Monthly Archives For November 2015

We Make Our Own History: Discussion and Book Launch

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The launch event takes place in Connolly Books (East Essex St, Temple Bar) at 6 pm on Wednesday 9th December.

How are social movements doing in Ireland? What kind of real change might be on the cards, here and in Europe or further afield? What are the key issues that we should be thinking about if we want to see it happen?

Co-written with Norwegian researcher on Indian movements Alf Gunvald Nilsen, my book We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism (Pluto, 2014) draws on the Maynooth tradition of activist research in social movements to read Marxism as a reflection of the learning of popular struggles and uses this approach to explore how movements grow out of the struggle to meet human needs, how they develop, how the collective agency of the powerful and wealthy works and what all this means for the struggle against neoliberalism today.

Launched at the London “Historical Materialism” conference, the book has raised interest wherever movement struggles are intense (reprinted in South Africa, translated into Turkish, with Indian editions and translations under discussion) and we have been invited to discuss the book at Ruskin College Oxford’s International Labour and Trade Union Studies MA, the European University Institute’s social movements research centre, the Collège d’Etudes Mondiales in Paris, the University of Gothenburg’s Forum on Civil Society and Social Movements, Reykjavík Academy / Radical Summer School, the University of Bergen, and in South Africa at the universities of KwaZulu Natal, Johannesburg, Wits and Rhodes among others.

It’s been reviewed among other places in Counterpunch, Working USA, Marx and Philosophy, Radikalportal, Trade Unions and Global Restructuring and Social Movement Studies, along with mentions on Pravda.ru and … the Huffington Post. Excerpts and related essays have appeared in Ceasefire, Progress in Political Economy, OpenDemocracy, Reflections on a Revolution, Discover Society and E-International Relations.

For the Dublin launch, rather than focus exclusively on the book there will be a discussion about the state of movements and our possible futures. Chaired by John Bissett, there will be short talks from Margaret Gillan, Andrew Flood and Fergal Finnegan to open a wider debate.

The launch event takes place in Connolly Books (East Essex St, Temple Bar) at 6 pm on Wednesday 9th December.

By way of an appetiser, here are some excerpts from what the book has to say about working-class community activism in Ireland

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Reflections on Water Movement and Right2Change Development

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Probably the most encouraging development that has come out of the water charges movement has been the accentuated understanding of ‘them’ and ‘us’; the idea that society is organised so as to benefit the minority at the expense of the majority. This is the starting point that all of us on the left had been yearning for since the beginning of the crisis. Undoubtedly, it was slow to arrive but when it finally did so, it was truly an explosion of struggle and organisational prowess, as we finally said ‘enough is enough’.

Any lingering illusions that the mainstream media, establishment parties or big business exist to better our lives, will have been dispelled for those at the heart of the movement. However, conclusions on how to change society for the better are numerous, unclear and disjointed. This comes as no surprise with an embryonic movement, which lacks ready-made and large radical institutions to provide solutions.

Ireland is a tax haven for big business

Rome, or Dublin for that matter, wasn’t built in a day. Economies and societies are incredibly complex systems that have developed over centuries. Ireland’s economy, in particular, presents many structural challenges for the left that simply cannot be wished away or eradicated overnight. The most successful capitalist economies are those which have the strongest industrial bases, specifically economies which actually make things and have goods or raw materials to trade with others countries or markets.

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November Socialist Voice is Now Available Online

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The November Socialist Voice is now available online

In this issue: 

The Right to Change

The Right2Water struggle, which began in the communities and has now developed into a powerful national force, has pushed the government back, and still retains the potential to defeat water charges and secure a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the public ownership of water.

This demand must remain our primary focus, and it can be won, regardless of electoral outcomes. 

Vulture funds: Multi-headed dogs of the dead! | Nicola Lawlor

We have heard a lot about Cerberus in recent times in relation to NAMA and IBRC and the purchase of “distressed assets” and housing and commercial developments, particular to do with Project Eagle in the North of Ireland.

Monopoly capitalism and the Irish economy | Kieran Crilly

Introductory orthodox economics is dominated by the concept of what is called “perfect competition.” This is based on four assumptions. (1) The industry or sector has a large number of small firms that cannot affect the price of the goods if they increase or decrease production. 

Mega-mergers and monopoly capitalism | Nicola Lawlor

A definition of a “mega-merger” is “the joining of two large corporations, typically involving billions of dollars in value.” The mega-merger creates one corporation that may maintain control over a large proportion of the market within its industry. Mega-mergers occur through the acquisition, merger, consolidation or combination of two existing corporations. They differ from traditional mergers because of their scale.

Vulture capitalism at work | Alan Hanlon

Earlier this year, on 12 June 2015, Clery’s department store was closed down and the locks changed, with the loss of 130 jobs and about 300 operators of franchises.
Clery’s was an iconic store, known throughout the country, the main shop in the main street of the capital city.

American unemployment: The real and the bogus | Bernard Murphy
The American economy is the model of what neo-liberal pundits in Ireland and elsewhere believe a progressive modern economy should be. Hence, the international corporate media circus has been trumpeting the glad tidings: the American end-of-summer unemployment figures are down to 5 per cent

The real structure of the Irish economy | Kieran Crilly

In this article we analyse different branches of the Irish economy according to the dominance of one firm or a small number of firms. 
Supermarkets
This sector is dominated by five firms: Supervalu, Dunne’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl. 

Anti-fascist conference in Athens | Bill O’Brien

A conference on the rise of fascism in Ukraine took place on 10 and 11 October in Athens. Representatives from many countries took part in this large event. 

Inequality in Ireland: A tale of two cities

The 85 richest individuals in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3½ billion. The world is grossly unequal, and is becoming more and more so. 

Letter from Havana | Seán Joseph Clancy

As I write here on the 27th of October an overwhelming majority of 193 member-states of the United Nations, at their General Assembly in New York: 

Lifting the illegal blockade against Cuba: UN echoes universal demand

With the support of 191 of the 193 member-states of the United Nations, the General Assembly voted in a new resolution on the 27th of October for an end to the US blockade against Cuba. 

Water for the people, not for corporate profits! | Paul Doran

All across the globe, facilitated by the World Bank, country after country has had its water privatised. Many large corporations use the vast resources of the African continent to pillage water and then sell if off in their European subsidiaries, and make huge profits. Nestlé is one of these companies.

What happened in the Catalan elections? | Tomás Mac Síomóin

In the parliamentary election in Catalunya on 27 September the independista Junts (“Together”) won 62 of the 68 seats required to have an absolute majority. 

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Championing the Self-Employed

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The Left and trade union movement should champion the self-employed.   While the Right gives promises of tax breaks, the self-employed need so much more:  a stronger welfare state and public sector intervention to empower self-employed workers in the market place.  Indeed, what the self-employed need is what PAYE employees need: social security and market strength.

 Let’s do some background numbers.  In Ireland, there are approximately 320,000 self-employed or 17 percent of total employment.  Of these, 69 percent are own-account workers – that is, they don’t have employees.   Throughout the EU-15, the self-employed make up 14 percent with the same proportion of own-account workers.  In Ireland, nearly one-in-six in the workforce are self-employed.

selfemployed_1

Unsurprisingly, self-employed in the agriculture and fishing sectors make up a quarter of all self-employed.  This is followed by construction and retail, with professional and technical self-employed making up 10 percent.  There are smaller numbers spread throughout all economic sectors.

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Begruding the Recovery

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Cliff Taylor asks why President Michael D. Higgins is not celebrating the recovery we are experiencing. 

‘The President is not comfortable saying anything positive about the Irish economic recovery.’

Apparently, the President is a bit of begrudger; indeed, all of us who opposed austerity are.

‘But if you are in the anti-austerity camp then the fact that the Irish economy is now growing strongly is an inconvenient truth.

Not only is reality inconvenient, we are guilty of being fantasists.

‘The anti-austerity brigade seems to assume there was some way for Ireland to magically escape cutbacks when a huge gap had emerged between annual spending and revenue even before the bank bailout costs.’

But then Cliff bemoans the lack of ‘measured discussion’.   Does labelling people begrudger, reality-deniers and fantasists constitute measured discussion?  At the risk of further labelling, let’s try to engage in some of that – measured discussion, that is.

A good starting point is the Central Bank’s recently published Economic Letter which summarises a major study on fiscal consolidation in the Eurozone between 2011 and 2013. The study used two models to measure the impact of austerity – the EU and the ECB model.  They further utilised three scenarios:  a baseline, one where business debt was factored in and, thirdly, credit-constrained households.  In short, the study found:

  • The impact of austerity measures were much more severe than previously estimated – so much so that for €1 billion of austerity, the economy fell by €1 billion and more
  • That spending cuts had a more severe impact than tax increases
  • That debt rose in the years after the austerity measures were introduced – only falling some five or six years (and possibly longer)
  • That the austerity measures were the primary reason behind the Eurozone’s slugging growth performance

They concluded by saying it was a mistake to pursue austerity measures while the economy was in a slump; addressing the debt should have been postponed until after the economy recovered.  If this were done, the debt would fall more quickly and the economic damage (unemployment, falling wages, business bankruptcy) would have been less.   While this was a study of the Eurozone as a whole, there is no doubt that Ireland experienced this – especially as our level of austerity was nearly double that undertaken in the Eurozone as a whole.

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Wealth Report

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Researchers with the Swiss bank Credit Suisse have just published their latest annual global wealth report, Global Wealth Report 2015. The United States, the report informs us, currently has more than twice as many millionaires as the next four richest nations — the UK, Japan, France, and Germany — combined. It also notes that the trend in growing inequality and the accumulation of wealth by a tiny elite continues unabated. 

There is no mention in the report of exploitation, imperialism or war. But it does contain a fairly stark depiction of socio-economic insanity.  

“While the  bottom half of adults collectively own less than 1% of total wealth, the richest decile holds 87.7% of  assets, and the top percentile alone accounts for half of total household wealth.”

The Report makes some effort to explain this state of affairs. For example, it notes with interest that 

“North America and Europe also contribute many members  to the bottom wealth decile” but it doesn’t put this down to  the increasing exploitation of workers in core imperialist states as wealth is siphoned . into the private and largely  hidden coffers of a tiny elite.

Instead, for the economists of Credit Suisse the growing number of people in the west living at third-world levels of poverty “reflects the ease with which individuals – especially  younger individuals – can acquire debt in these regions”.

So that explains it.

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