SIGNIFICANT VICTORY FOR DELIVEROO RIDERS

The first great collective victory of the ‘riders’ against Deliveroo.

A judgment of the Social Court No. 5 of Valencia recognizes the existing contractual relationship between Roodfoods Spain S.L.U., parent company of the British multinational, and 97 delivery riders of València.

(Valencia is in the Paisos Catalans region but not part of the Catalonia region — Translator(

Translated from article in Castillian of PILAR ARAQUE CONDE @ pilarac4 in the on-line newspaper Publico by Diarmuid Breatnach.

 

The complaints presented by Social Security’s General Finance in different courts against the Deliveroo labour model begin to be resolved. A judgment from Social court No.5 of Valencia ruled that 97 riders of the delivery company are employees and not self-employed, this being the first great collective victory of the workers of the platform Riders x Drets (Riders for Rights) and Intersindical Valenciana, according to the collective’s statement on Thursday.

Some of the Riders for Rights, now recognised as employees of Deliveroo, pose for a photo.
(Source: Publico)

Last year, Víctor Sánchez became the first worker in Spain to obtain a final judgment against Deliveroo, after Social court Number 6 of València declared his dismissal “unfair”. Deliveroo then accepted the ruling that for the first time questioned the legality of the business model of the distribution firm, maintaing that the riders are falsely self-employed.

The titular magistrate of Social Court No. 5 of València now recognises the existing contractual relationship between Roodfoods Spain S.L.U., the company that owns Deliveroo, and the 97 workers in Turia city. The ruling states that the workers “provide their personal services, inserted in the business organization to which the means of production belong – Deliveroo’s digital platform – according to the criteria and distributions that it establishes and assigns, receiving remuneration, which also establishes the company “, according to the text accessed by eldiario.es.

The judge adds that “the real means of production in this activity are not the bicycle and the mobile phone that the rider uses, but the digital platform of matching supply to demand owned by the company and without which which the provision service is not feasible”. In this way, Deliveroo is the one who determines the orders and schedules of the workers, and not the employees themselves, despite being categorised and taxed as self-employed.

“It is intended that the rider is free or not to accept an order without unfavorable consequences, but it was proved that the service of the rider is valued at different grades, which obviously will be taken into consideration by the order allocation algorithms” explains the judge. And she refutes the argument used by Deliveroo: “The fact of being able to reject orders does not constitute a capability or power that can condition the business activity,” he stresses.

SEVERAL PENDING LAWSUITS

The ruling, made public this Thursday, responded to the lawsuit filed in April 2018 by Social Security against Deliveroo, following a notification from the Labour Inspectorate. The state agency claimed more than 160,000 euros for Social Security contributions that were not paid by the company. Later, the Labour Inspectorate offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante and Zaragoza, among other cities, did the same in the various courts.

Social Court No. 29 of Madrid will be the next to rule on whether these workers should be considered salaried employees of the British multinational and not self-employed, since the trial, which affects more than 500 delivery people in the region, was held for sentencing on May 31st.

GLOVO’S LABOUR MODEL, ALSO CHALLENGED

Glovo’s labour model has also been challenged before the courts. In this case, several judgments have determined that the company’s distributors had an “employment relationship” with the company and ordered their reinstatement.

This digital platform is also involved in the controversy after a worker died when being run over by a garbage truck while delivering. The young man, 23 years old, “was not a collaborator” of Glovo, although he carried its backpack. His death sparked protests about the precariousness of the sector.

And the fact is that Glovo, Deliveroo and Uber Eats continue to operate without a regulation that guarantees the rights of their workers. Also, taking into account that the number of employees in the sector is around 17,000, UGT (one of the major trade unions in the Spanish state – Translator) estimates that Social Security loses a potential 93 million per year due to this situation, figures that it estimates will be three times greater in 2020.

SOURCE REFERENCE:

https://www.publico.es/sociedad/deliveroo-primera-victoria-colectiva-riders-frente-deliveroo-jueza-valencia-considera-97-repartidores-falsos-autonomos.html

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INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY DUBLIN 2019

Clive Sulish

Two quite different celebrations of International Workers’ Day took place in Dublin on the afternoon of the appropriate date, 1st of May. One was small and of a decidely revolutionary flavour while the other, much larger, was of a more mixed nature and tending towards the reformist. In addition, a workers’ solidarity picket was mounted on a Dublin city centre eatery.

NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS

          The first of the celebrations was organised by theAnti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place at the James Connolly Monument in Dublin’s Beresford Place. There a statue of James Connolly stands upon a plinth, behind the the design of the Irish Citizen Army flag, based upon the constellation that in Ireland is called the Starry Plough but in the USA is known as the Big Dipper. James Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser, historian, journalist and songwriter who was Commander of the Dublin insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. The Irish Citizen Army, possibly the first formaly-organised army for and of the workers, had been formed during the Dublin Lockout as a defence force against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and after the surrender of the insurrectionary forces, 16 participants, including two of the ICA, were executed by British firing squad: Michael Mallin on 8th May and James Connoly on 12th May.

In the here and now, on their way to the Connolly Monument, a number of participants were stopped by a man in plain clothes identifying himself as a police officer, i.e a member of the Garda Special Branch.  He wished to know their names, which they declined to give them.

At the Monument, both speakers for the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation were youths.

The first to speak gave his oration in Irish on behalf of Macra – Irish Socialist Republican Youth and said that they were there to celebrate socialism, trade unionism and workers oppressed throughout the world and, that although James Connolly had been murdered in Kilmainham Jail, his work was ongoing.

Stating that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army had gone out in 1916 to break with imperialism and found a socialist society, the youth went on to say that “Macra is a revolutionary organisation with socialism as one of our objectives and we also believe in the words of Pearse: ‘Ireland not only free but Gaelic, not only Gaelic but free.’ Free from the bankers, free from landlords, free from poverty.”

The speaker concluded in Irish and in English with the renowned sentence from the Communist Manifesto.: Bíodh critheagla ar aicmí cheannais roimh réabhlóid Chumannach. Níl tada le cailiúint ag na Prólatáirigh ach a slabhraí. Tá saol mór le gnóthú acu. Oibrithe an tSaoil Mhóir, cuirigí le chéile!”

Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have the whole world to gain. Workers of the world unite!”

The second speaker delivered his speech in English and linked the liberation of Ireland with the liberation of the working class and went on to praise Séamus Costello (1939-1977), which he said had embodied that aspiration. The youth praised the creation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party by Costello as well as the creation of the Irish National Liberation Army and Costello’s participation and membership in a number of democratic organisations — including his election to Bray District Council.

Condemning “the bankers and politicians” who bring deprivation to the workers, the speaker said that they try to point the finger instead at Muslims and migrants but it is not migrants who cause job losses, create homelessness etc but “the elite”. The speaker ended by saying he wished to remember all those who had given their lives for Irish freedom.

Assembled at the Connolly Monument, Beresford Place, Dublin (Photo: Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland)

WE WANT THE EARTH

          Diarmuid Breatnach was then introduced to sing Be Moderate, a song with an ironic title by James Connolly. “The Irish working class does not have a huge history in Ireland, apart from a short period in the early decades of the last century,” Breatnach said, giving as reasons the forced underdevelopment of Irish industry, the British-fostered sectarianism in the most industrialised north-east and the focus on the national struggle as a competing pole of attraction.

The Irish abroad, however, have made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement,” Breatnach said. “And in 1889, Jim Connell from near Cill Scíre in Co. Meath, composed lyrics of The Red Flag to the air of the White Cockade, starting it on the train to his home in South London from a demonstration in central London and apparently completing it in the home of another Irish man.

The song was later adopted by the International Workers of the World, a syndicalist organisation mostly active in the USA, Breatnach said and reminded them that James Connolly joined the IWW when he migrated to the USA. “In 1907, James Connolly published a songbook, Songs of Freedom, in which he included the lyrics of Be Moderate,” Breatnach stated and went on to say that no air had been published to which the words should be sung. As a result Be Moderate has been sung to a number of airs but in London Breatnach heard it sung by an avant-garde musical composer and Marxist-Leninist, Cornelius Cardew, to the air of A Nation Once Again. In Breatnach’s opinion the lyrics fit well to this air and it also provides a chorus, which he encouraged the participants to sing.

James Connolly’s lyrics were sung by Breatnach then, competing with sounds of passing traffic on the ground and the occasional trains rumbling by on the bridge overhead, participants joining in on the chorus:

We only want the Earth,

We only want the Earth

And our demands most moderate are:

We only want the Earth!

and the last line of the last verse “We want the Earth!” echoing across Beresford Place.

TRADE UNION AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION BANNERS

Section of the 1st May parade about to move off from outside the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Across the road, a stage and crowd barriers were being set up outside Liberty Hall, the multi-storeyed headquarters of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland and which, by amalgamations, had grown from the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, originally formed early in the 20th Century by Jim Larkin, James Connolly and others (and the destruction of which had been the object of the 1913 Lockout). The stage was being prepared for speakers to address a rally which would follow a Mayday parade from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance (a small park dedicated “to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom”).

Even the larger Mayday demonstrations in Dublin, although organised through the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, i.e with affiliation from most trade unions in the city, do not tend to be very big by comparison with other cities in many other parts of the world.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Banners of some unions mixed with those of political organisations and campaign groups, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another against Irish state participation in PESCO, which is seen by many as an embryonic EU Army and undermining the Irish state’s neutrality.

Section of the 1st May on the move down Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Led by a lone piper, the parade made its way past crowds of onlookers down Dublin city’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, then left along Eden Quay to Liberty Hall where they were to be addressed by speakers on the temporary stage in Beresford Place, across from the Connolly Monument.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Meanwhile, a small group had left, to form a picket line outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant, in solidarity with staff and in opposition to the management appropriating a portion of the tips left for staff, with more to join them there later from the Mayday parade.
(see
https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/tipping-the-bosses/).

A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ORIGIN OF INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY

          The First of May has been celebrated as the international day for workers since 1892, to call for the 8-hour maximum working day, socialism and universal peace. Its inspiration was a train of events that began with a workers’ strike and demonstrations on May 1st 1886 in many parts of the USA but in Chicago ended in the State execution of four anarchists, with police and state militia massacres of workers along the way as well as with acts of workers’ resistance. The celebration and commemoration throughout the world was formally agreed at the Second Congress of the Second International Workers’ Association in Brussels in 1892 and at its Sixth Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) declared it mandatory for the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on that day, wherever that could be done without injury to the workers (bearing in mind violently repressive regimes).

Artwork depicting police attacking striking workers at McCormick’s factory who were agitating for the 8-hour working day.
(Image source: Internet)

In many states around the world now, the 1st of May is a public and bank holiday and has been so in Ireland since 1994. Its public celebration was banned under the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal but is legal in both those states now; however it is still banned in some other states while in some areas, though not banned, may be subject to attack by police, army, state agents or by fascist elements.

End.

Tipping the Bosses!

Diarmuid Breatnach

Supporters of staff at a prominent Dublin eatery protested yesterday over the management’s appropriation of some of the tips left by customers for the staff. They are able to do this quite easily when the customer pays the tip by credit card but when staff asked customers to leave their tips in cash, management accused them of “deplorable greed”. They have also dismissed two staff who are currently taking a case for unfair dismissal, accusing the management of sacking them for their unionisation of the staff.

View of some early protesters outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          The photographs taken here show a smallish group, including Independents for Change TD Joan Collins but more were coming later from the Mayday march on the north side of the river. A supporter claimed that the management offers an hourly rate above the minimum wage but then makes that difference up with tips.

Catering work in general is notoriously low-paid and with transitory staff, making it difficult for trade unions to organise them and relatively easy for management to hire and fire.

View of some early protesters outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant (Photo: D.Breatnach)

There have been a number of protests about the tips issue at Ivy, including one on which the Irish Times reported in March.

The report stated that a number of protestors who had booked tables in the restaurant began the protest and were then joined outside the restaurant by a group of 30 people led by Independent TD Joan Collins who held up placards stating “Stop tip theft”.

View of some early protesters outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Ms Collins was reported as saying that she was aware of other Dublin restaurants who have are engaging in similar practices when it comes to tips and was quoted as saying that: “The Ivy are abusing the good nature of diners who are tipping staff well because and they are not aware that management are taking some of their tips”.

“Workers are hugely concerned as they are not earning a high hourly wage and they work hard for their tips only for a portion of it to go to the company,” she said.

end.

Link to Irish Times article (and photo): https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/protest-held-outside-ivy-restaurant-in-dublin-over-waiters-tips-1.3827055

TEN DAYS IN KURDISTAN — a retrospective

Diarmuid Breatnach

          I was anxious for the Turkish airline plane to take off but it was being held up by Turkish State security agents. Two of them were walking down the airplane aisle from the forward exit, casually casting eyes over the passengers of the plane. Not looking at them would have been suspicious and would have conveyed guilt or fear, so I glanced equally casually at them and then away.

Average height, in suits and sunglasses, dark-haired, one of what might be termed “Mediterranean” appearance in his mid-thirties, the other “Middle-Eastern”, forties perhaps. Secret police for sure – not that their profession was in any way secret. Political police.

Almost certainly the same ones who had passed us in town a couple of times as we sat in the cafe killing a few hours before we headed for the airport. Nothing secret about that either – nor even subtle, driving a couple of times up and down the deserted street. They wanted us to know that they knew. Knew what we were. Tightening the cords of fear.

The two came slowly down the airplane aisle towards me. I tried not to tense as they drew near ….. and then they passed on towards the rear. I did not turn to look at them. This might have been a regular kind of security check as far as other passengers were concerned but I knew it wasn’t — they were here for us.

So what now? Drag us off the plane? Drag one or two and leave the rest? What would I do if they arrested one or more of the others but not me? Keep quiet until I got back and raise hell there? Or make a fuss here and get arrested as well? Think about it too much and I’d get really scared. Fear can paralyse. Also might send out the wrong signals. Put it to the back of my mind now …… wait to see what happens, then react. Or not.

I didn’t want to be in any prison, least of all a Turkish one — I’d seen Midnight Express. OK, some people, including the original central character of the story, had protested that the film was not true to life, that it made the Turks out to be monsters. But even those people had not defended Turkish prisons. And if even a tiny percentage of Turks were nasty psychopaths, the police, army and prison service were sure to have more than their share. And I knew what those elements had been doing to the Kurds …. which is why we were there.

Time was slowing down. They were still behind me somewhere but caution was telling me not to turn to look.

If we were detained, even for questioning only, they’d go through our luggage. Maybe had done so already.

I really wished that thought had not occurred to me.

* * *

Map showing the Kurdish areas of the states of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan. (Source image: Internet)

THE KURDS

          The Kurds are a huge ethnic group, population estimates varying between 35 and 45 million, with parts of their people spread through the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Azerbaijan, also with a large diaspora over much of the world, the most numerous in Germany (often those we think of as Turks, for example in kebab shops, are actually Kurds). It is what many might consider the Kurds’ good fortune to be sitting on oil and huge water reserves and a very strategic situation between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But that had turned out unluckily for them. They’d been overrun by the armies of many conquerors and, as is the way of these things, had participated in a fair few of those armies themselves.

Kurds are usually classified ethnically as an Iranian people and their language as in the Iranian group but the dominant language in the states in which they find themselves, apart from Iran itself, is mostly Turkish, Arabic or Azeri. Although with long-held nationalist ideas, the Kurds had experienced self-government twice and only for a total of eight years, each time under the protection of the Soviet Union: 1923-1929/’30 (Azerbaijan) and for almost all of 1946 (in northwestern Iran).

But neither the British nor the French, world masters before WW2, wanted an independent Kurdistan. The British had bombed Kurdish villages, probably the first deliberate aerial bombing of civilians, in their repression campaigns in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Persia (now Iran). The bombing was under the command of Squadron Leader Arnold Harris1, developer of the area-bombing tactic, essentially to strike terror into civilian populations and damage their infrastructure. He later put his expertise to use against the German population in WW2, including the horrific bombing of Dresden. By then, of course, the Italian Fascists and German Nazis had learned from Harris’ earlier innovation, the Italians using them against the Ethiopians and the Nazis against Gernika and other towns, later they and the Italian fascists over much of Europe and the Soviet Union.

Neither the post-WW1 treaties among the victors nor the upsurge of anti-British and anti-French nationalism and republicanism across the region had done the Kurds much good. Those carving states out of former empires wanted them as big as possible and would brook no independentism from different ethnic groups on the territory they claimed for their state. Kemal Attaturk, who led a secularising and modernising movement in building the Turkish State, denied that there was any such thing as a Kurdish people – they are just “mountain Turks”, he famously said.

In 1946 the USA, by then the top imperialist power, didn’t want an independent Kurdistan either and nor of course did the Shah of Persia (Iran) and his supporters so, some time after the Soviets withdrew, the Royal Iranian army invaded and suppressed first the Azerbaijan Republic and then the Kurdish one and executed its leadership.

By 1984 the PPK’s2 communist-led guerrillas, including female units, were fighting a war of Kurdish national liberation against Turkish troops, who were occupying areas, bombing suspected guerrilla bases, destroying villages and forcibly relocating civilians3 and carrying out atrocities, including torture, rape and summary executions.

In Iraq, the Kurds seemed mostly under the tribal leadership of Barzani and Talibani, their peshmergas or guerrillas sometimes collaborating with the Kurds in the Turkish state and more often not.4

During the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988, the Hussein regime had bombed Kurds with chemical weapons, including mustard gas, in one incident at Halabja killing up to 5,000 and injuring twice as many, mostly civilian men, women and children. But, strange to know now, at that time the western imperialist powers were supporting Hussein’s invasion of Iran, because Iran was the ‘big monster’ and Hussein was friendly towards the West. Journalists found it difficult to get their editors interested in the massacre story. And the CIA tried to pin the attack on the Iranians! Only when, years later, Hussein had annoyed the western powers sufficiently by invading Kuwait and they soon afterwards went to all-out war against him, did the story suddenly become generally newsworthy and the then Iraqi military commander Ali Hassan Al-Majid become known as “Chemical Ali”. The chemicals came from west-European companies and US satellite surveillance supplied the targeting references.

Scene from the Halabja Massacre of the Iraqi State against Kurds which the Western media lacked interest in because Hussein was their ally against Iran at the time. (Image source: Internet)

Following the defeat of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by the USA-led coalition forces of the time (35 states overall but with Saudi Arabia and British forces next in number to the USA’s), the CIA called on the Kurds to rise up against the Saddam Hussein regime, leading them to believe that the USA would support them and that Hussein’s overthrow was imminent. They rose but neither the external support nor Iraqi-wide uprising was delivered and they faced heavy military suppression and repression with many atrocities, causing millions of Kurds to flee to the Kurdish areas of Iran and Turkey, hundreds being killed on the way by helicopter strafing attacks or by wandering into minefields. Of the 200 mass graves the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry had registered between 2003-2006, the majority were in the South, including one believed to hold as many as 10,000 victims5.

The Assad regime in Syria suppressed Kurdish national aspirations, forced Arabic while punishing expression in Kurdish and jailed a number of Kurdish artists, in particular musicians.

The Kurds of Iran had been repressed under the Shah of Iran but after his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution, they also suffered repression by the fundamentalist clerical regime that took power and executions of Kurdish activists took place. This although during the eight-year Iraq-Iran War, two of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Barzani-led KDP and the Talibani-led PUK, had supported the Iranians against the Iraqi regime.

* * *

LONDON

          The earliest I can remember reading about the Kurds was about Turkish State repression of cultural expression by their Kurdish ethnic citizens, banning of language and song, suppression of history and extending even to arrests of Kurdish women who hung their washing out in the red, white and green sequence — sometimes with yellow in the middle — of Kurdish national colours. Being Irish, I felt something of an identification with them, of course I did. Being a revolutionary socialist in addition, I had no love of the rulers of the repressive Turkish State, nor of the fact of its membership of the USA-dominated military alliance of NATO since 1952.

London, a major European city with a population of over eight millions, larger than the entire population of Ireland (but about the same as the latter’s pre-Great Hunger levels), was temporary or permanent home to a large number and variety of people of non-English ethnic background. Foremost in number was my own, the Irish, largely unacknowledged in multi-racial discourse but the opposite in terms of security, surveillance, harassment and racialisation. I had not heard of the Kurds previously but as one becomes newly aware of the existence of something, it tends to start popping up into one’s consciousness in different places. And so not long after reading of them, I found myself at a Kurdish solidarity meeting in London and leaving my email address with them. Which is how eventually, a couple of years later, I sat in a Turkish airplane in a Kurdistan airport, watching Turkish state political police walking down the aisle towards me.

I happened to be visiting London and heard this demonstration was happening. I borrowed the placard from a demonstrator for the photo on my phone.
Kobane solidarity rally, Trafalgar Square, London, in 2014, many years after my visit to Kurdistan.
(Image source: D.Breatnach)

The Kurdish solidarity people in London set up a committee of activists and I became part of it. The idea came up of building trade union links between Britain and the Kurds, for which it was proposed to send a delegation of British-based trade unionists on a tour of Turkish Kurdistan, whose report could then be used to generate further and increased solidarity work. A boycott of Turkish tourism was one tactic being considered by some of us which, if promoted by the trade union movement in Britain, would have a significant impact on the Turkish economy. Friendly relationships already existed between British trade unions and Turkish ones, which were sometimes repressed by their State but the social-democratic and Moscow-style Communist leaderships on both sides had no sympathy for independence movements which they saw as weakening and splintering the workers’ movement within the Turkish state. There were no specifically Kurdish trade unions but large sections of Turkish unions existed inside the Kurdish region and the solidarity committee had contacts there.

Some of us were asked whether we would like to go, for which we would need to be sponsored by a trade union and raise our own air fares and some money for food — but accommodation and travelling expenses within the region would be taken care of. Most of the money would go towards the flights but our spending money, we were advised, should be in dollars or marks. Turkish Lira is the currency of Turkey but it would be hard to get and anyway those other two currencies would be more valued.

I was excited by the idea of going but doubted I could raise the money – living little above subsistence rates as I was. Having been accepted by the University of North London on a BA combined studies course of History and Irish Studies6 and although in receipt of tuition fees and subsistence support, I was nevertheless having to continue working part-time in order to pay the rent on my flat. It was just my luck that was the year that students in Britain ceased to be eligible for Housing Benefit. Teaching Irish language at Beginners’ level to adults and some weekly youthwork sessions was my only employment then, my last welding job having ended some years earlier – around the same time as the final breakup of my marriage.

The part-time employment and full-time studies course would keep me busy enough but by then I was also on the Ard-Choiste7 of an active Irish diaspora campaigning organisation, the Irish in Britain Representation Group8. In addition I was also on the Branch Committee of my trade union, NALGO (Clerical Section)9, as a part-time (which meant no time off work for union activity) Assistant Branch Secretary and also occasionally representing workers in the grant-aided NGO sector. These workers were usually managed by a voluntary committee of people who considered themselves left-wing or at least liberal but often treated their staff atrociously and rarely abided by due process in disciplining them or responding to grievances. Their employees worked in very small organisations (sometimes with only one or two employees) and were isolated, deprived of the solidarity of larger workforces and often played off against one another.

How likely was it that my trade union branch would sponsor me, even nominally? I was unsure. The local NALGO leadership at the time was what I considered collaborationist with the Council’s management, rather than fighting for improvement of conditions and salaries. And I was new to employment by Lewisham Council. And if the branch were to sponsor me, how likely was it that they would put up some funds to get me to Kurdistan?

In the end, the branch did sponsor me to go to investigate and report back, also making a contribution towards my plane fare. Surprisingly, my funding included a personal contribution from a middle-management figure in the Council which, although she was a union member, surprised me considerably, mostly on a political level. She told me later that despite our differences she admired my courage in undertaking the risk implicit in the delegation. The NALGO Irish Workers’ Group10, of which I was also an activist, contributed a sum too from their meagre resources, for which I was very grateful personally and appreciated also as an example of internationalist solidarity.

And so, after a mad rush to sort out and renew my Irish passport, which I had never needed to travel between Britain and Ireland but would for most other destinations, I arrived late and stressed out at Heathrow Airport to meet the others of our delegation bound for Kurdistan.

Just in case anything should happen to me over there, I informed a few of my siblings over in Ireland, insisting my parents not be told until I telephoned that I had returned. There seemed no point in them worrying while I was away. We are not very good at keeping secrets from one another and, of course, someone told my mother, as I found out later.

* * *

ISTANBUL

          The introductions were brief and hurried before we entered the queue for the Departures gate. Arnold, our English interpreter for Turkish, I had already met several times through the solidarity committee. In addition there was a jocular English photographer called Paddy, a London Afro-Caribbean male trade unionist by the name of Damien from North London and an English woman trade unionist called Rose from another part of England.11 The initial list had contained another two but they had to drop out for various reasons.

It was late afternoon on a cloudy day around four hours later when we landed at Istanbul airport and in the city we booked into a four-star hotel, apparently arranged by our hosts. Just as New York is seen as the main city in the USA but the capital is actually Washington DC, Istanbul is seen as Turkey’s main city but its capital is actually Ankara. That evening we went out for a little stroll around the older part of the city and to eat and a little later, were brought to a pub apparently frequented by the Turkish Left. After a few pints I sang a couple of Irish songs which seemed well-received but cannot now remember which they were.

The following day we learned that our departure on the next leg of our journey had been delayed and so we had time for a little sight-seeing. After coffee in one of our host’s flats overlooking the Bosporus Strait, where we were told that we were on the European side and on the other was Asia, we split up to see some of the sights. With one other I visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“Blue Mosque”) opened in 1616, functioning as a mosque for Muslim prayer but with parts open to non-believers.

The ‘Blue Mosque’ at sunset, Istanbul.
(Image source: Internet)

A historic monument in Istanbul is the bronze Serpent Column, created from melted-down Persian weapons, acquired in the plunder of the Persian force’s camp after their defeat at the battle of Platea in 479 BCE, erected at Delphi but transferred to Constantinople

The “Serpent Column” cast from defeated Persian Empire invader weapons by the victorious Greek cities.
(Image source: Internet)

(heart of the European side of Istanbul) by Emperor Constantine I “the Great”. Listed on the column were all the Greek city-states that had participated in the battle. Although a part at the top was removed, the Column survived a number of disasters, including the tragic burning and sacking of the city at the hands of the Fourth Crusade (although it was a Christian city) by forces under the Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo in 1204 AD.

Then we got word to be ready as that night we’d be taking a plane to Batman. Really, Batman? Not to Robin? They had heard the jokes before, of course. Batman is a town in the province of the same name, south-east of Anatolia or Asia Minor, i.e in Kurdistan but more to the point, was where our hosts were based – the Petrol Is trade union.

On the journey, looking down from the passenger plane, I could see vast mountain areas seeming like a wrinkled and rucked fabric, in many places covered or streaked in snow. A little over two hours later, we landed at Batman airport.

* * *

TURKISH KURDISTAN

          Batman was a bit of a shock, to be honest. Not so much the very small airport but the town itself, which seemed to be little more than a long and very wide high street forking at one end. A few shops, cafes or restaurants on one side of the road and some half-constructed buildings and empty sites on the other. A cow walked down the street unattended, stopped by a rubbish bin and began to eat waste cardboard; cows’ stomachs of course can break down cellulose and extract nutrition from it – but still, not what one from our parts of the world expects to see in a town.

On a map of the Kurdish area of the Turkish state, Bitlis would appear to be roughly in the middle; Batman is a little over 100 kilometres from there, heading south-westward.

Map of Eastern Anatolia showing Ankara, capital of Turkey to the west and the Kurdish region to the east. Our delegation traveled mostly through the quadrant west, south and east of Batman. The Syrian border is to the south, Iraqi to the southeast.

After spending the night in a very quiet and basic enough Batman hotel but with single rooms each, after breakfast of bread, biscuits and coffee, we got a taxi to the regional Petrol Is headquarters, a large building but which seemed almost empty, where we were asked to wait. After an hour the area where we were, somewhat like an auditorium in size but without many chairs, had begun to fill up. The first thing that struck me was that they were all men – even the administrative staff, it seemed – so that I felt sympathy for Rose. She was wearing a long scarf over her head in recognition of the cultural norms of the area and, although I was not at all sure that I agreed with that, in the end it was her decision.

Eventually the President of the regional branch arrived and we sat down with him and a few of his committee, with some other Petrol Is members standing around us. We were drinking chai, light-coloured tea without milk and with nearby sugar-cubes to add to taste.

The discussions were in Turkish, with Arnold interpreting for us and for the union President. After the introductions, the President welcomed “the British trade unionists” who were coming to enquire about conditions and promised the assistance of the union while we were there. Naturally I couldn’t let that go and asked Arnold to translate the following for me:
“For my own part, as an Irishman in a British trade union, thank you for your hospitality. The British state has occupied my country for hundreds of years and we have struggled – and continue to struggle – for full independence.”

The regional President acknowledged the statement but no doubt understood that I was by inference making a point also about Kurdish members of Turkish trade unions. I was interested in precisely the nature of that relationship and a little later probed deeper, with Arnold of course translating. The President limited himself to stating that the union’s HQ in Turkey supported the regional branches in their struggles for better wages and conditions and for freedom to organise. Of course, even if he were an ardent nationalist, he would have to be very circumspect; there were certain to be State spies in the union.

Petrol Is workers were scattered around the region at oil depots and refineries and often living away from home for long periods. Inclement weather could be an issue as could work accidents. Wages were considered generally good but did not keep up with the rising prices of necessities, not to speak of more luxurious goods – a common experience of the working class around the world.

After about an hour he bade us farewell and we were introduced to our driver for the rest of our stay, Genghis.12

Genghis spoke little English but was fluent in both Turkish and his native Kurdish. A good-natured man in his early thirties who lived locally with his wife and children, we were to spend a week in his company as he drove us many hundreds of kilometres. His salary, accommodation and traveling costs, we understood, were being paid by the union.

After Genghis dropped us off back at our hotel, I and some of the others fancied a couple of beers with relaxed conversation but were in for a surprise – the area was under islamic norms. Not only did the hotel have no bar – there were no bars. No alcohol? It is amusing now that some of us seemed more shocked by the prospect of no beer than the fact that we were in an insurgency war zone.

There was, however, a shop where we could buy cans of beer. What kind of islamic no-alcohol policy could that be? We asked no more questions, bought some beers and discreetly brought them back to the hotel, piled into one of the bedrooms and relaxed with a couple of cans for awhile.

Paddy and Damien were quite lively and amusing guys, Arnold and Rose quieter. Of the first two, Paddy was the perhaps the funniest. He seemed to think I looked like Sean Connery (some people years ago thought that) and kept calling me “Big Sean”. He was a freelance professional photographer. Damien was a member, like myself, of a NALGO branch but in North London. Rose was not only on the executive committee of her trade union but also on the joint union area committee.

After a while, we separated, each to his or her own room. Next morning, we were to be up at 7am, meet Genghis and begin our investigative journeys. We’d stop off at a cafe for breakfast on the way.

* * *

ARMY ROADBLOCK AND A CANNON-SHELL HOLE IN MY WALL

          Driving into a town (I can’t remember which one now) we could see light cannon and heavy machine-gun missile impact marks on the walls of houses.

Suddenly ahead was an Army checkpoint and turning back now they’d seen us would be suicidal. There was nothing to do but to drive up and greet them casually. I was thinking either this is purely coincidence and nothing is likely to happen or it is not and something will definitely happen to us here.

One of the soldiers returned Genghis’ greeting, looked at his passengers and asked to see our ID. I didn’t know whether he was entitled to see more than our driver’s documentation but I was certainly not going to make an issue of it as guns trump legal arguments every time.

The soldier went away with our passports and Genghis’ driving licence, presumably to his officer. An Army truck was blocking our view and we couldn’t see where he was. I looked casually around, saw more bullet-holes. Everywhere.

A little later I saw the soldier coming back towards us and I started doing breathing exercises. He handed over our documents and bade us goodbye. Genghis pulled away slowly – damn right!

From a jeweler in Mediyat I bought a silver ring with a black stone set in it. The shops, a row of what looked like sheds, with bars in front but no shutters we could see, were mostly empty, possibly in fear of the Turkish Army. I am not sure whether it was in that town or another that we booked into a hotel, free of charge again.

Bringing my haversack up to my room on the first floor, I looked out the window on to the street below. When I turned back to the room I got real shock: there was a small diameter cannon shell hole in the wall! It might have been only 20 or 30mm but it seemed huge to my eyes. The shell must have gone in through the window without exploding and then into the wall opposite, again apparently without exploding. Still, anyone in the path of that shell would have been killed.

Small-calibre cannon shell or heavy machine-gun bullet hole in a Kurdish wall.  (Image source: Internet)

The bed was below the level of the window ledge and any time I wanted to go to the toilet from my bed, I crawled there on my hands and knees – and back again the same way. And you know what? I never felt stupid doing that, either.

It was raining out so we stayed in and, sitting smoking later that night, the front door open so I could see the street clearly, the owner started talking to me and had me brought free cups of chai. He could speak fair English.

Was the room ok, he asked? I asked him about the shell hole. Did I want to change rooms? No, not at all thanks, I just wanted to know what happened (I was thinking maybe a shell wouldn’t land in the same place twice).

Apparently a few days previously, in another part of town, Kurdish guerrillas had ambushed one of the Turkish armoured cars, destroyed it and got away. The Turkish soldiers, enraged, shot up the town, including his hotel.

“I am a businessman. My hotel is a three-star hotel. But because I am Kurdish, the Army can shoot up my place,” he said, “I get no compensation and me and my staff could have been killed”.

* * *

MASSACRE OF CHILDREN

          One day Arnold told us that there had been a terrible incident two days earlier – the Turkish Army had killed people in a village – did we want to go? Of course we did!

He would make enquiries whether they would want us to visit – after all, we might be bringing more trouble on them.

With their agreement obtained, we set off some hours later. I cannot now remember the name of the village, which was reached by a track off the road. The area was pretty level and the houses were single-storey and rectangular, with white or greyish walls, somewhat similar to the adobe houses one sees in westerns set in the southwest of the USA or Mexico. Entering the village, we passed one of the houses, blackened with huge scorch marks.

Invited into one of the houses, firstly I was surprised at the couple of steps up into the building, secondly by the carpets on the floor inside and thirdly by a TV set in the corner. It was just not what I had expected when viewing the buildings from the outside.

They were all men inside (unless there were women out of sight), apparently village elders and some young men. We sat down on cushions on the carpet to hear the story, translated by Arnold.

Two nights earlier, men had come and knocked at the victim’s house, the one with the scorch marks, saying that they were guerrillas and asking the son, a young man, to come out to talk to them. His mother said “They are not guerrillas” and asked him not to go. He replied that there would be trouble for the family if he did not and so he would go. (What his mother was implying was that the men outside were either soldiers in disguise or State proxy assassination squad people). The son left and they heard him and the others walk away.

After a little, the young man’s father picked up his gun (it is common for people in those areas to have a gun) and went out after his son. A little later, firing was heard down the track.

Eventually, when people went to investigate, they found blood on the ground in some places but no bodies. Their belief was that the son was being mistreated in some way, the father intervened and perhaps shot some of the men but that he and his son were killed too. Then the surviving men took the bodies away.

But worse, much worse was to come, which was what had brought us out there. For the Army arrived and announced a curfew on the village throughout the day and, that night, an army vehicle (the words sounding like a “panzer flamethrower”) had driven up and incinerated the house, the victims including six children. They showed us the photo, the little charred bodies laid out side by side. It was hard (sometimes still is, thinking about it) not to cry, not to scream in rage13.

We said we would tell who we could, thanked them and left. I imagined in turn being the son, then the father, then the neighbours. I did not want to imagine being the victims in the house. We were quiet in the car for a long time.

* * *

DIYARBAKIR

          Diyarbakir is the capital city of Turkish Kurdistan, a city then of maybe a million or more in population (the estimate for the metropolitan district now is 1.7 million). The Turkish State has had a policy of forcing the Kurds out of their small towns and villages – especially those in the mountains – and directing them in one manner or another to the big city. Such a population reallocation makes the countryside easier to control, removing ‘the sea (the people) that the fish (the guerrillas) swim through‘, to paraphrase a famous phrase of Mao-Tse-Tung. The British did it in Kenya and the USA in Vietnam, in somewhat different manner but the principle is the same. Of course revolutions happen in cities too and urbanisation tends towards proletarianisation of the majority, which may cause a different kind of problem for the Turkish ruling class in the long run.

Genghis left us at the hotel and headed home, about 50 kilometres. He wanted to see his wife and children and he’d also heard that the Turkish police had called at his house and questioned his wife. She seemed to be ok but he was worried. And so were we.

Handing in our passports at the Diyakakir hotel registration, we filled in our forms and a boy took them to the local police station as required (this had not been the case in Batman or in Istanbul but perhaps copies had been supplied). We had of course described ourselves as tourists.

While we were eating, the boy returned with the passports and said something to Arnold, who smiled. “He says the police said ‘They are not tourists’,” Arnold told us in response to our queries. My heart gave a little jolt – but what did I expect? Of course they were keeping an eye on us. And letting the boy hear, knowing he would communicate it back to us …. intimidation? Kind of reassuring because what would be the point of intimidation if they were going to arrest us anyway, or worse? Well, maybe to soften us up a little beforehand ….

I pushed the thoughts out of my mind.

The following day we had a number of meetings arranged, the first at a kind of municipal building, was with trade union representatives, many of them women: teaching, municipal service both manual and clerical, health workers’ unions. It was slow work since everything had to be translated – ours mostly into Turkish, I think and theirs into English for us. These were much more explicit about their problems with Turkish State repression: censorship, cultural eradication, arrests, threats, a few assassinations by the State proxy so-called “Turkish Hizbollah”14. This was their reality, day in, day out.

About a year later, looking at a list of the names of Kurdish activists assassinated by these State proxy gangs, I recognised the name of at least one of those we had met and talked to, a woman teacher and trade union activist. And felt guilt, the thought that maybe our visit had been part of the decision to kill her. But of course, all Kurdish activists were and are vulnerable, even sometimes abroad – and the Kurds want their stories told out there in the world.

Another meeting took place in what they were calling their human rights centre and here I got the impression of the human rights people working closely with the Kurdish political party – not the PKK, which was banned but perhaps a reformation of it in part, to comply with Turkish laws and allow them to stand in elections. They already had municipal councillors but were heading for Turkey-wide elections. Having the status of a member of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara didn’t really protect one that much, as a number of elected Kurds have found over the years.15

For some reason we were kept waiting there for over a hour, although other people were coming and going. I was hungry and not impressed but then, what did I know of what other concerns they might have? Eventually we got to talk to a couple of the human rights people and the politicians. They were very concerned to talk in terms of human rights and not Kurdish independence or even autonomy. With all the people hanging around and listening (which I thought a most inappropriate way to have our meeting), it seemed unwise to push them on that issue. Also, these people too were in constant danger of arrest and even assassination.

We never made any promises to anyone, except that we would report back and try and get publicity for their struggles. We outlined the possible outcomes, such as more media coverage or our trade unions taking up a policy of solidarity with them … but we could not even guarantee that.

Later we wandered through a market area; Damien was anxious to buy a kilim rug and haggled with the seller until they reached agreement. I know that haggling is expected but it is something I cannot do and I left empty-handed.

Back at the hotel, we received a phone call from Genghis – he’d collect us the following day and drive where wished to. His family was ok, the Army had just asked where he was, his wife told them he was away on a driving job for the union but she did not know where. Of course, they knew that – it was a reminder by the Army of his vulnerability and of his family’s.

* * *

THE ANCIENT AND OLD

          We did get to see some other things, not so directly connected with human rights, conflict or politics.

The Zoroastrian monastery, looking like a fortress standing on its own but I cannot remember where it was. We were received courteously, allowed to see the church and served chai. Did the Army bother them? Rarely but sometimes, was the reply.

Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna, is the oldest monotheistic religion on record and one of the world’s oldest active religions. Its number of adherents generally world-wide is declining but was reported recently to be increasing somewhat among some of the Kurds. With a single god and good-bad split influences, along with free will and responsibility for one’s actions, it would seem to have influenced the creation of the Judaic faith, which in turn led to the creation of Christianity and, somewhat later, Islam.

The religion’s Wikipedia page contains this possibly contradictory entry: “Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians at around 190,000, with most living in India and in Iran; their number is declining. In 2015, there were reports of up to 100,000 converts in Iraqi Kurdistan. Besides the Zoroastrian diaspora, the older Mithraic faith Yazdanism is still practiced among Kurds.”

Nomads

Another time we drove past a group of nomads on a hillside, their big black tents pitched wide, their flocks of sheep nearby. I would have loved to have talked to them but we were expected elsewhere without time to stop. These were probably Yoruk people.

Ancient site threatened

Hasankeyf is an ancient settlement area along the Tigris river in the south-east of the Turkish state, i.e in Kurdistan. Although it was declared a conservation area by the Turkish Government in 1981, it is now threatened by a dam to be built by the Turkish Government of today. Even back then when we visited, the threat was known although further away.

With a history spanning nine civilizations, it should have World Heritage status. According to Wikipedia:

The city of Ilānṣurā mentioned in the Akkadian and Northwest Semitic texts of the Mari Tablets (1800–1750 BC) may possibly be Hasankeyf, although other sites have also been proposed. By the Roman period, the fortified town was known in Latin as Cephe, Cepha or Ciphas, a name that appears to derive from the Syriac word (kefa or kifo), meaning “rock”. As the eastern and western portions of the Roman Empire split around AD 330, Κιφας (Kiphas) became formalized as the Greek name for this Byzantine bishopric.

Following the Arab conquest of 640, the town became known under the Arabic name حصن كيفا (Hisn Kayf). “Hisn” means “fortress” in Arabic, so the name overall means “rock fortress”.”

The site we visited was of the caves, rather than the city. There were thousands of man-made caves, of which we only saw a few. Paddy displayed his Arabic phrases with an elderly man sitting outside a cafe, while we bought some chai. Up to fairly modern times, people had lived in some of the caves, we were told.

Doomed lovers

In Cizre, over 166 km from our Batman base, we went to see the alleged grave of Mem and Zin, star-crossed lovers without any apparently religious significance but whose grave is cared for and visited by many. We were allowed to enter but there was not much to see – the interesting content is in their story, written down in 1692 and which is performed in a mixture of prose and poetry.

Painting depicting the Kurdish legend: Mem lies dead, mourned by Zim.
(Image source: Internet)

Mem, a young Kurdish boy of one clan and heir to the “City of the West” falls in love with Zin, of the “Botan” clan and daughter of the Governor of Butan. Their meeting is during New Roz, the ancient fire-festival of the Kurds still celebrated today (often with political independence symbolism) but their union is prevented by a man of a different clan who some time later causes the death of Mem. Zin dies mourning at his grave in Cizre, being buried beside her deceased lover.

Bakr, the author of Mem’s death, is killed by the victim’s friend and he is buried near the lovers so that he can witness their being together. However, his hatred is such that it nourishes a thorn tree to grow, sending roots deep into the earth to separate the two lovers, even in death.

Sadly, I knew very little of this wonderful story then and had to look it up on the Internet much later.

Workers on a cotton plantation

On another occasion, on impulse we pulled in off the road at a cotton plantation. The manager politely made time for us, talking about the product, its cultivation etc. Although most Turkish cotton is grown in the Aegean region, there were fields of it here. The cotton grown in Turkey is long-threaded, with fewer joins, therefore higher quality, especially for towels: strong and smooth and not too absorbent.

Were his workers members of a union? He didn’t know, that would be their business. They were well treated; in any case, he did not receive any complaints. Would it be possible to talk to some of the workers? Alas, no, they were in the middle of their shift. But he did not suggest an alternative time when it would be convenient.

New Roz celebration by Kurds in Diyarbakir, capital of Kurdish region of the Turkish state 2017.
(Image source: Internet)

* * *

AT THE IRAQI AND SYRIAN BORDERS

As our time in Kurdistan drew to a close, Arnold asked whether we’d be interested in seeing the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Of course we would! After Arnold’s brief discussion with Genghis, we set off. It is approximately 300 kilometres from Batman to the Border but we might have been around Mardin by then, which is nearer. Our road wound higher and higher through hills into the mountains and we rarely saw traffic on the road; as we got nearer we’d need to be more cautious. In a quiet mountainy area we stopped beside a stream to stretch our legs and for Genghis to take a short break. Always interested in nature generally and water life in particular, I wandered to the stream and to my amazement saw crabs very like the marine shore crabs of home, both in appearance and size. I soon caught one and had my photo taken holding it up.

A middle-aged and young woman appeared on the road and I greeted them in the few words of Kurdish I knew to which they responded with a muttered reply and turned away. It was probably to do with gendered cultural mores of the area but they might also have seen us as something to do with the Turkish state or even foreign intelligence people operating in the area. I released the crab back into the water, watched it make off sideways, its pincers threatening. We got back in the car and drove off towards the Border.

The US-led Coalition forces in March 1991 had imposed a no-fly zone on the Kurdish region of Iraq from which even Iraqi helicopters were banned, which of course brought some relief to those areas suffering repression after the US-incited uprising. But it also gave the Kurdish tribal leaders unfettered access to Iraqi-drilled oil wells. And so the plunder began.

Stopping a few hundred yards from the Iraqi border we watched the trucks coming over from the Iraqi state, pause momentarily, hand something over to the Turkish soldier on “border control” duty and drive on. Each lorry had an additional fuel tank welded on underneath with little clearance before the road surface. All illegal, of course, according not only to Iraqi but international and even Turkish law. It was a lonely spot for Turkish soldiers garrisoned there but no doubt a lucrative posting. And surely Turkish Government officials were taking a bigger rake-off, though nothing as crude as being slipped a bribe at a border crossing.

After that we went to visit the Syrian border. This time it was just to see, set back a little from the road, a barbed wire fence stretching east-west. On the other side was Syria but with nothing to see there. Just for the sake of having done so, I picked up a pebble on the Turkish side and threw it over the fence – when it landed, it looked no different to the Syrian pebbles.

* * *

CARRYING CONTRABAND?

          On our last evening, in the hotel in Batman, we trade unionists were taken aside and asked to carry sheets of typed paper in secret back to London. The precise nature of the content was not revealed to us but they did not contain maps or diagrams, which we confirmed with a quick riffle through them.

We were disturbed and also somewhat angry and resentful, one more than the rest, who refused. Under protest, for all the good that would do me if we were searched, I agreed, distributed the papers among my belongings and said no more about it. I chose not to examine them too closely on the vague principle that the least I knew the less I could tell and to this day am not entirely sure what the contents were. Rose, having said little in the first place, packed them away quietly. I had the impression that this quiet woman was the bravest of us all, certainly of us trade unionists.

Next morning we got up at a decent hour, had breakfast and headed out to the local cafe-restaurant to kill time before we needed to head out to the airport, where waiting would be even worse than where we were.

We did not see Genghis again but learned that he had returned home and things seemed ok. The State police must have known where he was now but had not detained him. If they questioned him he could, we supposed, say he knew nothing except the places we had asked him to go to, for which he was being paid. That would be his wisest course of action and hopefully the one he’d adopt. Hopefully too his union would exert itself to protect him.

The street being so quiet, there was little to do but chat over chai or coffee, read or look out the window. So even if we had not been somewhat nervous, it would have been difficult to miss the car that passed down the street a number of times, going first in one direction, then the other, with two men inside, wearing sunglasses.

“Political police”, I said to Arnold. He glanced out the window, nodded, returned to sipping his chai. Nobody else said anything.

At the airport, there was no sign of the plainclothes cops, only the armed Turkish airport guards and customs officials. We were processed pretty quickly and then on to the Turkish airline passenger jet, bound for Istanbul. We sat down, somewhat relieved but knew there was still the next airport to get through.

But twenty minutes later, we were still there with no sign of preparations to take off. And then there they were, the two of them coming through the plane’s forward exit, in their suits and sunglasses.

As they walked casually down the aisle towards me, I tried to empty my head and concentrate on my breathing. Tried to feel at ease so I would look it. They passed me and I did not turn my head. A little later, they passed me again heading back forward. Over the top of the passenger seat in front, I watched them as casually as I was able. They were talking to a couple of male members of the cabin crew, near the exit. About to leave? Informing them that some of their passengers were going to be arrested? Just making us sweat a bit more?

The conversation with the cabin crew was dragging on. Then a kind of wave from one and they ducked their heads to exit on to the stairs.

A crew member closed the hatch and dogged it securely. The engines whined, then slowly increased in pitch. The plane began to taxi, stopped, turned slowly, the engine noise increased to a roar and …. the plane jumped forward to gather take-off speed.

I heaved a sigh of relief. We were safe now, at least until our disembarkation at Istanbul. Then the flight to London and safety. Well not entirely … there would be another hurdle at Heathrow: customs and police. But they wouldn’t be interested in some papers, would they? British political police? Well, the very worst they could do to us would be detention and interrogation, possible but unlikely custody, trial and sentence. The Irish in Britain were subject to the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act, a “temporary” suspension of civil rights introduced in 1974 and renewed annually. I had some experience of arrest and detention in Britain and, however bad it might be, I was sure there would be no close comparison with a Turkish jail. And I’d be within reach of family visits.

POSTSCRIPT:

          The journey back to London was without incident. I handed the “contraband” papers over to the intended recipient and that was that; phoned my family to let them know I had returned safely.

Our delegation and some of the solidarity committee arranged to meet in order to prepare our report. Rose was back on her home ground and corresponded by email, while Damien attended a few meetings. Paddy contributed his photos. Arnold and I and one other did most of the writing text, discussion and editing and in time an attractive and informative report, magazine-size with a full-colour cover was produced, featuring some of Paddy’s photos. I submitted a copy to each of my funders, sent one home, kept one and ………. None can be found now, apparently.

After reporting to my union (a brief announcement recommending the reading of the report, offering to speak at meetings and to bring other speakers), I expected to receive invitations to speak on the subject of the Kurds and the Turkish State, hopefully in support of a campaign such as a tourism boycott. No such requests came from activists in my union branch.

In all, I received one invitation to address a very small meeting in North London with which I complied and tried unsuccessfully to organise one myself in the University of North London. There were no other invitations nor meetings organised by the solidarity group, which seemed to be a singular failure to capitalise on the delegation, so well organised and the report, so well produced.

I had told Arnold, once we got out of Turkey, that I thought the walk through the plane in Batman of the Turkish political police was intended as a warning to him. The rest of us had not been there before and were unlikely to return whereas he was a fairly regular visitor. I told him that the next time he visited, they would lift him. I was wrong; his next visit was with the Liberal British peer Lord Avebury, a campaigner for human rights in Turkey. But the next visit after that, without Avebury, he was arrested and spent some weeks detained in a Turkish jail before various efforts combined to have him released.

I lost contact over the years with Damien, then with Rose and eventually with Arnold too. Paddy disappeared, resurfaced, then disappeared again. There seemed little more I could do for the Kurds and in any case, had completed my course of studies and was searching for and taking up full-time employment and involved in other struggles, though I attended the occasional Kurdish solidarity public event.

In Turkey, the State’s war against the PKK has continued on and off, with the latter varying their combat position and also reducing their demand from Kurdish independence to regional autonomy within Turkey. This position developed after 1999 when the PKK’s co-founder and leader Abdullah Ocalan was kidnapped in Kenya by the CIA and Turkish Intelligence and brought to Turkey, where his death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty. Ocalan was kept in prison on his own in an island prison until 2009 and has published articles and books from jail, among other things arguing for a “peace process” for Turkey, the delivery of which he insists requires himself set at liberty16.

In 2014 and 2015 the Turkish Army attacked the PPK fighters and the civilian population of a number of cities, including Cizre and Sirnak (see Links), turning large areas into rubble, killing and injuring many and causing huge numbers of refugees (the total lost housing has yet to be replaced).

The Kurds in Syria have been the only effective force to repel ISIS (Islamic State) in the area bordering on Turkey and also rescued a great many Yazidis from murder, rape and slavery by the ISIS fighters. Later the Kurdish armed forces there received US Coalition aid and a few years ago their commander stated in an interview that they and the Coalition were going to overthrow the Assad regime. They went on to build the nucleus of a federal administration defended by their fighters (reputedly about 40% of which are female – see Links for video interviews).

Turkey attacked Kurdish cross-border traffic (supplies, recruits) but more recently invaded Syria ostensibly to support the jihadist anti-Assad forces that they support but more seriously to attack the Kurdish YPG, which they consider an offshoot of the PKK. Many Arab states are unhappy with Turkey occupying Arab land.  Assad is unlikely to agree to Kurdish regional autonomy, even the US seems ready to drop them and the future looks dark for the Kurdish forces there.

In Iraq the Kurdish movement, mainly organised along tribal lines originally, split into war-bands during the Second Iraq War fighting alongside the US Coalition forces.

They took part in the plunder of Iraqi non-Kurdish areas, including Baghdad, along with other forces and shootouts between different warbands were not unknown. The Kurds have their oil-rich area protected within Iraq but the overall administration of Iraq is a US-dependent puppet regime and very unstable.

In Iran, suppression of Kurdish national identity continues under the religious regime.

The Kurds continue their struggle, the largest nation without a state.

end. 

CIZRE, TURKISH KURDISTAN – MARCH 2 2016: A man looks out at ruined houses of Cizre. Turkish authorities scaled down a 24-hour curfew imposed on the mainly Kurdish town of Cizre in southeast Turkey, nearly three weeks after declaring the successful conclusion of military operations there. The curfew was lifted at 5 a.m., allowing residents to return to their conflict-stricken neighborhoods for the first time since December 14, but it will remain in effect between 7:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. Residents began trickling back at first light, their vehicles loaded with personal belongings and, in some cases, children. Many residents were killed and injured and even today not all the ruined housing has been replaced (Image source: Internet).

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

1Later Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF Bomber Command, later still Marshal of the Air Force Sir Arnold Harris, First Baronet of Stowford. As well as his WW2 record, he was proud of his earlier career of attacking people rising up against the British Empire and was recorded as saying that “the only thing an Arab understands is a heavy hand.”

2 Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdish for ‘Workers Party of Kurdistan’)

3Forcible relocation of Kurds and settling Turks in their areas had been official State policy since the time of Attaturk.

4On one infamous occasion, some of the Syrian peshmergas were reported to be collaborating with Turkish troops in their attack on PKK guerrillas.

5Quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_uprisings_in_Iraq#Casualties. Although this authority was part of an imperialist occupation puppet regime, the figures may well be accurate.

6I would have applied for a stand-alone Irish Studies course if that had been available but there was not one in the whole of the UK and very few even of the combined kind. This in a state which has had an association through invasion, colonisation and war of nearly a thousand years with Ireland! Although my History modules included some Irish history I also did modules on British colonialism in India and Africa, Latin American history, Palestine ….. I didn’t regret them either.

7Executive Committee

8Formed in 1981 after the Federation of Irish Societies (in Britain) had refused to have any official mention, even of condolences to his family, on the death of Bobby Sands which took place during their Annual General Meeting. The IBRG was radically different from the FIS, campaigned against anti-Irish racism in the media, for the release of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Judith Ward and others, for the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for Irish national self-determination, for the implementation of the McBride Principles to the occupied Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”), for ethnic monitoring and anti-racist measures to include the Irish and for an Irish diaspora dimension to health, welfare and educational services in Britain. Its activists represented a variety of ideologies but all somewhere on the Left, anti-racist and anti-imperialist.

9National Association of Local Government Officers, which union I had joined while employed by the Inner London Education Authority. When Margaret Thatcher abolished that organisation in 1990 its employees were dispersed to the Education Departments of the 12 London Boroughs and the City of London and I was allocated to Lewisham, one of those boroughs were I was already working; in effect, a transfer to different management but working in the same places, with less resources and less mobility. In 1993, NALGO, already the largest British trade union, joined with NUPE and health service union COHSE to become Unison: for awhile, the largest trade union in Europe but which is now the second-largest union in Britain.

10NALGO recognised the right of oppressed sections in society to organise their own groups within the union; those recognised by the union received some funding for running costs and educational activities. At this time such groups included those of Lesbian & Gays, Disabled and Afro-Caribbean. The activists of NALGO IWG campaigned energetically to change the union’s policy to recognise anti-irish racism, to demand the freedom of the framed Irish prisoners, against strip-searching of Irish Republican prisoners, against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The IWG was never recognised officially and its work was blocked both by the Left and Right in the union’s leadership, mostly by procedural obstruction in preventing motions being heard at the Biannual National Conference or weakening them when they rarely succeeded in reaching there.

11None of those are their real names.

12Not his true name.

13That photo was published at the time in other media and in our later Report but I have failed to find it on the Internet.

14None of the Kurds I spoke to believed that this was a genuinely independent organisation, although it might have contained some Islamic fundamentalists recruited by the Turkish State. Another paramilitary assassination squad, fascist in ideology with which the State colluded was Ergenekon.

15In November 2018, the European Court of Human Rights adjudged that a Kurdish representative to the Turkish Parliament had his detention in custody deliberately extended in order to hamper his party’s electoral work. Selahattin Demirtas had been arrested on ‘suspicion of illegal activities’ two years earlier and was still in jail awaiting trial. Demirtas, 45, was a co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and accused of links to the outlawed PPK, which he denied. He was also convicted last September of “terrorist propaganda” arising out of a speech he made in public in 2013. The ECHR judgement did not result in Demirtas’ release but it did push the State to begin his trial the following month; he faces a possible sentence of 142 years in jail.

In 2015 thirteen of the 55 elected parliamentarians of HDP, the Kurdish nationality party, were jailed and the State took over direct control of 82 municipalities, arresting town mayor members of the Kurdish party.

16Ocalan (nicknamed ‘Apo’) has iconic status among many Kurds and a Kurdish picket or demonstration without his image on placards or banners would be a rare one. This was an aspect of the Kurdish independence movement, particularly of the ‘Turkish’ part, with which I made plain on a number of occasion that I did not agree. Similarly, the experience of the so-called peace processes around the world has demonstrated that they are in reality pacification processes which bring an end to armed struggle but leave all or most of the causes of the conflict unresolved.

LINKS FOR REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Kurdistan

Kurdish Republic 1923: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdistansky_Uyezd

Kurdish Republic 1946: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Mahabad

Iraq regime chemical attack on Kurds: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/halabja-the-massacre-the-west-tried-to-ignore-qsl8n6nspc7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halabja_chemical_attack

Armed conflict between Turkish state and Kurdish resistance:

By Avebury: http://kurdistan.org/turkeys-kurdish-policy-in-the-nineties/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdish%E2%80%93Turkish_conflict_(1978%E2%80%93present)

Photos Turkish military damage to Kurdish city of Cizre: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/03/kurdish-residents-return-to-their-devastated-city-in-southeast-turkey/472122/

Turkish military damage to Kurdish city of Cizre: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/kurds-look-rebuild-their-destroyed-homes-turkeys-sirnak-1247957161?fbclid=IwAR1WIS_YV38yu4daCW2kcDCchRDiIayGNTMm8WmwBsLgGW7ILGYhTCUGYVg

Istanbul monument: https://medium.com/stories-to-imagine/horses-a-column-the-battle-that-changed-the-world-12aa3604067f

Ergenekon group: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-23581891

Kurdish elected representative detained unreasonable length of time: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/european-court-orders-release-kurdish-politician-demirtas-181120093432466.html

Arrests and jailing of Kurdish elected representatives:  https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/20/turkey-crackdown-kurdish-opposition

Ancient and Old

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2018/2/5/the-quest-for-identity-how-kurds-are-rediscovering-zoroastrianism

Hasankeyf archaelogical site threatened: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasankeyf#Archeological_sites

Yoruks (nomads): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%C3%B6r%C3%BCks

Synopsis of the story of the star-crossed lovers: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mem_and_Zin?fbclid=IwAR2K7umXF41Awt0wwo6lbZXVB-3KIRY8AUwu7Wow5U477oJyYMwuoNbZZ2E

Quite propagandistic but very interesting video (2014) of interviews with Kurdish female fighter’s unit in the Syrian Kurdish region (note Apo’s i.e Ocalan’s) iconography; the language is Kurdish but with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aEwvfmk8Tc

GAINS FOR THE HARD RIGHT IN ANDALUSIA – REASON TO PANIC?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Summary: Alarm is being expressed in a number of quarters, especially within the Spanish state’s territory, at the gains made by the hard right in the regional elections in the southern Spanish province of Andalucia. Held on 2nd December this year, a fairly new party, hard-right Vox won seats for the first time – 12 of them. Ciudadanos, another hard-right party which has been around longer, increased their share of the seats by twelve to 21. Should we be afraid? I think not …. we should certainly be alert – but for other reasons.

Vox supporters celebrate their party’s results in Andalusian elections (Photo source: Internet)

NB: This is not a deep analysis but rather a look at some of the circumstances in Andalusia in relation to those of the Spanish state as a whole and in the context of its history and current situation.

On 2nd December, elections were held in the Andalusian region, one of the 17 ‘autonomous communities’ of the Spanish state. At the time, the social-democratic PSOE controlled the regional government but only with the ‘confidence and supply’ support of the very right-wing party Ciudadanos; the latter withdrew their support and the PSOE called a snap election. The extremely right-wing (to use the most neutral description applicable) political party Vox for the first time had some electoral success and took 12 seats.

Vox is opposed to the right to choose abortion and also to equal same-sex marriage, proposing instead a different “civil union” for gay and lesbian couples. Like all the main Spanish political parties (and many smaller ones), Vox upholds the territorial integrity of the Spanish state but unlike most others opposes also the Statute of Autonomy which created regions with a degree of autonomy (which was part of the deal of ‘Transition’ from the Franco dictatorship, mainly to placate the nations within the state’s territory). The party is critical of multi-culturalism and immigration policies in general and regarding Islam in particular.

The election of those 12 Deputies has caused a wave of panic across many left-wing and democratic sectors across the Spanish state and one hears and reads comments that “this is the first time a party of the extreme right has gained seats in the Spanish state since the end of the Franco Dictatorship.” If that is true, it is so only in the perception of those commentators.

NOT ONLY FASCIST DEPUTIES HAVE BEEN ELECTED SINCE FRANCO BUT FASCIST GOVERNMENTS TOO

The fact is that fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state after the Popular Front Government was overthrown by Spanish military-fascist coup, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in 1938. For four subsequent decades, there was a fascist dictatorship. After that, there was a fake “Transition”1 in which political groupings directly related to the dictatorship formed political parties and the first two governments (September 1975-July 1976) were of unashamed fascist background followed by two of the UCD (July 1976-December 1982), also of fascist background but wearing the veneer of being ‘centre-right’. One of UCD’s most important movers and shakers was Manuel Fraga, the director of murderous State repression of all antifascist, anti-monarchical and independentist resistance during the “Transition”, his slogan being “The streets are mine”.

The next Government was of the social-democratic PSOE, which swept the board, assisted by a panic about the restoration of a fascist dictatorship, aroused by a somewhat farcical very minor attempt at a military coup, the supporters of which entered the Parliament while it was in session and took it over for a while before they surrendered when it was clear they were out on their own.

The PSOE and its associated trade union, the UGT, had been illegal under Franco. The attempt to rebrand the Spanish State as a “democracy” required a bipartisan social democratic party and also a restraining hand on the illegal trade unions (i.e all that were not fascist). But legalising the PSOE and the UGT would be insufficient if the Communist Party of Spain and its allied trade union, the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) were left out in the cold, where they would certainly cause a lot of trouble. Both parties were anti-monarchist — would they agree to to monarchy being foisted on the public after more than four decades without one? Could they guarantee not to go after any fascists for crimes of torture and murder? Would they support a unionist constitution? Would they control their unions? They could, would and did, even putting up with the murder of union lawyers (PCE/CCOO) and bombing of the UGT headquarters during the ‘Transition’.

The PSOE was in government from December 1982 to May 1986, during which time it ran assassination and terror squads (GAL 1983-1987) against the Basque left-wing pro-independence movement with the aid of high-ranking Spanish military and police officers directing Spanish and foreign fascist mercenaries.

A number of scandals including the one about GAL helped push the social democrats out of government and next in was a new party of the ‘centre-right’. Well, a new name anyway: Partido Popular — its founder was “The-streets-are-mine” Manuel Fraga, leading a split from the UCD. The PP has been consistently alternating in government of the Spanish State with the PSOE ever since: 1996-2004; 2011-2018.

The PSOE got into government of the state again in 2004-2011 and is in once more at the moment, in a minority government, having unseated the PP on a vote of no confidence on a corruption scandal.

THE 2018 ELECTIONS IN ANDALUCIA

The first thing to note perhaps is that the total turnout was under 57% which indicates a high level of disenchantment with the electoral and political system. The PSOE had been in government there for thirty-six years, i.e since the incorporation of the regional government in 1982. What had it delivered for the people in those years? One need only look at the region’s place in the Spanish state’s economic tables – second from bottom.

The election results gave the the PSOE a drop of 7.4% in votes on their last performance and they lost 14 seats. However, with 33 seats they remain the party with the most deputies in the regional Government, with a seven-seat majority over their nearest rival, the Partido Popular and its 26 seats.

Diaz with PSOE party faithful after making statement on the party’s results in Andalusian elections (Photo source: Internet)

The other social-democratic party, a coalition around Podemos, also took a drop: 5.57% in votes and lost three seats.

The combined or total loss of seats to parties of social-democracy was 17 and the sum of their loss of votes was 12.61%.

As it happens, the right-wing Partido Popular also dropped votes and seats, -5.99% and seven respectively.

Ciudadanos, a newer party than the PP but just as hard right, benefitted with 12 additional seats and 8.99% increase in their votes. And then Vox took the remaining 12 seats from a previous zero on only a 10.51 % increase in their percentage of votes (they had stood before but got no deputies elected).

Where did the other votes go? Apart from the 1.8% invalid votes (exactly the percentage drop of voters on the last turnout, curiously), they were spread between 22 other parties or platforms, of which no less than 15 were totally new in elections. Some of those are right-wing but most, going by their titles, seem to represent a band varying from soft to hard Left to Independentist or regional.

In conclusion, the election results show no sudden far-right advance in reality but a newish party of the far right, competing with other far-right parties, took 22 seats it had not had before, while the social democrats, though losing votes, remain in government for the moment.

Some commentators, including many on the Left, have sought to ascribe the rise in the support for Vox as a reaction to insecurity around the fear of the secession of Catalonia from the Spanish state. This is bit rich from often the very commentators who have tried to portray the popular Catalan movement for independence as an elitist movement, motivated by selfishness to keep their wealth and not share it with poor regions like Andalusia.

So we can all relax, we needn’t worry? No, we DO need to worry but not so much for the reason of these election results. We need to worry because of the fascist nature and history of the Spanish ruling class and its State; because fascist groups are on the rise in the Spanish territory; because the Left has real problems in countering fascism and because fascism is on the rise in Europe in general.

The fact is that most of the Spanish Left, from social-democracy to ‘revolutionary’ socialists, are also totally committed to Spanish territorial integrity. That, and their reluctance to mobilise the masses to take decisive firm action against fascist mobilisations and provocations, makes it very hard for the Left to build a mass and effective anti-fascist movement.

ANDALUCIA

Map of Spanish state (yellow) including Canary Islands with Andalusia in red. (Source image: Wikipedia)

The southernmost part of the Spanish state is where to find Andalucia, sharing a land strip with the Rock of Gibraltar; it is the most populous and the second largest in area of the autonomous communities in the state and its capital is Sevilla (Seville). It is the only European region with coastline on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Parts of the province record the highest temperatures of the state but other parts see quite high rainfall.

The earliest known paintings of humanity have been found in the Caves of Nerja, Málaga.2. The region has been under Phoenician, then Carthagenian control, later under the Visigoths, followed by the Romans and even by the Eastern Roman Empire. For three-and-a-half centuries Andalusia became a Moorish domain from which comes the name (Al Andalus) the region bears today. It was an area of great culture and learning and Christians and Jews were tolerated and protected. The Spanish Christian conquest employed divisions among the Moors, conquered Al Andalus and eventually forced all Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity or suffer expulsion, allowed only to take the clothes on their backs.

Andalucia in the early-to-mid 20th Century was ruled by a landed aristocracy in a semi-feudal relationship with the mainly rural working population. The region got an early visit from Franco’s military invasion in 1936 and, although there was little armed resistance apart from Malaga and that ill-equipped, an estimated 55,000 were killed deliberately, in executions of thousands of workers and activists of the leftist parties during Franco’s repression.3

The region is characterised by a variety of climatic conditions and topography, inhabited by a great biodiversity of flora and fauna, although some of the latter are quite threatened, such as the Iberian Wolf, Iberian Lynx and the Ibex.

Agriculture and husbandry have traditionally been the main products, with olives, citrus fruits, stone fruits, nuts, alongside some other produce in lower percentages; there is also a depleted but active fishing industry. Andalucia is the single largest producer of olive oil with about 40% of the world market. “One-third of Andalucía’s agricultural land is planted with olive trees, and sales of Andalucian olive oil grew a staggering 56 per cent between 2011 and 2015, to a million tonnes, worth 2,000 million euros. Nearly 500 companies export their olive oil from Andalucía, with Britain the fifth-largest market at nearly 100 million euros.

Another world-renowned product from Andalucía which is exported all over the world is jamón ibérico de bellota, gourmet air-cured ham made from Iberian acorn-fed pigs, nothing less than a religion for Andalucians, while sustainably-caught bluefin tuna caught off the coast is frozen and sent to Japan to be served as delectably tender sushi.

In total, one-fifth of all Spanish food and drink exports originate in Andalucía, where the number one area is fruit and vegetables – and tomatoes are the top product”.4

What cause would people in that province have for dissatisfaction that right-wing parties could then exploit? Well, there are no shortage of reasons.

Andalucia is the second-poorest administrative region in the Spanish state. Although unemployment has taken nearly a 4% drop over the previous year, it still stands at an average of 24.4%. Averages conceal other realities and though average male unemployment is almost 3% lower, the female average share is higher than the average by 3.5%. As they age profile drops below twenty-five, the unemployment figures soar to almost 50%.

Table unemployment statistics in Andalucia

Unemployment rate (LFS)

24.4%

28.3%

Male unemployment rate (LFS)

21.6%

25.7%

Female unemployment rate (LFS)

27.9%

31.4%

Unemployment rate less than 25 years

47.9%

57.8%

Unemployment male less than 25 years

48.9%

55.0%

Unemployment rate female less than 25 years

46.6%

61.3%

Unemployed rate over 24 years

22.7%

26.2%

Male unemployment rate over 24 years

19.6%

23.6%

Female unemployment rate over 24 years

26.5%

29.3%

Unemployment rate less than 20 years

66.4%

78.2%

Male unemployment rate less than 20 years

66.8%

76.4%

Female unemployment rate less than 20 years

65.7%

80.5%

(Source: see link for “Unemployment statistics Andalucia)

The situation then in Andalusia may be characterised as one where about every fourth person is unemployed as is every second one under the age of twenty-five. Where paid employment is hard to find, wages are likely to be low, trade union victories harder to achieve and conditions therefore far from the optimum obtainable from the system.

Between 2000–2006 economic growth per annum was 3.72%, one of the highest in the country. Still, according to the Spanish Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), the GDP per capita of Andalusia (€17,401; 2006) remains the second lowest in Spain, with only Extremadura lagging behind.” (Wiki)

Traditionally a region known for agriculture and husbandry, these sectors are now the lowest contributors to GDP in Andalusia. Construction for the tourist industry siphoned off many workers but the collapse of the construction boom left most of those workers with nowhere to go, much of their old agricultural employment mechanised or replaced with migrant labour. Despite agriculture’s very low position in GDP, 45.74 percent of the Andalusian territory is cultivated. That does not mean that those areas are efficiently5 cultivated however and one of the activities for which one Andalusian trade union movement6 has become known is the occupation of agricultural land which is not being adequately or at all maintained, due to absentee owners or land held by banks but not in production.

The large landowner past of Andalusia has not changed substantially although the banks and some companies now own much of what belonged to semi-feudal aristocrats. “The agrarian census of 1982 found that 50.9 percent of the country’s farmland was held in properties of 200 or more hectares, although farms of this size made up only 1.1 percent of the country’s 2.3 million farms. At the other end of the scale, the census showed that 61.8 percent of Spain’s farms had fewer than 5 hectares of land. These farms accounted for 5.2 percent of the country’s farmland.”7

In May of this year the trade union SAT (Andalusian Union of Workers) published a denunciation of a new Land Law proposed by the PSOE in which they also pointed to some structural problems and their impact on the working people of the region8.

The most recent act of savagery is the new Land Law that they (PSOE) intend to approve, to finish hanging any dream of Agrarian Reform for our working people of Andalusia. Andalusia is not understood without the struggle for land, and this is more recent than it seems, much more real and topical than we would like.

The concentration of land ownership is a problem that annihilates our people, currently in Andalusia, 2% of the owners have more than 50% of the arable land, and the worst is that this figure is increasing.

If we go to Jaén, this figure is even more scandalous, because 4% have 66%, and much of it without giving a job, as is the case of Cortijo del Aguardentero, our Cerro Libertad, one of more than 150 farms, the majority underutilized by the BBVA9 in the Jaén de Piedras Lunares and Olivares de Miguel Hernández areas.

These figures contrast with the alarming fact that in Andalusia every three days a worker dies, or that more than 60% of Andalusian employees earn less than € 1,000 per month. Also alarming are the number of marginalizations, risk of poverty and lack of school resources, all at more than 40%.

There are laws that can put an end to all this, but there is no political will in a government that is more a plug-in factory than a socialist party, which only seeks to perpetuate itself in power, being supporters of corrupt banks, all at the cost of death of our land.

There are alternatives:

1 ° Repeal of this Land Law proposal.

2 ° Implementation of Law 8/1984 of Agrarian Reform of the Statute of Autonomy of the Junta de Andalucía on farms that can be clearly improved.

3 ° The land has to fulfill a social function, for the human and sustainable development of Andalusia.

4th Comprehensive Agrarian Reform, which allows the Usufruct and Land work in Andalusia. Work in the labor force, in the sowing and harvesting, in the primary sector. We do not want property, which must be of a public entity, we want to work and live in peace.

5th Creation of productive, industrial and agro-sustainable Andalusian fabric, generating employment in the transformation and packaging of the product collected.

6 ° Domestic consumption and export of the sown, harvested and agro-transformed product, giving employment and work in the tertiary sector, services.

This would suppose a Revolution of our earth, a valorization of what we were, of what we are and what we want to be: A FREE PEOPLE WITH FREE PEOPLE.

This is possible, but political will is needed, and for that, and more importantly, we need the human will to mobilize, as we are defending with our sweat and our lives El Humoso in Marinaleda, Somonte in Córdoba and Cerro Libertad in Jaén10.

Challenge to the Andalusian society to face with arguments and mobilization the nonsense and unreason of the government of the PSOE of the Junta de Andalucía.

We announce mobilizations this summer for this, and we call for you to join.

Andalusians and Andalusians, get up, ask for land and freedom.”

And then, on top of capitalist exploitation and mismanagement, there is corruption. “A recent probe revealed the extent to which PSOE officials exploited their power in the region of Andalusia, where the party has governed without interruption since the return to democracy. Two former regional presidents, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, are currently on trial for their alleged part in a scam that included fraudulent early retirement packages, company subsidies and commissions handed out to the tune of €136 million”.11

A recent corruption table based on individual cases puts Andalucia way over all other regions and the PSOE in about 25% of the corruption cases by party (see References for the link to the report).

CONCLUSION

There was no huge swing to the hard right although considering how the social-democrats had abused the votes the people gave them, it would not have surprising if there had been (and there still might be).

Despite their appalling record, the PSOE got 33 seats, the party with the most in the regional Government. That is worth thinking about – despite the crap the working people of Andalusia have had to put up with from the PSOE, they still gave most of their votes to the social democrats. Since this cannot logically — on the performance of the party for the people – be as a result of great affection for the PSOE, it seems likely to indicate at least a dislike or fear of the right-wing parties.

What actually happened is that in a regional election in an impoverished region, on a low turnout and with many candidates; within a state where fascism was never overthrown, with huge legal and illegal repression, with the Partido Popular — a part of the Franco heritage — regularly in government and other right-wing parties snapping at its heels, where social democracy and the established communist party colluded most shamefully with fascism and an imposed monarchy, where the history of the Anti-Fascist War is not taught: a new version of the bedrock Right in Spanish politics won seats in a regional government which it had never won before.

That is what happened. But that is far from being the first time the hard Right won seats in the Spanish state – it has done so regularly in all elections outside parts of the Basque and Catalan countries and has regularly been in government.

Those on the Left who are now wailing about Vox’s success have been and are upholding the myth of Spanish democratic politics since the Transition. They are colluding in the decades of suppression of the Basque and Catalan national movements and the propaganda against them. And many of them have marched with the Right – including fascists – in demonstrations in support of permanent Spanish union, against ‘terrorism’, etc.

Those on the Right who are complaining about Vox are being disingenuous too: they marched with Vox and other fascists for a ‘stronger Spain’ and against the independence of the nations; they saw the fascist salutes and emblems and heard the fascist slogans (whether they joined in with those or not). They were happy to have Vox take out prosecutions against Catalan independence activists and politicians.

NEVERTHELESS, WE SHOULD BE WORRIED. Because generally throughout the Spanish state, the fascists are mobilising on the streets. The fascists are particularly worried by the independentist movements in Catalonia and in the southern Basque Country as well as by proposals to demolish the shrine to Franco and Riveras12 and to remove their remains to a common graveyard. The fascists have strong links with the Spanish police and armed forces and the latter have shown themselves particularly tolerant of the behaviour of fascists on the streets. And in preparation for the repression of the working class in economically austere times to come, fascists have been mobilising throughout Europe with state laws and procedures becoming more repressive. Migrants are being targeted both for extra exploitation and for attack by word and action. We need to do more than worry – we need to mobilise and find ways to unite in effective action.

End.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

Parties standing for election in December 2018 and their share of votes and number of elected deputies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Andalusian_regional_election#Results

Political parties in government in Spanish state since the Franco Dictatorship https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Prime_Ministers_of_Spain

Vox political party: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vox_(Spanish_political_party)

Unemployment statistics Andalusia:

https://countryeconomy.com/labour-force-survey/spain-autonomous-communities/andalusia

Andalusia, political and history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andalusia

http://www.andalucia.com/spain/government/politicalparties.htm

http://www.andalucia.com/history/civilwarandalucia.htm

Andalusia production: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/spain/ultimate-andalucia/andalucia-food-and-drink/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_Spain

SAT (Andalusian Union of Workers): http://sindicatoandaluz.info/

Corruption in Andalusia: https://www.politico.eu/article/spain-corruption-country-of-thieves-high-court-trial/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/10770712/Spain-investigates-1.5bn-embezzlement-of-EU-funds.html

Corruption table of regional governments and political parties according to individual cases reported: https://www.casos-aislados.com/stats.php?fbclid=IwAR3CXDoQKjG4LIRtERu_SC_soRMp2rZH9bew3jJLbbd-I2emMGCgWyxCD2E

FOOTNOTES

1All the fascist police commanders, senior armed forces officers, judiciary, lawyers, clergy, senior civil service administrators and academics retained their positions. All the business men and media barons continued and kept whatever plunder they had managed to appropriate during the war and after.

3Executions: “ …. in the city of Cordoba 4,000; in the city of Granada 5,000; in the city of Seville 3,028; and in the city of Huelva 2,000 killed and 2,500 disappeared. The city of Málaga, occupied by the Nationalists in February 1937 following the Battle of Málaga experienced one of the harshest repressions following Francoist victory with an estimated total of 17,000 people summarily executed” (Wiki).

5To be confused with “intensively” which usually implies large-scale monoculture, chemical fertilizers and chemical sprays of fungicides, pesticides and insecticides, along with very advanced mechanisation.

6Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT, ‘Andalusian Union of Workers).

9 Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, the second-largest bank in the Spanish state.

10Lands occupied and worked by SAT supporters

11See Corruption in Andalusia links

12Valle de los Caídos, a park built in part by political prisoner labour, containing a mausoleum for Franco and Rivera’s remains, a site of frequent fascist demonstrations in homage to the memory of both men.

UNION SPOKESPERSON ARRESTED FOR INSULTING THE MONARCH

Diarmuid Breatnach

According to his trade union and other sources, Oscar Reina, spokesperson for SAT (Sindicato Andaluz de la Tierra — Andalucian Workers’ Union) was arrested at midday in Granada today while lunching with some of his colleagues, taking a break from preparations for the big demonstration on December 4th, the National Day of Andalucía as well as postering for a festival against repression planned for December 8th in Marinaleda, at which the band Ska-P will launch their most recent CD.

Oscar Reina, spokesperson for SAT, who was arrested today on a charge of “disrespect for the Monarchy” (the union flag seen nearby bears the traditional colours of Andalucia).
(Image sourced: Internet)

Reina has been required to attend court since being ordered to do so to answer charges of sending a “disrespectful to the Monarchy” tweet in 2016. H

According to trade union colleague José Caballero, communicated to the newspaper El Salto, he had not presented himself voluntarily to answer the charges in line with his union’s policy of disobedience for the leadership, adopted unanimously some years ago against the rising repression suffered by SAT, with a million in government fines and demands for imprisonment of more than 300 years with nearly 500 trade unionists charged.

The tweet for which the trade union leader is to be tried: “You must feel little shame Felipe de Borbón; you are a disgrace. Your position which nobody has voted for is inherited from an institution that was maintained as a result of a Francoist and terrorist coup.

I would award you the Prize for Lack of Decency and Hypocrisy, with a trip into exile.”

The SAT (Andalusian Worker’s Union) is a trade union operating within the Andalusian autonomous region within the Spanish state and claims a membership of 20,000. It was founded in 2007 and describes itself as: a trade union of class, alternative, anti-capitalist, assemblyist, of solidarity, internationalist, pluralist, anti-patriarchal, confederal, republican, Andalusian nationalist, of the Left and communist. Its General Secretary is Diego Canamero. The union is known for actions such as occupations of unused land and a 2013 raid on a supermarket to distribute school materials on families in need.

A recent protest of the union has been against the proposed Lands Law which they say will “sink forever the dream of our Andalusian working population for Agrarian Reform. One cannot understand Andalusia with the struggle for the land and that is more recent than might appear ….”

Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 24.4% (2017 official figures), with male unemployment at 21.6% and female unemployment reaching 27.9%. According to SAT’s figures, 50% of the land is in the hands of 2% of the population and that concentration is increasing. That is an average and in some areas the situation is much worse. One worker a day dies on the land, according to the union and 60% of Andalusians earn less than 1,000 euro a month. Around 40% are so poor they cannot afford educational materials.

The union spokesperson denounced the PSOE (which has the majority in the autonomous government) and put forward a six-point program of reforms demanded by the union which they say will address all these issues.

Reina ended the communiqué by calling on the working population of Andalusia to mobilise militantly and to demand “Tierra y Libertad!” (Land and Liberty).

LINKS:

News story: https://www.elsaltodiario.com/injurias-a-la-corona/detienen-granada-oscar-reina-miserable-a-felipe-vi?fbclid=IwAR1J9olUJkF1X9SLVGDBVTO6iTuzyqMlH7M1uh_harxL9zmHb433_DYDKHw#

S.A.T. Site: http://sindicatoandaluz.info/

S.A.T Sevilla (lots of union struggles, marches): https://www.satsevilla.org/

Video discussing unused land occupation in Andalusia and collaboration with the Red de Semillas (Seed Network), promoting older seed types more in keeping with the local environment, not relying on chemicals, etc: http://sindicatoandaluz.info/2016/12/19/somonte-vs-monsanto-semillas-de-dignidad-por-la-soberania-alimentaria/

 

WAR, SPLIT AND PLANNING INSURRECTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On the 5th August 1914 the Supreme Council of the IRB, one months after the British had declared war on Germany, decided in principle to instigate a rising for Irish independence.

On 5th August 1914, one month after the British had declared war, the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood decided in principle to lead a Rising. They envisaged, as many observers did too, that the War would not last long and arming and preparing for an insurrection would be difficult within that timeframe. The war continuing well beyond the at most expected period of a year, provided the IRB with the space to organise, plan, prepare – and also with an ally to arm them: Germany.

The split in the Irish Volunteers caused by Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge, offering the Volunteers to British Imperialism for the war against German Imperialism and Turkey, left the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood in a position to take control of the remainder, those who declined to fight for Britain and determined instead to fight for Ireland’s independence.

Over a number of months Patrick Pearse became Director of Military Organisation, Bulmer Hobson Quartermaster General, Joseph Plunkett became Director of Military Operations, Éamonn Ceannt, Director of Communications, while Thomas MacDonagh became Director of Training.

The Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neill, titular head of the Irish Volunteers prior to and after the 1914 split. He would later be disgraced in the eyes of many for his public cancellation of the 1916 Rising which went ahead without him but much diminished in numbers. (Image sourced: Internet)
Bulmer Hobson in later years. By 1916 be had separated from the IRB he had helped reorganise and was even put under armed detention for a period by the IRB.
(Image sourced: Internet)
Patrick Pearse
(Image sourced: Internet)

The titular head of the Volunteers, the Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neil, and such founding figures as The O’Rahilly, while in prominent positions and refusing to follow Redmond, did not embody the same coherence and determination for insurrection as was embodied in the IRB.

That list above contains four of the later signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas Clarke are missing but, though central figures in the reorganisation of the IRB over preceding years, that is not surprising: the older Fenian, veteran of 15 years in British jail in conditions which, it is said, sent one third of his comrades insane and another third to early graves, preferred to work in the shadows. No doubt he had instructed his student and energetic organiser, Mac Diarmada, to do likewise in so far as possible. However, they too joined the expanded Military Council in late 1915.

Thomas Clarke, ex-Fenian prisoner and the real head of the IRB in Ireland. (Image sourced: Internet)
Seán Mac Diarmada, recruited into the IRB by Hobson but became a close supporter of Clarke’s. (Image sourced: Internet)

The fifth of the Proclamation Signatories missing is James Connolly, who in August 1914 was recovering and rebuilding the Irish Transport & General Workers union, months after the end of their exhausting 8-month struggle against the Dublin employers. But he was horrified by the imperialist war and the pitting of workers against one another, divided by the ruling classes of their respective locations, uniforms of different colours concealing their common interests. Connolly wanted a rising – not just for independence but also against the coming butchery of War. The reorganisation of the Irish Citizen Army, the worker’s defence militia, began to engage Connolly’s energies but he was only sworn into the IRB in January 1916, three months before the Rising.

James Connolly, photographed in 1900. (Image sourced: Internet)

So many different threads in Irish life – cultural, political, class and nation – had been coming together, to weave a tapestry that would be read in different ways over decades but would still have powerful images, colours and words to move women and men over a century later.

 

End.