Driving home on Thursday, crossing that ridiculous border that divides this small island into two failed states, with my sterling in one pocket and my euros in another (another ridiculous division), it flashed into my mind that I had been in a concentration camp for 48 hours, but not the sort that we associate with that term.
I was very fortunate to have been included in a political school sponsored by Unite the Union with full participation by those other great and enlightened Right2Water unions, Mandate and the CWU, and superbly organised and delivered by Trademark Belfast.
Crammed into 48 hours was a series of presentations by specialists, mainly academics, on fundamentally important issues arising from neoliberalism that confront the people of this small island and the wider world. These were: Free Trade and Globalisation; the Future of Work; Sustainable Economies; Media, Hegemony and Ideology; A Broken Economy; Debt or Democracy – Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice; Commercialistation of the Public Sphere.
Each presentation was followed by full participation by the inmates of the concentration camp in teasing out these issues and possible solutions. That is where concentration was required, and no escaping it since we were voluntary prisoners on a small island in Lough Erne.
‘We’ included leaders and officials of those Right2Change trade unions, Independent for Change TDs and councillors, community activists, Trademark facilitators, academics, and, until they had to dash back to Dublin to deal with the aftermath of that perverse judicial decision on Apollo House, Brendan Ogle, Dean Scurry, Terry McMahon and Glenn Hansard of Home Sweet Home.
We had presentations and discussion, but of equal importance was the out-of-school democratic engagement/discussion by all on ‘where we are, where do we want to get to, and how do we get there?’. We know where we are – in the shit created by the political class, and where we want to get to – a republic of equals founded on fundamental rights and based on justice and equality and solidarity and ownership and control by the people. But how to get there?
The consensus was that the means to that end lies in encouraging and facilitating the bottom-up people’s movement that was brought into being by the Right2Water campaign and enhanced by the public response to the Home Sweet Home initiative with further progress likely to emerge from public campaigns on other serious issues that beset the people (other than the 20% political class).
What means could be used to make the necessary progress towards that end? Like James Connolly and Jim Larkin before them, the leaders of Unite, Mandate and the CWU, Jimmy Kelly, John Douglas and Steve Fizpatrick understand that the solution lies in the first place in political education and secondly in the provision of information to counteract a propagandist right-wing media hegemony that exists without real challenge by progressives. That understanding of the proper role of trade unions, which goes beyond the central task of representing workers and into the area of creating political change from rule by an ‘elite’ to rule by the people for the benefit of all, separates these and a few other trade unions from other less visionary and less progressive trade unions.
Neither Connolly nor Larkin were prepared to concede the media landscape to the right-wing capitalist class, and so they published their own left-wing newspapers. There is now serious intent to explore the creation of a new online newspaper with a progressive ethos and proper journalism to fill the vacuum of ideas and information necessary to create a genuine fourth estate. More on that later, hopefully of a positive nature!
In terms of political education, there was agreement by all on the necessity to continue the excellent work done during the Right2Water/Right2Change campaign by Trademark and the unions in providing very easily understood presentations to local groups across the island, so that anyone who attends one of these will be able to understand and gain a perspective on the forces at play in the world and on this island, and how we might defeat them and their nefarious ideology.
Over the past two years I have got the sense that the tide is turning, that more and more people are ready to embrace the chance of themselves forging real political change from which will flow economic and social change. I have waited a lifetime, like many others, for that to happen. It could just be that moment in our history when the crack that lets the light in widens. Remember the Berlin Wall moment in which, in a matter of days, a seemingly impregnable structure was torn down? These moments come, but they have to be fuelled and then seized upon.
That is what this 48-hour session seems to me to have been about. Let’s find ways to help people to change their lives for the better, and let’s do it by coalescing with each other and in doing that, as Rory Hearne wrote yesterday, “by keeping that common heart beating we will find a way forward”.
Much of the western world is turning sharply to the right. We have no need to go there since we have been stuck in that cul-de-sac since the foundation of the corporatist state in 1922. Our opportunity is to turn left and to correct the ills created by malign governments representing only political class-capitalist interests.
So let’s keep that common heart beating strongly, and don’t be diverted by fools or knaves who pretend to be on our side while trying to tear us down.
¡Adelante! Forward! Ar Aghaidh Linn!