 100 participants may exist without the knowledge and approval of the high inquisitor.’ Another shows a bunch of male managers in suits laughing as one of them says: ‘and then we told them “we will not make it appear to you that we are watching out for your protected concerted activities” as we pushed a Chrome extension to report when someone makes a meeting with 100+ people.’

This came shortly after a meeting, 21 October 2019, in Switzerland, where for several months, over 2,000 Google staff had been attempting to organise a meeting addressed by the trade union Syndicom. Management attempted to thwart the meeting and at one point sent a message around to employees saying, “we’ll be cancelling this talk.”

In the end, some 40 workers insisted on their right to hear the union representative and this issue is likely to culminate in a fierce battle for recognition.

To some extent the drive to unionise was trigged by the massive walkout on 1 November 2018, a strike that was very well supported by Dublin Google workers at the Barrow Street headquarters. Google employs around 7,000 workers in Ireland. Over 20,000 workers in 47 countries held a wildcat strike to protest at massive severance payments made to male executives accused of sexual harassment.

Google workers have recently leaked information on issues they feel are morally wrong in the direction of the company, such as censored search engines for China; co-operation with armies, or with the fossil fuel industry.

On 25 November 2019, the New York Times reported that it had seen a memo where four Google workers associated with organising their colleagues were fired.

Facebook has over 4,000 employees in Ireland and here too there have been leaks, not least in regard to making contracts public. This has been an important contribution to a legal case against Google contracts where the plaintiffs want end to compulsory arbitration of workplace discrimination cases.

One Facebook worker described to Independent Left how the company started in Ireland in a non-traditional way, making an effort to create a team spirit through twenty-four hour, free access to a variety of food and drink, including a bar. But now, most of that has gone and the company manages its workers much like any other.

Life in Google and Facebook for workers is unrecognisable in the Hollywood versions of these companies (e.g. in The Social Network or The Internship).

What this discontent among workers in the giant tech companies shows is that although the decline of old industries can indeed shatter working class organisation and confidence for a few years, the rise of new ones (and, indeed, the return of confidence to traditional ones) brings back the fight to organise against exploitation and unfair practices.

And what this means for the big picture is that the potential for workers to lead a massive, fundamental change to how the world currently works is as great as ever.

How Amy Dunne’s bravery helped change Ireland’s abortion law

By Niamh McDonald, Chairperson, Dublin Bay North ‘Together For Yes’ 

‘Repeal Changed My Life’

Portrait photograph of Amy Dunne. No background other than a blue sky. A confident, proud expression on her face.
Amy Dunne in 2019. Amy was ‘Miss D’ in the landmark ‘right to travel’ High Court abortion case of 2007. Pic: Arthur Carron

Ireland’s long journey from being a country with strict anti-abortion laws to the success of the Repeal movement was not a gradual one.  Rather, after years when there was no movement on the issue, the country would gain a much deeper national understanding of why women should have right to choose from particular cases.

The awful situation that a fourteen-year-old girl – Miss X – found herself in, having been raped and made pregnant in 1992 shook the country. Not only was she refused an abortion in Ireland, but the Irish courts initially refused to let her travel to England for an abortion. Only after a massive outcry and a march of over 10,000 people did the Supreme Court rule that abortion was legal if the woman’s life was at risk.

Students from 1992 sitting in the road in the Dail, behind a banner saying 'Abortion Information Now'. A highlighted square and arrow draws attention to where the image has been altered to cover up a phone number.
In 1992, newspapers didn’t even dare reproduce phone numbers of abortion information services. This, taken by Eric Luke, was doctored to remove the number before being published in the Irish Times.

Another such case was that of Miss D, who we now know as Amy Dunne. Last week, Amy told her story to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke. Unlike the X case, Amy wanted a baby but discovered in 2007, on her seventeenth birthday, that the baby had anencephaly. Her choice was to have an abortion, but because Amy was in temporary foster care, social workers were involved and the told her that she – along with anyone who travelled with her ­­– would ‘be done for murder’.

Amy refused to back down and took her case as far as the High Court in order obtain the right to travel to the UK (and her passport, which was being withheld from her).

In Liverpool, after induced labour, her baby, Jasmine, died. The experience has left her haunted. As Amy put it, ‘I would have lived with the regret of having an abortion but now that’s not what I have, I have a baby I carried, I have a connection, I have a grave, I’ve had a funeral. I have pictures, I have a child, I have memories. I have newspaper clippings.

‘I am forever haunted instead of just being able to go and do what I needed to do.’

The retelling of such a traumatic experience in public while trying to live with its consequences every day is a huge act of bravery and this bravery highlights the sheer cruelty of the actions of anti-choice bigots who still continue to bully pregnant people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Repealing the 8th was a huge achievement, one that was delivered thanks to the grassroots organisation of thousands of  women across the state. But the legislation is too narrow and restricted. People are still travelling for abortion healthcare, the lack of flexibility in the law means some migrants and people in Direct Provision are left without care.

We urgently need legislation for exclusion zones, a demand that Amy Dunne spoke in favour of. She said that seeing protests at hospitals made a difficult situation worse for a woman who has a hard choice to make, ‘I don’t think anyone should be allowed protest outside a hospital. Pro-life people should be ashamed of themselves. I think it’s sick – I think they have a mental illness. We all make decisions and they’re not made lightly.’

Fine Gael were happy to ride the Liberal repeal wave that was created by the hard work of grassroots activism but now when women and pregnant people need support these are sadly lacking

Brexit: What Should Irish Socialists Say?

Short version: Independent Left advocate Remain.

At the time of writing, there is still a lot of uncertainty around whether and under what conditions the UK will leave EU. On Saturday 19 October, it seemed possible that Boris Johnson would just about get a Brexit deal through the UK parliament, only for him to be caught by surprise by an amendment (the Letwin amendment) that postponed a vote on Johnson’s Brexit package until a Withdrawal Agreement bill (WAB) was first agreed. The point being that MPs did not trust Johnson: so long as WAB was not passed, there was a danger of a No Deal crash out on 31 October.

Currently, even if Johnson does have the slender majority he needs to deliver Brexit in line with his agreement, there is still opportunity for UK MPs to amend the WAB, including by adding the idea that a second referendum has to be organised to endorse the deal. A new referendum was the demand of the huge (possibly as many as one million people) march in London on the same date.

What is certain is that if Brexit takes place – and especially if it’s the Johnson version – the UK leaving will be harmful for working class communities. In the UK itself, including Northern Ireland, Brexit would mean a rise in unemployment, a food and medicine crisis and an economic decline that some analysts anticipate will be worse than that of the 1930s. In Ireland, there are likely to be similar, if much less severe consequences. Here too, however, we are also going to face a government that will use Brexit, like it has used every crisis before now, as an excuse to strike down on working class people.

Remember how the Universal Social Charge was introduced by Fianna Fail’s Finance minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 as ‘a temporary measure’ to help Ireland cope with the financial crisis? Well, Brexit will be used in exactly the same way: even now Fine Gael are raising Brexit to justify their failure to properly fund essential services. The most recent budget is just the latest example of this approach.

For this reason alone, socialists in Ireland should advocate Remain. Moreover, there’s another way that the position of workers has already worsened as a result of the Brexit vote and that is because it has been accompanied by a rise in racism. Racists of all hues in the UK, including out-and-out fascists, greeted the result of the Brexit referendum with delight and there was an immediate upsurge of attacks on immigrants (a rise of 41% in what the UK police term ‘hate crimes’). In Ireland, we only experienced a ripple of this, but any growth in hostility to immigrants harms our ability to stand together and make progress on all the pressing issues that face us.

Does supporting Remain mean supporting the EU?

On the whole, with the important exception of Bernadette McAliskey, who quite rightly said, ‘politically the Right wing of British and European politics along with anti-immigration and naked racism has been strengthened by the Brexit victory,’ the Irish left were pro-Brexit at the time of the first referendum. It is understandable why. We shocked the establishment in 2001, when we were a successful part of the campaign against the Nice Treaty (opposing it largely because the treaty undermined Irish neutrality). The Irish conservative parties had to spend a lot of time and energy in pushing through the re-run in 2002. Again, the Lisbon Treaty of 2008 was rejected, with the left in tune with working class communities who mistrusted the proposed changes as likely to favour business over workers’ rights.

Given the EU had bullied Ireland into taking on the debts of their banks after the crash of 2009 and then tried to insist on us having water charges to pay for these massive debts, it’s no wonder that the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and many others on the left assumed that being in favour of Brexit was the natural continuation of an approach that – rightly – characterises the EU as being dominated by big business.

They were mistaken and deeply so.

Every referendum has to be judged on its merits and understood to be taking place at a particular moment in time. The UK one on Brexit had a very different dynamic to Nice and Lisbon. It was rapidly taken up by the anti-immigration UKIP and small parties even further to the right and then became all about immigration, particularly after the murder of Labour’s Jo Cox. Jo Cox was a prominent activist against Islamaphobia who was campaigning for Remain. She was killed by a man with fascist connections, who shouted “Britain first”.

Socialists who had a vote should have voted Remain, primarily in order to stand with the anti-racists.

There is no contradiction at all in advocating Remain for these reasons and still holding to a view that the EU is driven by big business. Because Brexit too is all about a big business agenda: the Conservative Brexiteers can hardly wait to tear up EU regulations protecting workers’ rights. They think realignment with the US and the far-east will prove more profitable than staying in the EU.

The old Socialist Workers Party that was, had a slogan, ‘neither Washington nor Moscow’ to indicate that in the Cold War it did not see it necessary to pick a side, when both sides were racing to oppress and exploit their populations. That’s the approach that socialists should take when the rows among a divided elite spill over into a referendum. The Irish version runs: feck ye both.

We don’t have a side between the EU and British businesses who think they are better off facing towards the US. But we do take sides against racism and we are rooted in communities that are going to suffer when Fine Gael wield the hammer, shouting ‘sorry, but Brexit’.

So Remain it is.

What should socialists do now about Brexit?

The Brexit vote is not a defiant working class refusing to be pushed into a Lisbon-type treaty. It’s the opposite: an anti-immigrant, right-wing vote. On the other hand, the Remain vote had as its largest component exactly the kind of people who make up the natural constituency for socialist parties: trade unionists, community activists and especially anti-racists.

The Ashcroft exit poll to the Brexit referendum was the most comprehensive poll at the time (12,000 people sampled). It shows that two out of three Labour voters voted Remain. A majority of people in work voted Remain. 67% of Asians voted Remain and 70% of Muslims. True, there were traditional Labour regions that voted leave, but no one argues that they did so for any other reason than being anti-immigrant. Their champion within the Labour Party, Stephen Kinnock, thinks Labour has to emphasise, ‘the value of place’ and the legitimacy of raising concerns about immigration.

Trying to appease racism never works. The more divided a working class community, the less able we are to win campaigns on all the issues affecting us.

Probably, the penny has begun to drop among Irish socialists that they have the wrong approach to Brexit and they are alienating themselves from core supporters.

Hopefully these parties change their approach. Although they have no culture of doing so, it would not harm these parties to acknowledge that supporting Brexit was a mistake but now, in the light of developments, they are for Remain. No harm at all. In fact, you win respect by honesty instead of evasive, never-wrong, politician-speak. We need to have the humility to acknowledge when we make mistakes, learn from them and move forward. No one is all-knowing, so we shouldn’t pretend to be so.

For our part, we are unambiguous. Independent Left are for Remain.

The Quiet Collapse of the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Painted illustration of the north side of Parnell Square, Hugh Lane at the centre with imagined colourful stalls along a pedestrianised street.
The plan for beautiful new cultural quarter for Parnell Square is faltering due to the failure of the private-wealth approach

A beautiful new library, part of an ambitious new cultural quarter encompassing places for learning, literature, music, innovation and enterprise, inter-culturalism and design, to be located at Parnell Square Dublin 1, was in store for Dublin and Dubliners. The Central Library in the Ilac Shopping Centre has its charm but this new library was to be something else, a civic space fitting for a twenty-first century capital city, especially one designated UNESCO City of Literature.

The Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, a 11,000 m2 development comprising a new city library and a range of social and cultural facilities –  a music centre, a design space, an innovation hub, a business library, a 200 seat conference space, an education centre, a café and an exhibition area – was to be Dublin City Council’s major flagship development, regenerating the north inner city as well as providing a new focus and destination at the northern end of O’Connell Street.

The  proposed  development was to include  work  to  the  existing  Georgian  houses  at  23  to  28 Parnell  Square  North  as  well  as  a  dramatic  new  building  to  the  rear  of  these  houses.  It included  20 and 21 Parnell Square  North and would have seen the creation of a new public plaza along Parnell Square North. It was intended that Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane would form part of the overall  Parnell Square Cultural Quarter offering and its role and impact would be expanded by the development of the new facilities. Magnificent!

I have supported this wonderful civic vision for Parnell Square over the last five years but with one recurring reservation: the funding model deployed to transform the vision into a reality was predicated upon 55% of the entire cost of the project coming through philanthropic channels. Yes, the rich Irish elite were going to be approached to cough up some of the money they save through our rather elite-friendly taxation system.

Alas, it was not to be. Unlike the Scottish-American millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who provided £170,000 between 1897 and 1913 to fund an entire network of libraries in Ireland (some 80 in total, 63 of which are still standing today), the millionaires and billionaires in twenty-first century Ireland appear disinterested in the kind of philanthropic activity Carnegie was involved in over one hundred years ago.

Parnell Square Cultural Quarter too Dependent on Private Capital

“Destined to fail,” some said; “bizarre”, said others; “doomed”, declared many. “Why the hell can’t we just fund it ourselves?” asked many more.

The cost of the project was estimated (in August 2019) to be in the region of €131 million. According to Dublin City Council’s executive Owen Keegan, a “unique feature of this project  is that Kennedy Wilson Europe Limited agreed,  on a pro bono basis, to assist the delivery of the project by providing seed capital to get the project through design, costing and final planning, leading the effort  to  raise the required  level  of private donations to  fully  fund  the  project and providing expertise to assist in the management of the project.”

This strange funding structure would have seen 55% of that funding raised via philanthropic donation(s) secured through the efforts of one of the largest private property landlords in the city. The rich folk of the city, and perhaps the country, were going to don the blue jersey and stump up the millions, with Dublin City Council agreeing to finance the other 45%.

Agreeing to allow US property speculator Kennedy Wilson take responsibility for fundraising over 50% of the cost of the new Dublin City Library at Parnell Square appeared like a particularly unusual way for Dublin City Council to go about raising the capital funds required for one of the capital city’s cultural flagship developments.

During my five years to date as an elected representative on Dublin City Council, however, I have become used to proposals which involve a heavy dose of the private sector: from housing construction, waste collection, water and sanitation to grass-cutting, housing maintenance, the involvement of private contractors is ubiquitous. The city council’s capacity to deliver these services has shrivelled through years of austerity and privatisation.

When asked by myself and other elected representatives why we couldn’t fund the project fully ourselves, whilst pointing to the obvious dangers of relying on private donations to raise over half the cost of the development, we were assured by city council officials that this was the best way to go about it.

So the Parnell Square Foundation, comprised of City Council officials and Kennedy Wilson representatives was established in 2013 to oversee the project. And according to city council report from July 2019, “considerable  progress has been made  over the past seven years… In particular,  all  the required buildings  have  been  brought  into  City  Council  ownership,  substantial  support  for  the  City Council’s vision  for Parnell Square  North  has been generated,  a world class design  has  been procured and full planning permission for the proposed development has been obtained from An Bord Pleanála.”

But here comes the “however”: Dublin City Council manager Keegan goes on to state in the same report that, “I have now been  advised, following work undertaken by a consultant engaged  by  Kennedy Wilson on behalf of the Foundation, that the required private fundraising could take over 3 years and that there is no guarantee it will be successful.” (My italics). The consultant’s interim report identified a number of potential obstacles to a successful fundraising campaign for the project including the following:

– the scale of funding required for the project relative to the sums raised previously for cultural projects in Ireland from national and international donors,

–  the fact that the Foundation has no previous donor base to act as project champions,

–  the intense competition for  philanthropic funding from high profile national cultural projects based in Dublin, which have already secured significant State funding and

– the fact that libraries have a lower affinity score with private donors than the arts generally. 

The rich ain’t interested, national government is nowhere to be seen or heard, and so the city council is left to pick up the pieces. Predictable but nonetheless devastating for the city of Dublin.

What Happens Now for the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter?

So where to now? Keegan proposes to proceed with the new library but to delay the redevelopment of the five Georgian buildings which were to house the new Cultural Quarter Education Centre, the Music Centre, the Design Space, the InterCultural Hub and the public realm works, thus effectively abandoning the wonderful civic vision for Parnell Square in favour of a piecemeal development.

Just. Not. Good. Enough.

So I have tabled the following motion to Dublin City Council in the hope that the entire Parnell Square Cultural Quarter vision can be saved and developed as one project, as initially conceived:

The elected members of this city council call on national government to include in this year’s Dublin City Council Capital Programme the necessary central exchequer funding to ensure that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, Dublin City Council’s major flagship civic development, proceeds in its entirety as envisioned in the planning permission granted by An Bord Pleanala in May of this year, namely the entire 11,000m2 development comprising a new city library, a range of cultural, education, musical and exhibition spaces and the enhancement of the public realm.

For More Information on the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, see here.

Property Developer Bypasses Clongriffin Residents

Gannon Homes use multiple proposals to ‘develop’ Clongriffin Town centre to circumvent community input and calls for health and sports amenities

By Independent Left Councillor John Lyons

So this is the Irish planning system in action: Gannon Homes wants to construct 1,970 residential units in Clongriffin, along with some office and commercial space yet they have lodged three separate planning applications to two different bodies: An Bord Pleanala and Dublin City Council, thus making it a near-impossible task to engage in a proper planning dialogue with regard to the planning vision for the entirety of this area, Clongriffin Town Centre.

The First Strategic Housing Development application is to An Bord Pleanala: 1,030 apartments (352 residential, 678 Build to Rent units), 2 creches, 10 retail units and all associated site works.

The Second Strategic Housing Development application is also to An Bord Pleanala: 500 apartments (235 residential, 265 build to rent), creche and all associated site works.

The third application is to Dublin City Council: The development will consist of the construction of a mixed-use development comprising of 420 apartment units.

This multiple submission tactic completely disadvantages residents, community associations and elected representatives from having their voices heard in the planning system.

It also leads to a sense of fragmentation: our city council Local Area Plan for Clongriffin and the wider Dublin City Development Plan appear lost in this new process.

Who is in charge of taking a wider and longer view of planning in this area? Who ensures that the long-term objectives of creating a sustainable and vibrant mixed-use town in actually achieved here in Clongriffin?

The Strategic Housing Development (SHD) fast-track process is the most anti-democratic move made by Fine Gael, at the behest of property developers, in recent years: any proposals to build 100+ houses or 200+ student accommodation bedspaces bypasses Dublin City Council as the Planning Authority and goes straight to An Bord Pleanála (ABP).

We’ve seen what that means in the radical revision of Dublin City Council’s plans for the Chiver’s Factory site.

Property developers have the government in their pockets: the planning system and thus the city of Dublin is being reshaped in its profit-making image, with a housing and homelessness crisis; a bubble in office construction; a dearth of community and artistic spaces and in the case of Clongriffin, the construction of a soul-less apartment complex-dominated dormitory town rather than the creation of vibrant mixed-use town, as was originally envisaged for this area.

And lastly, in order for your voice to heard in all three of these applications, you will have to cough up 60 euro (20 quid per application). Sure why not?

Not only is our voice drowned out by profit-seeking property developers and their government and civil service cronies but we get fleeced at the same time.

New Playground For Kilbarrack

After a long struggle, Kilbarrack finally has a new area for children to play in

After a protracted effort that began more than twenty years ago, there is finally a new children’s playground in Kilbarrack in front of the Kilbarrack All Weather pitch facing on to Greendale Road at the top of Thornville Road.

Satellite map showing the location of Kilbarrack's new playground as a red rectangle
Map showing the location of Kilbarrack’s new playground

A significant role in advocating for the playground was played by the Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme (KCCP), who are rightly proud and delighted with the result. After organising several meetings in the community around the issue of the playground, KCCP elected two representatives (Lenann Clarke and Stephen Hutton) who made a presentation to Dublin City councillors and officials, members of the Northern Area Committee.

On foot of this campaign, funding was allocated to the new playground and the process of planning went ahead.

It was still a massive task, however, to actually get the playground built.

And to make matters worse in 2016, KCCP lost a safe space for children’s play when a new fence was put up right outside their exit, creating a prison-like atmosphere.  In response, a fantastic video, produced and directed by Tiernan Williams called Kilbarrack’s Ode to Bansky was released in August 2016.

Later in 2016, Amy Fogarty launched an online petition that gathered 688 signatories and in October that year she was told:

In response to your query I can inform you that I am currently working on developing a playground analysis of the North Central Area for the purpose of identifying deficits in play facilities for this area. This is due to be presented at the next North Central Area Committee meeting. However, current records indicate that Kilbarrack has been identified as a deficit area according to Parks Strategy playground analysis. ‘Roseglen’ open space has been identified as a potential location for a new playground but as yet a delivery programme has to be identified following review of completed playground analysis for this area. I will get back to you with an update in the coming weeks. 

Unfortunately, this did not result in a prompt build and despite several positive announcements, the process dragged on until now.

Finally able to announce the new playground KCCP said:

Two Dublin City Councillors were particularly supportive of our campaign – Councillor John Lyons and Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha The playground may not be perfect and may need improvements but for a community that has been waiting for so long it is a great first step.

The work is nearing completion and KCCP have invited suggestions on necessary improvements: please email or ring Marian 01-8324516

Council John Lyons was equally delighted.

 There is now a new playground in Kilbarrack. Happy to see that the community’s effort and persistence over a very long time has paid off!

Let’s hope that the kids in the area love it and use it as much as their hearts desire.

New Stardust Inquests for Victims of 1981 Fire

All the pain we’ve been put through, all the stuff we’ve gone through for the truth. This is what we fought for, campaigned for, and what we wanted.

This is how Selina McDermott greeted the news on 25 September that there will be a new inquest in to the Stardust fire. Selina’s sister Marcella (16) and her brothers, George (19) and William (22) died on the night of 14 February 1981 at the Valentine’s Day disco at the Stardust nightclub, Artane. In all, 48 people died that night with another 11 badly disfigured, 214 physically injured and hundreds, too, traumatised ever since.

Starting in a first-floor storeroom, a fire that night developed rapidly, in part because despite a lack of planning-permission, flammable materials were present in great quantity, including nearly 250kg of cooking oil in five drums. Although the Fire Brigade were alerted in minutes a blast of heat and the melting of ceiling material, followed by the lights going out created a catastrophic situation.

The Butterly Business Park, the site of the Stardust Fire of 1981

Most of the dead and injured came from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock, where the community has never ceased to suffer. Not only because of the pain of the losses, but also because of the way in which our political and legal system has failed us.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons’ response to the announcement of the new inquests was to welcome it as hugely important but he added that this should never have taken so long.

The families of the victims and the survivors of the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state have been through hell and back many times over the last thirty eight years, from the initial political cover up by way of the Keane tribunal to years of political indifference, and the more recent con job that was the McCartan Report, which can only be described as a disgraceful insult, the families kept fighting, kept demanding answers as to how forty eight young people died in that building.

They have been vindicated by the decision of the Attorney General to open up new inquests into the forty eight deaths. But the survivors and the families and friends of the victims should not have had to wait nearly four decades to get the answers they deserve. If the fire had taken place in Blackrock rather than Artane, there is no way that people would be left waiting so long for justice. The working class communities of Coolock and Artane know this to be true as the treatment they have received from the Irish state, successive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-Labour Party has been nothing short of a scandal.

The fact that the Keane tribunal of 1981 found that the fire was probably caused by arson – a finding that was always disputed and eventually ruled out – meant that the owners, the Butterly family not only escaped compensation claims and therefore proper accountability for their actions, which included the obstruction of fire exits, but they were awarded IR£580,000 in compensation.

The Stardust had been developed without planning permission and the fire authorities had denied Paddy Butterly permission to retain the club unless he installed another fire escape.

Although a 633-page was sent by the Gardai to the DPP, the only person to face charges arising from the tragedy was John Keegan, whose two daughters died that night, for confronting Paddy Butterly.

The Butterly family were – and probably still are – highly networked politically. In his memoirs, published just for family and friends but leaked, Paddy Butterly reveals that a former economic advisor to Labour Tanaiste Dick Spring worked for the family for two years. While he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, Fianna Fáil’s Kevin Boland had a chat over coffee with Paddy Butterly nearly every morning. “We were all Finna Failers”, reports Butterly, and adds that Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch asked Butterly to join Taca, their party fundraising group for wealthy businessmen.
‘‘What you had these people for,” explains Butterly, “was to help get things. I don’t mean by giving them money. But if you wanted to know something about your business or you wanted someone who could do something, you didn’t get the answers by writing into the papers. You asked these people.”

The injustice of the treatment of the Stardust families and their lack of access to political power in comparison to the situation of the Butterly’s explains why it has taken so long to obtain this inquest. And why it has been such an uphill struggle.

Independent Left’s Niamh McDonald paid tribute to those who never gave up the pursuit of justice:

I would like to congratulate the families on their sheer determination that got them this inquiry, without their hard work and persistence the establishment would have been very happy to see no justice being served. It is a disgrace that this government and successive governments have forced grieving families to fight for justice.

When, in 2006, Eamon Butterly, owner of the Stardust, opened The Silver Swan pub in the business park where the fire took place, protesters played the following Christy Moore song for ten weeks outside the bar, every night between six and eight pm.

They Never Came Home, was released in 1985 and was banned, with Christy Moore being found guilty of contempt of court for having written it. It remains a powerful statement on a terrible tragedy and a political system that has only contempt for working class communities.

They Never Came Home Lyrics

Christy Moore

St Valentine's day comes around once a year,
All our thought turn to love as the day it draws near,
When sweethearts and darlings, husbands and wives,
Pledge love and devotion for the rest of their lives.
As day turns to evening soon night-time does fall,
Young people preparing for the Valentine's Ball,
As the night rings with laughter some people still mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Down to the Stardust they all made their way
The bouncers stood back as they lined up to pay
The records are spinning there's dancing as well
Just how the fire started sure no one can tell.
In a matter of seconds confusion did reign
The room was in darkness fire exits were chained
The firefighters wept for they could not hide,
Their anger and sorrow for those left inside.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
All around the city the bad news it spread
There's a fire in the Stardust there's 48 dead
Hundreds of children are injured and maimed
And all just because the fire exits were chained.
Our leaders were shocked, grim statements were made
They she'd tears in the graveyard as the bodies were laid
The victims have waited in vain for 4 years
It seems like our leaders she'd crocodile tears.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Half a million was spent on solicitor's fees,
A fortune to the owner and his family
It's hard to believe not one penny came
To the working class people who suffered the pain.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to years
Our laws favour the rich or so it appears
A woman still waits for her lads to come home
Injustice breeds anger and that's what's been done.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.

Ireland’s Climate Strike 20 September 2019

Young people in Ireland played their part in the massive world-wide strike against Climate Change on 20 September 2019. The energy and determination as well as the frustration of the participants was evident in the chants and slogans on the placards.

Fair play to the anonymous students who posted on Reddit that they had to go against the principal to participate:

Obviously have to keep this anonymous so I wont say what school but today out school refused to let us out of school for a few hours to the protests for climate change
I think this is a joke like seriously. It was only from 12-3 like its ridiculous. The school didn’t even mention it to us at all that this was happening or suggested we take part in it ourselves.
Needless to say we weren’t taking this shit so we grouped together and about 80-100 students rushed out the doors and ran to protest anyways.

Here are some of the images and videos from the day.

Participants in Belfast for Climate Strike 20 September 2019
Dublin protesters turned out in huge numbers, here marching along the west side of Merrion Square (photo credit: Conor Healy)

View of the 20 September 2019 climate strike, from above, south side of Merrion Square, Dublin.

The Irish Times concentrated on very young protesters but nevertheless captured the sense of determination as well as anxiety among protesters in their coverage of the climate strike in Dublin 20 September.

Gathering for the 20 September climate strike, Galway.
Grand Parade Cork, 20 September 2019, another large turnout as part of Ireland’s support for the climate strike.
The famous ‘Free Derry’ wall, painted over to support the climate strike of 20 September 2019 (and a march on 21 September).