Archive for the ‘Labour relations’ Category

Preoccupied on Dame Street

October 27, 2011

Sometimes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a sickle.

After three years of asymmetric class warfare and suffocating ideological conformism, it’s wholly understandable that any stirring of organised (but we’ll come back to this) resistance should be welcomed with enthusiasm on the left. The potentially epoch-defining Occupy Wall Street protest represents a slow awakening of class consciousness within the belly of the beast. The copycat movements triggered by OWS throughout the technologically-advanced world, while nowise to be compared to the infectious popular heroism of the Arab Spring, are not without significance.

Its logic may be uniform, but the dictatorship of capital reigns over a wide and varied kingdom, and the occupation tactic is more suited to some quarters than others. Greece, where a volatile coalition of organised labour, political radicalism and popular resistance is forcing the ruling class towards endgame, provides one salutary example. There, the sterile, “apolitical” Syntagma Square occupation inspired by the Democracia Real movement actually sapped momentum from the struggle earlier this summer. In Chile, however, the mobilisation called for the global day of action on the 15th of October fanned the flames of a student revolt which has been raging for months.

In other settings, the Occupy movement (like its stillborn Real Democracy Now twin) has taken on the aspect of an internet meme which made the species jump into the human population and found itself unable to replicate there. Occupy Dame Street doesn’t quite fall into that category, but its contradictions are deep and profound. Whereas Occupy Wall Street wore its union endorsement with pride, its Irish offshoot proved ambivalent to organised labour and outright hostile to the organised left from day one.

There were a variety of reasons for this; the political persuasions of the core group, an understandable (though at times hysterical) aversion to working with the SWP, a reluctance to alienate potential converts gorged on a diet of anti-union editorials.

These proscriptions are gradually being relaxed, potentially estranging those who want nothing to do with the selfish, job-destroying, pension-hogging union bastards, and found such views initially unchallenged by the occupiers. (It could be argued that the influential autonomist tendency have proven their point; it was precisely their maladroit de facto leadership which erected these obstacles to begin with).

This past week, Occupy Dame Street weathered a downpour likely to be the equal of any the Irish winter can muster. It’s still standing, and I’ve no doubt it will go on standing as long as the bodies and minds of the camp residents hold up, and probably well beyond that. The stamina, resourcefulness and tenacity of the residents has been inspirational, and nothing forestalls breaking-point like a comrade at your shoulder. But whereas the boisterous processions from Parnell Square to Dame Street have doubled in size week-on-week, the number of bodies manning the camp itself has yet to see a corresponding increase (not that such an increase could be accommodated in any case).

These natural limitations of the Central Bank site, and its vulnerability to the encroaching winter, are frequently-cited criticisms of the movement. This is unfair; both issues were as unavoidable as they are insurmountable. We shall simply have to add al fresco insurrection to the list of activities for which there is no suitable season in Ireland, alongside cricket and rock festivals.

The physical precariousness of the camp has, however, come to necessitate a sort of liberal sŏn’gun policy, whereby the needs and maintenance of the camp itself take precedence over all else. This has had serious implications for a movement already struggling to resolve its political orientation and terms of engagement with the public and wider working class.

Having sat in on a couple of working group meetings, the overwhelming impression was one of organisational paralysis (actually the strongest impression, to be indelicate, was the class and socio-economic background of those involved, but that may be a churlish observation.) The challenges posed by the consensus-based decision-making model have been freely acknowledged within the movement itself, but the tendency to regard them as minor logistical teething problems is misguided.

In fact, these problems are inextricable from the prevailing political and ideological deadlock. With only the broadest and faintest of parameters to guide them, individuals and working groups are reluctant to be seen to act unilaterally. When referring an item to the General Assembly only serves to further confuse matters, a perfect feedback loop is completed.

All roads lead back (however frustratingly, however predictably) to the question of programme. Aside from the noli-me-tangere warning to the left, there’s nothing objectionable, and plenty that’s commendable, in the Occupy Dame Street mission statement. When organisers address assemblies and rallies, however, the messages become more mixed. The fallacy that opposing the IMF/ECB programme is “not a matter of left or right” enjoys frequent airings.

Three years into a crisis caused by rampant neoliberalism, deregulation, disempowerment of the working class, and the underlying structural paradoxes of the capitalist system, anyone who can proffer this argument is either being incredibly naive or incredibly disingenuous. This non-differentiation between right- and left-wing critiques of the bailout programme is not just foolish, but extremely dangerous. A quick detour to Co. Cork may help explain why.

For the past few months, the tiny village of Ballyhea has hosted a weekly march against the bailing out of bondholders, one frail flicker of resistance on a landscape clouded with apathy. Last weekend, after a visit to Dame Street by the chief organiser, the villagers were treated to an audience with Mr. Declan Ganley.

It’s unlikely that Ganley would be welcome at Dame Street, where the superb Occupy University initiative has witnessed talks and workshops by people like Paul Murphy, Eugene McCartan, David Malone, Gavan Titley and Conor McCabe (if money were no object, I’d have 2,000 copies of Sins Of The Father air-dropped over the next march).

Murphy’s address to the rally on the 15th was passionate, lucid and articulate, but his carefully-phrased appeals to attendees as workers fell on stony ground; largely, I sensed, because most listeners simply didn’t understand the linkage, and nothing they’d heard had served to forge it for them. (As an aside, the CWI’s almost Debordian reverence for the General Strike as exemplary spectacle is even more noticeable when starved of context).

Three weeks into the occupation, the spectre of the SWP exerts as powerful a hold over the imagination of the camp as ever. Dark mutterings of “packed” assemblies abound, along with stern assurances that future infiltrators will be identified (presumably a special derogation excludes SWP members from the 99%). Paranoia and insecurity are deeply unattractive qualities, and a movement capable of being co-opted by a Trotskyist micro-party, however bad its faith, is a movement that has stalled beyond revival.

Occupy Dame Street is not necessarily such a movement, but its window of opportunity for correcting those initial mistakes is closing fast. The crucial instincts and insights which can carry the struggle forward are present, and not entirely dormant, within the group. Namely – that our labour is all we have that the 1% want; that the demand for “real democracy” cannot be satisfied under capitalism; that, historically, Dublin is a city taken by storm or not at all; and that occupying a symbolic location is a poor substitute for occupying our communities, hospitals and workplaces.

George Romero’s lengthy, generation-spanning series of zombie movies describe an arc in which the undead gradually begin to rediscover their human instincts and habits over the course of decades. In a country gasping beneath the death-grip of zombie banks, Occupy Dame Street is perhaps best understood as a kind of zombie protest movement, with depoliticised and disenfranchised victims of the epidemic gradually re-learning the basic motor skills of resistance.

It’s a slow and tortuous process, but consciously turning away from what we know and have always known about challenging power isn’t going to expedite it.

Pink PDs: Beyond GUBU

October 25, 2010

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I want to treat this morn of a little local difficulty with a certain amount of national resonance. With the pollsters continuing to dole out dollops of percentage-based bliss to Gilmore and his Pink PDs, there remains a stubborn misapprehension amongst some on the Left that this represents, in spite of the party’s avowed policies, some sort of material advance for progressive politics in this country.

Examples are legion, but I single out Workers’ Party president Michael Finnegan’s rather pitifully desperate shout-out to Eamon Gilmore in the latest edition of the excellent Look Left. One would expect the WP, of all parties, to have been rudely disabused of the persistent delusion that the slithering creepy-crawly of electoralism can ever blossom into anything finer.

For the purposes of this post, I want to transport you back to the halcyon days of summer 2010, a time when the sun cast shimmering shadows upon pavements resounding to the soft-shoe shuffle of the dole queue and the plangent, trailing hoot of the vuvuzela.

In the North Dublin suburb of Ballymun, the hundreds of families still stranded in dilapidated flats by a bungled regeneration programme were without functioning lifts. This in itself was not unusual, lift maintenance being one of those little optional trimmings of dignity which are habitually withheld from those in their power by Dublin City Council for fear of giving them ideas.

In this instance, however, lifts were grounded by industrial action pursued by the TEEU on foot of a clear breach of normal redundancy procedures enacted by the (what else?) contractor, Pickerings Lifts. Dublin City Council reacted with typically underhand serpentine cunning by discharging Pickerings from its contract rather than thrashing the issue out, thus pulling the rug from under the picket lines.

Or so they thought. When the council sought to top off its treachery by taking an injunction against the TEEU’s ongoing picketing of a site now handed over to Dimension Elevators, they received an unexpected shock. High Court Justice Mary Laffoy was forced to concede that an oversight in the otherwise watertight anti-union legislation of 1990 rendered picketing of a former employer’s business legal, provided the dispute was a legitimate one (as the Labour Court had deemed this to be.)

Now what, comrades, do you suppose was the reaction of the local Labour Party to all this? To excoriate the bureaucrats for their deviousness? To insist that DCC take up the union’s offer of emergency coverage? To ask why the council was willing to waste time and money on a High Court injunction (the TEEU was awarded costs) while residents suffered and services were decimated across the board? (I spoke to some with mobility issues whose lives had effectively been on hold since February, when the dispute began.)

Nope, instead the clarion call that issued forth from the fuzzy rubicund ranks was “Send in the scabs!” I was unaware of this, having been unable to keep apprised of the minutiae of the issue during the summer, but just came across this Labour Party freesheet printed at the height of the dispute whilst tidying up some other rubbish.

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Another scene of urban misery, another Labour photo op.

Note the absence of any passing reference to the chicanery of Dublin City Council, and the framing of the dispute as a purely legal matter. Now, I’m sure Cllr. Lyons would defend his appeal to the army (who were indeed called in and predictably ballsed everything up, being, like, an army, and not a trained lift maintenance crew) on the basis that people were suffering and needed an instant resolution. We’ll call it the Passport Office Gambit for the nonce. Bear in mind that the only possible utility of introducing the army was to break the union, end the picketing and allow Dimension Elevators to take up the contract; the army, as any half-wit would know, is simply not capable of providing this service. Why would they be?

It’s funny how the POG is never applied when the Gucci’s on the other foot, though, isn’t it? The suffering caused by privatised and streamlined-to-oblivion services is never an argument for actually, properly providing those services. Hard-headedness must rule, except where the hard heads are wearing hard hats.

That, in microcosm, is what Labour represents. It’s why a stable Labour/FG government with an unassailable majority will deliver nothing less than an apocalypse to the working class. And it’s why the immediate task of Irish socialism is to forestall that eventuality at any and all costs.

Further reading on the rampant assholery of Dublin City Council:
This excellent article by Cllr. Cieran Perry via the ISN (neither of whom I’d endorse categorically on all issues, but both of whom are doing good work.)

21st Century Balls

August 14, 2010

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Happened upon that advertising gif on an image-hosting site recently. A particularly pernicious piece of work, I’m sure you’ll agree. It reminded me of an article I read about the ProZone video analysis system used by top football clubs. Whereas many punters imagine that the software is primarily used to track positioning, passing range and so forth, the feature which most appeals to management is the ability to measure frequency, intensity and duration of sprints.

This is especially useful, the company spokesman proudly proclaimed, for identifying players who are concealing an injury from the medical staff. I wonder how long it will be before we see systems like this used in manual labour workplaces (if they’re not already.)

While I’m on the subject of football and technology (and by no means desperately trying to pad this post), I was dismayed to read that FIFA have capitulated to the baying of the tabloids and agreed to re-examine the use of goal-line and/or video technology. The main culprit in this perversion of football is the British media, with its politics-of-the-last-atrocity refusal to accept that shit happens and interferes with the digestion of armchair fans in wealthy countries from time to time.

Equally distressing are The Blatter’s comments about restructuring the group phase of the World Cup to discourage negativity:

Sepp Blatter says Fifa is considering scrapping draws at the group stage of future World Cup finals by introducing penalty shoot-outs after 90 minutes.

Blatter, president of world football’s governing body, is known for voicing radical ideas on changing the game.

He wants to put an end to defence-minded teams playing to get a draw.

“If there is no winner at the end of 90 minutes of play, we would proceed directly to penalty kicks,” he told German magazine Focus.

Yes. That’ll fucking work, won’t it? Instead of encouraging teams to think that if they stick ten men behind the ball they might nick a point, encourage them to think that if they stick ten men behind the ball they might nick three points (without even having to score off a set-piece, Rehhagel-stylee.)

Oh, and…

Another possibility, according to Blatter, would be to revive the “golden goal”.

We don’t even need to embark upon hypotheticals here, we know what happened last time this idiotic rule was implemented. Far from encouraging attacking play, it made everyone shit-scared of conceding in extra time and determined to cling on for the dubious refuge of penalties.

How Not To Win A Class War

April 15, 2010

Perhaps the most persistent myth of the bargain basement cod-sociology which keeps Irish media pundits ticking over is that of the Celtic Tiger as a societal phenomenon. I’m not even referring, in this instance, to the political expediency of this myth, although this is manifest; sure, some of us bought up half of Western Anatolia and purchased a fleet of limos for our grand-niece’s communion, but then others took a weekend in Copenhagen when there was perfectly good dirt to grind themselves into, so we all lost the run of ourselves. Can’t we just call it quits and move on?

In reality, however, the Tiger was the material expression, at an opportune moment, of a culture which had long preceded it and has long survived it. The cult of neoliberalism, Irish-style, was not a product of the boom, nor of the housing bubble, nor of Italia ’90, nor an intellectual construct of the Progressive Democrats. It was not even a consequence of Fianna Fáil’s innate sense of entitlement to droit-de-seigneur over the Irish people. The supremacy of the market had long been impregnably implanted in the minds of the opinion-formers of Irish society (i.e., the ones with the airtime and column space to propound their views unchallenged.)

One of the most striking aspects of this development, however, was the almost complete failure of neoliberalism, as an ideology, to take root within the populace at large. Even as chapter and verse resounds from the lips of its prophets, the language employed is the language of solidarity, of unity, of justice. Greed is not only not good, it’s very, very bad, and moreover, it’s everywhere. Greed is defending one’s pay and conditions in the midst of an unemployment crisis. Greed is temporarily withholding non-essential services from the public. Don’t you know there’ s a war on?

So why has the media onslaught against the public sector, and workers generally, been so unremittingly triumphant? Some people bought into the false equivalence of solidarity and unconditional capitulation, as propagated by the likes of Pat Kenny, Eamon Keane and Independent Newspapers, undoubtedly. It’s a shoddy scapegoat that finds no takers.

Strikingly, however, the instrument used to smite the public sector was not one crafted from the precepts of neoliberalism, but a specious appeal to a debased form of egalitarianism. There was no suggestion that these people had job security, or pensions, or relatively decent pay because they’d fought for and earned those things, as elsewhere in the economy. Their sin was the sin of privilege. Right-wing commentators used to have a phrase for this approach; they called it the politics of envy. But that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.

However, there is also a smaller, though significant, element at play here, which is worth exploring simply because it’s substantially overlooked by those on the left.

I grew up during the last great recession in the 1980s, in what was probably the most deprived (settled) community in the entire country. Unemployment was ubiquitous, a natural condition of life that barely registered as a vicissitude, like head-lice in the 1950s. Heroin was consuming the neighbourhood from the inside out, although to innocent eyes it was simply “drugs”, something that happened between huddles of furtive young men in stairwells.

The chief certainty one absorbed from a remarkably early age was that life comprised one long struggle against the government and its confederates. Far from being cosseted in the bosom of a doting welfare state, the relationship was defined by antagonism. They begrudged you every penny, every second of service, and they made sure you knew it. Nor was there any serious recourse to collective struggle; there were no unions for the unemployed.

To anyone under the age of thirty in those days (certainly under the age of twenty) the notion that the clerk in the rent office, the woman in the labour exchange, the guy from the ESB who cut off your supply, that any of those people could conceivably be on your side was not just laughable, but offensive. And as for guards and teachers…

Of course, these were all false impressions. None of these underpaid, under-resourced public sector workers were responsible for the low-level violence of compulsion which the state inflicted upon the poor, nor (under constant attack themselves) did they have the leeway to act on their sympathies. Though undoubtedly corners were cut in Dublin 11 which would not have been cut in Dublin 4.

Because familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, contempt breeds contempt, and the contempt of the state for the urban poor was boundless and vicious. In addition to which, the state (then as now) was masterfully adept at bringing a kind of degenerated Marxist method to bear against different sectors of the working class, lest they should come to recognise their common adversary.

In many areas of the city (I can speak only for Dublin), that experience of the 1980s has not only inculcated a genuine apathy towards politics (and not the kind one hears invoked when turnout drops half-a-per-cent in a given constituency), but also a steadfast, instinctive aversion to the agents of the state and all their works and pomps. This lingering resentment has done for class identification with public sector workers amongst the urban poor what aspirational allegiance to the ruling class did in other parts of the population.

The consolatory fact remains, however, that the Irish people have never endorsed neoliberalism on its own terms, and when invited to do so (McDowell’s PDs, the Lisbon campaign that was fought on the treaty), have resoundingly declined. It is no wonder, therefore, that the neoliberal offensive has been so elliptical in pursuit of its goals.

The other night, some character called Niamh Lyons from the Daily Mail appeared on Vincent Browne’s show to preview the morning papers. She described the proposed Croke Park deal as “manna from heaven” for the public sector, evidence of which was that the “hardline militants” in charge of the unions had endorsed it. I hesitate to say that she believed any of this, because a basic level of intelligence must be present before one can be meaningfully said to believe anything. However, hers was not the most depressing contribution.

That came from our old friend Joan Burton TD, who refused (despite repeated entreaties spanning half an hour) to support or oppose the deal. Her contortions mirrored those of her party leader Eamon Gilmore, who refrained on the basis that “[it was] not the function of politicians to get involved in an industrial relations issue such as this.”

That the leader of the LABOUR Party can come out with a statement like that demonstrates the water-tightness of the neoliberal consensus which defines Irish politics. It also demonstrates the necessity for a left alternative to avail of these open goals, not just on an electoral, but also an intellectual basis. The neoliberal right haven’t won the argument; there hasn’t even been an argument.

After all, with enemies like Gilmore, Burton and the union leadership, who needs friends?

It all started when he hit me back…

March 23, 2010

It’s been an instructive week for the student of socio-economics. Most notably, it’s been established that the provision of passports in non-emergency situations is indispensable to society in a way that healthcare, employment, housing and social welfare seemingly are not. Equally illuminating have been the additions to the bristling arsenal of the big battalions in industrial disputes which have been fashioned in Leinster House. To wit, the following from Mickey Martin:

‘It has brought misery to many Irish citizens who needed passports to travel abroad for business, holidays, or even to find work.’

Yes, really. The Minister for Foreign Affairs actually said the equivalent of “Fancy getting off this godforsaken shithole because my government’s crashed the economy, taken away your job and generally made life intolerable for everyone? Take it up with those bastards in Molesworth Stret!”

However, Eamon “I’m a paid-up trade unionist” Gilmore can trump that. Read it and weep.

Elsewhere, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore called for the suspension of industrial action, due to the disruption it was causing individuals.

“What’s that, old boy? Disruption? Our industrial action is causing disruption, you say? Well, why didn’t you mention this earlier? Dreadfully sorry.”

The sad thing is, that’s more or less what they’ve done. Measures were already in place to provide passports in cases of bereavement and illness. That is absolutely proper, especially in a work-to-rule, and a testament to the humanity of those workers. No-one conducts industrial action in order to take out their misery on the public. But there’s misery, and there’s misery. How many of Joe Duffy’s Sit-In Army got the Thomas Cook treatment?

The whole affair kind of gives the lie to those on the lily-livered liberal wing of the left who called on public sector workers to pick their fights rather than alienating the populace with mass action. They’re picking their fights, and you’re still fucking moaning about it.

UUP: “Hands off southern trade unions!”

March 15, 2010

This is more Splintered Sunrise’s province than mine (pun diplomatically unintended), but the Republic’s increasingly assailed trade unions found an unlikely champion this weekend, in the form of UUP councillor (and twice Lord Mayor of Belfast) Jim Rodgers.

Rodgers, in his capacity as a director of Glentoran F.C., rightfully took exception to Garda heavy-handedness at Saturday’s Setanta Sports Cup fixture between his side and Bohemians at Dalymount Park.

Our august Guardians of the Peace reportedly took exception to attempts on the part of someone in the sizeable travelling support to erect a Northern Ireland flag in the Des Kelly stand. By “erect”, they presumably mean “drape over the hoardings”, although the sight of a boozed-up Nordie casual shinning up the flagpole at the end of the Jodi stand would have been one for the scrapbook.

Quoth Cllr. Rodgers:

“I would have to point the finger at the policing, which left a lot to be desired,” he said.

“We’ve seen it before with Linfield fans. Instead of operating a sensible policing policy, they go at it like a bull in a china shop, it doesn’t help community relations.

“The Garda Siochana need specialist training in how to handle crowds. We see it with trade union demonstrations down south, they seem to overreact.”

Give the chap a fucking cigar, he’s spot-on on every score. In addition to which, he deftly avoided mentioning the Love Ulster débâcle. Any chance of shipping him off to the front line in the War on Plunder out west?

Speaking of overreactions, the story as viewed through the psychedelic prism of the Evening Herald is barely recognisable.

The Herald witnessed first hand how gangs aligned to the East Belfast club spread an air of menace and hate in and around the Phibsboro area.

As tens of thousands of rugby fans spilled out of nearby Croke Park following Ireland’s fantastic win against Wales, hordes of Northern soccer fans were intent on creating havoc less than a mile away.

This newspaper also saw how gardai tried to defuse the situation by operating a friendly attitude with aggressive Glentoran supporters.

Officials from the Belfast club said they were unhappy at the use of the dogs and the speed with which the Public Order Unit was brought in. Five men, all Glentoran fans and all in their 30s and 40s, were charged for public order offences and appeared in court this morning after being released on bail.

Three of the men were arrested shortly after the kick off in the game with the other two Glentoran fans being arrested before the game. It is believed that the skirmishes within the ground started when Glentoran supporters were prevented from erecting a Northern Ireland flag, an act seen by many as one of open provocation.

Leaving aside all Baudrillardian cogitations on whether it’s possible to see an act in a particular light if the act did not take place, the indignation evinced at the fact that these working-class thugs were practically breathing the same air as the rugger buggers exiting Croke Park is telling. I mean, little Tiernán could have heard a Northside accent or positively anything.

Anyway, four Glensmen got their collars felt and were up before Judge Cormac Dunne this afternoon. Everyone got the Probation Act and went home, which can’t but cast doubt on the submitted statement that a defendant ‘became “abusive and extremely violent to gardaí, staff and security working at the venue.”’ If he’d been “extremely violent” to anyone, least of all a Guard, he wouldn’t be going home with a smack on the wrist and a note for mother.

Actually, the only flag on display which offended me was that ridiculous little tricolour which Bohs have been sporting on the back of their collars for the past few years. Not only is it gratuitously jingoistic, but it clashes horrendously with their beautiful red and black stripes.

PS: This post was going to be a delayed reaction to the Blueshirt Blueprint, but I see WorldByStorm is all over it on CLR. It’s an interesting gambit, but why does it remind me of this?