Monthly Archives For April 2013

A gombeen-Nation Once Again

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Here’s an extract from an article on Gom’beenism by Conor McCabe, which Rabble published in their great community print magazine and have now provided online. To help keep Rabble magazine in print please support their fundit campaign.

Gombeen (g?m ‘bi:n). Anglo-Irish. Usury. Chiefly attrib., as Gombeen-Man, a money-lender, usurer; so also gombeen-woman. Hence gom’beenism, the practice of borrowing or lending at usury.

The 19th-century term Gom’beenism, the practice of borrowing or lending at usury, is increasingly referenced in relation to Ireland’s domestic economic practices. Conor McCabe takes a look at the history of the Irish middleman and argues that they haven’t gone away.

On Tuesday 3 January 1882 the nobility and landed gentry of Ireland met in Dublin to discuss the future of the island. Among those present was R.J. Mahony, a landowner from Kerry. He stood and said that the recently-passed land act would be the ruin not only of the landlords but of the small farmer as well. He explained that as soon as the landlord class was put out of the way, another would come along to take their place.‘The merchant, the trader, the usurer, the gombeen man,’ said Mahony, were ‘the future rulers of the land.’ Mr. Mahony called these the middlemen, and although he may have had his reasons for defending landlordism, his warnings were not without foundation. Forty years later the middleman were in the ascendancy and set about carving the newly-independent free state in their image – and we’ve been living with the consequences of that ever since.

Just who were these middlemen? In an article published in 1982 Michael D. Higgins wrote that the mainstream image of the period – and the one taught at secondary level – was one of poor small farmers fighting against perfidious, foreign landlords. However, what was glossed over in such a black and white analysis was that there was another struggle – a class struggle – going on, one that involved small farmers and the rancher/grazier families. These large rancher farmers fattened cattle for export, and occasionally they were the local shopkeepers, the arbiters of credit in the community, and the dispensers of loans. It gave them significant societal influence and power. Not all shopkeepers were graziers, of course, but neither one was the friend of the smallholder. The social relations which underpinned Irish rural society were not only framed by land, but by credit: those who needed it, and those who profited from it. And in the north and west of Ireland, it was the Irish entrepreneurial spirit of the middleman and his gombeen cousin that held sway over credit.

Read the rest here.

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China is winning the new global industrial contest

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The international financial crisis brought about a radical change in the structure of international industrial competition, and China is winning this new contest. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the pattern of industrial expansion and contraction in the major industrial centres in the five years since the beginning of the international financial crisis in 2008.

As taking comparisons only for single years can obscure this fundamental trend, Figure 1 shows the changes in industrial output during the entire last five year period in the world’s four major industrial centres – China, the U.S., the European Union (EU) and Japan. The pattern is clear and striking.

  • U.S. industrial production on the latest data, for February 2013, remained 1.3% below its level five years previously – essentially stagnating over the five year period taken as a whole.
  • Industrial output in the EU remains at 12.2%, i.e., significantly below its level five years ago. EU industrial production has fallen since February 2011.
  • Japan’s industrial production remains at 19.2%, i.e., substantially below its levelof five years ago and has also fallen since February 2011.
  • China’s industrial output is 76.1% above the level five years previously.

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EU-US Free Trade Agreement: Race to the Bottom of the Atlantic

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A lot of ink has been spilt in the mainstream media, praising the role a free trade agreement between the EU and the US could play in pulling the two economies out of the crisis they are engulfed in. Richard Bruton outdid himself in the Sunday Business Post on 14 April 2013, claiming “abolishing restrictions in the EU’s services sector alone could boost EU GDP by 2.6%.” Three days later a press release from him claimed that the whole deal could boost EU GDP by a mere 0.5%! Of course, these claims of increased growth, together with hundreds of thousands of new jobs, should be treated with a pinch of salt by those with the experience of the ‘Lisbon jobs’ promises. 

These trade negotiations will be carried out in secret, away from any real public or parliamentary scrutiny. Thankfully the draft mandate prepared by the European Commission for the Council has been leaked, although it’s outrageously meant to be kept secret from most MEPs and the public at large. The draft clearly illustrates these negotiations are a means for big business including agri-business on both sides of the Atlantic to push their interests at the expense of European and American working people. They will drive for full liberalisation of public services, and a race to the bottom in terms of regulatory standards. They intend to give privileged access to ‘justice’ to major corporations and may threaten internet freedoms with the potential for ACTA by the backdoor!

The International Trade Committee of the European Parliament will vote on a resolution in April which will most likely voice support for the negotiations. Here, Paul Murphy MEP and Tanja Niemeier (Trade Advisor for European United Left in the European Parliament) provide a critical analysis and explain why  this deal will not be ‘win-win’ for workers on both sides of the Atlantic, as the free trade propaganda suggests.

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Workers Have Spoken

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This post originally appeared on Unite the Union’s Croke Park Report blog on the 17th of April.

66 percent of public sector workers voting on the Croke Park 2 proposals rejected the deal. Of the 20 unions participating in the ballot, 14 rejected the deal and 5 accepted (we don’t have information on the vote from Veterinary Ireland). The result was overwhelming and conclusive.

There is one argument going around that says if four percent of public sector workers in SIPTU had switched from rejection to acceptance, then Croke Park 2 would have passed.

However, this overlooks the fact that two-thirds of public sector workers rejected the deal. A small change in any particular union would make no difference in the overall vote.

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Why Ireland’s 2008 Blanket Bank Guarantee Decision Was Taken?

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There seems to be a myth doing the rounds at the moment that the 2008 Blanket Bank Guarantee, which ran for 2 years from September 2008 until 2010, wasn’t put in place to simply stop both Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide from collapsing in order to protect, as far as possible, the considerable interests that a small group of Irish people had in those cauldrons of greed and corruption.

Rather, popular thinking now goes, the notorious guarantee was put in place because of pressure from the ECB who were eager to ensure that revenue from Irish taxes would be used to pay bondholders in the banks of Core EU countries in full.

Take this recent article published on the 27th of March last which has the headline: “Germany’s rethink on just where the blame lies for the Irish bank bailout”. The implication behind the headline is that the bailout was required because of the guarantee, but also suggests that the statement made by the German Finance Minister that the Irish guarantee was a solely Irish initiative is a ‘rethink’, that is, an attempt to change the narrative that the bailout, and the guarantee that made it inevitable, was dictated by interests of big German banks.

“It was the Irish government that imposed the farthest-reaching guarantee for its banking system at the start of the crisis – on its own initiative,” said German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

The statement itself was prompted by comments made by Irish politicians while negotiating on bank debt. Such comments, of course, are tailored to an Irish audience who are increasingly convinced that the enormous and unsustainable burden of Irish bank debt which the residents of Ireland are being forced to finance is being imposed by the ECB and Germany in order to protect their own struggling banks. This particular framing of the story feeds into the tale told about Timothy Geithner’s phone call and the posthumous yarn about the letters Brian Lenihan received from Jean-Claude Triche.

These Irish politicians are entirely aware, however, that the decision to provide such a broad guarantee was made without the advanced knowledge of the ECB. It is a consequence of this decision which was only put in place to maintain access for Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide to the interbank market that the vast majority of bonds have been paid off in full.

We know this because on the 3rd of Oct 2008 the ECB published an opinion on the Irish bank guarantee. Here’s the relevant excerpt.

“As a further general comment, the ECB notes that the Irish authorities have opted for an individual response to the current financial situation and not sought to consult their EU partners. In view of the similarities of the causes and consequences of the current financial distress across EU Member States and the potential interdependencies of policy responses, it would have been advisable to properly consult other EU authorities on the envisaged legislative plans.

2.5 A further point relates to the risks to the Government’s budgetary position arising from any financial support to Irish credit institutions. While the ECB appreciates that any guarantees provided by the Minister under the draft law would be contingent in nature, given that the financial exposure of the Irish State under such guarantees is potentially very large, the Irish Government could be obliged to make significant payments in case these guarantees are called over the next two years. At a point in time when the Irish budgetary position is deteriorating and may risk exceeding the 3 % of GDP reference value for public deficits, as specified under Community law12, this is a cause for concern, even when the provision of financial support would, under the draft law, as far as possible ultimately have to be recouped from the credit institution or subsidiary in question.”

More to follow.

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Continuing Fallout from Venezuelan Election

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As indicated before the elections, the right-wing opposition are engaging in activities similar to those that laid the ground for the short-lived coup in 2002. In brief the main points are:

  1. Venezuela’s right-wing groups engage in extreme violence after rejecting official election results
  2. Leaders from across Latin America congratulate President Maduro & call for official results to be respected
  3. Venezuelan Embassy in the UK Statement on the Election
  4. Union of South American Nations & Election Observers Calls for Respect for Venezuela Election Results
  5. National Electoral Council (CNE) explains that 54% of votes have been audited & the result is valid, as Nicolas Maduro becomes President

1. Venezuela’s right-wing groups engage in extreme violence after rejecting official election results

Groups linked to the Venezuelan right-wing opposition have unleashed a wave of violence across Venezuela following their loss at Sunday’s presidential elections and their refusal to accept the official results, again (as in many times in the past) alleging fraud without providing any proof, in order to undermine the will of the people.

Henrique Capriles, the losing candidate, called his supporters onto the streets and this was quickly followed on Monday by violence.

The situation has particularly worsened after right-wing national newspapers published a doctored photo claiming to show the government burning ballot papers and an opposition-aligned journalist falsely claimed that ballot boxes were being held by Cuban doctors – the first false accusation leading to attacks on buildings of the country’s independent national electoral council, the second on widespread attacks on the nation’s health services.

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The Charge of the Trite Brigade

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The Charge of the Trite Brigade

By Altered lord Tenement

Half a plague, half intrigue,

Half a rogue honoured.

All in the alley of debt

Strode the quick hungered

Homeward, the trite brigade!

Charge for the goods he said:

Into the alley of debt

Strode the quick hungered

Homeward, the trite brigade!

Was there a deputy dismay’d?

Not tho’ the elders knew

Some one had blunder’d:

Their’s not to give the eye,

Their’s not to clean the sty,

Their’s but to milk and vie:

Down a blind alley of debt

Strode the quick hungered.


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Dublin Council of Trade Unions: May Day March, ‘1913-2013 Unfinished Business’

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Dublin Council of Trade Unions

May Day 2013

1913-2013 Unfinished Business’

Resist austerity- March with your banners

The Dublin Council of Trade Unions is holding its annual MAY DAY demonstration on Wednesday, May 1st.

Assembly point will be Parnell Square at 7 pm and marching to Liberty Hall for a public meeting at Beresford Place.

Music and stalls around the Lock Out theme will follow in the theatre and bar area of Liberty Hall.

This year’s theme will be ‘1913/2013: unfinished business’. The unfinished business includes the legal recognition of trade unions in all employments and negotiating rights for all members.

It also includes a policy of resistance to austerity imposed by the government at the behest of the troika. Resistance to unemployment; to relentless cuts in health services, education, social welfare, community services, and in provision for the needy.

Job creation can never be seriously addressed in a climate of austerity. Oil and water don’t mix.

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Ireland and the Enclosure of the Commons

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This article was originally published on Conor McCarthy's blog, Reflections from Damaged Life on the 6th of April.

Last January I climbed Djouce Mountain, in Co. Wicklow, with my old friend and comrade Andrew. We went up by the Barr and White Hill, and on to Djouce summit. It was a beautiful day of hard frost, and the hills retained a dusting of snow. It's a magnificent, easy hike. Cresting the Barr, where we passed the memorial to JB Malone, the view down to Lough Tay and Luggala, over to Fancy and Knocknaclohoge, and beyond to Lough Dan and Scarr, was superb. Snows fringed the rim of the great cliffs above the lake, backed by pale azure skies. Every blade of grass bore its own banner of hoarfrost.

The walk is deceptively easy, as much of it is now 'boardwalked'. By this I mean that the path had been becoming severely eroded, and some combination of agencies – the Wicklow National Park, perhaps, and Coillte, and Mountain Meitheal – came together to lay a pathway over the soft heather and bog, made of old CIE railway sleepers bound together, and laid in pairs end to end, in steps or stretching out over the moors. For once, a decent and environmentally-sound intrusion has been made into the over-pressured Wicklow hills.

But a much bigger problem is in the making, and has been for some time. Andrew and I parked the car at the entrance and carpark of a state forest on the east side of the Sally Gap-Luggala road, a Coillte forest that drapes the southern flanks of Djouce and White Hill. These forests, which litter Wicklow, and are present all over Ireland, are mostly composed of fast-growing lodgepole pine and sitka spruce and other unprepossessing conifers, that can cope with rugged or boggy or otherwise marginal land. They are planted very densely, and in ugly boxed formations that lap up the mountainsides. They are planted so closely, in fact, that in the resultant darkness there is no undergrowth, and much the ground beneath them becomes sterile. Very little wildlife can survive in these forests once they are mature, though some species like the plantations when the trees are young. The pine needles and other detritus from these trees, which are grown mostly for pulp, not for quality timber, cause acidification of the soils, such as they are. When Coillte decides to fell a certain crop of trees, the procedures used are extraordinarily destructive and ugly. 'Clearfelling' involves simply smashing down all the trees in a designated area. They may be felled by axe and chainsaw, or they may be pulled down by some kind of pulley machinery. Either way, the result is a blasted landscape of grey deadwood, resembling some dismal blend of Flanders in 1916 and Tunguska in 1908.

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Attack on Wages is About Social Control: Marx, Kalecki, and Socialist Strategy

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In the April edition of the Monthly Review John Bellamy Foster has a piece called Marx, Kalecki, and Socialist Strategy on the Polish economist Michal Kaleck that is well worth getting stuck into – particularly given the outright assault on worker incomes ongoing in Ireland at the moment. It’s also struck me as worth reading in light of Ken Livingstone’s comment today which correctly contrasts the viciousness and failure of Thatcherism with the Post-World War 2 settlement.

Foster first refers to the profit-squeeze theory which is often used to explain why capitalists try to resist full employment, as rising wages hurts profits. He refers to a 1974 article by Raford Boddy and James Crotty’s “Class Conflict, Keynesian Policies, and the Business Cycle” which was developed counter to Kalecki’s suggestion that the pressure from capitalists to reduce wages stemmed not from a concern for profits, but as a form of social control. Writing in the 1940s Kalecki said that with full employment profits would ultimately not be affected. However, what was more important was removing the opportunity for workers to exercise any form of power.

“Kalecki’s views on the profit-squeeze argument, the political business cycle, and socialist economic strategy were rooted historically in his close observation of the French Popular Front government led by Leon Blum in 1936–1937. Kalecki had spent the summer of 1937 in Paris witnessing developments there. In what came to be known as the “Blum experiment,” a concerted attempt was made to implement a forty-hour working week, two weeks of paid vacation time for all workers, and collective bargaining rights. As part of these reforms the Popular Front initiated a substantial increase in the money wages of manual workers, which rose by about 60 percent over the course of a year. This increase in money wages did not, however, have a negative effect on overall output and employment, since wholesale prices were raised proportionately. However it did produce substantial net benefits both for manual workers and large capitalists, and for the industrial sector in general—at the expense of rentiers and other income groups. Yet, despite the fact that big capital had significantly gained from the redistribution toward industry that the wage increase had brought about, it allied itself with rentiers to resist the wage increase, complaining of a profit squeeze. The Blum government eventually succumbed to these pressures, leading to a fatal dampening of the aspirations of workers.

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Another World Is Possible: Learning from Each Other’s Struggles

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MA in COMMUNITY EDUCATION, EQUALITY & SOCIAL ACTIVISM

Applications are invited for the MA in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism at NUI, Maynoothhttp://ceesa-ma.blogspot.ie/

What can we learn from each other’s struggles for equality and social justice – and what do we already know about how to change the world?

This course brings together students who want to learn how to make equality and social justice into realities and more experienced activists in community education and social movements looking for space to reflect on their own work, with a team of staff who are experienced teachers and researchers, community educators and social movement practitioners.

We form a community of practitioners learning from each other’s experiences and struggles to create new kinds of “really useful knowledge” and develop alternatives.

The MA enables students to think about how to build real alternatives to challenge existing structures of oppression and injustice. It is about developing people’s capacity to change the world through community education, grassroots community activism and social movement campaigning.

The women's movement, global justice campaigners, self-organising by travellers and migrant communities, trade unions, GLBTQ campaigning, environmentalism, service user movements, anti-war activism, survivors of institutional abuse, and many other such movements have reshaped our society and put human need on the agenda beside profit and power. This process has not ended.

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Croke Park 2’s Attack on Women and Family Life

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The unions opposed to Croke Park 2 have launched an Equality Audit of the proposals. It focuses on the impact of changes in working conditions – issues which have not received as much attention as the pay-cut elements of Croke Park 2. Which is unfortunate as this audit shows is that these proposed will have a profound impact on women in particular, and family carers in general. This is why Croke Park 2 has been rightly labelled as anti-women and anti-family.

The Equality Audit is written by Niall Crowley who, as former head of the Equality Authority, is particularly well-placed to assess the impact of Croke Park 2. His key points are:

  • The provision for additional hours will have a higher impact on women – and for women and men with caring responsibilities. This could force women and carers out of the workforce.
  • There will be a similar impact of the provision regarding work sharing which will be reduced. Women and carers will be disproportionately hit. Furthermore, there will be a negative impact on productivity.
  • Flexi-time arrangements, again, will impact more negatively on women and carers. That the Croke Park 2 rules out any reference to family circumstance or the right to appeal to a third part means employees will have even fewer rights to maintain family-friendly working hours.
  • There is a potential loss of productivity arising from the proposals as the loss of work-sharing opportunities and flex-time, combined with more working hours will reverse the gains that these working practices produced in the past.

The effect of all this will be a management driven by spurious and highly misleading balance-sheet considerations which will disguise the loss of productivity in the public sector, impose costs on to workers, drive many women and carers out of the workforce, and end up with a degraded public service. This is quite an achievement for a ‘deal’ that pretends to drive efficiencies.

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The Iron Lady

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First Book of Frags is being launched on Saturday 20th of April at 8 O'Clock in McGrattans Bar on Talbot Street with a introduction by Sean O'Reilly and a gala night of performance featuring Dave Lordan, Karl Parkinson and many more of Dublin's top spoken word artists.

The Iron Lady, below is taken from the new book.

The embedded video is another Frag, The F**king Titanic read by me using footage from the film 'A Night To Remember' (1958). The video was created by the film-maker Eamonn Crudden

According to Mel Ulm of The Reading Life, First Book of Frags is amazing, almost flabbergastingly original.

“Dave Lordan’s First Book of Frags is experimental work of an accessible kind – unsentimental, original.[…] a wry sensibility throughout, reminiscent of the early stories of Peter Carey.” — Patrick Chapman

 

The Iron Lady

When the Iron Lady died we melted her down immediately.

After some debate (coinage, medals, spearheads, a unique musical instrument, an elaborate candlestand…?) we decided to divide her and use her to make five Alloy Ladies.

These were the Cast Iron Lady, the Pig Iron lady, the Celestium Lady, Lady Cobalt and the Lady of Ferrovanadium.

We placed an Alloy Lady on a special display pedestal at each one of our Starfort’s five points and floodlit them from below. They were martial hallucinations, ethereal and terrifyi.ng.

The Alloy Ladies were taken by many of our citizens to be representations of cult deities; unofficial grottoes sprung up. These were always garlanded with fresh rose and hydrangea bouquets, perfumed with jasmine and incense, illumined by the flames of gigantic votive candles. Some citizens started leaving notes of supplication, as well as coins and other wish-offerings, but this was put a stop to as it was untidy, attracted petty criminals, and generated mendicancy.

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