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‘Rich Man’s War – Poor Man’s Blood’

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I found this photo recently, taken 13 years ago on this day at an anti-war protest held here in Cork. I’ve re-touched the image only for effect and re-posted it below.

Rich Man's War...Back in 2003 we were being told that the US led invasion of Iraq was all about finding those “weapons of mass destruction”. On the other hand the banner suggests a different narrative to do with oil and greed. From the vantage point of 2016 I thought it might be worth it to take a quick look over what we now know. Here it is:

CNN ran an article on April 15th 2015 about the Iraq war. In Why the war in Iraq was fought for Big Oil the following was noted:

  • Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade later, the same industry was largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms.
  • ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell Oil all set up operations in Iraq once the war was ‘officially’ concluded.
  • A number of smaller American oil service companies are also doing business in Iraq.  One particular company that is busy there is Halliburton, a firm linked to Dick Cheney who was George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000 US Presidential election.
  • Also noteworthy is the fact that Western oil companies are now at the head of efforts to produce more oil from Iraq oil fields – considered to the among the largest and most lucrative in the world.
  • CNN notes that this did not happen by accident either. “Representatives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Halliburton, among others, met with Cheney’s staff in January 2003 to discuss plans for Iraq’s postwar industry. For the next decade, former and current executives of western oil companies acted first as administrators of Iraq’s oil ministry and then as “advisers” to the Iraqi government.
  • The Bush Administration also led the way in forcing through contracts in the Iraq oil industry hat are highly favourable to Big Oil. CNN again: These contracts “provide exceptionally long contract terms and high ownership stakes and eliminate requirements that Iraq’s oil stay in Iraq, that companies invest earnings in the local economy or hire a majority of local workers.”

What about the other side of the equation – Poor Man’s Blood. Business Insider, drawing on data from the Iraq Index [The Brookings Institute] and the Costs of War Project, reported as follows last year. To date:

  • 134,000 civilians have been killed directly due to the Iraq War.
  • 2.8 million persons remain either internally displaced or have fled the country.
  • 655,000 persons have died in Iraq since the invasion that would not have been expected to die if the invasion had not occurred. This particular piece of data has its origins in a study explained here and published by The Washington Post.
  • The cost of war has been estimated at $2.2 trillion. This figure referring to costs up to 2014 only. It is expected that they are will rise further.

Oh, and those “weapons of mass destruction”?  They haven’t been found… I guess you could say the protest banner was spot on.

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Written by Kevin Doyle

March 8, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Anarchist Lens Review: Blacklisted

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BlacklistedAnarchist Lens Review: Blacklisted – The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists by Phil Chamberlain and Dave Smith [New Internationalist]

Last April workers at the Irish supermarket chain Dunnes Stores went on strike for one day to protest zero-hour contracts.  Their action received plenty of support and was widely viewed as just.  However shortly after the protest, Dunnes’ management targeted a number of the workers involved. According to their union, Mandate, this amounted to “sanctions including dismissals of a small number of staff, cuts to hours, changes in roles and changes in staff patterns”.  The experience of the Dunnes workers would not be out of place in Blacklisted – a timely and important new book written by building worker and stalwart campaigner, Dave Smith in cooperation with journalist Phil Chamberlain. Blacklisted is a comprehensive account of the ongoing war that was (and is still) being waged by employers across the building industry in the UK.  In terms of subject matter it is largely confined to the situation in the UK but in many ways that only strengthens its main argument.  Bear in mind that in the UK (and here in Ireland too) workers have some legal protection against excessive bullying and harassment by employers.  Consider what it is like for workers in countries where such legal protection is non-existent.  Last year attention focused on the predicament of building workers on the World Cup site in Qatar – where it was reported that workers were dying on that huge building site at a rate of one every two days.  Qatar is not an exception unfortunately.  Take a look at the excellent www.labourstart.org site and you’ll get a very good idea of the scale of the problem faced by workers the world over right now.

What Is Blacklisting?

“Blacklisting” is the process whereby certain workers – usually for reasons to do with speaking up for their rights – are and were denied work in their industry over a consistent period of time.  Blacklisting of course occurs in many industries but the building trade has been notorious for the practice.  This is in part to do with the greed of the building companies but it is also to do with the problem of casualisation.  Workers are employed for short periods on a particular building job and often let ago at the end of that job.  If a worker gets a reputation for speaking up then it is simple to say when he next turns up looking for a job ‘Sorry there’s no work here just now.’

Parents Dalli Kahtri and Lil Man who have lost two sons.

“When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.” Click on photo for full Guardian article.

Many workers know full well that speaking your mind is “bad for your health”, but in the building trade the process went way beyond that.  Blacklisted recounts how the current practices got underway in the UK after the successful mobilisation of workers around the Building Workers’ Charter (p52) in the early 70s. That struggle improved wages and conditions across the industry and generated fear in some of the big building companies.  Afraid that workers might be getting too well organised they turned to systematic victimisation.  The Consulting Agency (CA) was the vehicle they used.  A relatively small operation, the CA worked under the radar from an ordinary house in the West Midlands not far from Birmingham; it was composed of a few staff and a well maintained database.  To check a name against the CA’s database cost an employer – or its HR department – £2.20 per name.  Forty-three building companies used the CA and were free to access its database after a sign up yearly subscription.  For example Carillion were invoiced for £32,393 + VAT for the a period of checking lasting from 1999 to 2004.  In other words it checked quite a lot of names!

The person behind the database was a man named Ian Kerr.  He had a record of involvement in right-wing groups and was clued-in to the intricacies of left wing politics.  He collected lots of information, purchased and scanned a whole range of left literature looking to cull information on anyone he could find that was connected to the building trade or its various trade unions.  He noted down all sorts of things about individuals, building up substantial files over many years of work.  He was dedicated, thorough and well disposed to policing the industry for his masters.  Comments about individuals like ‘will cause trouble, strong TU’ (p35) and the like were not uncommon.

A particular strength of Blacklisted is that it is dotted with examples of the type of discrimination that went on and the impact that this had on individual workers.  Alex Rayner, an electrician, typifies the experience of many construction workers.  He made complaints about safety standards on a job and suspected that from that time onwards he was being targeted.  He says (p75): “I knew I was [blacklisted], but I couldn’t prove it.  I was on a job and I complained about safety.  Sometimes it was silly things.  On another job I complained about asbestos, which is deadly.” Rayner was blacklisted for 45 years.

From HSE report 2013:

From HSE [Ireland] report 2013: “The construction sector was responsible for the second highest number of fatalities, with 11 deaths. Last year was also the third consecutive year that the number of fatalities in the sector increased.”

Safe reps were systematically targeted.  On a job refurbishing a Tesco branch, Dave Smith (the co-author) organised for the distribution of a UCATT leaflet on asbestos awareness.  He was dismissed from that job but a copy of the leaflet also found its way into a file held on him by the CA.  This dossier ran to 36 pages in total and showed that he was repeatedly dismissed when he was elected as a union safety rep.  Another case was that of Roy Bentham.  He was centrally involved in a successful strike in 1995 at a major North Wales power station that forced employers to use direct labour rather than self-employed contractors.  Despite the success of the strike Bentham and a number of other were later targeted by management and were let go. Bentham knew this was retribution for the work he had done organising at the site but it didn’t end there.  A file was opened on him with the CA and after that he ‘couldn’t get work anywhere in the north west [of England].’  Occasionally he got small bit of contracting work but he ‘suffered long and frequent spells of unemployment’.  A Liverpudlian and a Hillsborough justice activist he recalled how he had hopes of getting work on the huge shopping centre site, Liverpool One, in 2004.  But he said, “They were crying out for skilled men … but I couldn’t get work on there at all over four years’.  It had a major impact on his home life and well-being.  Many of those blacklisted were eventually forced out of the industry which was exactly what the employers wanted.

The CA’s operation was uncovered after an investigation by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, a body charged with overseeing data protection matters in the public interest.  Since Kerr and the CA were acting under the radar (and avoiding any disclosure of what they were at) they were in breach of these regulations.  It was on this basis and this alone that the CA was prosecuted and its murky activities exposed.   The uncovering of the CA’s existence was a huge relief for thousands of building workers who were exposed to blacklisting over many years and decades.  For most of those blacklisted, they were aware some sort of discrimination was going on but they could never prove it.  Eventually with the legal prosecution of the CA, many victims were able to see the files that were held on them and small amounts of compensation were also eventually paid out.

Blacklisted is a powerful book.  It details the real world of capitalism and how neglect of health and safety is often one of the first consequences of the hunger for profit.  It will come as no surprise to many that health and safety is a core issue of concern for building workers.  It might seem obvious too that speaking out about safety is the right thing to do but as many building workers have found to their cost this is not the case.  Take the case of Garry Gargett (p200), an experienced electrical supervisor.  On the massive Crossrail site in London in 2013 he witnessed a dangerous situation where a section of 11,000-volt electrical cables was covered by scaffolding and debris thrown on top of it. He took a photograph of the problem and printed this off.  He was taking this to his supervisor when a manager intervened: Gargett was removed from site and dismissed on the grounds that he hadn’t permission and shouldn’t have take a photo on site!  That’s just one of a huge number of examples in this book.

Blacklist campaigners Pic: Chiara Rimella (from East London Lines)

Blacklisted spends a good number of pages recounting and discussing the various ways workers have resisted and fought back inside the industry.  These struggles were carried out in conjunction withe the various building unions but more often than not they were led by rank & file networks.  One example – the BESNA dispute – began when a number of building contractors tried to abandon a longstanding agreement with electricians; they wanted to put a new contract in place – called BESNA – which would have involved a 35% cut in wages.  A series of strikes got underway (in 2011-12) which in turn had to address the matter of blacklisting.  After defeating BESNA, more electricians were victimised but this time the network that had defeated BESNA remobilised and tackled this development.  It took further strike action to force an end to the new round of attacks on the rank and file activists.

Despite the revelations surrounding the CA and positive coverage given to the Blacklist Support Group – which has campaigned for justice and compensation for victims of blacklisting – the practice of blacklisting continues.  Some of the major of building firms were embarrassed when their links to the CA were make public but other defended their actions claiming they had a right to vet who worked for them.  For most of the building firms what happened in regards to the CA amounted to no more than a knuckle rapping.  As is made clear in this book blacklisting has not gone away.

The nature of what went on with the CA is further exacerbated by two other aspects discussed in Blacklisted.  One is the murky role of the police and Special Branch who – are we surprised? – colluded with the CA (see Ch 9).  The second matter is the collusion of some sections of trade union movement with the CA (see Ch 8).  The efforts to unearth the extent of this collusion between some union officials and the building firms (and the CA) has been particularly fraught.  Comments were found on some CA files were sourced back to active union officials.  When the BSG and others attempted to get  explanations, they were blocked.

Blacklisting and its relative, whistle-blowing are indicative of one very obvious feature of the workplace today: it is not free.  Not only is it not free, in many, many situations the workplace is run like a dictatorship; step out of line and you’re gone.  True the situation varies widely and depends hugely on whether trade union organisation is in existence at a workplace or not, but it largely the case for most workers that speaking your mind can have a myriad of negative consequences.  Why?  We live after all in a democratic era where it is accepted as normal and right that we should have a say over how we live? Why not the workplace then?  Why does work – a core human activity – not come under the umbrella of basic democratic rights?

The answer of course is no great secret: the workplace is un-free because capitalism requires it to be that way.  Making money and extracting it from the workforce is the aim, but actually making that happen requires that owners and managers have the means to exercise control.  Recall the Thatcherite mantra from the 80s: ‘Management must be allowed to manage’.  What she was really saying was management must able to order you about – end of story.

The authoritarian workplace is central to capitalism.   Ask a garment worker from Bangladesh, a miner from South Africa or a Foxcon/ Apple worker from China and s/he will tell you how bad it really is.  To change this is really the challenge of our time. Blacklisted ends with a great quote from someone on the front-line.  Speaking about the reality of fighting for your rights at work, Paul Crimmins, a victim of blacklisting,  states “It’s a thankless task but someone’s got to do it.’  That is the other amazing story recorded in Blacklisted: against the odds, time and again, workers have fought back against the authoritarian workplace.  They keep insisting on their rights and when they resist collectively and build solidarity they often go far beyond even their own aims. There’s a lesson in that no doubt – but that’s for another day.  In the meantime this books needs our support.  Beg, borrow and share it!  Promote it wherever you can.

Related Articles and Links:

Death toll on World Cup site (The Guardian)

Interview with Dave Smith (Hazards Magazine)

Information on the current prosecuction of Dave Smith/ Blacklist Support Group (Unite The Resistance)

Blacklist Support Group (on Facebook)

Mandate Campaign and Dunnes Workers

No Payslip, No Holiday Pay (Rebel City Writers)

Decency for Dunnes Workres

The FBI’s Long Arm…

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Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC)

The FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC)

According to legend the FBI always gets its man – leaving sexism aside for the moment.   Whether true or not, a recent case undoubtedly highlighted the extremely long reach of the US’s famous law enforcement agency.  The case involved Anis Abid Sardar, an Iraqi national, who was working in London as a taxi driver.  Last month Sardar was convicted of killing a US soldier in Iraq in 2007 and for this heinous crime he has been sentenced to serve a minimum of 38 years in prison – in the UK.

It seems that Anis Sardar became involved in the resistance to the US occupation of Iraq and took up making improvised explosive devices or IEDs.  One of the bombs that he made exploded under a troop carrier west of Bagdad in 2007 killing “34-year-old Sergeant First Class Randy Johnson, of 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment” . Some months after the attack Sardar was fingerprinted as he entered the UK having travelled via Syria.  Seven long years passed and then he came into the sights of the FBI.  The Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Centre (TEDAC) identified his fingerprints on a number of devices that were similar to those that killed Randy Johnson.  They issued a warrant for Sardar’s arrest and just last month he was convicted in what Sue Hemming of the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service described as a “landmark prosecution”.

Now you might ask what is TEDAC?  Well that’s part of what’s interesting .  The FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Centre is located at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico in Virginia.  In the FBI’s own words it is the “US Government’s single repository for IEDs that have been collected or are of interest to the United States government.”  To put it another way ‘it’s the bomb library of America.’

The FBI are extremely proud of TEDAC.  It comprises a huge warehouse to where are repatriated the remnants of any device used against US agencies or its armed forces.  Right now there are thousands of boxes in the warehouse awaiting examination (see above).  When a device explodes anywhere and the target is US troops, the fragments from the entire conflagration are gathered up, logged and transported all the way back to said TEDAC facility in the USA.  Just imagine the logistics involved here for one moment.  The gathering of everything from a bomb blast must take place; the attention to detail must be paramount; everything is then packed up and posted in over to Virginia.

Amazing right.  Take a look at the photo above of the warehouse and those racks of crates and you get some indication of the huge effort that is taking place.  Every single one of those crates is a crime waiting to be solved.  This is cutting edge detective work alongside a cutting edge commitment to justice too.  Am I not right?

Eventually these bits of metal are examined and checked, and sometimes, as with the case of Sardar a prosecution results.  The FBI notes that ‘Since its creation in 2003, TEDAC has examined more than 100,000 IEDs from around the world and currently receives submissions at the rate of 800 per month. Two million items have been processed for latent prints—half of them this year alone.’  An FBI spokesperson added, ‘We have a lot of experience identifying IED components and blast damage.  As a result we have identified over 1,000 individuals with potential ties to terrorism.’

So there you are.  Shit hot, right?  TEDAC and everything associated with it is a commitment to justice that is second to none, right ?Except… Wait a minutes… What about…?

A killer droneThe question is HOW do you square up this dedicated pursuit by the FBI of men like Sardar with its polar opposite: the mounting tally of deaths associated with the US’s drone bombing campaign?

Before I set down another letter on WordPress, let me hasten to point out here that I’m not intending FOR ONE MOMENT to get into the matter of whether or not the US is entitlement to wander about the globe killing what it terms ‘legitmate’ targets at will.  That is not for now.  Afterall, a lowly writer such as I, who am I to question the right of the United States to execute at will those it deems to be its enemies?

Instead I will confine myself here to what are termed collateral deaths associated with this drone campaign?  In a recent interview regarding the Naming The Dead project, Jack Serle of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism  said, ‘We don’t have an absolute figure on how many people have been killed, but our best estimate is about 2,318. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we’ll be able to name every single one of them, partly because a lot of people have died anonymously.”  To date in fact NTD have managed to name just over 700 individuals.

Site of a suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Hangu district, bordering North Waziristan, November 21, 2013.

For me it beggars belief that in t his day and age this sort of murderous activity can go on with no one or no organisation able to stop it, but there you are it does.  The point however is that with regard to the US’s drone bombing campaign, significant numbers of civilians are being killed each week.  This is simply a war crime, but one that is happening week in and week out now.  The drone bombing campaign contravenes all the usual standards of conduct in war – where reasonable effort must be made to avoid the targeting of civilians.  And in almost all the cases I know of there isn’t even a war on in the first place.  The US is targeting  and killing at will in areas of the world where it sees fit.  Which puts TEDAC and the FBI’s investigative prowess into a somewhat different light, no?

The Naming The Dead project got underway due to the fact that in many of the cases where drone bombings have been conducted, the extent of the destruction and the arbitrariness of the attacks is such that no one knows often how many or who has died.  It is not unusual on any day to have on the newswires a brief report that a drone bomb attack has taken place.  In such reports the general number of casualties is reported on.  The names of the victims are rarely given… and the world moves on.  [Rest assured that no stellar effort by FBI or anyone else for that matter is going to take place in regard to these murderous attacks; in fact the victims’ families will be doing well if they manage to recover the remains of their loved ones.]

As I composed this post, I noted that the following report appeared on the wires.  It is entitled, Fresh US drone strikes have claimed the lives of at least 14 people in the troubled eastern part of Afghanistan.   To summarize the information in this report.  There were six casualties on Friday when a group of people were targeted by a US Drone flying over eastern Paktia Province.  ‘Witnesses and local resident say the victims were civilians, but Afghan officials insist that they were all Taliban militants.’  Furthermore, it is noted that later on that same Friday, ‘eight people were killed in another US drone strike in the eastern Nangarhar Province.’ The following is also noted: ‘The US has stepped up its drone campaign across Afghanistan in recent weeks.’  And the following was also noted:

  • June 5th at least 15 civilians lost their lives in a US drone strike in Alishir district of Khost province near the border with Pakistan. Local residents said the victims were attending the funeral of a local tribesman.
  • On June 4th Separate drone attacks across Nangarhar had claimed at least 17 lives the day before.

If you wish to know more about the extent and nature of the US’s drone war, the following pdf is worth examining.

So there you have it.  One the one hand people are beavering away in TEDAC day in and day out, scouring fragments of metal, powering up scanning electron microscopes, piecing together tiny fragments of prints – generally DOING THEIR DAMNEDEST to find those criminals out there in the world.  While on the other hand, under the same grand canopy that is US Justice and Law Enforcement, people are being blown to smithereens at will, with such gay abandon that in many cases it isn’t even known who is being killed or who they even are.

I guess you’ll drawn your own conclusions from all of this but I know one thing for sure, the days of having one law for one set of people in the world and another for another set, is long over with.

 

Related Links and Articles

Living Under Drones

Targetting the Rescuers

Written by Kevin Doyle

June 20, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Bessborough “In Remembrance …”

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Bessborough (Cork) was the largest of the mother-and-baby homes that operated in Ireland – the others being at Tuam and Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea.

Women who gave birth at the notorious Bessborough mother-and-baby home in Cork were not allowed pain relief during labour or stitches after birth, and when they developed abscesses from breast-feeding they were denied penicillin.

 One nun who ran the labour ward in 1951 also forbid any “moaning or screaming” during childbirth.

 The infant mortality rate at Bessborough in the 1940s was close to 55pc with 100 babies out of 180 dying in the space of just 12 months.

Helen Murphy was also born at Bessborough. “We founded the Bessborough Mother and Baby Support Group as an outlet for all those whose lives were affected by this place,” she said. “The purpose of it is to remember the people who were there and especially the babies who died.”

One campaigner, John Barrett (61), who was born in Bessborough, said he feared that anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 babies could be buried at the Blackrock facility, most in unmarked graves.

Ms Goulding’s book is heartbreaking, revealing how many of the girls cried themselves to sleep every night. Only those from moneyed families who could afford to pay £100 were allowed to leave after 10 days, but many had nowhere to got. June Goulding, The Light in the Window.

  The girls who could not make donations to the Sacred Heart order would have to spend three years after their babies were born cleaning and working on the lands around the home to “make amends” for their pregnancy and their children were usually taken from them and given up for adoption or sent to orphanages.

 

 “Where are they, who are they and why? We gave life and those innocent lives were taken and we don’t know where they are.” [quote from Marion Kelly].

 

Written by Kevin Doyle

June 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Eight Photos from Austerity Ireland

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Pensioners mobilise in Cork city against cuts in Medical Cards

[October 2008]

 

The severed head of Irish Taoiseach,  Brian Cowen.  Grand Parade, Cork City

[November 2009]

Not My Debt – Occupation of Anglo-Irish Bank offices in Cork city

[November 2010]

Gardaí protect the Dáil in Dublin

[November 2011]

IMF Orders – Occupy Protest March in Cork City

[December 2012]

Vita Cortex – Let Them Go Home

[Feb 2012]

Cill Eoin ‘Ghost Estate’ in Kenmare, Co. Kerry

[April 2012]

ICTU “Lift The Burden” March in Cork City

[February 2013]

Anti-Household Tax March in Cork 

[March 2013]

Anti-Water Meter Protest in Elmvale Estate, Cork

[April 2014]

Anarchist Lens: The Clare Daly Affair

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Clare Daly’s was elected to the Dáil in303848_309803329035607_1821912624_n 2011.  A founder member of the Socialist Party, Daly was initially hailed as a bright new voice for Ireland’s parliamentary Left. But in strange and controversial circumstances, Daly left the Socialist Party in 2012 on foot of her defence of fellow TD and tax fraud, Mick Wallace.  In this edition of Anarchist Lens, Daly’s about-turn is examined from an anarchist point of view.

Follow Anarchist Lens post via Twitter at @AnarchistLens

 

In early September 2012, Clare Daly, one of two Socialist Party TDs in the Dáil (the Irish parliament) resigned her membership of that party citing irreconcilable differences.  Re-designating herself a member of the United Left Alliance (ULA)[1], she declared that it was time to “prioritise the building of the ULA” which she described as an “an alternative political force, that can present a real challenge to the establishment parties”.[2]  Daly’s statement implied that she had undertaken a re-assessment of the possibilities for the Irish left and in so doing she had discovered that the Socialist Party (SP) – her political home for twenty-five years – was sorely wanting.  She implied that in recognising that it was not possible to change the SP from within, she had reluctantly taken the decision to move on.  The ULA was a much wiser venture.

On a superficial level Daly’s explanation of her decision to migrate to the ULA made some sense.  However it was far from being the full story and almost anyone who had taken any interest in the matter knew this to be so.  In the months prior to her departure from the SP, Daly had become increasingly linked to the independent Dáil TD, Mick Wallace.  A controversial figure with left leanings, Wallace had also won a seat in the Irish parliament, at the same time as Daly, for the Wexford constituency.   Unusually – given his views – Wallace was also a building contractor and a property developer[3].  During the Celtic Tiger period he had amassed a significant empire that he subsequently lost in the financial crash and economic meltdown that began in late 2008.  Emerging from this with a good deal of his personal wealth intact, Wallace successfully traded on his reputation and misfortunes and resoundingly won election to the Dáil in 2011.

However, in the early half of 2012, Wallace’s past caught up with him.  The Irish Revenue Commissioner took proceedings against the Wexford TD accusing him of failing “to make full tax returns on apartment sales over a two-year period” [4].  Wallace’s company, MJ Wallace Ltd, had collected monies from individuals and families it sold its apartments to but it had not subsequently passed this money onto Irish Revenue even though Wallace continued to collect a generous salary as director of MJ Wallace Ltd.  The sum of money demanded by the Irish Revenue was €1.4 million[5].  It also emerged that on another occasion Wallace had withheld pension contributions totally nearly €50,000 that had been deducted from his employees in order to maintain his companies in credit[6].  In due course Wallace pleaded guilty to charges put to him.  M.J. Wallace Ltd was fined a substantial sum by the Irish Revenue but the original sum of money owed to the tax department along with the fine were never to be recouped as Wallace’s building company had become insolvent[7].

TECHNICAL

The complications for Clare Daly were not initially of her own making.  Her party, the SP, were bound together with Wallace in the Dáil in a practical arrangement known as a Technical Group (TG)[8].  The TG had no common political programme and was little more than a ship of convenience used by its members to make more efficient use of certain Dáil services based on the number of members it contained.  TG participation allowed its members to propose and promote Dáil Bills and put questions to the Government etc; the TG also received a certain amount of administrative and financial benefits due to is size.

Wallace was adamant about continuing as a Dáil representative despite his past business transgressions.  However within the TG of which he was a vocal member, there was considerable unhappiness about his position and the controversy surrounding his tax dealings.  This was not surprising given that the Irish electorate was by this time (2011-12) well exercised by the matter of corruption in high office.  There was widespread public sentiment that there was simply too much double standards and that this had played a significant role in bringing about Ireland’s economic meltdown.  Surely, the electorate felt, it was time for a new beginning and for an end to duplicity? A sentiment encouraged no doubt by the reality that Wallace had stood for election under a slogan that proclaimed: ‘For A New Politics’.

Socialist members of the TG were particularly uncomfortable over Wallace.  Within the TG the leftwing TDs operated under two banners: their individual party banners – Socialist Party and People Before Profit for example – but also under the collective banner of the United Left Alliance.  In all of these organisations and in the ULA itself there was disquiet among the rank and file about the proximity of the left TDs to Wallace given his tax irregularities.  It could not be any other way.  For many Wallace openly seemed to be having the best of all worlds: he had been through a financial disaster but was still very well off.  Now he was collecting a very lucrative salary as a Dáil TD while claiming to be part of the new future in Irish political life.

ONE BANNER

The Wallace tax scandal unfolded over the spring and summer of 2012, just as tentative steps were being taken to develop the ULA into a national political party with proper structures and membership requirements[9].  This was a delicate process given that the ULA contained within it different factions and a multitude of difficult individual egos.  Nonetheless the goal was clearly set out by Joan Collins, a member of People Before Profit[10] and one of the ULA’s influential Dublin TDs:

I want people to stand under the banner of [the ULA] for the local elections in 2014. We need an electoral alternative to cuts in the budget. There is a need for a principled opposition.[11]

The Wallace scandal detonated silently inside this shaky alliance.  It was noted by ULA members that four of their five TDs had been silent on the matter of Wallace’s questionable standards; Seamus Healy, the Tipperary South TD, was the only consistent dissenter.  No immediate statement was issued by the ULA distancing itself from Wallace or explaining to its membership what its position was on the matter of Wallace and his ongoing career in politics.  Some put the silence down to the cumbersome, consensus-based decision making arrangement that the ULA had lumped itself with during its formation.   Other rumours however – largely emanating from the more right-wing sections of the press – suggested that there was more to the paralysis than was at first apparent.  The increasingly ugly spat eventually spilled over into the Campaign Against the Household and Water Tax (CAHWT)[12], which Wallace had linked himself to via his Wexford constituency[13].  The Campaign was a nationwide grassroots movement to oppose austerity and in particular a household tax that was being imposed on all house owners by the Irish government.  It had a large, politically and geographically, disparate membership and it included in its ranks both the anti-parliamentary and parliamentary left.  In the CAHWT there was little equivocation about Wallace and the Campaign issued a statement dissociating itself from the TD and his past fraudulent actions[14].

The scandal deepened in early June when Wallace’s plans to attend the European Soccer Championships in Poland became known.  It seemed to some that Wallace’s lifestyle had been largely unaffected by his tussle with The Irish Revenue[15] and this provoked renewed criticism of the Wexford TD and his apparent lack of remorse.  On June 12th the Socialist Party reacted and declared that “Mick Wallace’s failure to pay the original sum of €1.4 million in VAT is disgraceful, unacceptable and indefensible”[16].  The statement while clear cut on one level, went on to explain that Mick Wallace had no connections with the SP or the ULA (despite their close links with him in the TG) and that the campaign against Wallace was being fuelled by a right-wing media which had it in for Wallace, due to his past utterance.  (Wallace publicly opposed Irish Government support for the US war in Iraq in 2003 – a stand that put him at odds with pro-US newspapers like The Irish Independent.)

Around this time it also became more publicly known[17] via more media reports that Clare Daly was ‘friendly’ with Mick Wallace, an Irishism for stating that they were in a relationship together.  This news – as an explanation for Clare Daly’s puzzling stand – came more fully into the public light when Daly refused to back a Socialist Party supported motion designed to discipline the Wexford section of the CAHWT which was refusing to dissociate itself from Wallace despite directions from the Campaign nationally.[18]   Daly’s position was now increasingly explained as being one to do with a personal ‘loyalty’ to Wallace[19].  In other words she was refusing to join in the public condemnation of the troubled TD because she was in a relationship with him.  Importantly also, Daly’s stand was offered as the reason for the initial reticence of the SP and the ULA to condemn Wallace and his actions.  Later in the summer, after Daly refused to support a motion in the CAHWT, supported by her party (SP), proposing to censure the Lock Garman (Wexford) section of the Campaign which was standing by Wallace, the SP went public with their dissatisfaction and stated:

Unfortunately, two United Left Alliance (ULA) TDs, Clare Daly and Joan Collins, spoke in opposition on the grounds that the motions infringed the democratic rights of the Loch Garman group. This argument, against the agreed policy of the ULA, ignores the fact that the issue is of such importance to the campaign across the country that it is a decision to be made democratically through the national structures of the campaign.[20]

Shortly after this, Clare Daly dramatically quit the SP and issued her statement committing herself to the ULA and its potential to be “a real challenge” to austerity politics.  Needless to say few activists inside the Socialist Party were convinced by the reasons she was giving for her volte face and within the ULA itself there was also considerable scepticism re Daly’s about turn.  Had Daly really been converted to the aspirations of the ULA or was she just using the ULA to cover over the debacle with Wallace and move on?

Daly’s departure from the SP ended a twenty-five year long association with the Party.  But the acrimony and headaches did not end there.  Citing dismay with the ULA’s wavering on the matter of Wallace and its tolerance of Daly within its ranks, the important Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) associated with the Tipperary South TD Seamus Healy departed the ULA in September[21].  More significantly the Socialist Party continued to grumble and made it clear that it was openly at odds with Daly and her supporters inside the ULA. As 2012 approached its end, a real question mark hung over the future of the party.  The SP, while at the same time announcing it would not leave the ULA, launched a broadside against the new venture stating that it was “not measuring up to the political challenge”[22].  In other words a right mess for all those left activists committed to the parliamentary road to socialism.

BUT WHY?

Many on the Left have been flummoxed by Daly’s loyalty to Mick Wallace and by the manner in which his predicament appeared to have influenced her decision to end a twenty-five year association with the Socialist Party.  There has been much incredulity and, it must be said, much dismay too – as indicated by the acrimonious divisions with the ULA.  But, seen from an anarchist perspective, is Daly’s political migration really that unusual?  Unexpected certainly, but unusual?

In Left history, anarchist theory has played a vital role in critiquing the process by which parliament not only contains but also disarms the drive to bring about meaningful change in society.  This critique has become all the more important and relevant given the repeated emphasis placed by socialists and Marxist-socialists on using the parliament.  This despite the fact that the parliamentary road to socialism is an entirely failed entity, littered with repeated disasters, compromises, examples of ditched principles and, in many cases, outright betrayal of the interests of the working class.  [For specific examples and the overview in Many Roads, One Destination in the WSM pamphlet Parliament Or Democracy[23]].

Anarchism indeed has presented a coherent and consistent analysis as to the why and the how of the phenomena.  There are, it should be emphasised, different aspects to the critique.  For example working-class self-activity – a key component in the struggle for change – often declines significantly when a strong parliamentary socialist movement emerges.  There is also the significant issue to do with the feasibility of using the State (an intrinsically authoritarian structure) to bring about fundamental processes of liberation.  There is the important issue of disconnection that emerges when socialist candidates obtain parliamentary office and how that disconnection impacts and impairs movement objectives.  In regard to much of this, anarchism has been proven to be an insightful political theory when it comes to understanding why seemingly ‘committed and principled’ socialists renege on their promises when they achieve high office.  The Clare Daly debacle is perhaps best understood within this anarchist critique.

A LONG ROAD

To understand better what is meant here it is important to look at the journey that Clare Daly has made.  First and foremost, Daly was catapulted into a very different world by her election to the Dáil in 2011.  Some socialists like to pretend that this does not matter and that a person with principles can stand above material trapping at will.  But in practice that is actually not always the case. There is no iron rule here, of course.  Some individuals are impacted more than others; sometimes the effect takes a long while to materialise whereas with others it is felt immediately.  In Daly’s case it should also be borne in mind that her arrival in the Dáil was a long time coming.

Daly after all was a founding member of Socialist Party (SP) – formerly the International Militant Tendency.  She worked tirelessly throughout much of the 80s and 90s at a grassroots level for the cause of socialism in Ireland; very few people, if any, dispute this.  During that time she worked for the Irish airline, Aer Lingus, in their Catering Department, where she was an active member of her trade union, SIPTU; she held the elected post of shop steward for over 10 years. In 1999 she first tasted electoral success in the public sphere when she won a seat for the Socialist Party on Fingal County Council; she was subsequently re-elected in 2004 and 2009[24].  In 2011 with austerity in the air she finally made the long sought-after breakthrough and won a Dáil seat for the constituency of Dublin North.

Her election to the Dáil gave her a new, powerful platform from whence she was able to make her views known about the causes of the crisis and what should be done about it.  In the initial period she performed ably and well and was, notably, a new and a fresh voice in Irish political life.  She featured regularly on significant Irish media fora such as the flagship current affairs programme Today Tonight (RTE) and on the influential Tonight with Vincent Browne (TV3).   During this period it was certainly clear that Daly was following through on her track record and on the mandate she had received at election time.  She certainly championed the cause of social justice at a time when mainstream politics in Ireland was roundly focused on delivering a swift dose of neo-liberal medicine to its unprepared public.

However in taking up her seat in the Dáil, Daly was facing an old and difficult bogey for a socialist.  How would she cope with her new found status?  The most obvious and immediate factor is the special position that is reserved for TDs[25].  Lucrative salaries, allowances and expenses are part of the deal but this is accentuated by the special attention that is focused on politicians particularly in the modern setup where media/ celebrity status is increasingly valued.  So a TD can easily gain much greater access to all sorts of privileges that an ordinary person would never dream of encountering.  This sort of limelight can affect a person’s orientation and indeed the trapping of high office have long been viewed as potentially corrupting to core principles.  Not so much a problem for a mainstream politician but a considerable headache for a revolutionary socialist whose commitment must remain loyal to those excluded from power and privilege in society.

The benefits of parliamentary success are not accidental creations, of course.  Within the narrow confines of modern ‘Western’ democracy, parliamentarians are expected to see themselves as leaders and, in theory at least, they are also potential decision makers within and for their communities.  In that sense it seems quite logical that they should be rewarded with privilege and status.  Such endowments send the right sort of signal about parliament’s role in society and it ably assists in binding parliamentarians to the institution and the process of standing for election.  Again, in practice, this presents no real problem for a mainstream politician but for a Marxist party such as the SP and its membership there are pitfalls.

Longstanding activists of Clare Daly’s ilk are not unaware of this problem.  Nor, for that matter, is (or was) her former party.  The Socialist Party for example ordains that all its members follow one simple rule on attaining Dáil office: all Socialist Party TDs must commit to only taking a wage that is equal to the ‘average industrial wage’.  The surplus money that accrues to the elected party members is instead donated to the Party for its uses in the wider struggle.  In this way, in theory anyway, no SP TD can personally benefit from being elected to the Dáil. But in practice of course the problems associated with Dáil privileges and status present themselves in a number of ways – amounting to a lot more than just the jingle of coins.  A party member may well eschew the material trappings of office (money and material aggrandisement) but as is evidenced in the Clare Daly case there are plenty of other trinkets in the shop window to catch the unsuspecting eye.

PRAGMATIC

For an elected member of parliament the road to pragmatism and moderation is both well known and well worn.  There have been the famous cases – ‘grand’ examples so to speak – such as that of the pre-WW2 German Social Democratic Party.  The GSDP grew meteorically after its formation and had radical aims[26], but as high office beckoned it was to discover that its leadership had become increasingly dominated by a very pragmatic viewpoint.  The socialist Edward Bernstein articulated this well when he said that electoral politics was ‘the high-school of compromise’.  Throughout his life Bernstein retained a commitment to the eventual aim of socialism – redistribution of wealth via the ending of capitalist production – but crucially, he argued that the more immediate and tangible goals should and did take precedence over long term aspirations[27].  Bernstein’s influential viewpoint culminated in his now classic re-formulation of the priorities of the GSPD when he stated:  ‘the movement means everything… what was usually called the final aim of socialism … nothing’.[28]

Recent Irish history illustrates the same process.  For example Irish people have just been through a budget where the Labour Party justified its role in imposing severe austerity on the grounds that if the Labour Party didn’t deliver the medicine to the public, an even less sympathetic coalition of parties might impose something even worse – a sort of mental mind-flip worthy of Orwell’s 1984 surely.  Another interesting example is that involving the formation of the political party, Democratic Left[29] in 1992 as a breakaway from The Workers Party.  On that occasion a majority of The Workers Party’s seven Dáil TDs, left to form a new left-centre party.  At the time, the acrimonious split cloaked itself with a number of pragmatic reasons including the desire by the seceding group of TDs to distance themselves from the image of Stalinism that had clung to The Workers Party.  But in reality the new Democratic Left party was decidedly more ‘centrist’ than ‘left’ and quite amenable to capitalism too.  In time all of Democratic Left’s TDs merged into the Labour Party and today one of those originals, Eamon Gilmore, leads the Labour Party where he has played a key role in imposing austerity on Irish workers.  QED?

Compared to the above examples, Clare Daly’s migration does not amount to a great deal.  Her defection is partly personal and it is also limited in its scope by the reality that it doesn’t involve a tranche of other supporters following suit.   However it does come at a bad time for the Irish parliamentary Left which itself is in the midst of manoeuvres to establish a stable and viable electoral alternative intent on occupying the space vacated by the Labour Party.

But where Daly’s case is of interest is that we rarely see the process identified by anarchists working itself out so thoroughly and dramatically in an individual case.  It is far more common (as with the Democratic Left example above) to see the process working itself out within a political party where it can sometimes stay hidden from full public view.  In Daly’s case though her travails are largely hers and hers alone and, for reasons that are not entirely fair to her, they have become quite public too.

SEDUCTION

Commenting on the experience of being elected to parliament, a member of the Australian Labour Party commented thus, as far back as the early half of the 20th century:

[Our supporters] “commonly criticised their MPs for not being icy enough.  They saw Parliament as a comfortable club which seduced Labour members with facilities way beyond the reach of the a typical toiler – higher wages, comfortable leather chairs, billiard tables, dining rooms, well-stocked library, free rail travel and invitations to lavish functions.

This of course is a familiar refrain – the danger of being seduced by the material trappings of high office – but the same observer went on to make this other significant point:

Close contact with [our] adversaries could be disarming too.  After lashing union bashers on the hustings it was different matter altogether to confront them in relaxing surroundings and find they are not bad blokes to share a drink with or a game of cards with.  Many Labour men were obliged to adjust and often did so without being aware of the process. [30]

Leaving aside the sexism of those times for the moment, the key observation is that a person (an elected socialist) might find himself in due course and as a result of his exposure to the hum-drum of parliamentary life ‘obliged to adjust’ his behaviour.  He noted also that that such a person “often did so without being aware of the process”.

So we are led back to the unexpected and, some would say, uncharacteristic about turn by Clare Daly in September of last year.  A theory has floated about that explains Daly’s move as being one of a sudden bout of bad judgement perhaps brought on by the heady emotions of being in a new relationship with Wallace.  But this hardly does justice to Clare Daly.  By any measure she is not a novice.  If anything she is a seasoned and an influential activist.  For example it was openly suggested that she would one day be the next leader of the Socialist Party.  So hardly an example of someone who would blow with any wind.

Another aspect of Daly’s about turn has been her steadfastness.  For the best part of a year she hardly wavered to any significant degree on the matter of Wallace.  Rather, in her confrontations with her formers comrades, she has been trenchant and, even now, with her move into the ULA she has not shown any desire to compromise – a factor that is likely to do terminal damage to that party.

What seems much more plausible and fair to Daly then is to accept that she has changed.  Her political outlook had shifted and it appears to have shifted significantly since her election to the Dáil.  Some of this no doubt is to do with the new situation she finds herself in but it also has to do with the people she is now in closer proximity to.  Daly’s support for Wallace could (reasonably) be viewed and described as ‘seeing things from Wallace’s own perspective’.  Recall that Wallace himself does not really believe he did anything particularly wrong in terms of his tax affairs[31].  He was simply a man trapped in a collapsing building (the financial crash).  He had to take harsh measures or else he might never have got out alive.  Clare Daly’s own pronouncements to some extent echo this viewpoint.  She had stated that she has condemned Wallace for his past misdemeanours.  But, as she puts it, these aspects are now in the past and it’s time to move on to more important issues.

REFORM

In keeping with her surprising support for Wallace, Clare Daly has also become more closely associated with a reformist wing within the ULA which aims to mould it into a social democratic electoral party.  A ‘social democratic’ party might sound like a fine aspiration to some but recall that it is light years away way from the revolutionary socialist position that Daly adhered to while a member of the Socialist Party and which she articulated and stood over for decades.

There is no knowing for sure, of course, what has gone on with Daly – and my conjectures here are just that.  Time will tell us more no doubt.  But the evidence is mounting that Dáil tenure and the ‘limelight’ of office has got to Daly.  In this sense anarchists may well be quite justified in engaging in a bit of ‘I told you so’.  But for Ireland’s troubled parliamentary socialist movement the fallout is a lot more serious and worrying.  For parties such as the Socialist Party much is made of (and huge effort is expended on) the matter of getting someone elected to the Dáil.  Consider for example what the SP put into Clare Daly’s slow but steady rise.  It was actually huge.  With her election won, the hope and expectation was that she would work hard to increase the Party’s profile and standing.   But now all of that has come to naught.

Once more then, Dáil office (and power) – The Holy Grail for Ireland’s parliamentary socialists – has proven to be a graveyard for its political ideals.  Some might hope that in time this latest debacle will provoke a sobering reassessment in that quarter but it would be naive to expect anything dramatic either.  Sadly, some socialist traditions seemed fated to repeat the same errors again and again and again precisely because they neither understand the nature of power (the electorate versus the parliamentary machine) or how this power dynamic works steadily (and stealthily) against the processes of liberation.

References, notes and links below:


[1] The United Left Alliance was set up before the Irish General Election in 2011.  It is a coalition of left parties and independent left activists and includes the Socialist Party, People Before Profit (an organisation controlled by the Socialist Workers Party) and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group.  While it contains within its ranks Trotskyist parties such as the Socialist Party and other left groups, it is nonetheless seen as a more moderate populist organisation and very much a work in progress.

[2] Clare Daly on www.claredaly.ie 31/8/12

[3] See the entertaining but jaundiced view of Wallace in Business and Finance, a mainstream Irish business magazine. http://www.businessandfinance.ie/index.jsp?p=413&n=427&a=2095

[6] Wallace later paid back all the monies that he owed to the Construction Workers Pension Scheme.  See http://www.independent.ie/national-news/courts/wallace-fined-7000-but-says-he-has-done-nothing-wrong-2954427.html

[9] However it should be said that this was and remains a very uneven process and is more advanced in some areas than others.   For honest analysis on this process see the blog http://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/

[10] PBP was set up by the Socialist Workers Party and is widely views as being controlled by this party.  Its programme is here http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.ie/about Currently PBP has to TDs in the Irish Dáil – Richard Boyd-Barrett and Joan Collins.

[12] See Campaign website http://nohouseholdtax.org/

[15] Wallace had a longstanding interest in soccer in Ireland.  He let it be known that he was intending to travel to the Euro 2012 in Poland to see Ireland’s performance but this caused a furore given the fact that he had a large sum of taxes unpaid but was still intending to travel to Poland.  Wallace eventually said he wouldn’t travel to Poland although report later indicated that he did in fact make it there.

[19] See in this report the trouble over Wallace’s resignation from the Technical Group.  http://www.herald.ie/news/dalys-last-ditch-effort-to-save-pal-mick-3147300.html

[24] See www.claredaly.ie and Clare’s Record

[25] In this interview in Dole TV (May 6th 2012), Daly made clear how aware she was of the rarefied environment that is the Dáil.  See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIbtOknDZWU&feature=player_embedded The same material is also covered here http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/colonels-daughter-who-wouldnt-give-mick-his-marching-orders-3139905.html

[26] See the adoption  of the Erfurt Programme by the GSDP  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erfurt_Program

[27] Norman Wintorop Ed., Liberal Democratic Theory And Its Critics, (Croom Helm, 1983), p214

[28] ibid., p214

[30] R. McMullan, The Light On The Hill (OUP Australia, 1991), p89-90

[31] See this the Irish Times report which details some of the dealing by the MJ Wallace Ltd before its final collapse at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2012/0630/1224319006754.html and also http://www.independent.ie/national-news/courts/wallace-fined-7000-but-says-he-has-done-nothing-wrong-2954427.html

_

 

Written by Kevin Doyle

January 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Review of “The Guards: A Year Behind the Scenes with the Men and Women of An Garda Síochána”

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No pictures of beaten prisoners

No pictures of Rossport dust-up

No pictures of Shannon Warport

No pictures of Dublin Lock-down

Written by Kevin Doyle

November 22, 2012 at 8:29 pm

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