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Childcare Strike 2020 Dublin Wednesday 5 February Has Our Full Support

Independent Left support the planned childcare providers strike on Wednesday 5 February in Dublin. Here a female creche worker sits a table with three young children who have beakers in front of them and are looking at wooden toys on their hands. Foreground right  is a colourful blurry toy.
Independent Left will be joining the protest of childcare providers in Dublin on Wednesday 5 February 2020.

On Wednesday 5 February thousands of childcare workers will strike and march in Dublin in protest at the crisis in childcare. Independent Left members fully support this action. Yes, it will be a challenge to arrange alternative childcare for the day but action is urgently needed and the march is a necessity. Not only will it show how powerful and united is the sector, but we anticipate a hugely positive public response as we all know how the sector needs radical changes. The state needs to follow the example from the rest of Europe and subsidise childcare, treating it as an essential service, not a for-profit sector.

The march is organised by the Early Years Alliance, An organisation facilitated by SIPTU and consisting of workers, providers, unions and parents – Early Years Alliance – has planned the day of action.

I spoke to a childcare worker who is participating in the action and shared our childcare policy with her. Her description of her daily life provides a powerful illustration of why this strike is necessary.

My husband starts work at 7.30 a.m. so it’s my job to get the kids up and to school. I have two boys, eight years and three years. I drop my eight-year-old off at the school gates at 8.30 to hang around until 8.50: no other way to get him to school and me to work. I got stuck in traffic on the M50 on my way to work as a childworker. I’m very lucky that my three-year-old attends the same creche as me, so only one drop-off for me.

Today, I got to work with five minutes to spare; I’m usually fifteen minutes early, I have to be. Planning needs to be done, the classroom needs to be set up, etc. I bring my son to his classroom where two staff are already setting up the room, completing planning sheets and general organising of the room for the children’s arrival at 9 a.m. Their shift doesn’t start until 9, we only get paid from 9, yet they’ve been here at least twenty minutes setting up. They are very kind to take my son five minutes early so I can get to my classroom and begin my set up.

As the day goes on, we have a first aid incident. We have a child protection concern. I am organising a Together Old and Young visit to a local nursing home. I speak with a parent who is concerned about her child’s development, all within the first hour-and-a-half. We are told we are short staffed today and full time staff need to take a shorter lunch to accommodate. This is not a bad day, just a regular one in this line of work. I also have to discuss the upcoming protest with parents.

Overall, they are very sympathetic to our cause and those who are able to will arrange other means of childcare for Wednesday 5 February to alleviate some staff to attend the protest.

My shift finishes at 1 p.m. and I go to collect my son. But as usual I don’t leave my room on time because someone always needs something: a hug goodbye, a form signed, a conflict between children that needs resolution or even a staff member who needs to go and use the toilet!

I collect my son and he is full of smiles and chats about what he has done that day. He says a fond goodbye to his teachers as if they were his friends!

All of this is so important in our society and I am sick and tired of feeling the way I do in this sector. Yes, I love my job but hugs and smiles and a child’s positive progress doesn’t pay the bills… never even mind the cost of childcare.

Upon reading your article, admittedly, I had a chip on my shoulder, ready to read about ‘tax breaks’ and ‘extended ecce’. I was nicely surprised. It’s nice to see childcare workers being mentioned more than once and in a positive manner.

Zappone says I should join a union if I have a grievance… my problems are not with the management team of the creche, it’s with the state and the ridiculously high expectations they are putting on me and my colleagues.

Sixteen years I’m working in this sector and I’m losing faith.

Everything that is in the link you sent me is true. The whole sector needs an overhaul, childcare should never be for profit! In all the different positions I’ve had, the worst practice I’ve seen has been in private centres and it is not through the fault of the staff.

Change needs to happen it MUST be done in collaboration with the people who are actually on the ground working directly with the children. All these new schemes sound amazing, but when they are put into practice it just pushes us further and further to breaking point.

Thank you for giving me a bit of hope for the future of my profession.

Councillor John Lyons expressed his full support for the strike.

Parents shouldn’t be paying such high costs for childcare and staff should be given increased pay and a proper career path with full training. This campaign can win and the protest on 5 February is the right way to go about forcing the new government, whoever is in power, to listen and to respond.

A picture of Councillor John Lyons, standing beside text in bullet points:
I support the planned strike by childcare organisations on 5 February 2020. The EECE needs to begin at two years of age and double the hours to 30 per week available twelve months of the year. An increase for each child's capitation grant for accessing creches. A massive increase in investment: a minimum 1 per cent of our overall GDP is needed to create a fully functioning national childcare system. An increase in financial supports to long parents and migrant parents whom are most vulnerable to poverty and isolation. Government needs to create public creche facilities in local communities.
In general election 2020 Councillor John Lyons, standing for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North pledged his support for the Childcare Strike of 5 February and raised several demands on behalf of the sector.

Election 2020: the view from Dublin Bay North

Councillor John Lyons running for election in Dublin Bay North, pictured in the evening on a ladder, smiling as he lifts a post with a large poster of his head and shoulders, on which is written Vote No.1, Cllr John Lyons, Independent Left.
Councillor John Lyons is running for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North and has a real chance of a seat.

Nine days into the campaign, how does the picture look for Independent Left?

When senior Fine Gael members took the decision to dissolve the Dáil on 14 January and began campaigning for a general election campaign they were feeling complacent. The other parties were looking towards a May date and were caught without election materials to hand, while Leo Varadkar had his posters up before the election had officially begun. The timing seemed right, not least because Fine Gael anticipated benefiting from the fact that Varadkar appeared impressive beside Boris Johnson in the negotiations around Brexit and the Northern Assembly was up and running again, with the Irish government having played a part in this.

Moreover, in the champagne bubble that surrounds Fine Gael, the world looks extremely positive: the number of millionaires in Ireland has increased by a third since 2013, to 78,000 and these millionaires are paying income tax at the same rate as people earning the average wage. Many of Ireland’s wealthy are landlords (a third of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs are landlords) and are enjoying a growth in their incomes from tenants who are desperately squeezed. In North County Dublin, average rents rose by 5.6% in 2019 to €1,728, having risen by 11% in 2018.

With unemployment below 5% and economic growth levels relatively healthy compared to the rest of Europe (around 5% in 2019 and a predicted 4% for 2020), Fine Gael strategists rubbed their hands and set out for what they assumed would be a very good election for them.

In fact, it is going to be a very bad one.

The problem with elections, from a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail point of view, is that you have to go outside the champagne bubble and listen to voices that don’t normally concern you. And while the 78,000 millionaires are powerful voices and highly networked to these parties in the day-to-day running of Irish society, they are vastly outnumbered when an election takes place.

Fine Gael suffering a backlash in Dublin Bay North

By now, Fine Gael have discovered that there exists a huge body of people who far from enjoying increased prosperity are suffering enormously. For the majority of people in Ireland in 2020, life is extremely stressful. Yes, we have jobs. But the money we earn disappears into rents and mortgages, into childcare, into bills, including medical ones when the services we need urgently aren’t there. Everywhere, there is pressure on our living standards and obvious neglect of public services, especially health, education and transport. And alongside these very immediate causes of stress is the wider issue of a planet that is getting distinctly warmer and jeopardising our futures and that of our children.

Not one person has mentioned Brexit or the Northern Assembly in our canvassing. We hear awful stories of long waits for health services, which bear out the figures that, for example, that Dublin North has 2,400 children on the waiting list for speech and language therapy (in contrast to the waiting list of 10 for Dun Laoghaire, and 0 for Dublin South East).

The anger at Fine Gael is palpable and while Richard Bruton’s seat is safe (Dublin Bay North has its affluent areas and in a constituency that voted heavily for Same Sex Marriage and Repeal, the government might get some credit for those referenda), he won’t be able to bring home Catherine Noone.

Fianna Fail share the blame for deprivation and neglect in parts of the constituency

A lot of the same anger is directed at Fianna Fail too, understandably given the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement that meant Fianna Fail propped up Fine Gael. It’s very common to hear a mistrust of politicians all together from those we canvass. And for communities in Dublin Bay North that have experienced far more than a decade of neglect such anger is entirely justified. In the circles that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail move, there is no consequence for creating pockets of real poverty, desperately poor services, feeble civic amenities, or schools deprived of facilities. For the rest of us, an approach which has favoured the wealthy has resulted in very severe consequences. There has been a rise in drug use and in the appeal of criminal gangs for young, disenfranchised people. Many people have said they are afraid to go out of their homes and there are parents in parts of Dublin Bay North that simply cannot let their children run out and play, instead they take buses to get to safer areas. And since Fianna Fail are as complicit in the creation of these circumstances as Fine Gael, they are not likely to be able to bring in Deirdre Heney, though Sean Haughey is certain to keep his seat.

Is there a seat for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North?

With both Finian McGrath and Tommy Broughan retiring, the consensus among the political correspondents of RTE and the Irish Times is that this will boost Labour and the Social Democrats relative to everyone else. Yet from our canvassing and from what we can learn from the 2016 election, it seems like Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left is currently best placed to appeal to those who voted Tommy Broughan and has a lot to offer those who voted Finian McGrath. The two independents were very different of course. Tommy Broughan was a Labour Party TD opposed to coalition with Fine Gael and who – quite rightly – on 1 December 2011 stood firm on the issue of not extending the ruinous bank guarantee scheme. As a result, he was expelled from Labour and subsequently worked with left independents like Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, and Mick Wallace, with whom he formed the Independents4Change technical group in the Dáil.

On a whole range of policies around housing and health and especially on the principle of not going into government with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, Tommy Broughan is far more closely aligned with John Lyons than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour) and Cian O’Callaghan (Social Democrats). A consistent theme of Tommy Broughan’s political career was the need to challenge the two main parties of the right and this has to be reflected in the values of his voters. 

By contrast, Finian McGrath obviously did believe it worthwhile to join with Fine Gael in government. It’s not at all clear, however, that his voters would agree that this was a success. Not only has Finian McGrath to share responsibility for the housing crisis and the failure to reduce hospital waiting lists, but even in his own remit, as Minister for State for Disability Issues, his record cannot be considered a success. The one section in Irish society for whom employment did not rise under the Fine Gael-led government is that of people with disability, two-thirds of whom do not have jobs. In primary and secondary education, while the number of SNA employed has risen, their hours have been reduced, and along with the fact that the number of children in need of support have increased, the situation for children with special needs is worse than at any time since the savage Fine Gael-Labour cuts to their service of 2013.

From the transfer patterns of the 2016 election, it is likely that many of Finian McGrath’s voters would be disappointed in his decision to join a Fine Gael-led government and his record when in cabinet. Only dribbles of transfers came his way when Stephanie Regan and Naoise Ó Muiri of Fine Gael were eliminated and there was no obvious gain either for Finian McGrath from the elimination of Deirdre Heney of Fianna Fail. His former voters certainly seem likely to favour the non-government parties but it’s not clear at this point that they will focus on Labour and the Social Democrats, more likely is that they will spready fairly evenly, also coming in part to John Lyons, Denise Mitchell (Sinn Féin) and David Healy (Green Party). Which brings us to the Greens.

Have the Green Party made a terrible mistake in Dublin Bay North?

Given the surge in support for the Green Party in Dublin, it’s understandable that Paddy Power would make David Healy a 2/9 favourite to win a seat in Dublin Bay North. David Healy is the Green Party’s spokesperson on climate and that is definitely an important issue for people we have been talking to. Our own view is that the Green Party will not deliver a radical enough solution to significantly alter Ireland’s contribution to global warming. Partly, this is because they are ready to go into coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, despite some internal opposition, but also because their big idea is a heavy carbon tax, which is not going to be a socially just way of tackling climate change. Even so, the Green Party are set to do well as an expression of people’s concern about the state of the planet.

Yet the candidate they have selected for Dublin Bay North is out of line with the official Green Party policy and with voters here in one very important way: he was against the Repeal of the Eighth amendment, voted ‘no’ and expressed support for the ‘no’ position at the time. Dublin Bay North had the second highest turnout in the country for that referendum and with 74.69% yes, was one of the strongest regions for repeal. By contrast with David Healy, John Lyons assisted in the formation of Dublin Bay North’s Repeal the 8th campaign, and, as one person put it on Twitter, was tireless in working for that campaign.

A screenshot of a Tweet (in dark mode) which reads: I know that people are keen to support candidates with a good track record on Repeal. On my first canvass with @DBNRepeal, I was trained in by @CllrJohnLyons. His work on the #repealthe8th campaign was extensive & tireless. Lucky for us he's running in #DublinBayNorth #GE20
One of many tweets highlighting the pro-choice record of Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left, a candidate in the General Election 2020 in Dublin Bay North

Kate Antosik-Parsons of the Dublin Bay North Repeal the 8th Campaign explains why she will be giving her number one vote to Councillor John Lyons.

The Green Party had other potential candidates for the constituency of Dublin Bay North and ought to have been set to take a seat at this point in the campaign. Now, however, there will be hundreds of voters who are unsure about returning an anti-choice candidate, no matter how supportive they are of other Green policies.

What is the likely result in general election 2020 in Dublin Bay North?

The constituency has five seats. With Sinn Féin running a strong campaign nationally and having just the one candidate in Dublin Bay North this time, Denise Mitchell will consolidate her seat. Richard Bruton (Fine Gael) will do well and be elected after the elimination of Catherine Noone. Sean Haughey will probably improve on Richard Bruton’s 2016 performance and take the top spot, not only because of the indication of the national polls, but last time around Avril Power took some of the Fianna Fail vote.

There will then be two seats left and our estimate is that three candidates will be close: John Lyons, David Healy and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, with Cian O’Callaghan a little bit off the pace. The main difficulty Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has is not only the awful record of Labour when in government, which people haven’t forgotten, but the fact that the national party is so anxious to position itself as respectable and responsible, that they have policies to the right of Fianna Fail, who cynically know when to make promises on housing and health that they won’t deliver on.

Whereas Independent Left have no fear of offending developers and those pushing for privatisation of health, or those on high incomes who we would tax for the resources that public services need, Labour are looking anxiously over at these same people in the hope of appeasing them.

For that reason, we are backing ourselves to win a seat and for the Green Party to edge out Labour, despite the fact that David Healy was on the wrong side of the Repeal referendum.

Thomas Daly of Darndale FC, endorsing Councillor John Lyons for Dublin Bay North in election 2020.

The Biggest General Strike in Irish History

A black and white photograph taken during Ireland's biggest general strike. Against a background of the Mountjoy Prison a crowd on the right is faced off against a line of British soldiers and tank on the left. The crowd are mostly men but there are many women, all are wearing caps and hats. Two boys have climbed a pole to get a better view.
Huge crowds gathered outside the Mountjoy Prison in April 1920 during Ireland’s greatest general strike.

On Tuesday 13 April 1920 a general strike took place in Ireland that was by far the greatest strike in Irish history. All over the country there was a complete stoppage and not only that, in some regions and towns the workers took over the running of society, declaring ‘soviets’ and workers’ councils to be in charge. The aim of the strike was to secure the release of prisoners being held by the British authorities in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin and, after two days, the strike ended with a complete victory.

In the early part of 1920, an intense conflict was taking place ­– the War of Independence – between the imperial authorities of the British government and the vast majority of the Irish people. A radicalised Irish population had defeated the threat of conscription at the end of 1918, had voted overwhelmingly for Sinn Féin in the elections of December that year (a party that was determined to bring Ireland out of the empire), and were engaged in a mass popular undermining of all the systems of British rule, through strikes, boycotts and support for the guerrilla campaign of the Irish Republican Army.

On the other side, Britain was still at this time determined not to lose an inch of soil in Ireland. When it came to the conflict in Ireland, the main fear of the British cabinet was that should Ireland achieve independence, this would have disastrous consequences for the rest of the empire.

To quell the mass disobedience of the Irish population, the authorities began a campaign of repression and ‘reprisal’. As part of this campaign, sweeping arrests had resulted in over a hundred men being imprisoned at the Mountjoy without any charge or legal process being directed against them.

The Hunger Strike at Mountjoy Prison, April 1920

A determination sprang up among these prisoners to embark on a hunger strike in protest at their treatment. On 5 April 1920, a core group of thirty-six men refused food. These men were trade unionists, socialists and republicans, sometimes all three combined. Among them was the revolutionary socialist Jack Hedley, who had been arrested in Belfast (with a pamphlet by Lenin in his pocket). The Manchester Guardian’s reporter interviewed a participant of the hunger strike and described him as follows:

A young man, normally engaged as a trade union organiser and he may be taken as a type of the small but rapidly-growing band of idealists to whom the name of James Connolly is constant inspiration… he is as keen that the Irish nation should become a workers’ republic as that it should be a republic at all.

The next day, 6 April, thirty more men joined them as the republicans in the jail promoted the hunger strike. Each day, more prisoners took part, so that five days after the protest had begun there were 91 men on hunger strike in the Mountjoy prison.

Theirs was not just a passive campaign: while they had strength for it, the men broke all the furniture they could, including the doors, and damaged the interior walls. The IRA ordered their more experienced men who had been sentenced (and were in ‘A’ wing) to wreck their cells and bore through the walls from cell to cell. This was a ‘smash-up’ strike and the point was to ensure the hunger strikers could mix together and not be prevented from acting in unison by being locked into their cells. The participants were handcuffed and moved to ‘C’ wing, which they managed to damage significantly also. Those men who had not been identified and sentenced joined the hunger strike but not the smash-up strike. To keep morale high everyone sang socialist and rebel songs, concluding with the ‘Red Flag’.

It wasn’t long before a huge public reaction surged up in response to the hunger strike and it was one of determination to help the men. On Saturday 10 April, people thronged the jail, where an unsuccessful attempt to set fire to a tank took place and the same night the crowds tested the gates to the jail, which withstood their efforts to push against them.

Workers join the protests in large numbers

The following evening, Dublin’s dockers – who were in the middle of their own radical action, a refusal to export food to avert a possible famine – were joined by postal workers and others at the jail to once again attempt at a break-in to free their suffering comrades. British soldiers fixed bayonets and fired shots over their heads but the crowds did not move back. Ireland was on the cusp of witnessing a Bastille Day. Socialists were present, distributing leaflets appealing to the soldiers,  urging them not to attack the demonstrators. A critical moment was approaching. Would the crowds succeed in breaking in? Or would the British soldiers open fire, even at the cost of taking many civilian lives and the consequent political backlash that would accompany such an event?

A faded photograph taken outside the Mountjoy Prison during Ireland's great general strike of 1920. In the foreground are five British soldiers with characteristic Great War gear, including bowl-shaped helmets. They are facing away from the camera at crowd of civilians with animated expressions. Between them is a construction of wood and barbed wire.
Men and women strove to get past British troops and release hunger strikers from the Mountjoy Prison during the general strike of April 1920

The Dublin District Historical Record described the scene:

Rapidly constructed obstacles were soon trodden down by the leading ranks … being pressed from behind; even tanks were no obstacle. The troops thus found themselves in the unenviable position of either being overwhelmed or having to open fire on a somewhat passive, but advancing crowd of men and women.

Yet the pressure on the authorities and the possibility of their being caught up in a disastrous invasion of their prison was relieved by Sinn Féin members.

Seán O’Mahony was a Sinn Féin organiser, businessman and hotel owner. He was a member of the Dáil and Dublin Corporation. Seeing a number of priests at the demonstration, O’Mahony got them to form a cordon at the front of the crowd and then pushed everyone back from the entrance, while shouting, ‘in the name of the Irish Republic, go away!’ This effort had the merit of avoiding bloodshed, but it left the soldiers untested as well as serving to ensure a popular insurrection against British rule did not begin that day. O’Mahony was no Desmoulins and he took it on himself to sustain this role.

A side street near Mountjoy Prison (background) is filled with people looking away from the camera towards the bared windows of the prison. This was the situation on Monday 12 April 1920 when the biggest general strike in Irish history took place.
As news of the 1920 hunger strike in Mountjoy Prison spread, all the streets around were filled with men and women protestors

The following day, one week after the hunger strike began, Monday 12 April 1920, a crowd of twenty-thousand men and women gathered around the jail, which remained in danger of being stormed by these huge numbers of protesters. A thin line of troops with fixed bayonets, as well as an armoured car, a rock in a sea of protesters, and the political impact of Sinn Féin’s intervention were all that held back the crowd (see video). There was no hope of moving any traffic in the streets around the prison. Inside the Mountjoy, the authorities were totally cut off and could only reach their superiors by telephone.

The IRA and Cumann na mBan mobilise at Mountjoy Jail

A black and white picture taken during Ireland's biggest general strike, showing a British soldier standing to attention beside an early-looking armoured car, which seems to be a truck with a circular body adapted for defence. Two soldiers are emerging from the centre of the vehicle.
Armoured cars were rushed to Mountjoy Prison during the great general strike of April 1920

Frank Henderson, a commandant in the Dublin Brigade of the IRA recalled that the British soldiers were provocative and there was a real danger that the crowd would be fired upon. Henderson was put in charge of IRA activities outside the prison, with orders to not allow the IRA parties to be provoked by the British military and restrain the crowd from provoking the soldiers. The IRA had brought arms, however, revolvers in their pockets, and were ready to fire back should shooting begin. ‘The spirit of the orders was restraint unless fire was opened by the British.’

A large number of women fill a street near the Mountjoy Prison. One of them is holding a tricolour. Many of them have placards reading 'Mother of God Open the Prison Gates'. A small number of police look on from beside a wall on the far side of the crowd. Black and white, taken in April 1920 during Ireland's biggest general strike.
Cumann na mBan mobilised their members to carry placards and guard against the threat of violence by the British soldiers. Some of them were able to visit the hunger strikers and bring out valuable communications

A full mobilisation of Cumann na mBan took place and the women’s organisation was very active in parading with posters and providing ‘guard’ duty. On Tuesday 13 April, Marie Comerford obtained admission to visit Frank Gallagher and brought out news of the prisoner’s demands, information which was issued by Sinn Féin as a press release. But by Tuesday evening, the authorities had recovered their position by deploying an additional two tanks, a number of armoured cars, a great many more soldiers and rolls of barbed wire. They even had air support: the RAF flew close to the rooftops (in dangerous 50mph winds), to try to intimidate those filling the streets around the jail. These RAF missions were considered an innovation and a success, confirming to the authorities that, ‘aeroplanes could be used for clearing streets by dropping warning notices and, if necessary, using Lewis gunfire.’

The prison was safe.

Safe, but surrounded.

A sepia photograph of a large crowd in front of the gates of the Mountjoy Prison. All are facing away from the camera and most are men wearing cloth caps. Taken in April 1920 during Ireland's most radical general strike.
The streets around the Mountjoy Prison were completely blocked by crowds in April 1920

This was the context for Ireland’s biggest general strike.

The Irish labour movement resolved the crisis by taking decisive action. With the attention of the country focused on the prisoners in Mountjoy jail, the executive of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Council (ILPTUC) called for a national stoppage. Earlier, on Monday (12 April 1920), they had sent telegrams to the organisers of the ITGWU and placed a manifesto for a strike in the Evening Telegraph. The railworkers of the Great Southern and Midland Company began the general strike by halting all trains after 4.30pm on that day, all trains, that is, apart from those which were bringing the announcement of the general strike to the rest of the country.

Ireland’s greatest general strike begins 12 April 1920

The telegram sent all around the country that had a massive effect and launched Ireland’s greatest ever general strike from 12 April 1920 (Source: National Library of Ireland, William O’Brien collection)

Tuesday, 13 April 1920 saw a complete shutdown of all work in Ireland, along with massive local demonstrations and in some places, ‘soviet’ power. The reports that trade union officials sent back to their headquarters really convey in their own words just how effective was the strike and how wholehearted was the workers’ participation:

Galway:

Well, the Workers’ Council is formed in Galway, and it’s here to stay. God speed the day when such Councils shall be established all over Erin and the world, control the natural resources of the country, the means of production and distribution, run them as the worker knows how to run them, for the good and welfare of the whole community and not for the profits of a few bloated parasites. Up Galway!

Cavan Branch, ITGWU:

Wire received 6pm; meeting held,  strike agreed upon. Tues. – Cattle fair dispersed; shops closed; protest meeting held; resolution protests passed; red flags and mottoes ‘workers demand release of all Irish political prisoners’ prominently displayed… strike committee formed. Town Hall commandeered as headquarters …

Rathangan Branch, ITGWU

Our strike was carried through with great success. All work was at a standstill. The only work that was done was malthouse work. Myself and all our post staff was on strike. We picketed the town. Had all the shops closed for the two days. We allowed them to sell no drink, only groceries and provisions.

Castletownroche Branch, ITGWU

Acted on instructions issued on the Press, 13th inst. Wire received at 9.30, 13th inst. Flour mill men then out. Ordered them back to work – by great work I got them to go. The whole Branch acted like one man. Paraded 200 members through streets yesterday with the general public, under the Rebel Flag – and proud were they. A monster meeting followed. Branch pledged themselves no going back until their countrymen were released.

Tralee Branch, ITGWU

Your instructions re strike were carried out splendid. All organised labour responded. Meetings of protest were held. The Trades council was turned into a Workers Council who took full control of everything. We had our own police who kept order, saw that all business was suspended, issued permits for everything required. Pickets patrolled the streets. In fact the workers controlled all. Workers showed that they were highly organised and that they can carry out any orders at a moment’s notice.

Kilkenny Branch, ITGWU

I received President’s wire at 5.11 on Monday evening. I being the first to get intimation and as I could not get in touch with either the President or Secretary Workers Council I acted on my own and by the help of willing volunteers the strike was completely made public at 7 p.m., not a single man going to work on Tuesday or a single house of business opened either. It was really magnificent the response… I also wired the different branches in the county as far as I can learn the stoppage in those places also complete. As far as the public in this city state that the whole success of the stoppage is due to the prompt action of the members of this Union

Maryborough Branch, ITGWU

You may be interested to know that so far as Maryboro was concerned the strike was a great success. All our Branch members co-operated and we had a strike committee which regulated the closing of shops and opening of same for sale of food. We stopped motors and compelled them to get permits from strike committee. Also compelled stock owners to clear off the fair on Wednesday; ten minutes to get off the square. Our pickets allowed no drink to be sold, as far as we of the O.B.U. were concerned here we did our best.

Virginia Branch, ITGWU

We had a very enjoyable time in Virginia at the strike for the release of the Mountjoy prisoners. The Transport members all struck work, and all other labourers joined in with them. We got on to the business houses first. Got them all closed, with which we had not much trouble. We then held a meeting and put a picket on all roads leading to town and stopped all people pending special business. We celebrated the release of the prisoners with a parade through the town at 8 p.m., which over 100 took part, headed by the local Sinn Fein band.

Maynooth Branch, ITGWU

… It may be mentioned that, with one solitary exception, the procession was composed of workers only, which goes to show the sincerity of the mouthings of the bosses with Ireland a nation… The procession carrying the Tricolour and Red Flags made a most imposing display… Noteworthy by their absence on both days was the usual bodyguard of Irish Ireland and Workers Processions, the R.I.C. who by the way are now homeless in Maynooth.

Carrigallon Branch, ITGWU

You will be glad to hear our strike took place on Thursday last, the 15th inst. Our Branch, with Sinn Fein Club and Volunteers went out to a man. All trading and business was completely suspended for the whole day, the banks, post office, every shop in the town and all traffic was kept suspended. At 12 o’c. in dashing rain one hundred men marched to our red banner and the tricolour through the town and returning placed our colours on the high roof of the post office.

In Dublin, the Drapers’ Assistants’ Association was given information that several shops in Grafton street were attempting to remain open. They organised a sizeable flying picket, which went to the salubrious part of town, where they found that the information was incorrect. Everything was closed. All sailings from Dublin were halted. You could only obtain bread and milk from particular shops and vans which had agreed with the ILPTUC the basis on which they could deliver their goods, mainly for a limited period on the afternoon only. It helped alleviate concerns about hunger in the capital that boats returning with the day’s catch were obliged to just dump their haul on the North Wall and sell them off for what they could get.

The general strike of April 1920 leads to ‘soviets’ and workers’ councils across Ireland

In Waterford, reported the Manchester Guardian, ‘the City was taken over by a Soviet Commissar and three associates. The Sinn Féin mayor abdicated and the Soviet issued orders to the population which all had to obey. For two days, until a telegram arrived reporting the release of hunger strikers, the city was in the hands of these men.’ The same newspaper also gave a survey of the events of the day, ‘in most places the police abdicated and the maintenance of order was taken over by the local Workers’ Councils… In fact, it is no exaggeration to trace a flavour of proletarian dictatorship about some aspects of the strike.’

Freedom summed up the general strike with this observation: ‘never in history, I think, has there been such a complete general strike as is now for twenty-four hours taking place here in the Emerald Isle. Not a train or tram is running not a shop is open, not a public house nor a tobacconist; even the public lavatories are closed.’

From Kilmallock, East Limerick, came a report that vividly describes what workers’ control of a town looked like:

A visit to the local Town Hall – commandeered for the purpose of issuing permits – and one was struck by the absolute recognition of the soviet system – in deed if not in name. At one table sat a school teacher dispensing bread permits, at another a trade union official controlling the flour supply – at a third a railwayman controlling coal, at a fourth a creamery clerk distributing butter tickets… all working smoothly.

It was much more difficult for the strike to take hold in the north. The demand to release the prisoners was going to serve the nationalist cause and significantly weaken Britain’s ability to police the national movement if it won. Even so, in certain strategic industries like the railways, the strike was effective. Robert Kelly, for example, railworker organiser and member of Newry Brigade IRA successfully built the strike in that town.

It is clear that the lrish Labour Party and Trades Union Council (Labour and the trade union movement were united at the time) were hardly exaggerating when they summarised that:

Probably never has there been so sudden and dramatic a strike in the history of the Labour movement anywhere… Local Town Councils in many towns handed over the use the municipal buildings to the workers’ committees.

The Manchester Guardian also noted the significance of the workers’ council:

It is particularly interesting to note the rise of the Workers’ Councils in the country towns. The direction of affairs passed during the strike to these councils, which were formed not on a local but a class basis.

In the face of this incredible working class militancy and with the prospect of it deepening, the British authorities gave in. The first offer the governor made to the prisoners was that of a transfer to Wormwood Scrubs, which, they were told, would be accompanied by their being given political status. This, the prisoners refused. The second offer was to give the prisoners political status in Mountjoy Jail. This too, the prisoners refused. Peadar Clancy (second in command, Dublin Brigade) rejected it on behalf of the Volunteers. ‘I know the risk I’m taking but there are men here who must get out before they are recognised… the Castle isn’t done by a long chalk, but they’re done for the moment. The general strike has them beat.’

The British authorities are forced into a humiliating defeat by the power of the general strike

The most senior imperial figure in Ireland at the time was Field-Marshal Lord French. Seeking a resolution to the crisis, French sent for the constitutional nationalist and Lord Mayor of Dublin, Laurence O’Neill. O’Neill was visting the Mountjoy Prison at the time and left for the Viceregal Lodge where he met the newly arrived Commander in Chief of the British forces in Ireland, General Nevil Macready. It seemed that Macready was the right man for the job the British had in mind. In 1910, Macready had used the threat of shooting workers to prevent a miners’ strike in Wales. As a result, he had earned the nickname, ‘strike breaker.’ At first French and Macready presented O’Neill with a hard line coming from London. On the Monday the British government had made it clear that the demand to release the prisoners, ‘cannot be entertained.’ Bonar Law told the House of Commons: ‘A decision has been taken by the Government and I do not believe that there is any chance of its being reviewed.’

‘Why don’t they eat,’ shouted an MP, to general merriment. The British establishment was complacent.

Forty-eight hours later, however, with the powerful general strike underway and many towns in Ireland under the control of workers’ councils, the authorities were wavering and when O’Neill proposed that the prisoners be released on parole for good behaviour, Macready and French accepted the idea.

The third offer to the prisoners, therefore, was put them with O’Neill’s return to the prison at 3pm on Wednesday 14 April: they could all leave the prison if they signed the parole form. Once again and despite suffering from the effects of their hunger strike (some of the men were never to fully recover), they said ‘no’.

In a panic, with no help from telephone calls to London, from where the cabinet told him that he must decide for himself, Lord French contacted the jail and said that the prisoners could be released. Pathetic attempts were made to hide the extent of this defeat when the prison officials read the parole document out to each prisoner as he left. No one gave any pledge to recognise it and scornful of their warders, the emaciated hunger strikers were greeted with an intense surge of delight from the crowds, who although now allowed to come right up to the steps of the prison were careful to give the men room and assistance in reaching ambulances waiting to take them to hospital.

This was one of the most disastrous defeats ever experienced by the British authorities in Ireland and they were well aware of it. The London Morning Post described the scene as one of ‘unparalleled ignominy and painful humiliation.’ Subsequently, the official history of the Dublin garrison of the British army reported that the effect of the strike was to drive from the streets military and police secret services, who could now be identified by many of the released prisoners.

The release of the hunger strikers and the cancellation of policy… nullified the effect of the efforts made by the Crown Forces during the three preceding months. The situation reverted to that obtaining in January, 1920, and was further aggravated by the raised morale of the rebels, brought about by their ‘victory’ and a corresponding loss of morale on the part of troops and police.

What can be learned from the great general strike of 1920?

It is often argued that Ireland could not have been (and never will be) a socialist country because of the adherence of the population to national parties and to Catholicism. Typically, the events of 1916 – 1923, Ireland’s revolutionary years, are framed by narratives that make this assumption. What this misunderstands is the nature of revolutions. No revolution has ever taken place in which the revolutionaries started with complete independence from the values and institutions that they end up overthrowing. Always, it is a process of differentiation and development, of realisation, often of delighted surprise to the revolutionaries themselves (the reports from local trade unionists above have this quality). And this process is always uneven. In Ireland’s biggest ever general strike there were towns in which workers continued to offer a leading role in affairs to the clergy and to prominent nationalists and other towns, like Watford and Galway, where the workers unhesitatingly took the lead and referred to the language of the Russian Revolution in doing so.

Unfortunately for the radical workers of 1920, their own organisations and leaders were far from eager to lead the movement towards a socialist Ireland. James Connolly was dead and Jim Larkin was in Sing Sing jail, leaving a generation of Labour and trade union leaders in charge whose values were closer to those of the modern Labour Party and ICTU than their socialist, former colleagues.

Rather than urge workers to draw revolutionary conclusions from the general strike, Ireland’s labour leaders hurried to discourage further general strikes and to keep the subsequent enthusiastic workers’ movement within boundaries acceptable to Sinn Féin. It was therefore left to conservative newspapers to draw the most important conclusion from the 1920 general strike.

The Daily News put the lesson like this:

Labour has become, quite definitely, the striking arm of the nation… It can justly claim that it alone possessed and was able to set in motion a machine powerful enough to save the lives of Irishmen when threatened by the British Government and that without this machine Dáil Éireann and all of Sinn Féin would have beaten their wings against the prison bars in vain.

Was Ursula Le Guin a Socialist?

A review of No Time to Spare

Ursula Le Guin in 2008. She has short, grey hair, a white top, black tunic and trousers. Her left hand on a table, her right holds several A4 pages and she is speaking against a background of books. Ursula Le Guin was sympathetic to socialism.
Ursula Le Guin was influenced by anarchism, described herself as a feminist and had an interest in socialism

From 2010 to her death in 2018, Ursula Le Guin composed blog posts for her website and a selection of these have been collected into a wonderful book, No Time to Spare. Many of the essays are beautiful accounts of moments in her life, with, for example, a most intense appreciation of the art of eating a soft-boiled egg for breakfast that serves as a lesson in mindfulness. Here, though, I want to focus on the political ideas of Le Guin that are explicit and implicit in many of the features.

In one essay where she addresses the question of socialism directly, Le Guin does so in the context of a comment about the alternatives to capitalism:

Some of the alternatives that existed in the past had promise; I think socialism did, and still does, but it was run off the rails by ambitious men using it as a means to power, and by the infection of capitalism — the obsession with growing bigger at all cost in order to defeat rivals and dominate the world.

Ursula Le Guin on socialism, from No Time to Spare

In this one, short paragraph are four hugely important ideas. Firstly, that socialism still has the potential to provide an alternative to capitalism. Second and third, that the reasons previous efforts to create socialism have failed are a) the desire for power and b) the infection of global capitalism. Fourthly, the gender of those who ran socialism off the rails was male.

Of these ideas the first is essential. Almost certainly the majority of people living on the planet right now would agree that the current economic system is deeply flawed. Hardly anyone, however, can agree on what the alternative should be. And this is largely due to the fact that socialism has been discredited. Yet unless the idea of socialism is revived our species is in great trouble, because anything other than a fundamental, radical, reorganisation of the world by workers will succumb to the pressures of trying to co-exist with capitalism.

The second, that it was the seduction of power that wrecked previous socialist projects, is entirely consistent with Le Guin’s core political beliefs, which were those of anarchism. Ursula Le Guin was always wary of defining herself politically, not through fear of alienating people by sounding too radical, but because she felt she lacked the expertise and devotion to activism to be a political authority. Her main passion and her decades of experience were in writing, both in composing beautiful works but also teaching and analysing literature.

The first edition cover of The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. Her name is at the top in large yellow letters, then, smaller, the title in white. The entire background is orange with a figure of ambiguous gender silhouetted against a large orange planet, facing away from the reader, standing in a crater. In this novel, Le Guin began with the premise of an anarchist utopia.
Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed explores a utopian world

The setting for one of Le Guin’s early novels, The Dispossessed, is that of a utopian world. In order to research that world, Le Guin read widely into anarchism: especially Kropotkin and a modern anarchist thinker, Murray Bookchin.

And it was the pacifist, rather than destructive, element within anarchism that appealed to Le Guin the most, as she explained in an interview.

I felt totally at home with (pacifist, not violent) anarchism, just as I always had with Taoism (they are related, at least by affinity.) It is the only mode of political thinking that I do feel at home with. It also links up more and more interestingly, these days, with behavioral biology and animal psychology (as Kropotkin knew it would.)

In Jacobin’s obituary of Le Guin, the novelist is described as being a historical materialist but this is too much of a stretch. An anarchist emphasis on the importance of power in politics is very clear in Le Guin’s thought. Even here, in this discussion about whether Le Guin was a socialist, it’s no accident that she puts the issue of power before the question of structure in signalling what went wrong for socialism in the past.

As an aside, many on the left interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy juxtapose the work of Le Guin, radical, feminist, anarchist and Tolkien, who they see as conservative and anti-working class. China Mieville, whose critique of Tolkien derives from the essay of another anarchist fantasy writer, Michael Moorcock, has been the standard bearer for this approach.

In my view, it is utterly mistaken. Le Guin herself was a huge champion of Tolkien and often spoke up for the literary merits of The Lord of the Rings, a book that despite enormous public enthusiasm, is usually under-appreciated by critics. And in The Lord of the Rings is a metaphor for the corrupting influence of power that is as pure as any in literature. The One Ring is the ultimate test of character and only those wise enough to reject it have any integrity, those who try to use it are doomed to become hollowed-out husks of their former selves.

Having placed an emphasis on the question of the destructive effects of the possession of power, which remains an important issue for the left, Le Guin also sees global capitalism as a key contributor to the failure of previous attempts to create socialism. This is a vital observation for the future too. Any attempt to introduce socialism in one jurisdiction is doomed: either pressure to compete in the world market or direct overthrow will end the effort. Fortunately, today, our world is so integrated globally that a socialist movement that really went down to alter the fundamentals of society would have an immediate and massive international impact, making it much more likely to transform the entire planet.

In unpacking Le Guin’s observation on the previous failure of socialism, one more point remains to be made, which is that she highlighted the fact that it was men who led the movement away from utopia. This is an historical observation as well as a reflection on Le Guin’s ‘steady, resolute, morally committed’ role in the feminist movement. She explicitly defined herself as a part of second wave feminism — the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s — and her writings throughout her entire life, both fictional and non-fictional, constantly returned to the subject of gender inequality.

It seems to me to be clear that Ursula Le Guin was very sympathetic to all alternatives to capitalism and while more inclined to describe herself as anarchist was definitely open to being persuaded about socialism. The revolutions and socialist movements she saw in her lifetime did not, however, provide a lot of evidence for the potential of socialism to deliver utopia. Personally, I think that potential is evident in all the great working class uprisings of the twentieth century, but you have to really drill down to the detail of the particular variants of socialism active in them to understand why, ultimately, none of them led to the disappearance of capitalism in favour of a sharing society.

Ursula Le Guin on dialectics and Taosim

The turquoise cover of No Time to Spare, a collection of blog essays written by Ursula Le Guin, which include her thoughts on socialism. Five leaves made of paper with illegible writing on them are drifting towards the bottom of the cover.
In No Time to Spare, Ursula Le Guin has essays that address her political thought, including socialism, anarchism and feminism

In No Time to Spare there is another subject that connects Le Guin’s intellectual makeup to socialism and it is the question of dialectics. For socialists, to be able to analyse political systems that are in motion and which can dramatically hit transformative tipping points is essential and the tool for doing this, dialectics, comes to us from a western tradition, originating with the early Greek philosophers and being developed especially by Hegel and Marx. But there is an even older tradition of dialectical thought rooted in ancient eastern societies.

When Le Guin wanted to explain some underlying connections between utopian and dystopian societies in literature, she first needed her readers to understand dialectics and she helped them do so by drawing on her deep engagement with Taoism. A translator of Lao Tzu’s sixth century BC Tao Te Ching, Le Guin used the yang-yin symbol to illustrate her point that every utopia contains a dystopia, every dystopia a utopia.

In the yang-yin symbol each half contains within it a portion of the other, signifying their complete interdependence and continual intermutability. The figure is static, but each half contains the seed of transformation. The symbol presents not a stasis but a process.

The yang-yin symbol, which for Ursula Le Guin is helpful in explaining dialectical interactions

In the many appreciations of Ursula Le Guin that have been written since her death (22 January 2018) this aspect to her thinking has usually been neglected, yet in my view it is fundamental to her thought.

The presence of a powerful and playful mind is evident throughout No Time to Spare and always Le Guin’s writing is informed by a sense of development and change, even in her own sentences as she formulates them. That’s why they are rich, truthful, convincing. When reading Le Guin, you feel the presence of someone who is not satisfied until she has expressed herself exactly as she intends. Someone who weighs the meaning of every word, every punctuation mark even.

Le Guin’s dialectical way of approaching any subject, even that of the behaviour of cats (she was a great cat lover and if you are the same, you’ll read some of these essays with enormous pleasure) means we never get a dry, linear, didactic essay. Always, they are rich, fecund and humorous.

Was Ursula Le Guin a socialist? She was. And she wasn’t.

In 2014, Ursula Le Guin attended the National Book Awards in the US where she was the recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. During her speech she made a powerful point to those who feel there is no alternative to capitalism:

The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art and very often in our art, the art of words.

Ursula Le Guin on resistance and change

Damien Dempsey: 21 December 2019, Vicar Street, Dublin

Damien Dempsey, wearing a black shirt and shitting in front of a microphone holding a guitar. His expression of one of intense feeling.
Damien Dempsey: a poetic and sincere voice of those who are struggling in Irish society and beyond

By Aislinn Wallace and Niamh McDonald


Damien Dempsey has been a powerhouse on the Irish music scene for nearly two decades. He brings a voice to the struggles of those suffering in Irish society and beyond with poetry and sincerity. 
Damien’s Christmas Vicar Street gigs have become part of the Christmas calendar for many of his devoted fans. Saturday’s performance was no exception, with a packed-out venue. 
Damien has never been ambiguous about his politics and his music reflects this. The crowd in the gig represented all ages, with an overwhelming working-class representation and with people from all corners of the island. Hearing the whole audience sing out songs such as Colony highlights the level of consciousness Dempsey has raised in his loyal fans over the years.


From the stage: Damien Dempsey live

From the stage, Damien spoke openly about his own mental health struggles; he creates a space with his music to help break the stigmas around mental health and encourage people to talk openly about their own struggles. As two people in the middle of a crowded floor we observed so many resonating with this message as they openly sung along to Sing All Our Cares Away.

Close up of Damien Dempsey singing open-mouthed before a microphone, eyes closed with an intense expression.
Damien Dempsey: accessible and revolutionary


Not only does Damien sing about the scourge of mental health and its destruction to so many, he also brings a message of anti-racism and the importance of the power of women to his songs and gigs. His music talks about the gentrification of Dublin and beyond in the guise of a housing crisis at the expense and displacement of the working class.
Damien is known for his activist and solidarity work, from supporting the anti-water charges movement, to singing at the Moore Street occupation, as an activist in Apollo House and supporting Repeal
The range of influences in Damien’s music includes reggae, R&B, and Ireland’s folk tradition, fused to create a multi-dimensional sound, one that is accompanied by lyrics that convey a strong message of class politics in a way that everyone can relate to. 
The value and influence of an artist such as Damien Dempsey to working class struggles can’t be underestimated: like many others before him, Damo’s sincere and simple music raises issues that affect us all and vocalises the social and economic issues in a way that resonates widely with people.

It’s accessible and revolutionary at the same time. 

The left hand side of the image shows a striking, black and white portrait of Damien Dempsey, with a slight smile. On the right are tour dates: December 2019 ones in Vicar Street (the venue in yellow letters); a space then a block of six dates in April (green) 03 Bantry, 04 Drogheda. 05 Ratoath, 17 Dunmore East, 18 Co. Kildare, 19 Gweedore. Then a space and 14 March 2020 Electric Ballroom London (orange) and 10 July 2020 Iveagh Gardens (blue).
Damien Dempsey can be seen live in 2020 with six April dates in Ireland.

Damien Dempsey’s Soundcloud.

The UK election of 12 December 2019: what can the left learn?

A picture of Westminister Parliament from the south bank of the Thames, it is just after sunset and the building is lit up with yellow and orange light reflected on the water. This is where the Tory part will hold a majority in the light of the 12 December 2019 general election.
The results of the 12 December 2019 UK election were a huge blow for socialist ideas. What are the main lessons for the left?

With the decisive victory of Boris Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn, the left needs to come to terms with what was a crushing defeat for a political agenda that on paper was much closer to a radical socialist one than anything that has been on offer to the UK electorate for decades.

In the immediate aftermath of the Tory victory in the UK election of December 2019, very many left groups rushed out an analysis. And often this analysis boiled down to one takeaway message: if only Corbyn had adopted our politics, he could have won. Thus, for those who favoured a ‘Lexit’, a left support for Brexit, the problem for Labour was that they moved away from a position that respected the June 2016 Brexit referendum result to one that argued for more negotiations and possibly a second referendum. For left parties that were for Remain (and Independent Left are among them) the analysis runs the other way. Labour would have done much better had it been clearly and unambiguously the party of Remain.

Thus, the pain of the defeat is eased and the old certainties of these parties continue undisturbed.

It could well be that had Labour caved in to the racism of the pro-Brexit side as figures such as Stephen Kinnock wanted, it might have done better. It could also be true that had Labour more firmly tried to rally the Remain population and say that it too would get Brexit done – by killing it off – Labour might well have improved its performance too (with Remain being the better option, both in terms of challenging anti-immigrant racism but also in electoral terms, as @johnross43 showed on his Twitter post).

A black and white table with four columns, on the left, a list of parties, arranged by whether pro-Brexit or Remain. Then their 2017 vote, then their vote in the election of 2019 and the final column being the difference.
Between 2017 and 2019, Labour lost approximately 2.58m votes to Remain parties and 0.35m to Pro-Brexit parties

How strange, that two positions in apparent opposition to each other might both be true. As is often the case with such conundrums, they represent half-grasped insights into a deeper dynamic that makes sense of them both.

What unites the two arguments (Labour should have been more for Brexit / Labour should have been more for Remain) is an electorate who desperately wanted an end to the protracted and painful divisions over Brexit. By trying to steer a middle course on Brexit, Labour offered months, if not years more, of a debate that to many was infuriating. Back to the EU for more negotiations, then a second referendum on the result of those negotiations. And no commitment to advocating for its deal in such a scenario. This was a line that could only be drawn mathematically: by finding the centre of gravity between competing forces and trying to balance them. Sometimes, this kind of politics, of finding a position that doesn’t alienate anyone too much, can work. De Valera was a master at it. But with Johnson knowing full well how disenchanted large swathes of the public were with the delay to Brexit, Labour’s position didn’t come across as far-sighted and statesmanlike, it seemed cowardly.

In hindsight, the parliamentary manoeuvres that prevented Johnson from crashing out in a no deal scenario do not look as clever as they appeared at the time. Yes, Johnson was boxed in, but all the time he was boxed in and being refused an election, he was gaining potential energy from massive discontent with further delays to Brexit, so that when the election came, he could spring forth, like a jack-in-the-box, crying, ‘get Brexit done’ and release that frustration.

My conclusion in regard to Brexit, the all important theme of the election, is that Labour, by half-moving to Remain took a very difficult position. To have won despite this sense that they were sitting on the fence would have required the public to be more concerned about other issues, such as the NHS than Brexit, which ultimately was not the case.

Was the Labour manifesto too radical in 2019?

Naturally, the right in the British Labour Party and the Irish too, have been quick to conclude that the December 2019 UK election proves that radical socialist policies are unelectable and that the UK Labour party should move back to the ‘centre’ ground of Blair and Brown. For ‘centre’, read neo-liberal, austerity politics.

The reality seems to have been a public – and especially working class communities — who much preferred Labour’s manifesto to that of the Tories. As one Labour canvasser wrote:

Once I had made common ground with people, I encountered no prejudice, and little rugged individualism. I did this by talking the language of class, which is something the left have not done well, even under Corbyn. When I asked them about public services, about the Labour manifesto and its promises, they were very enthused, and yes, even those people who had voted Tory or who were abstaining because they ‘hated all politicians’.

Fifty-nine percent of Labour voters said they: “preferred the promises made by the party I voted for more than the promises of other parties”, the second most popular reason for voting Labour (the first being that they trusted Labour’s motives more). Whereas for the Tory voter, it was not about policy, it was about Brexit. Labour’s policies were not vote losers, in fact they were vote-winning, especially among younger voters. The graphic about this is extraordinary.

As @electionmapsuk on Twitter noted last year based on polls, the Tories would win no seats if the only voters were those aged 18 – 24 and the Ashcroft survey after the election of 2019 bears this out.

A map of the UK with constituency boundaries, which is nearly entirely red except for Scotland, mostly pale yellow, and a dot of green in Wales with some dots of orange. It illustrates the fact that if voters in the UK in 2019 had been limited to the 18 - 24 year old group, Labour would have won 600 seats.
The astonishing picture if voters had been limited to the 18 – 24 year old group is that the Conservatives would have been wiped out entirely by that generation.

What hurt Labour beyond Brexit, was not the policies as such, but the questions around them. How much would they cost and, especially, how would Jeremy Corbyn deliver them? Wasn’t he just making promises for votes, the same as all politicians do?

Here there was a difference between Corbyn versus May in 2017 and Corbyn versus Johnson in 2019 and the difference was not just a matter of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Tory leader. Corbyn had the better of both in terms of debating issues that working class communities care about. In 2019, however, he also bore the legacy of two years of parliamentary games, during which time the sense that he was different wore off.

Of course, there was a horrible smear campaign against Corbyn from the UK’s media. They were worse in 2019 than in 2017 and on the issue of anti-Semitism, utterly hypocritical given that anti-Semitism in the Tory party is far more prevalent than it is in the Labour Party. What gave Corbyn difficulty in resisting the media attacks this time around was in part that over the intervening months he became normalised as a politician. That’s something which is very difficult to avoid if you are the leader of the UK’s Labour Party. It is also fatal for someone whose main strength in resisting the Tory-controlled media messages is that of being the outsider, the anti-establishment figure, the person who actually is sincere about causes and willing to fight them.  In 2017, there was a sense that Corbyn was all these things and that rant and rave as the billionaire class might through its media channels, the people, and especially the younger people mobilised at massive, inspiring rallies by Momentum, could shrug it all off and sing his name with passion. Of course the media froth against Corbyn: he’s ours not theirs. He’s outside of the box.

In 2019, there were nowhere near the same levels of turnout for mass rallies to take Corbyn to heart and use alternative media to build a space for him that was free from control by the elites and one which could spread to politicise wider numbers. Corbyn had, by the logic of his role over the intervening months, to play the game of politics in the usual way, among the usual public schoolboys, in the usual chamber from where the voice of working class communities has largely been absent. He had become (and, of course, to a large extent has been all his life) that despised creature, a politician.

In 2019, Momentum played a magnificent role in terms of winning the battle on social media, even with a fraction of the budget available to the Tories. And one positive from this election result for all the left going forward would be to study Momentum’s productions and campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram. Yet the higher level of co-ordination and planning by Momentum activists in 2019 compared to 2017 was met by a less passionate response. Gone were the chaotic but electric mass rallies of the earlier election and in their place, much less inspiring events.

Labour’s 2019 manifesto was more left-wing than that of 2017 but the context of a weaker mass movement around Corbyn meant, with the exception of the promises around the NHS, it looked unconvincing. My second takeaway for the left from this election is that advocating socialist policies as a response to years of austerity is unproblematic. There’s no need to rush back to the centre. What matters are our connections to communities willing to be active participants in the process of winning the goals set out in manifestos. One demand arising from a politicised working class (e.g. abolish the Water Charges) is worth a dozen from a think-tank or 1930s transitional programme. And in the period between elections, if the left have not been focused on whatever options to campaign exist outside of parliament, then we do lack credibility if we suddenly promise a golden age of socialist policies come an election.

Can the left revive after the UK election of 2019?

Easily.

On the night, the UK election result felt like a terrible blow for the left. And it was. Once again, the right and especially the anti-immigrant racist feel triumphant. This is no light matter. Yet an election should be understood as a snapshot of feeling rather than a fundamental change in the social landscape. By which I mean, for example, that the defeat of the miners in 1984 – 5 was a far worse defeat than this election result. When the best-organised, most economically strategic group of workers are crushed and eventually laid off, it’s no wonder that in industry after industry, the axe subsequently comes down on workers’ incomes and rights.

An election result, even this one, where it was so polarised, changes very little in terms of the capacity of workers to mount campaigns and strikes. And when you consider that Labour was way ahead among voters aged 18 – 44 even in purely electoral terms, that indicates a comeback in the future.

Moreover, there are features of Johnson’s victory that mean his position is not as stable as having a big majority of MPs suggests. On his right, there is Nigel Farage. There is enormous mistrust and outright anger from the hardline Brexiters towards Johnson. Tactically, they had to retreat from challenging the Tories or split the vote and let Labour into government but they hated doing so and will be seeking ways to ‘reapply pressure’ on the Tories, as Farage put it soon after the election.

On Johnson’s left, within the Tory party, are those who do not want to make a dash out of Europe at the cost of severe trading penalties. In 2018, 45% of the UK’s exports were to EU countries (and 53% of imports). This means there is a sizeable number of people in business — the natural base for the Tories — who hate Brexit. They have come to terms with it, though, as judged by the bounce in Sterling and the UK’s stock market after the election. Given a divided consensus among the Tory party’s business network and a UK population who will experience all kinds of unexpected hardships once Brexit is concluded, there’s no doubt at all that the left will bounce back. And it doesn’t have to be a matter of waiting five years until the next election. Not only are there no shortage of issues for the left to campaign on right now in the UK, the frustration of the younger worker and of trade unionists as a result of this election mean that significant strikes and protest movements are very likely to spring up in 2020

Derek Mahon, A Poet of The Left

A portrait of Derek Mahon, poet, who describes himself as having a penchant for left-wing imagery. He is wearing a blue and purple vertical stripped shirt and is looking directly at the camera with a slight smile.
Derek Mahon: a poet of and for the political left

By Ciarán O’Rourke

‘I know the simple life / Would be right for me’, writes Derek Mahon in Ovid in Tomis, ‘If I were a simple man.’ A glad complexity, it seems, is the order of the day; a dynamic interweaving of expression and insight evident throughout Mahon’s work, lending the poems both a clarity and a frequent mystery. ‘It is not sleep itself but dreams we miss’, Mahon posits (with aphoristic aplomb), ‘We yearn for that reality in this.’ Known for his intellectual force and technical fluency, and admired as a translator from multiple verse traditions, the Belfast-born poet is universally recognised in establishment literary circles as a leading figure of his generation and moment. Less mentioned, however, is that – in its breadth, emphasis, and overarching perspective – his work invites celebration and cultural co-optation by socialists, anarchists, and every species of utopian realist in between. For although formally traditional, his poems are critically incisive and, in brief, radically human to the core.

It’s a point that’s seldom heard, and so, perhaps in a small way, worth reiterating. Insofar as the ethical compass and content of Mahon’s poetry are discussed at all, the conversation tends to be couched in a discourse of reflexive academic qualification: so that the specific details of Mahon’s political commentary and commitment, at any one point in his poetic career, are presumed to be offset or made redundant by his aesthetic, philosophical, or even formal concerns at another. We are left with a ‘poet of divided affiliations’, who maintains ‘a cautious distance from schools and groups (whether literary or political)’, his stylistically graceful poems ‘characterised by indirection and obliquity’, even as they depict (occasionally) a ‘humanity… powerless against the inevitable forces [that] shape human life.’ We end up, in other words, with a political poet, but one whose work is said to exceed its own politics: thus transforming the latter into an empty category, rimmed by abstractions such as The Force of History or The Demands of his Time.

Such a trend, of course, arguably relates to culture in general, and not to the work of Mahon alone. It would certainly be a tempting thesis to explore: that in a neoliberal society, art and literature are circulated in order to be owned, to placate, or to make life as it is (exploitative and miserable as it may be for many) more liveable and not to subvert the tenets by which that society is organised. In which scenario, what we think of as literary criticism would in fact amount to nothing else than a series of discursive adjustments and revisions, a sort of academic vanishing trick whereby whatever creative radicalism was identified in an art-work, oeuvre, or historical moment would disappear as soon as it was declared. Sound familiar?

At any rate, for gentle-hearted heretics of all stripes – anti-establishmentarian in their politics, but nevertheless in need of the emotional and critical sustenance that literature provides – there is surely some merit in re-examining the work of poets, great and mighty, and the inherited assumptions that frame our encounters with them. In Mahon’s case, moreover – a writer who calls himself an ‘aesthete’ with a penchant ‘for left-wingery […] to which, perhaps naively, I adhere’ – doing so helps us to reach a fuller and clearer understanding not only of his literary back-catalogue, but of the power systems that rule and rack our present world. This may seem like high praise for one of Ireland’s more canonical of contemporary poets; but it’s also true.

Derek Mahon’s An Autumn Wind

Take Mahon’s book, An Autumn Wind, in which we find the artist’s inward vision turning to survey, with searing perception, a global vista defined in the main by corporate theft and murderous imperialism (headed by the USA). ‘The great Naomi Klein’, he writes,

[…] condemns, in The Shock Doctrine,

the Chicago Boys, the World Bank and the IMF,

the dirty tricks and genocidal mischief

inflicted upon the weak

who now fight back.

Mahon’s praise (indeed, rather pointed name-dropping) of Naomi Klein surely gives credence to his self-proclaimed status as a political Leftist. But it also draws a question mark over the standard critical narrative outlined above. Far from deploring modernity in the abstract, shaped by some equally vague ‘inevitable forces’, Mahon’s verse here associates directly the neoliberal economic doctrines of ‘the Chicago Boys, the World Bank and the IMF’ with crimes against humanity, while also acknowledging both the theory and the praxis of resistance that such doctrines inadvertently generate (typified by Klein and by ‘the weak who now fight back’, respectively). It is difficult to imagine Seamus Heaney or Michael Longley, the two most-fêted of Mahon’s Irish contemporaries, even coming close to advancing such a perspective.

Derek Mahon the poet and the opponent of neoliberalism

It is notable, also, that the much-touted ‘concern for the ecological’ in Mahon’s later work exists, in the poem above, within an explicitly anti-capitalist paradigm. Close-focusing on a ‘hare in the corn / scared by the war machine / and cornered trembling in its exposed acre’, the piece in its closing stanza switches to a wide-angle lens, so to speak, and urges that in the next ‘spring, when a new crop begins to grow, / let it not be genetically modified / but such as the ancients sowed / in the old days : a possible retort to the criminal agri-policies of Monsanto. What’s certain, however, is that this is a poetry that arrays itself against (and takes aim at) neoliberalism per se – or what Mahon terms, in his resonantly titled poem, ‘Trump Time’, ‘the bedlam of acquisitive force / That rules us, and would rule the universe.’

Without wanting to over-extend the argument, there’s also a refreshing contemporaneity and excursive quality to Mahon’s range of reference here. Although he may indeed be a literary practitioner combining ‘classical structure with contemporary concerns’ in his work (read great, white and male) – his ‘precursors’ including ‘Samuel Beckett, Louis MacNeice, the poets of Rome and Greece’ – in this instance Mahon openly, and quite self-consciously, takes his cues from a feminist critic of modern capitalism, herself writing of a number of (highly gendered) grassroots movements, primarily in the Global South. Feminist icon he is not, but Mahon’s work at the very least points towards an intersectional understanding of economic exploitation and political struggle: as companion poems in the same volume (such as ‘Water’) arguably also testify.

Radical poet Derek Mahon reading from a book of his own poems held open in his left hand. His right is raised. He is smiling. A microphone is in front of him and behind him are curtains and the end of a bookcase  or cabinet with finely bound books.
Derek Mahon: a politically committed poet of the left

None of which is meant to create a further barrier between the so-called aesthetic merits and political commitments of Mahon’s work. If anything, it’s to argue that these qualities exist in continuity with one another, and to suggest some ways in which the overtly political interventions of Mahon’s verse may be seen to sharpen what one authority has described as the ‘crystalline clarity’ of its intellectual make-up, giving heft and consequence to the ‘sophisticated sound-patterning’ for which his poetry is so often admired. After all, Mahon’s bright-soaring, early imagination of an art drawn ‘From the pneumonia of the ditch, from the ague / Of the blind poet and the bombed-out town’ – one envisaged as bringing ‘The all-clear to the empty holes of spring, / Rinsing the choked mud, keeping the colours new’ – was always grounded not just in the sensations of a literate intellect, but in a sensibility disposed to compassionate identification with the realities of other people’s lives: in a word, to solidarity. For Mahon, equipped as a writer with the same ‘light meter and relaxed itinerary’ so beloved of countless literary fence-sitters, the urge that recurs most persistently is in fact ‘To do something’ – or ‘at least not to close the door again’ on those condemned to live ‘in darkness and in pain.’

On a final note: this short sketch has tried to claim Mahon as a poet of and for the political Left: a loose but very real community, whose existence is rarely questioned except by a few faction-feasting personages who are already in it. In doing so, however, we would do well to remember that the democratisation of power so often promised and struggled for by activists holds exciting possibilities for poetry, too: its creation, its reception, and (again) its circulation. As Mahon’s homage to Shane MacGowan implies, the list of great poets can and should be appreciated ‘together with the names Seeger and MacColl’: dissident troubadours both, generally lacking from Mahon’s academically prescribed influences. Art is what we make of it, in short, and the broader the field of shared endeavour, the better. So let the task be to reap and sow the commons of poetry and song, if for no other reason than to pay tribute to Mahon’s work and in the same spirit that the work itself proclaims.

Bolivia’s Coup of November 2019: where did it go wrong for 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.