A New Horizon for the European Left


Ronan Burtenshaw argues that now is the time to start discussing alternative political and economic unions for Europe

2015 has been a year when a decade has happened for Europe’s Left.

In just a few months we have seen the election of SYRIZA, the unprecedented crisis in Fortress Europe and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour leader, not to mention the municipal victories in the Spanish state and the development of Right2Water into Ireland’s largest ever social movement.

Further developments are promised in the cascade of elections to come in Europe’s periphery.

But, as we welcome the opportunities that have opened up, we should acknowledge the paths that have closed. Most prominently, the defeat of the Left government in Greece has raised serious questions about the way forward for our growing movement.

One of the fulcrum points for this debate is the European Union, which was so important in determining the prospects of SYRIZA. Europe’s Left has been divided on this question for some time – the majority faction saw the EU as a site of struggle which could be won and turned to progressive ends, the minority saw membership of it as an insurmountable obstacle to anti-neoliberal strategy.

Both camps had valid bases for their position. The majority, which includes the leadership of most of Europe’s radical Left parties, argued that globalised capitalism could not be effectively challenged by a nation state. The minority argued that the European Union was irredeemably pro-capitalist.

In the end, the Troika used these two poles as a binary to entrap the Greek government. We now know that the price for remaining in the European Union and euro is accepting austerity and post-democracy. But the only alternative proposal has been unilateral exit and facing international capital alone. The Greek people, finding neither option attractive, are likely to punish the Left in the forthcoming elections.

But this binary – false internationalism or a return to the nation state as the only paths out of neoliberalism – is not only a problem for Greece. In the other states of the European periphery such as Ireland and Spain it places severe limitations on the prospects of growing left-wing movements. In Britain, with the new possibilities of a Corbyn Labour party, it creates a hugely problematic dynamic for the upcoming EU referendum, offering ideal ground for a narrow debate between the nationalist right and cosmopolitan neoliberals.

There is an urgent need for Europe’s Left to break this binary and construct a new horizon that seeks to transcend the limitations of the European Union and the nation state.

For this, we need a debate about alternative economic and political unions.

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Opportunities, Polls and the Left

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A response to Ronan Burtenshaw and Eoin O’Broin, by Paul Murphy,  Anti-Austerity Alliance TD and member of Socialist Party

Last Sunday’s Red C poll, which saw a rise in support for the government parties and a decline of Independents/Others has provoked a discussion about the prospects for the left. Independent socialist, Ronan Burtenshaw, wrote an article on The Village website, entitled “Left may have squandered opportunity”. Eoin O’Broin, a leading member of Sinn Fein and a Councillor, then responded on his blog.

The discussion provoked by the opinion poll findings and these responses is useful. Debate between different analyses and programmes is a necessary and unavoidable part of working towards building a significant new left movement. This response is written to contribute to that debate in the hope that it will help to clarify the position of different trends within the left and the movement against the water charges.

Ronan’s piece is provocative and engaging, but I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that it is a classic example of confirmation bias. His essential conclusion from an analysis of the movements of the polls over the past couple of years is this:

“Clearly people in Ireland experimented with mass mobilisations against austerity, rejected the government’s line on water charges and the economy more generally, and even went so far as to express majority support for forces other than Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour for the first time in history.

“But my conclusion, given this data, is that they have found the alternatives unconvincing. As a proportion of the population, few new supporters have been won over to a project for political change.”

His conclusion, that the fall in opinion polls is because people looked at the alternatives and found them to be unconvincing, simply does not flow from the data, or his preceding analysis. Instead, I would contend that the opinion polls worsened primarily because of the decline of major mobilisations as well as because the low point for the government wasn’t fully capitalised on by a sufficiently authoritative force to consolidate the indicated trends.

I think his analysis contains two essential flaws.

Marriage Equality Referendum

The first is that he under-estimates the temporary impact of the marriage equality referendum result on support for Fine Gael and Labour. In fact, he makes no mention of it whatsoever, which is strange given that was a major political event that occurred just in advance of the poll being carried out.

It was always likely that a referendum victory, which enabled Labour in particular to wrap itself in a rainbow flag and present itself as socially progressive, was likely to result in an increase in the polls. I think much of that can be reversed as people are reminded by the real role of the Labour Party. Within days, for example, of the referendum result, but not accounted for in the Red C poll, they moved to sell-off the remaining state share in Aer Lingus, and politics was embroiled in another Denis O’Brien-related controversy as he tried to silence the Dail itself.

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Issue 124 of People’s News Out Now

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Issue 124 of People’s News out now

The articles in this issue include:  

  • Page 1: TTIP’s way is Europe’s way. Brussels may vet legislation
  • Page 2: Even more of an attack on democracy than ISDS
  • Page 4: MEPs scrap scrutiny on allowances
  • Page 5: A la carte system for GMO imports
  • Page 5: Secret “trialogue” talks to be investigated
  • Page 6: The hidden cost of EU trade deals
  • Page 7: A window on Microsoft’s lobbying
  • Page 7: TTIP negotiations to drag on
  • Page 8: The real alternatives in the Northern elections
  • Page 9: Apple expects “material” financial damage from EU investigations into corporation tax
  • Page 10: The billion euro man
  • Page 11: Fraud and the EU
  • Page 12: The cost to Greece of membership of the euro zone
  • Page 12: Trade union leader warns Juncker that his policies made the crisis worse
  • Page 13: Gotcha

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From Protest to Politics: How Can We Get a New Republic?


An important question that those opposing the water charges, austerity, growing inequality and those looking for an alternative to the establishment political parties are asking is; what exactly are we looking to achieve and how are we going to do it? There are immediate changes needed such as getting rid of the water charges and Irish Water, reversing austerity and cuts and standing up to Europe (and with Greece) on the immoral debt. There are also more profound changes being sought such as achieving the right to housing, health, education, decent jobs etc for everyone. These will require the creation of a real Republic of equality and a genuine democracy where people are treated with dignity and have a real say in the running of their community, their country and Europe. But the most important change is already happening; that is the active participation and empowerment of the (extra) ordinary citizens at the grassroots who are changing their world by standing up for themselves through protest and political action.

It is becoming clear to more and more people that a government dominated by the establishment parties (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour, Renua & other ‘fake’ independents) will not achieve these necessary radical reforms. Ordinary people have to do it themselves by creating a government that is made up of the people’s representatives – without any of the establishment parties involved. A people’s government would be anti-austerity, anti-establishment, rights-based, and progressive. Let us learn from previous mistakes and understand that it is not sufficient to be a minor player in government – for real change the people’s representatives must be the government.  To do this anti-establishment and anti-austerity groups and parties will have to convince the majority of people in Ireland (particularly the undecided voters from a wide breadth of societal groups) to vote for anti-establishment candidates. The task then is not just to protest and resist but also to try win the coming general election. In order to win we must believe that we can win and we must plan to win. But winning is not just changing the faces in government, it is bringing about a New Republic – a real democratic transformation by an empowered citizenry.

This means that electing an anti-establishment government is only one part of a process of empowerment of ordinary people to transform Ireland. That process must also take place in communities and workplaces, creating new forms of socially caring and enterprising employment that can make solidarity and cooperation the key values of any New Republic. It also means that election and government processes should be led by the citizens, communities and ordinary people. It should continue the new wave of citizen empowerment from the water movement. This also means that if anti-establishment opposition do not win the coming election at least we will have been further empowered to pressure whatever new government is elected to take these issues seriously. Importantly, it will ensure that a solid foundation is put in place to be the major opposition (in the Dail and on the streets) and to be in a much better place to win in the subsequent election, which could come much sooner than expected, and to continue to protest and campaign on a wide range of issues.

Convincing a majority of the population to support an anti-establishment political alternative is going to be extremely difficult and challenging. Multiple approaches and strategies are required. None of the anti-establishment groups, the trade unions, independents, Left political parties, or the communities can achieve this on their own. Therefore, unity and coherence is required amongst as many of these as possible in order to offer a clear alternative to people in the election. This will show people that we are serious and that there is a credible, serious and coherent alternative that is worth voting for.

That is not to say everybody has to be part of the one organisation or alliance. There is the opportunity for multiple organisations to be part of a new alliance or there might be a number of alliances and parties co-ordinating together. There will be some who do not wish to be part of any of these and that should be respected just as the desire for those who want to work together on this new alliance should also be respected. The politics of new alliances must be inclusive and respectful of each other and the principles or plurality and diversity. If we are not trying to be the very change we want to see in the world then we have failed from the start.

One idea could be to form a new umbrella alliance or political movement like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain or the SNP in Scotland. This new alliance could be made up of some of the Left parties, new movements, independents, communities, trade unions, and individuals. Let’s call it the Movement for A New Republic for the moment. In the election the people would have a real choice between the Movement or the establishment parties. The Movement for A New Republic would say to the people ‘we are standing for election to become a government of the people that will not involve any of the establishment parties’. This new political movement would aim to represent the ideals and vision of the 1916 Proclamation- in a meaningful way – for a sovereign, democratic, New Republic, New Ireland of equality and social justice, based on the protection of the vulnerable, community and fairness and assertion of the rights of all.

One single major political alliance or movement appears to be a key part of gaining majority public support for a new radical politics in Greece and Spain, rather than lots of smaller groups. The experience of other countries also suggests that the success of new political parties and movements is exactly that – that they are actually new and are not dominated by their past. A new movement that is clearly anti-establishment, standing for the ordinary people against the cronies and elite, made up of leaders that are new (or clearly independent from) to the political system, could gain significant additional support, and therefore, increase the possibility of an alternative government and a new politics in Ireland. This movement should also play a key role in representing the desire for a completely new politics in Ireland for the long term beyond the coming election.

Ideally then the Movement for a New Republic would include the broadest possible alliance from Sinn Fein to Says No Groups, trade unions, independents, communities and socialists, similar to the successful water movement. While there are many differences between these groups – the only realistic way an alternative government is going to be formed is to work together. Anti-establishment candidates should be supportive of each other against the common enemy of the establishment parties. There has to be an end to divisive actions and attacks on each other, and removing dogmatic approaches that alienate potential supporters beyond the ‘true believers’, and an agreement that we want to be in government and not just permanent opposition. There would need to be Movement candidates in every constituency in order to get sufficient TDs to gain the majority to form a government. The media will also be an important battle ground and, therefore, leaders and spokespeople are required who can represent the message of the new movement in a way that connects with the majority of people.

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Agree to a Left Slate: Response to PBPA ‘Alliance’ Proposal.

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This response is written by Brendan Young and Eddie Conlon

People Before Profit have released a public letter seeking endorsement from individuals and organisations for a ‘coherent left alliance’ which would include “[PBP], the Anti-Austerity Alliance and many independent socialists and community and trade union activists.” The focus of this is the coming general election. We are in favor of a slate of anti-austerity candidates standing in the election – based on the water charge campaign and clear opposition to coalition with pro-austerity parties. While we favor this, we are opposed to the method of the current PBPA proposal. But we are in favour of urgent discussion between the SP and SWP on a left slate and would urge the SP to stop stalling on the matter.

While we agree with much of the politics set out in the PBPA proposal, individuals and organizations are being asked to sign up to a proposal for a new left alliance – which is undefined. An alliance is, by definition, a formal organization involving groups and perhaps individuals. We are a couple of years after the breakup of the ULA and relations between groups and individuals on the left are probably worse now than before 2011. Proposing that a new alliance be set up has no basis in the current relations on the left.

There is now however, an improved basis for a left slate in that PBPA is now openly campaigning for non-payment of the water charge. Calling for a boycott is essential to winning this battle and is the basis for common political work. We think that PBPA should now energetically build the non-payment demo on April 18; and that PBPA should actively get involved in the Non-Payment Network or agree to a coordinated approach to non-payment activities. This does not involve splitting from R2W. The groups in North Kildare actively build R2W events – but have publicly argued for non-payment from the outset.

But to propose a new alliance by publicly soliciting support is to attempt to apply pressure so that those who do not agree with participating in a new alliance at this point in time are seen as divisive. The PBPA proposal, as it stands, is likely to fail. The last thing we need now is another failed initiative for left unity leading to hostile recrimination and the demoralisation of those who actively want to see the radical left uniting.

A more considered approach is needed which ensures that those left forces with significant social weight, and in the main that means PBP and the AAA, are committed in principle before the project is publicly launched. That’s not to argue that these are the only forces that should be involved. Indeed the success of any new project will be determined by the extent to which it engages with those who have become active and organised against the water charges.

The focus now should be on building a slate of candidates to run in the general election. A slate would be based upon rejection of coalition with the Troika parties and the championing of non-payment as essential points; repudiation of debt, taxes on wealth, a public works program and repeal of the 8th Amendment would also be needed. How to deal with the North should be parked for ongoing discussion, as there are known differences on it and the more urgent need is to put a slate in place for the elections in the South.

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Economic Fundamentals and a Unified Irish Economy

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This article is based on a background paper which was delivered to a fringe meeting at the recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

In Ireland there are two separate economic entities. Their separation means they run up against the fundamental laws of economics, as first identified by Adam Smith[i]

In the first instance it is the size of the home market which determines the scope of the division of labour. But in Ireland both economies, by their separation, have a truncated home market. This was not always the case. As part of the British Empire the North East portion of the island was highly integrated into what was then the largest ‘home’ market in human history. At the same time most of the rest of the island was primarily a breeding ground for cattle, to help feed the large metropolitan imperial centres.

Post-Partition the situation has dramatically changed.  The Empire is gone while the southern economy has both developed a home market of a certain size while integrating itself to one of the world’s largest markets in the EU. This is the key fundamental fact which explains the dramatic changes in average living standards in the two parts of the Ireland since Partition. 

This is illustrated in Fig.1 below, which shows per capita GDP using common international Dollars (adjusted for Purchasing Power Parities, first Angus Maddison and then OECD). It amounts to a startling transformation of relative prosperity within Ireland.

To specify the data, Maddison shows that per capita GDP in Ireland in 1921 was $2,533 and that in Britain it was $4,439 (and from a variety of sources that average incomes in the north-east counties of Ireland was at least on a par with Britain). From OECD data per capita GDP in RoI was $37,581 in 2013 and in the UK it was 34,755 (and the ONS data shows NI per capita output was 82% of the UK level).


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Leave it out!  Left in and left out in Irish Syrizian thinking


The imminent truncation of the Labour Party and the rise of Sinn Féin would probably have tabled it anyway. But the reaction to Syriza’s election in Greece has changed the topography of the Irish left unity discussion (such as it is) in one long political week.  Not necessarily for the better. Sinn Féin and then SIPTU President Jack O’Connor , and others,  have shifted the frame from a radical left alliance to one effectively taking in Sinn Féin and even Labour.

These two propositions are very different animals altogether. Furthermore, in a burst of ‘yeah, let’s do it too’ élan, people are now talking about going for a left government. The strewn constellation of the radical left will likely be split on the wider of the projects, even if it gets no further than a talking point. Including even a shrunken Labour is almost a no-no for the radical left. Including Sinn Féin is highly problematical to say the least. (Some categorise them outside the left; the anti water charge campaign left their left flank exposed, and may still do; two recent developments raised leftist eyebrows that may not have been raised before: the cutback provisions of the Stormont House Agreement and their failure to support Clare Daly’s December Bill to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion).

But here is another problem. Sinn Féin’s stature as a left party does not depend on how they are viewed by one or other far left party, but on how they are viewed by the electorate (voting workers, blue and white collared). It will be very difficult to carry an argument for a united left alternative while simultaneously arguing that it should exclude Sinn Féin (and arguing for a similar exclusion with those who would want to add Labour too).

Fortunately there is an old shepherd’s crook on the Irish left for separating the sheep from the goats: coalition with conservative parties (effectively Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael). If this condition is raised by the radical left it requires Sinn Féin (and Labour) to qualify their political positioning, and rescues the radical left from the accusation of refusing to unite for a ‘left alternative’ offered (with various degrees of sincerity) to the people. So, there is a simple question for Sinn Féin, Jack O’Connor and others. Would a vote for Sinn Féin or Labour be guaranteed as a vote for the left? Or could it end up as a vote for another coalition led by, or with a large bloc from, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael? How do you stand – now – on such a coalition? Of course there are crucial policy and programmatic matters to be considered. But this initial question would indicate whether there really is any game on at all.

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Time for the Left to Act Together


Popular desire for political change has become a feature of the current campaign against the water charge. This charge is the last straw in a litany of bank-bailout  impositions; and many want an entirely different set of socio-political priorities. Recent months have also shown the power of the mass movement to bring change. The movement now needs to drive home the advantage by making the charge unworkable through mass non-payment and continued mobilization. But this in itself is not enough to create the radical political alternative that would implement the significant change that many in the campaign, and across society, desire.

Such change would require a new left party – committed to a socialist alternative. The imperative for socialism has never been greater given the disastrous impact of the financial crash on working people and impending environmental meltdown due to the failure of the market system to curb fossil fuelled growth.

Is a new left party on the political horizon at present? Clearly not. The closest recent approximation to the start of such a party was the United Left Alliance. While we acknowledge its failure, we think there are some lessons from the ULA experience that can help us today.

At the time when ULA TDs were elected there was little mass challenge to the government: dissatisfaction was expressed through the election and there was no mass movement behind the new political formation. So there was no big growth in the ULA.

But other factors also influenced the difficulties in the ULA. There was insufficient trust between the leaderships of the two main political groups; there was unease at working together in a common organization, while having differences. There was also a failure to prioritise the ULA and build it as a functioning organisation.

But the political conditions for such a formation have changed for the better: there now exists a powerful mass movement against the water charge and other austerity measures – albeit quite fragmented. It has created the conditions for a political alternative to the Troika parties and to Sinn Fein, which is prepared to go into coalition with the Troika parties – with the inevitable political accommodations that preserve inequality such as we have seen Labour and the Greens implement.

Based on the experience of the ULA, we think that any new left formation cannot be based solely on an amalgamation of the current small parties but would have to draw in activists who have mobilised in recent months and who want real change. Relations between these parties are not great at present: witness the electoral competition in the European elections and Dublin South West. But a commitment to develop common work against the water charges and a common electoral project involving many new activists could generate positive working relations and create the momentum and trust required for the construction of a new, anti-austerity political formation after the election.

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LookLeft 20 is Out Now in Easons and Country Wide

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LookLeft 20 is in Easons stores and hundreds of selected newsagents across the country now. Still only €2 the highlights of this issue include:

Boiling Point – Dara McHugh takes a look inside the working class revolt over water charges from Donegal to Cork.

This ain’t no fairy tale – Justin O’Hagan takes on the myths and realities of the Northern economy.

Not afraid of the fight – Brendan Ogle has been to the forefront of organising the water charge resistance. Paul Dillon discusses the campaign with him.

No debtor solidarity – Éilis Ryan looks at Ireland’s shameful lack of solidarity with other debt-ridden nations.

Citizen Baby – Michael Taft outlines the need for a greater State role in supporting families, while Éilis Ryan and Gyunghee Park assess the damage done by bad policies.

Forum – Opinion from across the Left, trade unions and the feminist movement.

After the referendum – David Jamieson and Tom Morrison debate the Left’s next steps in Scotland.

The republican congress – Brian Hanley looks back at one of Ireland’s most iconic Left organisations.

Cycling ac ross the border – Jimmy Dignam takes a spin through the famous Rás Tailteann and republican cycling.

Women to blame – Therese Caherty looks at Ireland’s feminist struggles, past and present.

And much, much more…

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The Time for Left Unity is NOW!

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The latest Ipsos MRBI poll shows that ‘Independents and Others’ are currently on 32% therein making them the most popular group amongst the electorate. If these poll figures were to be replicated in a general election tomorrow this would equate to around 52 seats – by all accounts a massive number. To put this number in perspective, in the 23 general elections that have taken place in the state since 1937 Fine Gael have only managed to exceed this figure on 7 occasions. This is pretty remarkable considering the complete duopoly they have shared – alongside Fianna Fail – on our political system.

Now it goes without saying that the ‘Independents and Others’ grouping is a broad brushstroke comprised of People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, former Workers Party members, ex Labour party members, the Fine Gael rejects and a range of other independents from across the political spectrum. And the conflicting political positions of this 52 mean that it would obviously never act as a coherent political unit. In fact some are even rumoured to be considering starting a party of their own, likely a centre right entity reminiscent of the Progressive Democrats – so in other words, nothing we haven’t had before.

However, in saying that, many of this 52 if not elected on a left platform could at the very least be considered anti-austerity anti-establishment candidates. These individuals should certainly look to coordinate as much as possible but where the small left wing parties are concerned this should go beyond mere coordination toward something more concrete. We saw that the transfer pacts used during the local elections in May bore fruit, but the question is why stop there?

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Left Forum Talk: “Cybersocialism”, by Dr Paul Cockshott

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Left Forum Public Meeting: “Cybersocialism”

Left Forum public meeting on the subject of “Cybersocialism”, by Dr Paul Cockshott of University of Glasgow.

The talk will explore questions around how a centrally planned socialist economy could be realised using mathematical techniques supported by advanced information technology.

For anyone who read the novel “Red Plenty” this should be right up your street.

Time: 7:30pm, Tuesday 18 November

Place: Unite Hall, Middle Abbey St., Dublin 1

Facebook event notice

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A New Kind of Trade Unionism Emerging

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This article was originally posted on the Trade Union Left Forum on the 14th of October.

A new kind of trade unionism is emerging and consolidating itself within the right2water campaign, led by Mandate and Unite and supported by OPATSI, the CPSU, and the CWU. These unions are bringing the broader social and economic interests of their members to the fore and committing resources, time and effort to support mobilisation not only of members, but also the working class and communities more generally.

By viewing their members as workers (as opposed to people paying a subscription for work-place representation services) these unions are placing the workers’ immediate social demands alongside, and equal to, their immediate work-place concerns. This is crucial if the trade union movement is to really represent its members and to recover its power and leverage in society. Wage increases alone will not improve the lot of workers while the political economy of the country is being restructured from one made up of citizens to one of customers in a toll-booth economic and political structure.

The TULF on many occasions has suggested that the trade union movement has a unique position in Ireland in having the resources and channels of communication to support the mobilisation of working people in a way that no left party can. And now it seems that some unions are realising this potential, which is both necessary and welcome.

The right2water alliance is a genuine alliance of union, political and community groups, making a clear demand and statement, “calling for the Government to recognise and legislate for access to water as a human right. We are demanding the Government abolish the planned introduction of water charges.”

As well as the five unions mentioned, community groups and parties have signed up to the campaign. Some 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for the scrapping of the water charges, close to 100,000 marched at the demonstration on 11 October, and more local actions are planned for 1 November.

The right2water campaign is not dictating tactics to communities or individuals but is building and growing a broad campaign of groups and people based on the principle of water as a human right and as a publicly owned utility and resource. Some on the left have attacked the campaign for not demanding non-payment; but at this moment building the biggest, broadest alliance against water charges and privatisation is the priority. A turn towards direct non-payment may be necessary in the future, but right now the campaign’s strength is in growing and building the alliance rather than splintering over tactical matters.

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TTIP Trade Deal: Bad for Democracy


European and American civil society have deemed the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) an anti-democratic threat to the environment, food safety and workers’ rights. Barry Finnegan explains.

While likely to generate increased profits for large companies by removing and reducing production costs associated with health and safety standards (referred to as ‘unnecessary and burdensome, restrictive barriers to trade’), neither citizens nor parliamentarians can get access to the details of the TTIP currently being negotiated by the European Commission and the US Department of Trade; while claims of economic and job growth have been exposed as mere marketing messages.

Private Corporate Courts

Despite the fact that the EU and the US have the world’s most advanced and well-financed legal systems, the TTIP makes provision for a new private ‘court’ called an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which would allow a company who imagines its future profits being reduced as a result of legislation, to sue a government by way of a private arbitration case.

In the absence of a list of clearly identified problems with the Irish and European justice system, only one conclusion can be drawn from the TTIP negotiators’ desire for a private international court for foreign investors which would allow them to bypass Irish and European courts: namely to avoid the jurisprudence and constitutional rights accompanying the application of justice in democratic societies.

This point was well made by Business Europe (the lobby organisation for 35 European national business federations – including our own IBEC) in their document, Why TTIP Matters To European Business, where they explained how they want to be able to use ISDS in TTIP to overthrow the right of the Americans to use the US constitution to protect themselves. They explicitly state: “If in the US a domestic law is adopted after TTIP enters into force and its content violates the [TTIP] Agreement, it can still be found constitutional by domestic courts. So the only possibility for the investor to ensure its adequate protection is to bring the claim to international arbitration”.

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Demanding the Future: The Right2Water and Another Ireland

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This article was originally posted on Critical Legal Thinking on the 29th of September.

The American abolitionist Frederick Douglass once observed that if you find out ‘just what any people will quietly submit to … you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them’ and that such injustices ‘will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both’. In Ireland, after six years of austerity and regressive tax reforms that have punished Irish working people for the benefit of Irish and European bond holders, it seems the Irish establishment may have finally discovered the measure of injustice that the people will not tolerate.

The Irish government is currently implementing a plan to install water meters, so that people’s domestic water usage can be monitored and they can be charged for the amount they use. In this way they are abandoning the traditional funding model for water provision in Ireland, which saw it paid for out of general taxation. This move by the Irish government is consistent with a global trend over the last twenty years towards the increased commodification of essential services, with water seen as a particularly lucrative market. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, as most governments in Europe have, the Irish government has accelerated a broad neoliberal policy drive (privatisation of services, cuts to public sector jobs, regressive taxes) under the well-worn mantra that “There Is No Alternative”.

However, this new tax–this commodification of an essential public good–is being met with trenchant resistance from working class communities throughout the island. From Crumlin to Togher, Edenmore to Caherdavin, communities have mobilised to prevent the installation of water meters in their areas. In these protests the community activists have remained resolute in the face of attempts at intimidation from both the company established to commodify the water service, Irish Water, and the police. As well as engaging in direct action to prevent the installation of meters, the bourgeoning movement is also encouraging a boycott of the attempts by Irish Water to enrol residents as “customers”, and calling for non-payment of any future bills.

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