I regularly update this blog with reflections on current events, issues I’m dealing with in the parliament or important trips I make. I welcome feedback, and encourage you to comment on the blog posts.
Below we publish a report from Oisín Kelly who this week participated in a Peace Conference marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the First World War starting. The conference brought together left and anti-militarist campaigners from around Europe and was organised by the European United Left (GUE/NGL), the Left group in the European Parliament.
On Tuesday the conference held discussions on the militarisation of the European Union, pacifism in history and today, and the development of the military technological complex.
In 2012 there is a massive $1.73 trillion spent on the military. The point was made throughout the day that only 10% of this would be enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals which include the eradication of extreme hunger, universal primary education for all, gender equality and improvements to maternal health. Every day there are 70,000 people dying from lack of sanitation, basic food and medicine.
The other wastage of the arms industry highlighted is the fact that every third scientist and every second engineer is working on arms and military related projects. I had the opportunity to point out that on the basis of socialist policies this massive talent could be used for alternative and productive projects such as water resources, transport or renewable energy.
The European Union is increasingly being used to co-ordinate military projects and imperial interventions around the globe. Sabine Loesing MEP (Die Linke, Germany) made the point that the solidarity clause in the EU treaties allows for intervention from other member states; she also pointed out the position of Angela Merkel in seeing the EU as a rival power bloc to other world powers such as China and India. The CDU in Germany regularly uses this line of argument and link the arms industry in Germany to the need to keep jobs.
Michael Youltan from the Peace and Neutrality Alliance in Ireland outlined the lack of support that engagement in military alliances has in Ireland. According to a poll conducted by PANA there is 78% support for neutrality in Ireland; this figure is 85% among younger people. Yet, the Irish army have been involved with military co-operation with other EU states as part of the Battle Groups. Irish troops even served alongside the French forces in Chad.
At the meeting I pointed out that the political establishment in Ireland have the inconvenient truth of Irish history and opposition to imperialism and militarism. This is behind the revival of pro-war histories and commemorations of the First World War. The popular belief, based on the real experience of our grandparents and great grandparents, is that the war was pointless, futile and fought in the interests of the imperial powers of the day.
If the Irish government want to engage in military co-operation with EU and NATO member states they need to change the view of the population on these matters, and change the view towards the First World War. This is what is behind Enda Kenny reviving the lines used by Redmond in 1914 – war for small nations, a war to end all wars, etc. Britain has seen a sharp debate on the causes of the war with David Cameron saying the war should be ‘celebrated’ and Education secretary Michael Gove saying it was a ‘just war’ against ‘Prussian militarism’.
Trip to Ieper
On Wednesday we made a short visit to Ieper (Ypres) to meet local peace activists, pay a visit to the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum, the Langemark cemetary and the Menin Gate.
The Menin Gate was a memorial built in the 1920s to commemorate the tens of thousands of young men from the British Empire who died near Ieper and whose remains were never found. The memorial contains 55,000 names on marble stretching several metres high on all sides; during its construction the scale of the slaughter meant they were unable to include a further 35,000 names which are now listed in Passendale. Siegfried Sassoon described the Menin Gate as a ‘sepulchre of crime’, which is a highly appropriate description as it lists tens of thousands of victims of a war that was deliberately started and sustained by the imperial powers of the day.
The ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum, based in the city’s Cloth Hall that was destroyed during the war, gives a very good illustration of the experience of the war on those involved. The museum does not shy away from showing the graphic reality of the injuries and deaths that occurred, and the accounts of army medical staff are given some prominence. The artefacts of daily life in the trenches are displayed and put in context. The museum aims to show the personal experience of the war by displaying the letters and pictures of some of the dead alongside their stories.
The final visit of the day was to the Langemark cemetery which is, in reality, a mass grave containing the remains of over 44,000 German soldiers – the majority are unidentified. One-hundred years on there are still new burials at the cemetery as bodies are being recovered regularly in the fields around Ieper.
Langemark is remarkable for a number of reasons, it is located on what was the front line after the first Battle of Ypres, so was the front line at the time of the Christmas Truce of 1914 which saw the troops and junior officers of both sides stop the war to celebrate Christmas and socialise with each other. There was even a game of football played! The commanders of the armies found it very difficult to restart the war and resorted to harsh measures and substituting the troops with new ones that didn’t go through the experience of the Christmas Truce. The rank-and-file soldiers taking action to stop the war was among the biggest fears of the senior commanders and political leaders. Their fears eventually realised when in 1917 and 1918 revolutions in Germany and Russia, mass mutiny of French soldiers and strike waves around Europe stopped the war.
The Langemark area was also notable as it was the first location that poison gas was used in the war in 1915. The development of poison gas showed the depths to which the imperial powers went to find new ways of killing . The Ieper area also saw the first use of flame-throwers to kill in war.The youthfulness of those killed in the war is very stark. The average age of those dying was 23-24. However the biggest age group that died were 19 year olds. In the British forces there were 31,000 that died who were too young to be in the army. The Langemark area saw the Germans use young boys as propaganda tools. In Germany whole class rooms were encouraged to join the war effort and with minimal training, were sent to fight at Langemark. The number of these school children that died at Langemark could be as high as 3,000. The German nationalists used this ‘sacrifice’ as a model example of how German youth should act; even Hitler visited Langemark before and after becoming Fuehrer to boost this nationalist mythology.
James Connolly wrote in 1915 ‘war is a relic of barbarism only possible because we are governed by a ruling class with barbaric ideas… the working class of all countries cannot hope to escape the horrors of war until in all countries that barbaric ruling class is thrown from power’. Connolly’s words are as true now as they were in 1915. We live in a planet where trillions are blown on wasteful military spending at a time when there is hunger, preventable disease and massive inequality. The current events in the Ukraine and in the Middle East show that inter-imperial rivalries are not confined to the First World War history books. The Socialist Party stands for a socialist world where the massive wealth and resources in society are under democratic control and not in the hands of a tiny minority; and where the talents and genius of the people of the world are used for the benefit of humanity and not wasted in the arms industry.
I fully support today’s protest in Dublin to mark International Women’s Day, as a very important and timely initiative. Across Europe, there is a conscious attempted to roll back the gains won by women. Austerity programmes across Europe are pushing women out of work and destroying important services. Women comprise the overwhelming majority of workers in some of the lowest paid sectors, are more likely to be affected by pay freezes in the public sector and are more likely to be in part-time or precarious employment. Across Europe there is a 16% difference between men and women and the gender pension gap which currently is on average a staggering 39% lower!
While across Europe, governments are happy closing women’s shelters, recent report shows that one in three women in Europe experienced form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15 and 8% suffered abuse in the last 12 months. This austerity agenda combines with a growing and confident right-wing agenda to undermine reproductive rights in Europe. We see this in Spain where the government trying to introduce a new law to severely restrict the right to choose.
We are continually told that women’s rights such as equal pay legislation were handed down from on high by the EU. In fact, equal pay legislation was won by mass strikes in France after the Second World War and by the heroic strikes of female ammunition workers in Belgium, Ford workers in Britain and countless others across Europe. This is the tradition we need to rebuild to defend the gains that have been won and fight for real equality.
I believe we need to have people elected to provide a platform for those movements fighting for equality. When Savita Halappanavar tragically died in 2012 due to Ireland’s barbaric anti-abortion laws, I was the only Irish MEP willing to speak out and to call for the need to repeal the 8th amendment. We should use International Women’s Day to recommit to build a movement throughout Europe against austerity and sexism that stands for and defends a woman’s right to choose.
JOIN THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY PROTEST – SATURDAY 8 MARCH, 1PM – CENTRAL BANK PLAZA, DAME ST.
Videos of Paul raising women’s rights in he European Parliament
Dublin City Council clamping targets: Graphically exposes clamping as a crude revenue gathering exercise
In correspondence that has been leaked to the media it has been revealed that Dublin City Council has set a target of 60,000 car clampings a year.
These reports graphically expose that the City Council see clamping as a crude revenue making exercise and has abandoned any pretence of it being a traffic management exercise.
Disgracefully they have even promised a bonus of €2,000 to clamping staff if this target is met. Other bonuses for meeting individual targets including pay rises and time off are also proposed.
Despite what it may appear on the surface, this method of paying staff represents an undermining of their pay and conditions. It represents a shift towards ‘piece work’ which will put pressure on workers to deliver the targets in order to bring home decent pay.
This method of paying clamping staff will undoubtedly see pressure on them not to exercise discretion and common sense. It will also potentially subject them to abuse by the public. It should be opposed by their union SIPTU and other unions in the City Council.
These workers currently work for an outsourced company, Dublin Street Parking Services. The workers should be brought under direct employment by the City Council, be guaranteed decent pay and conditions and not rely on hitting targets. Instead of being used in a crude revenue gathering for the City Council the workers should be engaged in managing traffic and parking more effectively.
Clamping is not an effective method of managing traffic or preventing obstructive parking; it should be immediately ended.
Instead we need a reversal of cuts to the local authorities, clamping should not be used to plug gaps caused by austerity. We need to see investment in public transport to make not using a car more attractive to people. We also need to have more affordable car parking services provided by the City Council for those that do need to use a car.
Yesterday afternoon saw a determined and well attended protest by student nurses against low pay and reduced pay rates as graduate nurses.
I attended the protest in solidarity with student nurses. The government is using them as a cheap source of labour to plug gaps left in the health service because of the recruitment embargo and other austerity measures.
These nurses work just as hard as their colleagues and do the same long shifts, yet they are paid only €6.49 an hour. Like in many other sectors of the economy, what we are seeing with nurses is the use of young people as cheap labour.
In nursing, teaching and social workers we are seeing the growth of many new ‘graduate placement schemes’ or traineeships where they are expected to work full time hours for less pay. Scandalously, the government have also introduced new reduced pay rates for newly qualified teachers and nurses. This is an attempt to drive down wages in these sectors for good.
I and the Socialist Party offer our support to any further protests and campaigning which are required to force the government to meet the demands of student nurses.
What has been reported by the Irish Examiner as a ‘triple top-up’ is nothing more than a three card trick being played by the government in the middle of an orgy of self-congratulation. Reading these reports and watching the interviews being given by every and any minister and backbencher must stick in the throat of people across the country.
There seems to be at least two different Irelands: the government’s fantasy Ireland and the one everyone else exists in. The policies implemented by the government have made the poorest pay for the crisis. The proposed changes to the tax bands will increase this gap, the more money you have the better off you will be after tax band changes and tax cuts.
There are two massive contradictions in Minister Burton’s call for wage increases. Firstly, during the crisis profitability has increased in many sections of the economy while wages have been cut or stagnated, why does she think bosses will give pay-rises out now? It suits them to keep wages down and profits up. Secondly, when you have the Minister implementing free labour schemes like Gateway and JobBridge and then holding seminars to explain to companies how best to take advantage of them why would they even hire and pay someone, let alone give a wage rise, when they have this free labour on offer? These free labour schemes should be scrapped and a new higher minimum wage of €13 an hour should be implemented immediately.
The government predicted in their last budget that the USC would raise somewhere close to €4 billion in 2014. The government could scrap the USC and replace it with a higher rate of tax for top earners which could raise €2.6 billion and by simply going after the multi-national corporations and making sure they pay the 12.5% of tax which would raise €2.3 billion. This would see the richest elements of Irish society feel the austerity burden while allowing many low and middle income earners to be freed from the USC.