Monthly Archives For August 2013

Bomb the Bad Guys and Save the Innocents

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Will the US and other Western countries bomb Syria for its government’s alleged chemicals weapons attack on civilians?  It seems likely, despite the compelling case against any such intervention, as set out by Seamus Milne and many others.  At the time of writing, it also appears likely that the US will not even seek the fig-leaf of UN Security Council authorization.  Richard Haas, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has said that “The UN Security Council is not the sole or unique custodian about what is legal and what is legitimate, and, as many have pointed out, it was bypassed at the time of Kosovo.”  Indeed, reference to Kosovo is widespread right now with supporters of Western military action arguing that not only was the 1999 Kosovo intervention legal (it clearly was not) but also that it generated positive outcomes.  In 2006, I wrote an article, titled ‘bomb the bad guys and save the innocents’, for Village magazine which sought to explain precisely why NATO’s actions vis-à-vis Kosovo did not constitute a justification for Western countries bombing the rest of the world – that article seems worth reprinting now.

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What happened in Kosovo in 1999? This may seem like an obscure question, but it’s an important one, because Kosovo is often cited today to justify “humanitarian interventions” by the West, at a time when Iraq is giving Western military interventions an otherwise bad name. According to the official version of events, NATO attacked Serbia in 1999 to stop Serb forces “ethnically cleansing” Kosovar Albanians. And, so this version goes, it worked – genocide was prevented and a dictator (Milosevic) toppled. We (the West) may have gotten it wrong in Iraq, but we got it right back then in the Balkans and we can do it again elsewhere.

The official version has the status of holy writ – questioning it is tantamount to blasphemy. Noam Chomsky is described as one of the “contortionists of the left”, rejecting intervention even in “situations – such as the Kosovan crisis – which were plainly crying out for assistance”, according to Shane Hegarty of the Irish Times (14 January). RTÉ’s Mark Little, wholly in thrall to the official version, engaged in a Prime Time barracking of Chomsky over his opposition to the 1999 NATO bombardment.

But what really happened in 1999? If the real story is not quite as simple as the official version suggests, and it isn’t, then we should be suspicious when the precedent is invoked to justify Western military adventures today.

In the first place, there is a strong argument that the NATO attack need never have taken place. The Yugoslav government refused to sign the initial Rambouillet peace accord, in part because it contained an annex provision that granted NATO troops free access to all Yugoslav territory, a provision later dropped from the final post-war settlement terms. Other issues and suspicions also impeded the progress of the peace negotiations, including legitimate doubts about the extent to which the Milosevic regime would have accepted, or abided by, any deal. But the bizarre volte face regarding NATO access to Yugoslavia raises the suspicion that the provision was simply an excuse to provoke a conflict and thus assert a role for NATO in the post-Cold War world.

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Could Austerity Make the Poor a ‘Nation’ on their Own?

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The historian Robert Kee once argued that the Penal Laws, having endviolence and acts of legislation.owed Catholics with a special identity of poverty and social isolation, made the poor in Ireland a nation of their own. Prior to this he argues that the concept of Irish national identity was vague and hard to pin down and describe. Kee said that, before the inception of the Penal Laws, Ireland had very no real sense of itself. It was a collection of Gaelic, Gaelicized and Old English groupings ruled by Chieftains who propped up the ancient system of tribal governance. These chieftains, who comfortable with swearing allegiance to an English king, rarely rose up against the foreign monarchy. When they did it was far from being in the name of a national ideal but rather in defense of their own privileged positions in Irish society.

Exceptions are noted including the rebellion of Ulster's Shane O'Neill who, though still motivated by a challenge to his own power, was perhaps the first of these chieftains to look beyond the parameters of his own tribe. This ancient, tribal system was effectively brought to end by the Plantations, Cromwell's approach to Ireland, and the victory of William of Orange over James II. The introduction of the Penal Laws in 1703 was done in order to cement Protestant control over land through a programme designed in order to disenfranchise Catholics on a wider and deeper social scale.

Whether or not Kee is correct in all of his interpretations is a side issue. It is his proposition that the inhumanity of the Penal Laws resulted for the first time in a shared and observable identity for a majority of Irish people that is interesting. They were bound together not by Religion (although this was the label given to the legislation) but by the fact that they were systemically impoverished and socially marginalised by the state through policy, violence and acts of legislation.

The historian Robert Kee once argued that the Penal Laws, having endowed Catholics with a special identity of poverty and social isolation, made the poor in Ireland a nation of their own. Prior to this he argues that the concept of Irish national identity was vague and hard to pin down and describe. Kee said that, before the inception of the Penal Laws, Ireland had very no real sense of itself. It was a collection of Gaelic, Gaelicized and Old English groupings ruled by Chieftains who propped up the ancient system of tribal governance. These chieftains, who comfortable with swearing allegiance to an English king, rarely rose up against the foreign monarchy. When they did it was far from being in the name of a national ideal but rather in defense of their own privileged positions in Irish society.

Exceptions are noted including the rebellion of Ulster's Shane O'Neill who, though still motivated by a challenge to his own power, was perhaps the first of these chieftains to look beyond the parameters of his own tribe. This ancient, tribal system was effectively brought to end by the Plantations, Cromwell's approach to Ireland, and the victory of William of Orange over James II. The introduction of the Penal Laws in 1703 was done in order to cement Protestant control over land through a programme designed in order to disenfranchise Catholics on a wider and deeper social scale.

Whether or not Kee is correct in all of his interpretations is a side issue. It is his proposition that the inhumanity of the Penal Laws resulted for the first time in a shared and observable identity for a majority of Irish people that is interesting. They were bound together not by Religion (although this was the label given to the legislation) but by the fact that they were systemically impoverished and socially marginalised by the state through policy, violence and acts of legislation.

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Thorns in Assad’s Side

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Thorns in Assad’s Side

By Kate Ennals
dd
‘Rows and rows of bodies, fully grown men
and small children
lie lifeless with no signs of physical injury or bodily trauma’
says the Irish Times head line
(no mention of women)
A silent horror
Described as ‘thorns’ in Assad’s side
(according to Russians, it is the rebels)
Whose ever thorns they are, I want to know
Why the grief? Why the Western disbelief?
These bodies are not hacked, axed, shot, beheaded,
They are not torn, ravaged, raped,
They are silent, whole, and dead
A peaceful scene of war.
No bombs. No Terror.
To be honest, easier to watch on TV
Though I do not. I listen to the radio.
dd
I listen to the Hague cry ‘inhumane’
But I do not understand the pain.
I say in my desperation,
If to kill is the purpose
Why not chemical gas
as a weapon of choice?
If to kill is the intent
Of these men
Why not instant death
For if there are no people left
There will be no chemicals, no gas
No love, no hate.
dd
The civilised world says in speeches
Chemical gas kills innocent victims
It kills civilians
So does poverty, and disease,
Never has this caused Western unease.
dd
In Ireland this afternoon
gold hangs from trees over a
plantation of green on sky blue
fruiting blackberries, ferns, nasturshiums
an oasis of earth, moist, damp, rich.
A land the Syrians will never know.
No matter where they have died and how
or whatever hell they live in now.

ddsadsd

 

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Dublin City councillors urged to vote for the Rosie Hackett Bridge

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A Bridge for Rosie Hackett Campaign

Rosie is the people’s choice:

Dublin City councillors urged to vote for the Rosie Hackett Bridge

Trade unionists, feminists, sportsmen, academics, artists, film makers, actors, comedians, historians, journalists, civic society groups and politicians are all calling on Dublin City councillors to make sure that after the council vote on September 2, the new bridge between Eden Quay and Burgh Quay is named after Rosie Hackett.

If councillors have committed to support another of the four remaining nominees, we are asking them to give Rosie their second preference.

Jeni Gartland of the Bridge for Rosie Hackett campaign says: “Dubliner, Jacobs Biscuit Factory worker, champion of workers’ rights, founder member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, a 1913 Lockout activist who also fought for the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Rising – Rosie was an ordinary woman who lived in extraordinary times.

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Stop the Presses! Cutting Public Sector Employment Actually Increases the Debt

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Well, well, well.  You know that policy of reducing the number of public sector employees?   Nurses, Gardai, civil servants, local authority workers?   The Government trumpets the success of this downsizing:  since late 2008, public sector numbers have fallen by nearly 30,000.  This has saved, according to Ministers, a lot of money:  the Exchequer pay bill (excluding pensions) has fallen by €5 billion; though some of this is due to pay cuts.  Leave aside the impact on public services – fewer people offering services with less resources; just focus on the fiscal side of things.  It would appear that public sector downsizing is successful.

There’s just one catch:  it is actually driving up the debt.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the multipliers that the ESRI has produced in the past – estimating the impact of different fiscal measures (tax increases, spending cuts) on the economy, employment and public finances.  Now the ESRI has produced their third impact study:  ‘The HERMES-13 macroeconomic model of the Irish economy’.  In many respects, they confirm their previous results.  But they add a few new wrinkles.  One of them is the impact on the general government debt.  And when it comes to reducing the number of public sector employees, they found that doing such a thing actually increases the debt.

First, let’s go through their numbers.

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Unfinished Business 1913 Podcast #6: Irish Trade Unionism Today

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The final 1913 Unfinished Business podcast in this series – which aired on NEARfm last week – is now available to stream and download.

Available here and below.

It will be available on our bandcampwordpress and podomatic later in the week.  

In our final episode of the 1913 Lockout podcast series we look at how workers can organise today to meet the challenges we face.

We take a critical look at the state of the Irish trade union movement today and explore what needs to be changed.

We speak with Joe Carolan, Organiser with Unite, on his experience with organising Fast Food Workers in New Zealand and hear from Esther Lynch, Legal and Legislative Officer ICTU, on the legislative framework for Irish trade unions. Derek Keenan, chair of the CWU Youth Committee, speaks to us about what the trade union response has been to Job Bridge and Kieran Allen, Lecturer and Shop Steward, addresses the history of social partnership.

This episode also takes a look at a form of community unionism as advocated by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.

The series concludes with group discussion on the need for a reinvigorated mass movement of workers to fight back against bosses, and where to go from here.

Contributors: Moira Murphy, Pádraig Madden, Ronan Burtenshaw, Shane Fitzgerald, Eoin Griffin, and Jen O'Leary.

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Report: Unmasking Austerity: Lessons for Australia, on the disastrous economic and social effects of austerity in Europe and North America

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UNMASKING AUSTERITY: Lessons for Australia, by Dexter Whitfield

This new report, Unmasking Austerity: Lessons for Australia, documents why austerity failed and its disastrous economic and social effects in Europe and North America and highlights why Australia should not adopt these policies. Government debt continued to increase, reduced demand intensified the recession, negative or weak growth prevailed and the private sector failed to invest. The cost of lost output, reduced wealth, mass unemployment and government intervention runs into trillions in any currency. Public spending cuts and closures increased poverty and widened inequality as working people and the poor were made to pay for the failure of the banks, financial markets and wealthy elites. Austerity advocates were equally committed to embedding neoliberalism in the public sector and the welfare state and reconfiguring the role of the state.

Prepared for the Don Dunstan Foundation and Public Service Association of South Australia and published by the Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre, University of Adelaide.

http://www.adelaide.edu.au/wiser/WISeR_unmasking-austerity.pdf

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The First Marxist

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Book Review: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, Jonathan Sperber (Norton, 2013)

It seems like good news when a new book about Marx is not a hatchet job, is widely reviewed (though not, of course, in Ireland) and receives fairly universal acclaim in the mainstream press. Mind you, another biography of Marx that appeared in 1999 was also praised at the time and few seemed to be offended by the tone of its author, Francis Wheen. Wheen’s style, writing, for example, how Marx had little regard for his mother ‘except when he was trying to wheedle money out of the old girl’, revealed a supercilious, platitudinous attitude towards its subject, as if a book about Marx had to be presented as a jolly wheeze in case anyone thought he might be taking the ideas of the author of The Communist Manifesto just a tad too seriously.

It comes as a relief to find that Jonathan Sperber does not write like Wheen, that he approaches his subject with scholarly seriousness and presents Marx’s life in elegant and scrupulous prose. He successfully communicates a sense of Marx as a restless, erudite intellectual, fired-up by the limitations of others and hugely learned in a way that contemporary academia would have difficulty in coping with. This in itself would not have been a problem for a German university in the nineteenth century but the young Marx burnt that bridge when he crossed over into Young Hegelian territory and identified himself as a caustic opponent of the ultra conservative Prussian order. Until then, his prospects were sunny. Born 1818 inTrier, a southwestern German town that had been annexed to the French republic during the Revolution, he was the son of a Jewish lawyer who pragmatically adopted Protestantism but never abandoned his adoption of Enlightenment thought. Sperber is adept at explaining the obstacles faced by Heinrich Marx and the pressure he would have faced to assimilate. For many in his position, Catholicism would have been the religion of choice for conversion but Heinrich was an heir to the Enlightenment and this explains choice of denomination. 

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Big Bust Bank Poem

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Big Bust Bank Poem

fff
I’d just finished my 7 Mins of poetry
at the Irish embassy in London,
my poems and cursing delighted
and shocked the crowd.
ffff
He came over: handmade suit,
free glass of wine.
The man from the Big Bust bank,
handed me his card, asked
about prices for workshops.
 ffff
“Call me when you get back to Dublin,
we’ll meet and chat about projects.”
 ffff
I took the card, my funds were a bit low.
 fffff
I let it sink in for a day or two.
I argued with myself about it.
I wasn’t sure what to do.

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A Bridge for Rosie: Public Meeting @ 6.30, 20th Aug, Liberty Hall, Dublin

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A Bridge for RosieWhat’s all this racket about Rosie Hackett?

Date: Tuesday 20th August 2013

Time: 6.30pm

Location: The Connolly Hall, in Liberty Hall, Dublin

Speakers:           

  • Tara Flynn, comedienne and actress
  • Dr Mary McAuliffe, historian and lecturer on Irish Women’s History at UCD Women’s Studies
  • Rita Fagan, Dublin Community Activist
  • Padraig Yeates, author of Lockout: Dublin 1913

Dublin City has 16 bridges over the River Liffey and not one is named after a woman. We call on Dublin City Council to name the new Marlborough Street bridge the Rosie Hackett Bridge.  Rosie was a founder member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union; was involved in the 1931 Lockout; and fought for the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Rising.  We believe that in this, the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, we should pay tribute to the many women who made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement.  Naming the bridge for Rosie Hackett would do that. 

Come and join us for a fun and informative night to find out more about Rosie Hackett, the woman.  All welcome!

Socialist, trade unionist and member of the Irish Citizen Army – Rosie was exceptional. Born in Dublin in 1892 she joined the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in 1909, the year it was established. At 18, she led the strike that won a pay rise for 3,000 women in Jacobs Factory. In 1911, she co-founded the Irish Women Workers Union which in 1948 won two weeks pay for all workers. She took part in the 1913 Dublin Lockout. She worked in the Eden Quay Co-operative – proving her strong connection with the area. She fought for the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Rising and occupied the Royal College of Surgeons with Countess Markievicz. Rosie Hackett died in 1976, after working in the trade union movement for 60 years.

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