TWO SHOUTS FOR STRUGGLE AND SOLIDARITY — Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression responds to attacks from official leaders of the Basque Liberation Movement

The Basque Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression came into being in solidarity with Basque political prisoners and against their perception of the consequences for the political prisoners of the leadership turning the Basque movement into an almost exclusively electoral one.  Recently the Amnesty movement, mobilising in support of Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner on hunger strike (Day 24 as this published), came under public attack on three different occasions by the “official” leadership of the movement.  The two responses of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression are reproduced below in the sequence in which they were issued.

Image used on Amnistia movement’s web page.

COMMENT BY AMNISTIA ETA ASKATASUNA ON STATEMENTS ISSUED BY EH BILDU AND SORTU IN RELATION TO PATXI RUIZ

(Translation from statement in Castillian, section headings, explanatory notes and images inserted by D.Breatnach)

[Explanatory note: EH Bildu and Sortu are political parties of the official leadership of the Abertzale Left, quite similar to Sinn Féin (P), with which they have friendly relations. Amnistia is a Basque organisation in disagreement with the line of those parties firstly on political prisoners and subsequently on the change of trajectory].

In relation to the communiqués published by EH Bildu and Sortu regarding the situation of the Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement wishes to express the following:

RESPECT FOR THE DECISIONS OF PATXI RUIZ

          According to EH Bildu, they are making the necessary arrangements so that the parliamentarian Bel Pozueta can visit Patxi Ruiz in the Murcia II prison. Sortu asks us to take responsibility to cover up its miseries (Trans?). Above all, and even more so in these hard times, we must respect Patxi’s wishes, who has made it clear that the political attitudes of EH Bildu and Sortu do not have his approval.

All the same, he recognises the right of everyone to report on his situation, but the pressure must be exercised in accordance with the political line that he supports. Patxi upholds confrontation with the enemy and we think that EH Bildu and Sortu are not taking advantage of the possibilities and position they possess to carry out such a confrontation.

Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner, now 24 days on hunger strike, 12 of which were thirst strike too.
(Image sourced: Internet)

POPULAR PRESSURE

          There are a great many mobilisations and initiatives taking place in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country). On a number of occasions they are being carried out in breach of the prohibitions. We must also bear in mind that with the excuse of the pandemic those who trample us have suspended our political rights. Euskal Herria, however, knows how to react and respond to a situation as serious as that of Patxi, being the country in the world where the most mobilisations have been taking place since the lockdown began.

Without popular pressure, the media acting as dogs of the system would keep Patxi’s case hidden. It has become evident that without marking the matter prominently there is no way to put the issue on the table, and that all the institutional parties are more concerned with graffiti sprayed on a wall than about Patxi’s life.

For this reason, we must say that EH Bildu and Sortu have also immersed themselves in the campaign against those who are carrying out actions of popular pressure in support of Patxi, and that if Patxi has a minimal hope of remaining alive, it is from the same popular pressure that EH Bildu and Sortu are trying to stop. We find it contradictory that while they say they are working for Patxi, at the same time they are putting obstacles in the way of pressure initiatives in his support.

Patxi Ruiz Solidarity march in Irunea/ Pamplona 30th May 2020
(Source photo: Amnistia Garrasi)

POLICY OF INDIVIDUALLY-BASED EXITS FROM PRISON LEAVE REMAINING PRISONERS DEFENCELESS

          From 2014 until the present, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has maintained that the policy of individual exits ruptured the unity among prisoners and, consequently, left them defenseless in the face of prison abuses, and we took that position based on this logic:

When an inmate accepts the so-called “individualized treatment” of the prison to advance his grade, at the same time he is agreeing to stop reporting injustices against other comrades. Should the prisoner express solidarity with his or her comrade, the path of progression through the grades is endangered.

(Translator’s note: The Spanish prison system sets different grades for prisoners according to which they may be released early on parole or not. The application of the system has included requirements such as expressing regret for past actions, undertaking not to break laws in future, not acting as a body within the jails, etc. For decades the Abertzale leadership and ETA rejected these requirements but after 2014 their policy changed towards advocating individual application for progression through the prison system grades).

Our movement has proceeded with absolute respect regarding the internal dynamics of the prison, but making an objective analysis, we can now see that the reading made from the beginning by the Pro Amnesty Movement was correct. Only practice confirms or denies theory, and the case of Murcia II shows that Patxi has been left facing the prison administration with absolutely no protection.

One political prisoner from Murcia II alone has taken a public position of solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and while Patxi dies, the other political prisoners prioritise their progression through the grades. It is incomprehensible to us, regardless of the ideological differences that currently exist, that the rest of the prisoners have not set in motion any pressure initiatives.

It is not up to our movement to enter into personal evaluations, knowing that particular situations may be determining factors, but we must emphasize that what happens in Murcia II is a consequence of the path outlined by EH Bildu in its document called “Basque Way for Peace”. EH Bildu and Sortu’s political line has a direct effect on Patxi’s situation.

Map of prisons in the Spanish and French states through which political prisoners are dispersed as policy.
(Source: Internet)

ELECTORALISM

          In conclusion, it is not lost on us that all institutional parties are involved in an electoral campaign and that their political movements are made under this influence. The statements of EH Bildu and Sortu were published on the ninth and tenth day of Patxi’s hunger and thirst strike, when until now they have only mentioned Patxi in passing in order to criticize the direct action taken by people in his favour, and now to hold Patxi’s solidarity environment responsible for what may happen to him. It is not possible to sink lower. All their initiatives and declarations are purely for show and electoralist.

Institutional parties would have the people believe that only what professional politicians do is political, they would have the people believe that only what is done within the parameters set by the bourgeois system is political, disregarding the maturity of the working class.

From a revolutionary point of view, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement does not understand the point of being in bourgeois institutions if it is not to break them from within. For this reason and bearing in mind that Patxi may collapse at any time, we call on the people to urgently make real politics, that is, that which can condition and reverse the operations of the murderers who oppress us. In defence of Patxi’s life, advance the popular struggle!

In the Basque Country, on May 20, 2020.

Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement.

https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es/articulo/sobre-los-comunicados-publicados-por-eh-bildu-y-sortu-en-relacion-patxi-ruiz

Patxi Ruiz Solidarity march in Bilbo/ Bilbao 30th May 2020
(Source photo: Amnistia Garrasi)
(Source image: Internet)

IN RESPONSE TO THE EEPK ATTACK ON THE PRO-AMNESTY MOVEMENT

Posted on Sat, 05/30/2020 – 11:46

(translation from Castillian published version, insertion of sub-headings, footnotes and images by D.Breatnach).

Unfortunately, once again and contrary to what we would like, we are obliged to respond to an attack against our movement. On this occasion it has been the EPPK1 that, while applauding the institutional parties that are part of the system, has launched an attack against the popular movement in an attempt to damage what they do not control.

It does not go unnoticed that the day chosen to publish this attack is the Day of Mobilisations that we have called in support of Patxi Ruiz. In addition to being an electoral movement with its mind set on the elections, the EPPK note, written in one of the Sortu offices, aims to weaken today’s mobilisations. Despite referring to us, we interpret the fact that they do not mention the name of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression as a symptom of political weakness. It is our custom to say things more clearly than that. Nothing would call for such action but seeing that they stand to lose hegemony in the street, they act from their gut instead of their head.

We recall other similar attacks that, far from strengthening unity among prisoners, have served to divide the EPPK itself. For example, the false accusation leveled against our movement by prisoners who were being tried in the Paris Court in 2015, had the effect of causing four other prisoners with long sentences to separate themselves from the EPPK. All four publicly criticised it, and things like that should make those who plan these attacks reflect on the consequences that actions of this type have on those inside (including many of the EPPK).

Dealing with the content of today’s EPPK statement, the first thing we should highlight is its lack of rigor. They say that we have used Patxi’s dramatic situation to criticize Sortu, EH Bildu, Etxerat, EPPK and Sare. We must say that these groups are not the navel of the world and that we have put all our strength into Patxi. But in addition to that, we have not mentioned in any statement either the EPPK, or Etxerat or Sare.

We have mentioned EH Bildu and Sortu, always to respond to the accusations hurled by them against the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement. Like the EPPK now, the previous two have accused us of pushing Patxi Ruiz towards his death and, in the face of such petty statements as these, our position will always be firm. We will not accept attacks of this kind in the difficult situation we are experiencing, and less so from those who think only of the elections. We will not admit it from those who have not said anything about Patxi until after ten days, except when it was to criticise the actions in his support.

The position of the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has been, from the outset, to prioritise Patxi’s life over anything else. For this, we have maintained direct contact with the group that acts as the family’s representative, with the lawyers and with a group of professionals who work in different fields of medicine and who advise us.

All the decisions that we have made in these hard times, including the political initiatives that we have promoted, have been made taking into account and following the advice of these three groups. We ask for respect and responsibility from Sortu and from all the organizations that move in its orbit, towards us, towards the aforementioned groups and above all towards Patxi, who is the one who makes the decision to continue with the hunger strike. Of course, we can assure that we will be supporting Patxi to make the decisions that he makes regarding this issue.

ATTITUDE OF THE PRISONERS IN MURCIA II

          We must state that our movement has at no time made assessments of the personal attitudes of any member of the EPPK. We have not doubted the concern that the rest of the prisoners of Murcia II may have about Patxi’s situation. The Pro Amnesty Movement makes political evaluations and far from treating prisoners as if they were “unfortunates”, it treats them like the political militants they are.

For this reason, on May 20 we said that the fact that they had not moved in support of Patxi was a consequence of the “Basque Road to Peace” proposal by EH Bildu and Sortu. Specifically, we explained that entering the game of grade progressions2 left prisoners defenceless in prison, because if they took action they would lose the possibility of advancing in grades. To this we added that we have been warning about the consequences of this path for six years and that the only thing that confirms or denies theories is practice. This case confirms that our theory is correct, above opinions and objectively.

As a last point, it seems really audacious to say that if Patxi was taken to the hospital, it was because the members of the EPPK requested it from the prison management. Patxi was hospitalised on the eleventh day of the hunger and thirst strike, following kidney failure and following a judge’s order.

MEDIATION OFFERED BY SORTU

          On the night of May 14th, Sortu contacted the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement through an intermediary. Sortu offered us to take advantage “under the table” of some contacts it has in Madrid to change Patxi’s situation. According to what we were told, the movement should give them the “green light” for this. They suggested that with the activism we promote, we could be pushing Patxi to continue with the hunger and thirst strike.

The group that looks after Patxi’s situation evaluated ​​the proposal, consulted with those around them and drew conclusions: the first is that Patxi does not want something like this and that his will must be respected. The second is that the only reason for asking for a “green light” can be is that in return we request to stop the street actions. The third is that those who made us the offer (we know how to distinguish them from the party bases), more than for Patxi’s life, are concerned about the consequences that his death can cause in the political situation.

The day after receiving the proposal, we replied that if they have a real option to avoid Patxi’s death, they would not need anyone’s “green light” to take the necessary approaches. Despite the fact that they asked us for confidentiality, on May 19th EH Bildu made public through an electoral note that it had offered us its means to help resolve Patxi’s situation and the next day Sortu, in a note in the same vein, accused us of pushing Patxi towards his death. By making this contact public and making serious accusations, they showed that their only intention was “to get rid of the body on top of them.” We know how to maintain discretion and appreciate the help offered when it is sincere, but we will not allow manipulations tailored to anyone’s partisan interests.

APPEAL TO EUSKAL HERRIA3

          In closing, we call on the Basque Country to continue supporting Patxi, to denounce the attacks against prisoners, and to continue pressing the fight for amnesty. Only the cessation of all kinds of oppression implicit in the political concept of amnesty will bring about a true peace based on justice. We are proud of the response given in Euskal Herria and of the internationalist support we have received.

In the Basque Country, on May 30, 2020.

Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement.

https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es/articulo/ante-el-ataque-del-eppk-al-movimiento-pro-amnistia

Patxi Ruiz Solidarity picket in Derry 30th May 2020
(Source photo: Derry Anarchists)
Patxi Ruiz Solidarity picket in Dublin 30th May 2020 (Source photo: Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee)

FOOTNOTES

1Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective, part of the Abertzale Left movement following the political line of the official leadership. Currently the vast majority of the Basque political prisoners are following its general line although a number of male and female prisoners have broken ranks to take actions in solidarity with Patxi and a number of ex-prisoners have also in his support.

2The Spanish penal system applies one of a number of grades to prisoners, according to which the conditions of imprisonment and possibility of early release on parole are decided. Formerly the EEPK, in line with the official leadership of the Abertzale Left movement, the decision was to maintain an attitude of political opposition to the system and to take collective decisions. When the position of the leadership on the overall struggle changed, so too did the recommendations to the prisoners, which was now to respond to the prison system as individuals and progress through the grades in what would be considered ‘good behaviour’ by the authorities.

3 “The Land Where the People Speak Euskera” (Basque native language), the name for the entire Basque Country, north and south.

RESPONSE OF THE BASQUE AMNESTY MOVEMENT TO ATTACK BY THE EPPK

IN RESPONSE TO THE EPPK ATTACK ON THE PRO-AMNESTY MOVEMENT

Posted on Sat, 05/30/2020 – 11:46

(translated from Castillian published version by D.Breatnach 31/ 05/2020).

Amnistia demonstration (photo sourced: Internet).

Unfortunately, once again and contrary to what we would like, we are obliged to respond to an attack against our movement. On this occasion it has been the EPPK1 that, while applauding the institutional parties that are part of the system, has launched an attack against the popular movement in an attempt to damage what they do not control.

It does not go unnoticed that the day chosen to publish this attack is the Day of Mobilisations that we have called in support of Patxi Ruiz. In addition to being an electoral movement with its mind set on the elections, the EPPK note, written in one of the Sortu offices, aims to weaken today’s mobilisations. Despite referring to us, we interpret the fact that they do not mention the name of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression as a symptom of political weakness. It is our custom to say things more clearly than that. Nothing would call for such action but seeing that they stand to lose hegemony in the street, they act from their gut instead of their head.

We recall other similar attacks that, far from strengthening unity among prisoners, have served to divide the EPPK itself. For example, the false accusation leveled against our movement by prisoners who were being tried in the Paris Court in 2015, had the effect of causing four other prisoners with long sentences to separate themselves from the EPPK. All four publicly criticised it, and things like that should make those who plan these attacks reflect on the consequences that actions of this type have on those inside (including many of the EPPK).

Dealing with the content of today’s EPPK statement, the first thing we should highlight is its lack of rigor. They say that we have used Patxi’s dramatic situation to criticize Sortu, EH Bildu, Etxerat, EPPK and Sare. We must say that these groups are not the navel of the world and that we have put all our strength into Patxi. But in addition to that, we have not mentioned in any statement either the EPPK, or Etxerat or Sare.

We have mentioned EH Bildu and Sortu, always to respond to the accusations hurled by them against the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement. Like the EPPK now, the previous two have accused us of pushing Patxi Ruiz towards his death and, in the face of such petty statements as these, our position will always be firm. We will not accept attacks of this kind in the difficult situation we are experiencing, and less so from those who think only of the elections. We will not admit it from those who have not said anything about Patxi until after ten days, except when it was to criticise the actions in his support.

The position of the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has been, from the outset, to prioritise Patxi’s life over anything else. For this, we have maintained direct contact with the group that acts as the family’s representative, with the lawyers and with a group of professionals who work in different fields of medicine and who advise us.

All the decisions that we have made in these hard times, including the political initiatives that we have promoted, have been made taking into account and following the advice of these three groups. We ask for respect and responsibility from Sortu and from all the organizations that move in its orbit, towards us, towards the aforementioned groups and above all towards Patxi, who is the one who makes the decision to continue with the hunger strike. Of course, we can assure that we will be supporting Patxi to make the decisions that he makes regarding this issue.

Image used on Amnistia movement’s web page.

ATTITUDE OF THE PRISONERS IN MURCIA II

          We must state that our movement has at no time made assessments of the personal attitudes of any member of the EPPK. We have not doubted the concern that the rest of the prisoners of Murcia II may have about Patxi’s situation. The Pro Amnesty Movement makes political evaluations and far from treating prisoners as if they were “unfortunates”, it treats them like the political militants they are.

For this reason, on May 20 we said that the fact that they had not moved in support of Patxi was a consequence of the “Basque Road to Peace” proposal by EH Bildu and Sortu. Specifically, we explained that entering the game of grade progressions2 left prisoners defenceless in prison, because if they took action they would lose the possibility of advancing in grades. To this we added that we have been warning about the consequences of this path for six years and that the only thing that confirms or denies theories is practice. This case confirms that our theory is correct, above opinions and objectively.

As a last point, it seems really audacios to say that if Patxi was taken to the hospital, it was because the members of the EPPK requested it from the prison management. Patxi was hospitalised on the eleventh day of the hunger and thirst strike, following kidney failure and following a judge’s order.

MEDIATION OFFERED BY SORTU

          On the night of May 14th, Sortu contacted the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement through an intermediary. Sortu offered us to take advantage “under the table” of some contacts it has in Madrid to change Patxi’s situation. According to what we were told, the movement should give them the “green light” for this. They suggested that with the activism we promote, we could be pushing Patxi to continue with the hunger and thirst strike.

The group that looks after Patxi’s situation evaluated ​​the proposal, consulted with those around them and drew conclusions: the first is that Patxi does not want something like this and that his will must be respected. The second is that the only reason for asking for a “green light” can be is that in return we request to stop the street actions. The third is that those who made us the offer (we know how to distinguish them from the party bases), more than for Patxi’s life, are concerned about the consequences that his death can cause in the political situation.

The day after receiving the proposal, we replied that if they have a real option to avoid Patxi’s death, they would not need anyone’s “green light” to take the necessary approaches. Despite the fact that they asked us for confidentiality, on May 19th EH Bildu made public through an electoral note that it had offered us its means to help resolve Patxi’s situation and the next day Sortu, in a note in the same vein, accused us of pushing Patxi towards his death. By making this contact public and making serious accusations, they showed that their only intention was “to get rid of the body on top of them.” We know how to maintain discretion and appreciate the help offered when it is sincere, but we will not allow manipulations tailored to anyone’s partisan interests.

APPEAL TO EUSKAL HERRIA3

          In closing, we call on the Basque Country to continue supporting Patxi, to denounce the attacks against prisoners, and to continue pressing the fight for amnesty. Only the cessation of all kinds of oppression implicit in the political concept of amnesty will bring about a true peace based on justice. We are proud of the response given in Euskal Herria and of the internationalist support we have received.

Issued in the Basque Country, on May 30, 2020.

Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement.

https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es/articulo/ante-el-ataque-del-eppk-al-movimiento-pro-amnistia

Patxi Ruiz Romero, Basque political prisoner, now on hunger strike.
(Image sourced: Internet)

 

FOOTNOTES

1Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective, part of the Abertzale Left movement following the political line of the official leadership. Currently the vast majority of the Basque political prisoners are following its general line although a number of male and female prisoners have broken ranks to take actions in solidarity with Patxi and a number of ex-prisoners have also published a statement in his support.

2The Spanish penal system applies one of a number of grades to prisoners, according to which the conditions of imprisonment and possibility of early release on parole are decided. Formerly the EEPK, in line with the official leadership of the Abertzale Left movement, the decision was to maintain an attitude of political opposition to the system and to take collective decisions. When the position of the leadership on the overall struggle changed, so too did the recommendations to the prisoners, which was now to respond to the prison system as individuals and progress through the grades in what would be considered ‘good behaviour’ by the authorities.

3 “The Land Where the People Speak Euskera” (Basque native language), the name for the entire Basque Country, north and south.

IS THE BASQUE SLEEPING GIANT AWAKENING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 15 mins.)

The Basque pro-independence movement, the Abertzale Left, fought the Spanish State for over four decades. in 2012 its leadership renounced armed struggle without any reciprocal agreement with the Spanish State, declaring its faith in an imagined “Basque peace process”, sought alliances with social democratic and capitalist-nationalist parties and publicly apologised for its past actions of resistance. The movement sank into general inactivity except on the electoral front. But in recent weeks there have been signs of awakening, though under a different leadership – or is the giant merely muttering and twitching in its sleep?

Map of the Basque Country showing the provinces; the three to the north-east are inside the French state, while the other and larger four are in the Spanish state. (Image source: Internet)

THE GIANT

          How does the description “Giant” fit a resistance movement in a total population of less than three million people? A nation divided between the Spanish and French states? Part of the answer is precisely in those features, also in its history during the Spanish Civil / Anti-Fascist War and “French” Maquis and earlier. Also in its long struggle in defence of its native language Euskera, almost certainly the oldest in Europe and perhaps the first to reach it in neolithic times.

This is a movement that carried out general strikes against the Franco dictatorship, ensured that three of its provinces rejected the 1978 Constitution of the Spanish State which, in atmosphere of fear and murderous repression and with the collusion of the newly-legalised social-democratic (PSOE) and communist (CPE) political parties, was voted in by a majority in every other region of the Spanish State (population another 35 million people).

The serpent of wisdom and the axe of armed struggle, symbol of ETA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Inspired by the examples of the Algerian independence struggle and socialist Cuba, the Abertzale Left movement rose from the defeat of the nation in the Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War and the terrible repression under the fascist dictator General Franco and in 1959, formed the ETA (Land and Freedom) organisation. The youth wing of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party conceded the Left-inclination in order to join with them. Enduring arrests and torture of its supporters, it was not until 1968 that ETA took an armed action; halted at a police checkpoint and determined not to be arrested, Txabi Etxebarrieta shot a policeman dead and was in turn killed himself by pursuing police.

Mural honouring Txabi Etxebarrieta, first ETA martyr. (Image sourced: Internet)

The first planned armed action carried out was also that year when an ETA squad shot dead Meliton Manzanas, head of the political police in the Basque Country, a notorious torturer of prisoners and a Nazi sympathiser in the past.

A woman dressed in the Basque national colours dances the aurresku, ceremonial honour dance, in commemoration of ETA martyrs. Organising or participating in such an event could easily lead to torture and a prison sentence under the “anti-terrorism” laws of the Spanish State.
(Image sourced: Internet)

A number of other actions were taken by ETA over the years, some of them spectacular but, like many armed resistance groups, some also questionable in value or even in justification from a revolutionary point of view. But in December 1973 an ETA squad in Madrid assassinated Admiral Carrero Blanco, General Franco’s nominated successor, an action which many credited with hastening the progress of the Transition of the Spanish State to nominal democracy. General Franco died without a strong agreed political replacement almost exactly two years later, in December 1975 and the Transition process ran from then until 1978.

Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s intended replacement, assassinated by ETA in Madrid in December 1973.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The struggle continued after the Transition, since the new Constitution declared any breakaway from the unity of the Spanish State a crime unless a majority in the Spanish Parliament voted in favour. The military and police repression in the Basque Country was huge. In the 1980s the social-democratic (PSOE) Spanish Government was exposed as heavily implicated in a number of terrorist groups operating against Basques through kidnapping, torture, gun and bomb attacks (see GAL) and eventually the Minister of the Interior and a number of high-ranking officers were given jail sentences.

In 1983 mass demonstrations and armed actions by ETA brought about the abandonment of the Spanish State’s nuclear reactor at the picturesque coastal spot at Lemoiz, followed by a new Spanish government declaring a moratorium on all building of nuclear reactors.

1975 mass demonstration against nuclear reactor being built by the Spanish State at Lemoiz.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Another aspect of the struggle was against compulsory military service, which the Spanish State only ended in 2002. People not only evaded it but also protested publicly against it.

Many people in the Spanish state opposed being part of NATO in the 1986 referendum but the Basque Country was highly represented in the vote against, around double the vote of those in favour and along with Catalonia being the only regions with a majority voting “no”.1

Photo taken of me by my guide on my camera above the abandoned nuclear site at scenic Lemoiz, possiblt 2016. Not many people can claim to have halted a nuclear reactor building program.

The ideology of the movement which found expression in ETA was national liberationist and socialist and this was reflected to a greater or lesser degree in all its parts, whether military or civilian. The Abertzale Left during the period organised itself into one political party after another after each in turn was banned by the Spanish State and forbidden to field candidates in elections.

Women industrial workers in Basque anti-fascist armaments factory, Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War, 1936. (Image sourced: Internet)

But the movement had a huge social following too, in youth movements, punk and heavy metal bands, social-cultural centres, pirate radio stations and promoters of Euskera as a spoken language (all leaders of the Abertzale Left were required to be able to speak the language and all public meetings were addressed in Euskera and Spanish or even Euskera alone). There was even a popular Abertzale style of haircut and dress. The Abertzale Left also had a sizeable trade union, LAB which, along with ELA, a union founded by the Basque Nationalist party, recruited the majority of unionised Basque workers2. Feminist, LBGT, linguistic, eco-friendly, anti-animal cruelty sectors all contained many people broadly in support of the Abertzale Left or at least of its stated objectives.

The movement also had newspapers, radio stations and internet sites and many of these were closed down by the Spanish State, alleging that they were “collaborating with terrorism”. Currently the Spanish State is moving towards the closure of the movement’s social-cultural centres, the Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns). This arises from a judgement by the National Court in 2011, a judgement corresponding to an infamous statement by Baltazar Garcón, at the time a prominent Judge of that Court, that “Everything is ETA”. The closures are to be carried out now although ETA ceased armed activity permanently in 2012 and disbanded itself a little later.

Annual January prisoners’ solidarity march, Bilbao, 2016. (Image sourced: Internet)

Repression by the Spanish State has included executions and clandestine assassinations and led to relatively huge numbers of Basque political prisoners, not all by any means military fighters and conviction with “confessions” extracted through torture during the five-day incommunicado period ensured a problem-free conveyor belt for the Spanish State. That conveyor belt delivered its victims to jails dispersed all over the Spanish state, nearly every one hundreds of kilometres and sometimes over a thousand from the prisoners’ homes. The financial, physical and mental strains on friends and relatives, including elderly and children having to travel such distances to visit their loved ones are hard to imagine, often facing abuse or harassment on the way or at their destination, apart from serious accidents on motorways (including fatalities). Many pickets and demonstrations are held in the Basque Country throughout the year and each January a monster march clogs the streets of Bilbao.

The issue of the prisoners has always been a big one for the Abertzale Left and despite dispersal the prisoners built an organisation within the jails, responding to their situation in a disciplined manner.

SLEEPING

          During the first decade of this century it was clear that ETA was not doing well and the Abertzale Left in general was facing many more years of struggle against an unyielding state with repression everywhere and hundreds of political prisoners in jails.

The leadership was attracted to the much-advertised pacification/ peace processes of South Africa, Palestine and Ireland. By any estimation the Palestine process soon collapsed and its rejection by most of Palestinian society was clearly indicated first by the Intifada and secondly by the electoral gains of Hamas, pushing Al-Fatah into second place. To undiscerning eyes the Irish and South African3 processes seemed to be doing well and both the ANC and Sinn Féin lent strong support to the Abertzale Left’s imagined “peace process”. Despite that support and that of such prominent imperialist figures as Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, the Spanish ruling class was not interested in playing and eventually the Abertzale Left’s leadership was left with nowhere to go. However, they persisted in trying to build alliances with the majority Basque National Party and with smaller nationalist-social-democratic groups; they succeeded with the second sector but failed with the first and seem condemned to second-party status electorally in a Spanish colony, a nation divided by the French-Spanish border.

However, in their search for acceptance by the above-mentioned sectors, the Abertzale Left not only renounced armed struggle but apologised for past actions, ended street confrontations and called on the prisoners to negotiate their progress individually through prison system grades to eventual parole. Some of Abertzale Left public representatives even attended events commemorating Guardia Civil and Ertzaintza (Basque police) killed by ETA in the past.

EH Bildu Mayor of Errenteria participates in commemoration of a Guardia Civil killed by ETA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

When the struggle for independence broke out again recently in Catalonia with the 2017 Referendum and the Spanish State responded with a violent Guardia Civil invasion and jailing of politicians and social activists, the Abertzale Left leadership noticeably declined to open up a second front of struggle.

STIRRING

          There were early but sporadic signs that not all movement was happy with the Abertzale Left’s new path. Askapena, an organisation set up within the Abertzale Left to work on internationalist solidarity, which at one time could list affiliated groups in Ireland, Germany, Italy4, Paris, Brittany, Barcelona, Madrid, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and a number of Latin American countries, broke quietly with with the Abertzale Left over its change of policies5. Notably also, when four members of Askapena were accused of “assisting terrorism” in 2010, they refused to apologise for their work and fought the case, being eventually cleared of all charges in 2016.6

In addition, many Basques were critical of the process, feeling that even if they were prepared to go down the new road, it had been handled badly by the leadership.

A leading Marxist theoretician of the movement, Inaki Gil, resigned from the national leadership years ago, though not from the movement; however he may well be persona non-grata in it now due to a published interview in which he criticised the decision of the 47 on trial in September last year to apologise for past actions of the Basque liberation movement, even after 50,000 had marched through Bilbao streets in their support two days earlier.

When Arnaldo Otegi — generally seen as the architect of the new road for the Abertzale Left7 – was arrested with others in 2009 and, while on pre-trial detention began a hunger strike only to end it soon afterwards, it did not reflect well on him. While he beat a charge of “glorifying terrorism”, he was convicted in 2011 for allegedly reorganising Batasuna, banned political party of the Abertzale Left and sentenced to ten years, reduced on appeal to six and walked free in 2016. In the meantime a Free Otegi campaign (2015) attracted some notable foreign support (including Desmond Tutu) but was criticised in the Basque liberation movement for highlighting the case of one political prisoner above many others8 (including those who were serving much longer sentences).

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the official Abertzale Left.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Some years ago a new Basque political prisoner solidarity organisation came into being, calling itself ATA (Amnistia Eta Askatasuna – Amnesty and Freedom9). They enjoyed a good showing at their first demonstration but came under public attack not only by the Abertzale Left leadership but by a number of ETA members on trial in France. They were accused of using the prisoners as a stalking horse when what they really wanted was to attack the new line of the movement’s leadership. Censorship and condemnation in the Abertzale Left’s daily newspaper GARA followed.

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna demonstration Bilbo 2016.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Although their public support waned for awhile, in 2018 a youth group of the Abertzale Left was expelled after they had publicly denounced their annual conference managers for refusing to put their position paper forward for discussion; this youth organisation now collaborates with ATA. Last year, a new Basque revolutionary group called Jarki was formed and drew a sizable crowd to their commemoration of the annual Gudari Eguna (Basque Soldier Day)10.

ATA demonstration Donosti/ San Sebastian, September 2019.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

However the issue of development remained in doubt and no-one could predict with confidence that the movement would be rebuilt along revolutionary lines under a new leadership.

WAKING

          The week before last, Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz embarked upon a hunger and thirst strike and although he abandoned the thirst component after 11 days he continues on the hunger strike. He took this action in protest against harassment and beatings by the prison administration and jailers and highlighted the fact that prisoners

Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner, now on hunger strike.
(Image sourced: Internet)

were being refused virus-protection clothing or testing and that the jailers were not being tested either. He also wanted visits from his family to be permitted and prisoners allowed to attend funerals of family members (he had been refused permission to attend his father’s funeral). More recently he has demanded that prisoners be relocated to jails near their homes, a long-standing demand of the movement and which is entirely in accordance with model rules for prisons in the EU and the UN. Despite the official leadership of the Abertzale Left firstly ignoring the situation and then condemning his supporters, Ruiz’s struggle galvanised the mostly dormant Abertzale movement.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march, Durango, Basque Country.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

Every day has seen small actions across the Basque Country, including protest pickets on bridges, beaches, town squares etc; solidarity fasts; slogans painted … Large solidarity marches have been held in Irunea/ Pamplona (Nafarroa province), Donosti/ San Sebastian (Guipuzkoa), Baiona (Bayonne), Bilbao and Durango (Bizkaia). ATA’s web page is full of developing news and the facebook page, which had fallen into silence, is active again.  Last Sunday in Pamplona/ Irunea, police attacked demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets at close quarters.Patxi Ruiz solidarity demonstration 24 May 2020 attacked by police with batons and rubber bullets

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march in Bayonne, northern Basque Country.
(Image source: Internet)

Some of the Basque prisoners who are part of the “official list” have begun taking solidarity action, refusing food or to leave their cells for periods in Almería, Brevia-Ávila, Castelló I, Córdoba, Huelva, Murcia (where Patxi is), Puerto III, Rennes, Sevilla II, Topas-Salamanca …. refusal to leave one’s cell also means forgoing family phone calls. Patxi had been expelled from the Abertzale prisoners’ collective in 2017 for speaking out against the new line of the official leadership which another four prisoners have repudiated also11.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity seaside picket, Plentzia, Basque Country.
(Image source: Amnestia Garrasi

However the mass of Basque political prisoners have so far remained quiet, “concentrating on moving through their grades while Patxi lies dying”, in a quotation from an ATA commentary which blamed this new lack of unity on the fragmentation engendered by the official leadership.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity seaside picket, Lekeito harbour Basque Country.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

A group of ex-prisoners has now also called for solidarity with Ruiz.

COULD NOT SINK LOWER”

          According to a public statement by ATA denouncing political parties Sortu and EH Bildu, the official Abertzale leadership made no comment until Patxi Ruiz was into his fifth day of hunger and thirst strike and then it was to mention him only in passing, while denouncing the spray-painting of political parties’ buildings by protesters and the burning of an ATM. On the 10th day the official leadership again released a statement, saying they were trying to organise one of their elected politicians to visit the prisoner but condemning the mobilisations across the Basque Country and accusing them of endangering Patxi Ruiz’s life. “They could not sink lower”, commented ATA, who also pointed out how late the official leadership had come to comment and that without the public-space protests, neither the media nor the official leadership would have taken any notice whatsoever.

What the future holds for Patxi Ruiz in the short-term is hard to predict, already weakened by ten days of thirst strike and now into his 16th day of hunger strike. What the near and medium-term future holds for the Basque movement is also an open question, depending to some extent on how ATA is able to capitalise on this upsurge and build an organisation or a network of coherence and unity, at least in action.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march Bilbo 23 May 2020.
(Source image: Boltxe)

The official Abertzale leadership will do what they can to destroy any such movement but they have already yielded the streets, one of the main arenas of the movement in the past. Both groups are mutually exclusive and the advance of one in the wider Basque movement can only be at the expense of the other.

The Spanish State too will be watching developments and no doubt considering its own options of repression, although not so easily done as before, without even an ETA existence to justify their response to the public.

Meanwhile the Catalan independence struggle simmers on and if both should link up in mutual solidarity …..

end.

FOOTNOTES

2The main unions in the Spanish state, Unión General de Trabajadores and Comisiones Obreras were founded respectively by the PSOE and the CPE. Both are Spanish unionist and have the majority of unionised workers in every region of the Spanish state except the southern Basque Country and Galicia.

3While the people in South Africa have the vote and the ANC political party has done well out of the deal, going almost straight into Government, the mass of people struggle on low level income, high level violent crime, unemployment and badly-delivered services, while an ANC clique wallow in riches gained through corruption. Sinn Féin went first into the British colony’s government and now has the most elected parliamentary delegates from the February 2020 General Election in the Irish State; however over two decades after the Good Friday agreement the country is no nearer unification or nation-wide independence and is run by neo-liberal capitalist classes selling out the natural resources and services of the nation.

4Germany and Italy had a number of these; in Ireland the cities of Belfast, Dublin and Cork each had one.

5This organisation effectively ceased to exist due to the new line of the Abertzale Left. Although a number of foreign committee delegates did not disagree with the new line (some certainly did) nevertheless it began to fade away from then on.

6In marked contrast to the apology in September last year for previous actions of the movement by 47 members of a number of Abertzale Left organisations, including those against repression and in solidarity with prisoners, before they had even been tried by the court. This shameful action was taken two days after 50,000 had taken to the streets to support them and left deep hurt, bewilderment and shame throughout the movement. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/mass-trial-of-basque-activists-in-spain-ends-with-plea-deal

7He had come into the political leadership with Joseba Permach of the Abertzale Left in 1997 after 23 members of the Batasuna leadership were jailed for seven years by the Spanish State. He was elected General Secretary of the political party Sortu in 2013.

8The Abertzale Left had never previously endorsed any campaign focusing on individual prisoners except in the case of terminally and seriously-ill prisoners, of which at one time there were as many as 15 who, even under Spain’s own prison regulations, should have been paroled home or to hospital.

9Though now it gives the translation as “Amnesty and Against Repression”. An Amnistia organisation had existed earlier but dissolved or reformed after banning by the Spanish State and one of the accusations of the Abertzale Left is that dissidents misappropriated the name.

USEFUL LINKS & FURTHER INFORMATION:

AMNESTIA ETA ASKATASUNA

Webpage: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es (Spanish language version, also available in Euskera).

Facebook: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es (Spanish and Euskera languages, lots of photos and videos)

JARKI: No media link available.

FRONTLINE ESSENTIAL WORKERS – VULNERABLE BUT NOT CONSIDERED

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

We hear talk from time to time about essential frontline workers, a discussion the origins of which can be traced to the call on the Government to shut down all non-essential work. That of course raised the issue of what is essential work and therefore, who are the essential workers. High among the category considered essential were health practitioners and their rate of infection, when statistics were published, was exceeding 25%. But there is another group of workers who are essential and vulnerable and although most members of the public are in contact with them on a weekly basis at least, nevertheless they are given little protection and rarely mentioned.

          Essential workers include, apart from healthcare workers, those maintaining our supplies of clean water, electricity and gas, sanitation, agriculture, production of necessary equipment, public transport, transport of essential supplies, fire-fighting, telecommunication (but not commercial call centres), postal services …. All of these should be in the first rank of consideration for protection from the Coronavirus-19, because they are vulnerable and for the selfish reason that we need them. But much more exposed on a daily basis to a greater number of people are the shop and supermarket workers.

Customer and staff both wearing mask and gloves in a foreign supermarket
(Photo source: Internet)

They are the most numerous of the essential workers in daily contact with the public, which puts them at risk and, if they become infected, puts the general public, the shopping customers at risk too. And yet, their levels of protection organised by their employers are very poor overall. Despite this, we rarely hear them mentioned in public discourse, they do not receive particular attention from the Left and even their own trade unions are inactive on the issue.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE

          Let us take a moment to consider what should have been the measures put in place for these workers and for the public coming into contact with them:

  1. Immediate training program in prevention for all staff, with regular refresher or reinforcement measures

  2. Immediate supply of protective clothing, disposed/ washed after each break and shift, this to include face-mask and gloves

  3. Hand-sanitiser at every work station

  4. Wrap-around screens at all checkout points

  5. Disinfection routines for all work stations at shift changes

  6. No shelf-filling during hours open to the public or non-essential interaction between public and staff inside of six feet distance

  7. Staff in necessary close proximity to members of the public, including security staff, to be given special protection in clothing and in shift arrangements and testing

  8. Safe social distances enforced by restrictions on numbers of customers in store at one time

  9. Safe social distances marked for queues and enforced

  10. Regular disinfection of automatic checkout machines

  11. Supply of hand-sanitiser at all entrances/ exits and checkout machines for the public

  12. Prevention informational visual and audio prompts for public and staff

  13. All companies obliged by Government to publish their protocols so as to educate staff and public and also give a point of correction if either feel that the protocols are not being adhered to.

Some readers may protest that management had no previous experience of a pandemic, that some of these measures were implemented but a delay was inevitable and some measures are too extreme. I would respond that any group of reasonably intelligent people, knowing the danger and typical transmission routes, sitting down to think of precautions, would come up with a similar list. Companies are supposed to carry out risk assessments of their procedures.  Trade union officials and representatives would be trained in how to assess levels of risk and how to employ measures to eliminate or reduce the level of risk as much as practicable.

Should anyone consider any of those measures excessive, they should be able to point out which and to say why. Or likewise justify the claim that late implementation was unavoidable.

Notice on screen in one shopping chain.
(Photo source: Internet)

WHAT WAS DONE

          Let us now take a moment to review which of those measure have been implemented, how and when.

  1. I am not in a position to give a definite answer on whether staff were given intensive training in avoiding infection or not but from my observation while shopping of staff in a number of supermarkets I would feel confident in saying that they had not or, if they had, that the required practice was not being monitored by management.

  2. Even to the day of writing this piece, in only one workplace, Eurospar in Fairview, have I seen all the staff wearing face masks. Workers in a number of other companies have told me that they are not supplied with them.

  3. Hand-sanitiser was supplied to work-stations in some supermarkets (possibly all) but weeks after the pandemic hit Ireland (though it had been raging abroad for many weeks before that and covered in news reports).

  4. No screens were in place at work-stations until weeks after the arrival of the virus and even now are rudimentary in many places. Single screens with spaces between permit staff and customers to position themselves in the open spaces, which I have seen both do at times. A number of cashier screens with an open section for customers to receive and load their checked-out purchases are well inside six feet of the staff member.

  5. Whether there are any such shift-change disinfection routines at any supermarket I cannot say but in some supermarkets I have seen staff leave or take up work at a station without any evidence of its disinfection.

  6. I have seen frequent shelf-filling during-open-to the-public hours in Dunnes, Tesco, Centra and Aldi (I have not been in a Lidl since the virus arrived) and even without gloves; also unprotected staff moving among customers on other pieces of work, including stacking and removing empty baskets. Even this evening in a Tesco outlet, although at least they were wearing orange (?) gloves, staff were attending to shelves (and without face-masks, as was the staff member stationed near the automatic machines).

  7. In addition to the above, staff maintaining queue lines, including security staff: every single one without masks and all being passed by customers at distances inside of six feet. The most shocking case was of a security guard in Tesco Drumcondra being passed by customers at distances of between one and three feet – he had no mask and only his company uniform, which he probably takes home to his family and puts on again next day. As to testing, given the long waiting times reported for testing and even longer for results, along with the general level of care for employees shown by the companies, how likely is any are being regularly tested?

  8. Yes but in at least one case, I saw that the security guard on the door monitoring numbers was absent for awhile. Of course, there are calls of nature but shouldn’t the protocols require the temporary replacement of the person at this post? Would we wish to be the ones who were infected because this probability had not been foreseen and provided for?

  9. The safe social distances for queueing customers – but not among staff — are now being enforced in most supermarkets, weeks after the arrival of the virus (but I noticed today that the separation is actually less than the advertised two metres).

  10. I have very rarely seen disinfection of automatic machines.

  11. In a local Centra, the first I saw to erect perspex screens, there was a sanitiser dispenser at the entrance with instructions. On at least one occasion it was empty and I have seen customers pass it without using it or having it called to their attention. I saw none in any other chain supermarket, although in Aldi a spray was provided by the baskets with instructions to use it on the basket handles.

  12. Prevention information posters may be seen but usually of the most generalised kind (like those from the HSE) and asking for staff to be treated with patience; graphic posters very rarely, film and audio prompts never. In other words, the means supermarkets use when they really want something, like mood enhancement, customers aware of bargains or special promotions, urgent attention to a checkpoint machine or stores about to close – are precisely those that they are not using for promotion of infection prevention.

  13. The Government has not obliged companies to publish their protocols (not even suggested that they should do so) and the companies have not done so themselves.

Customers in a supermarket (none seem to be taking any precautions other than perhaps social distancing. (Photo source: Internet)

CONCLUSION

          This is a serious lack of care provision for a large section of essential workers and with a potential collateral effect on most of the public. First in line of responsibility for this failure must be of course the companies but their main motive has always been profit. Next in line must be the Government, which has the power to implement emergency measures (and used it recently with giving extra power to Gardaí an courts to employ against individuals) but our governments have always been primarily in the service of capital. Who do I personally blame most for this area of neglect? Those whose very publicised reason for existence is the protection of workers and the promotion of a just society – the trade unions and the Left.

Among the statistics that are published on rates of testing positive and deaths attributed to the virus, there are breakdowns into age and gender groups and, at least in the earlier days, of healthcare workers. We never see, among those statistics, any for shop workers. Or for those who might in turn have been infected by them. The largest statistic given for route of infection is that of “social contact” and presumably that’s where they are, hidden. We remain uninformed and the low level of protection continues, with no real effort being made to change the situation.

End.

PS: Readers may wonder at the absence of information directly from the workers themselves.  The reason is that personally I am unaware of anyone in my acquaintance working in this sector and did not wish to cause the workers more stress than they have to deal with already.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

For focus on steps trade unions and the Left failed to take, see article titled WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN in Rebel Breeze.

Death of a cashier: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-france-supermarket/after-death-of-a-cashier-french-supermarket-staff-work-in-fear-idUKKBN21K1VH

 

Diarmuid Breatnach Political Agitator Part 1

Mick Healy interviewed me about a number of my experiences in revolutionary work over the years and this is Part 1 (Part 2 will shortly be published), nearly all about some of my three decades in London. It contains a number of errors by me, for example the apartheid rugby team was South Africa’s one which were not called the “All Blacks”, that being New Zealand’s. Also I believe the giant Hunger Strikers solidarity march in London was to Michael Foot’s home, not Tony Benn’s. Still, here it is for what it’s worth with many thanks to Mick.

irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject

Diarmuid a long time political agitator was active in London from 1967, in interview part one, he talks about his involvement with Marxism-Leninism-Anarchism. His involvement in the Vietnam and Rhodesia solidarity campaigns, Anti-fascist mobilisation, solidarity Ireland, family squatting. In addition the campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 1969 Peoples Democracy march from Belfast-Dublin.

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WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 10 mins.)

One of the clerical staff knocked on the door of Patrick, the boss of the Irish health worker’s union. “Come in!” called out the latter.

Eh, Boss, lookit this here,” he said, waving a computer printout.

Why don’t you summarise it for me,” suggested Patrick.

It’s about that epidemic in China.”

Coronavirus-19,” replied Patrick, who prided himself on keeping up with world news. “What about it?”

It’s coming here,” replied the clerical worker.

What! Who says? Where does it say that?”

Boss, it’s spreading all over Italy and ….”

Yes, well but Italy is far away from here!”

Not as far as China is from Italy.”

Patrick thought about that but the clerical worker continued: “And the Ireland rugby team is playing there and nobody stopped Irish fans going there …. or coming back.”

Patrick sat silently, the enormity of the situation dawning upon him, then reached out for the computer printout. Among other things, it showed the steep climbing graph of confirmed cases of the virus in Italy.

Badge design of the FÓRSA union, the largest public service union in Ireland.
(image sourced: Internet)

After the clerical worker had gone, Patrick rang Michael, the President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Then he rang a number of union general secretaries: Brigid, of the shop and distributive workers, Barry of public transport, Jim of post and telecommunications, Josie of the clerical municipal workers, Colm of the manual municipal workers, Jan of construction ….

Two days later they all met in Liberty Hall, Dublin – thirty people, including chiefs of all the main trade unions in Ireland and of a few sub-divisions, along with their note-takers or advisers. By the end of three hours they had a position statement, including demands of the Irish Government, ready to go the moment the first case of the virus was confirmed in Ireland. They had ruled out issuing it until then because they feared it would not have enough effect.

A delegation was chosen to meet the Ministers of Health and of Industry. And pieces of work including research and requirements specific to some branches of the workforce had been distributed, with those responsible noted in the minutes and deadlines given. It was nearing the end of February.

The following day, the first case was notified in Ireland, a person returning from Italy.

Logo of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to which most Irish trade unions are affiliated
(image sourced: Internet)

ICTU PUBLIC STATEMENT

          That afternoon, the President of the ICTU phoned the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish Government to alert him to the joint trade union statement and to push for an early meeting with the Ministers of Health and of Industry.

By midday four days later, the 1st of March, the updated statement had been emailed and faxed to all union branches, newspaper, radio and television news media and to a number of bloggers, most of which displayed it prominently, especially as that day the second case in Ireland had been diagnosed:

The Coronavirus-19 epidemic in Italy has now reached 1,694 confirmed cases of contagion with 34 deaths and only four months ago the first case of this virus was diagnosed in China. It has now reached Ireland and more cases will soon be reported here. As trade unions representing workers including those in front-line services of healthcare, food sales and distribution, public transport, post and communications, municipal services …. We call on employers and Government to ensure the following steps are taken as a matter of great urgency.

  • All front-line workers in essential services be issued with HSE information on the known dangers of the Coronavirus-19 and be updated regularly

  • Those workers to be issued with hand-sanitiser gel, gloves and face-masks

  • The term “essential services” to be applied to the following (the list is not exclusive):

  • general health workers and auxiliary services with special emphais on those to the elderly, disabled etc

  • emergency services in health, fire-fighting, public order, rescue services

  • workers in production and maintenance of power supplies for heating, lighting and cooking
  • workers in water purification and supply
  • workers in food production

  • workers in outlets providing food and essential supplies

  • delivery workers to the above and of these to homes

  • public sanitation workers

  • postal and essential telecommunications workers (i.e not commercial call centres)

  • Those workers to be where possible isolated from members of the public by appropriate measures such as withdrawal from duties requiring contact with the public, placing of transparent screens between staff and the public, recourse to audio and video communication, etc.

  • All covered public spaces, in particular those supplying essential services such as food shops, to be supplied with hand-sanitiser dispensers and notices exhorting the public to use them to prevent or restrict the spread of the virus

  • All companies to publicly display the measures they have taken to protect staff and the public

  • The closure of borders, airports and ports to travel to or from abroad, quarantine measures being enforced wherever arrivals are currently taking place

  • Should the virus continue to spread, all non-essential services should cease. This measure is not only for the protection of staff and public at the place of work but also in the travelling of workers from their homes to the place of work and back again

  • The above measure to be announced by the Government through public statements and to be enforced strictly wherever non-compliance should be observed

  • The Government to urge the public through repeated public announcements to self-isolate and to remain indoors where possible, urging responsible adults to ensure the same with children

  • The Government to freeze by decree all evictions, all actions for non-payment or arrears of rent or mortgages

  • likewise with actions pursuing non-payment of bills for utility services
  • The Government to oblige all companies that can afford it to pay workers they lay off

  • and to supply all smaller companies and businesses that cannot afford in full such payments, the necessary assistance to meet their obligations to the workers

  • The Government to set aside an adequate sum to pay all unemployed or on pensions a weekly sum sufficient to meet normal weekly expenses

  • The Government to propose for Oireachtas approval an emergency law authorising the appropriation of any buildings, private facilities, companies and property necessary for healthcare, production of prevention materials, production and distribution of food etc. 

Wherever we find the necessary measures are not being taken, we will instruct our members to take appropriate action, including withdrawal of their labour, picketing of the offending company or service along with providing comprehensive information to the public on the reasons for our actions and the risks to which they are being exposed through failure of the companies or services to take the appropriate action. We will not be negligent in the face of danger to our members and to the general public.”

View of the title of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland, on its Liberty Hall HQ.
(image sourced: Internet)

ACTION

          Two days later, after the employers and Government had failed to respond in the manner considered necessary by the trade unions, strikes, walkouts and pickets were called at many branches of all supermarkets, postal service depots and public outlets, call centres, public transport depots, construction sites, local authority manual and clerical services, pubs and hotels. The unions of the health service workers, a workforce under-staffed, under-funded and under huge pressure already, maintained a rota picket with placards and leaflets in front of major hospitals and the Department of Health in Dublin. Lawyers and barristers picketed the courts, calling for them to close. All pickets wore surgical-type face masks and disposable gloves, and had with them a mobile stand with a hand-sanitiser dispenser.

Workers on successful 10-day strike against the Stop & Shop supermarket chain in the USA last year.
(image sourced: Internet)
(image sourced on Internet and cropped)

By the end of that week, the public pressure on the supermarket chains was such that all had provided sanitiser dispensers for staff at work stations and for customers at entrances and exits, glass screens separated all staff work-stations from customers, staff needing to work in the public area were all wearing face-masks and gloves and a big badge asking people to keep a safe distance. Shelf-filling and price-tagging duties were confined to hours when no public were present. Queue lines were marked out with spacing between customers and periodic announcements instructed

(image sourced: Internet)

customers on safety precautions. Numbers of shoppers inside were restricted at any one time and lines outside marked required spacing for people queuing outside. All staff were being given health precautionary instructions for a half-hour daily through interactive screens.

Furthermore, all main employers had published a list of their precautionary measures and were updating them in response to representations from unions, the general public and Government instructions or recommendations.

Workers in all main public services had been issued precautionary instructions, face-masks, disposable gloves and hand-sanitiser and workers in some particular conditions had protective suits.


CONCLUSION

          That is what could have happened and would have had an early restrictive impact on the spread of the virus to the public and to workers who provided a public service. The unions had the organisational and communication capacity to to do that. They didn’t do it – it didn’t happen.

Many of the measures indicated above – but by no means all – were taken but weeks later — and none at trade union initiative: unofficial workers’ action, voluntary company action and government order were the means by which they came into being. By that time, many front-line workers and members of the public had been infected.

The trade unions in Ireland, having already failed their members and the working class in general through two decades of “social partnership” (when a healthy “social distancing” would have been more appropriate!), followed by failure to resist (and collusion with) austerity measures, failed once again in anti-virus protection of their members and of the public.

Some left-wingers say we should not mention these shortcomings since average trade union membership is low and this kind of discourse will hardly help union membership recruitment. But if unions cannot or will not respond adequately and in timely fashion to the needs of their members in particular and to working people in general, why should people be expected to join them? Trade union membership is falling for a reason.

Perhaps these left-wingers feel that the current unions should not be criticised, without a viable alternative having being put in place first. But what are they doing to provide that viable alternative? The answer is clearly nothing, or as near to that as makes no effective difference.

Logo of Unite the Union, operating in Ireland and in Britain.
(image sourced: Internet)

THE FORBIDDEN DISCUSSION

          There is silence on this question from the broad Left, including those parties claiming to be revolutionary. When individuals raise the issue, it is not addressed or the individual is censored.

It is time to end this self-censorship on the Left and to proclaim loud and high that the trade unions in Ireland, despite the presence of many genuine activists, are generally not fit for purpose. What do we do instead? First, admit the problem and its scale – then we can discuss possible remedies. The patient cannot be cured if we refuse to admit the illness and the stage it has reached.

(image sourced: Internet)

Some of the left-wingers are now saying that this crisis has exposed the unsuitability for society of the capitalist system and that when it is over, that lesson must be put into practice and essential services become national public services. Apart from the weaknesses in this solution, one must ask: who is going to make this happen? If the capitalist system opposes this change, how will the capitalists and their State be overcome? A social revolution without a mass working class organisational base is not possible.

 

End.

APPENDIX

Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)

There are currently 55 trade unions with membership of Congress, representing about 600,000 members in the …. (Irish state). Trade union members represent 35.1% of the Republic’s workforce. This is a significant decline since the 55.3% recorded in 1980 and the 38.5% reported in 2003. In the Republic, roughly 50% of union members are in the public sector. The ICTU represents trade unions in negotiations with employers and the government with regard to pay and working conditions (from Wikipedia)

Main trade unions

SIPTU: “… is the largest Union in Ireland with over 180,000 members.

SIPTU represents workers in both the public and private sector in almost every industry in Ireland and at virtually every level. SIPTU caters for full-time, part-time, permanent, contract and temporary workers, as well as retired and unemployed members.” (from SIPTU website)

Fórsa is Ireland’s newest trade union with over 80,000 members. …. represents members in the public service, as well as the commercial sector, state agencies, some private companies and in the community and voluntary sector.

Fórsa is the second largest union on the island of Ireland and by far the largest trade union voice in the Irish civil and public service.” (quoted from Forsa’s website)

The Connect Trade Union is the largest Engineering Union in Ireland and the second largest in manufacturing representing up to 40,000 workers.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), founded in 1868, is the oldest and largest teachers’ trade union in Ireland. It represents 40,633 teachers at primary level in the Republic of Ireland and 7,086 teachers at primary and post-primary level in Northern Ireland. Total membership is 47,719 (August 2019).

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland represents over 17,000 teachers and lecturers in Ireland engaged in Post-Primary, Higher and Further Education. The Union is made up of 62 branches in 19 areas. (quoted from TUI website).

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. ….. connecting trade unions from 147 countries …. We are the voice for 18.5 million working men and women across the world” (ITF website).

Mandate is a union of over 40,000 workers across Ireland.” (Wikipedia)

Unite the Union, commonly known as Unite, is a British and Irish trade union, formed on 1 May 2007, by the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union. With just over 1.2 million members, it is the second largest trade union in the UK (Wikipedia).

IBRG at the WCML; A Welcome for IBRG at St.Brendan’s Irish Centre.

Dem were de days …. hard days and nights but busy!  1970s Britain in relation to Ireland was the decade in which the British troops were sent into the Six Counties, the war with the IRA began, internment without trial was introduced, Army massacres of civilian protesters took place and the IRA took the war to Britain.  The British State introduced legislation to terrorise the Irish community, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and framed 20 Irish people on murder and murder-related charges.  1980s Britain was the decade in which, due to the hunger strikes, the Irish community stood up, shrugged off the terror of the PTA and took to the streets.  At the start of that decade too, the Irish in Britain Representation Group was founded.

lipstick socialist

In the 1980s when IBRG branches were being   set up across the country one of the biggest problems was finding somewhere to meet. There were many  Irish Centres,  but most of them did not want an Irish group with a political agenda meeting there. Most of them were attached to Catholic churches who promoted a reactionary agenda or they were commercial venues who worried about their alcohol licence as well as  police surveillance and threats to their future.

Manchester IBRG found a home at St. Brendan’s Irish  Centre in Stretford.  Originally the Lyceum Cinema, it opened as an Irish Centre on  25th April 1961. Surrounded by streets of Victorian houses it became the home for many of the  Irish who emigrated to the Manchester district in the 1960s.

St Brendans St. Brendan’s Irish Centre

St.Lawrence’s Church which was located next to the Centre organised an Irish community care organisation which met Irish…

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