Apr 04 2011

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 20, Spring 2011

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 20RCN @ 5:02 pm

Issue 20 of Emancipation & Liberation is out now.

Issue 20 Cover

Issue 20 Cover

If you would like to buy this issue or subscribe, contact us.

Comments are open, so until articles are online, feel free to discuss the articles below. When they are online you can discuss the article in it’s comment section.

  • Editorial, RCN
  • Two Royal Weddings and…. A Republican Funeral for the UK?, Allan Armstrong
  • No British Withdrawal? No Royal Visits!, eirigi
  • English republican socialism, Steve Freeman
  • Welsh Referendum
  • Claiming Feminism, Susan Dorazio
  • Egypt’s Uprising: Not Just a Question of ‘Transition’, Adam Hanieh
  • An appeal from the International Federation of Iraq Refugees, International Federation of Iraqi Refugees
  • The 1% Network, John O’Neill
  • Irish elections: Revenge, but not yet resistance, Kevin Keating and John McAnulty
  • The Sheridan Perjury Trial, Allan Armstrong
  • Remembering Charlie Rees
  • The Only Boss I Ever Liked, Rod MacGregor
  • The Sane Society – Erich Fromm, Joe Conroy
  • Book Launch: From Davitt to Connolly: ‘Internationalism from Below’…, Angela Gorrie
  • Book review: Around the Time of Michael, Andy McPake
  • In Search of Middle England, Jim Aitken
  • Book review: Keir Hardie: Labour’s Greatest Hero? Richard Price

Dec 02 2010

The Only Boss I Ever Liked

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 20RCN @ 9:36 am

Now I been lookin’ for a job but it’s hard to find
Down here there’s just winners and losers
And don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line

Atlantic City, Bruce Springsteen

It was nearly three decades ago, in May 1981, that I first saw Bruce Springsteen (aka The Boss) in concert at the Playhouse in Edinburgh. Prior to the gig I had heard much about the energy of the performances that he created with the help of his backing group, the now legendary E Street Band.

I’d bought the records and I’d liked what I’d heard. Indeed, I had bought my first Springsteen records in 1973, when most of America didn’t know who he was. But could he truly replicate the energy of those pieces of vinyl live in concert and live up to the reputation for live performance that followed him around?

Back in the early ’80’s the music industry was, and let’s be honest, it still is an entity which thrives on a staple diet of hype, distortion and downright lies. Was the fuss surrounding Bruce Springsteen just one more piece of record industry bullshit, I wondered?

Thinking thus, it was with no small degree of trepidation that I approached the concert at the Playhouse. In the end I really shouldn’t have worried. Three-and-a-half hours after Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band took to the stage on that far-off evening they left it, cheered to the rafters. Hype this was not.

The man rocked!

And for the next three decades he has continued to rock.

Springsteen was born in New Jersey in 1949. After leaving school he played in various bands before being signed to CBS records by John Hammond, a music industry legend, having signed such talents as Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan to the label..

Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent And The E-Street Shuffle were both critically acclaimed but they did not sell well, a situation which led to Springsteen becoming known as Hammond’s Folly at CBS.

The snipers at CBS had to bite on their own bullets, however, in 1975, with the release of his third album, Born To Run. It is one of the all-time classic rock albums. With its release, a critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful rock ‘n’ roll singer called Bruce Springsteen was catapulted into the big time. Such was the furore surrounding the release of Born To Run that he even appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek simultaneously.

However, just as it seemed he had made it all the way to rock super-stardom his career stalled as he became embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with his former manager.

It would be 1978 before he would release his fourth album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. To promote his fifth album, The River, he undertook his first world tour in 1980/81.

By the end of that tour, including the aforementioned Edinburgh gig which I witnessed, he was being hailed as the new king of rock ‘n’ roll. But Bruce Springsteen was about to prove in a most remarkable way that there was more to him than just a good rock ‘n’ roll show and songs about fast cars.

Just as the rock world was proclaiming him the next big thing he seemed to turn his back on it all. Though he had been out on tour in the real world for a year and more, or maybe even because of it, when he returned to the United States he looked inwards at what was happening where he lived.

In 1982 he released Nebraska. It was the bravest artistic decision that Springsteen ever took. There was no band backing him, instead he presented to the world a largely solo acoustic album which took everyone by surprise.

On Nebraska the Spector-like wall of sound production, the sweeping cityscapes and wild romanticism in the music and lyrics of Born To Run are all gone, replaced by dark tales of characters sidelined by the USA of the early 1980’s and Reaganomics.

The record is populated by the misfits, the rejects and the unwanted of American society; they are characters who, sentenced by the system that they lived under and being possessed of no special talent were born to fail, excluded by birth from the American dream.

There’s a place out on the edge of town, sir,
Risin’ above the factories and the fields.
Now ever since I was a child I can remember
That mansion on the hill.

In the day you can see the children playing
On the road that leads to those gates of hardened steel,
Steel gates that completely surround, sir,
That mansion on the hill.

In many of Springsteen’s songs from the early to mid-1980’s the lyrics reflect the economic times that he lived in, and listening to the older recordings provides an insight into those times, allowing reflection on the ways in which the world has changed (or not, as the case may be) since those songs were originally written.

In 1980 Springsteen released his fifth album, The River. The title song opens thus,

I come from down in the valley where, mister, when you’re young,
They bring you up to do just like your daddy done.

OK, English teachers and grammatical perfectionists out there, take a minute to get over the verbal mangling at the end of that one. Then everyone take another minute to mull over what life was like in 1980 and compare it to what it is like now.

When The River was written back in 1979, many young people leaving school actually did follow in the footsteps of their fathers. If you were poor and working class being born in a mining community meant that being a miner was your likely fate.

Then there were the shipyards, the steel towns and in Dundee, my adopted home-town, generation after generation worked in the city’s jute mills, till after the second world war when some diversity of occupation was possible as many foreign companies located in the city.

But Dundee and many other cities throughout Scotland were about to find out that multinational companies and corporations investing in them was not done through any sense of altruism.

If you drive into Dundee from the north on the A92 and turn right at the Scott Fyfe circle on to Dundee’s inner ring road, the Kingsway, and proceed to drive its length to the other end at the Swallow circle, you will drive through an industrial graveyard.

Dotted along the five-and-a-half miles of the Kingsway are the sites of the post-war sunrise industries which located in Dundee — Timex Milton, ABB Nitran, Valentine’s, NCR, Timex Camperdown, Levis — each factory at one time a beacon of hope for a brighter future, but now all either vacant sites or shopping centres, each one now nothing more than a tombstone along the side of the road of Dundee’s forced march into globalisation.

A forced march into a world where capitalist multinationals in thrall to globalisation shipped jobs abroad to where the goods that they produced could be manufactured cheaper, a world where loyalty from international corporations to loyal work forces had no place as shareholders had to be satisfied and profits maximised.

Nitran, Valentine’s, NCR, Timex, Levis.

Some went easy.

Some went hard.

But in the end . . .

. . . they all went.

To this mix, add Dundee’s jute industry, fast approaching its death throes. By the time that Dundee’s industrial holocaust had burnt itself out swathes of its post-war housing schemes had become like ghettoes in some places as those who would once have found employment in those industries self-medicated themselves to temporary and repetitive oblivion with the drink or narcotic of their choice in order to escape the empty awfulness and lack of hope in their lives.

Maybe those jobs hadn’t been great, especially in the jute mills, but they had provided expectations among the young of Dundee of at least some kind of employment when they left school.

With that certainty gone they would no longer follow in the footsteps of their fathers, and their fathers before them. They would no longer be brought up to “do just like your daddy done.”

In the song My Hometown Springsteen observed,

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more.
They’re closing down the textile mill
Across the railroad tracks,
Foreman says, “These jobs are going, boys,
And they ain’t coming back
To your hometown . . .

Springsteen may have been making observations about life in the United States, but the song found a sympathetic echo on the streets of Dundee.

Bruce Springsteen’s seventh album, Born In The USA was released in June 1984, a few months into the miners’ strike, Britain’s most bitter post-war industrial dispute, during which Thatcher unleashed the full force of the state to crush the miners.

Across the Atlantic her ideological soul mate, Ronald Reagan, was decimating American industry, and both had set the (wrecking) ball rolling on a course which would see car plants, steel mills and much of the manufacturing base destroyed.

Born In The USA was Springsteen’s most commercially successful record and all sorts of craziness followed its release as everyone jumped on the bandwagon, including Ronald Reagan, who was campaigning for re-election as president in 1984.

On a stop at Hammonton, New Jersey, he hijacked Springsteen for his own political ends as he told an invited audience, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in the songs so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

It was several days before Springsteen responded to Reagan’s adoption of him. On stage on September 22, he told the audience, The president was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favourite album musta been. I don’t think it was the Nebraska album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.

He launched into a song from the Nebraska album, Johnny 99, the protagonist of the song having lost his job when the local car plant had been shut down. In desperation he had been arrested for trying to commit a robbery. At his trial he tells the judge from the dock,

Now, judge, judge, I had debts
No honest man could pay.
The bank was holding my mortgage,
They were gonna take my house away.

Springsteen was to revisit the theme of de-industrialisation in his 1995 solo album, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, in particular on the song, Youngstown. It tells the tale of a young man who returns from war in Vietnam to a job in the steel industry in the town of Youngstown, Ohio.

Well, my daddy worked the furnaces,
Kept ’em hotter than hell,
I came home from ’Nam, worked my way to scarfer,
A job that’d suit the devil as well.
Taconite, coke and limestone
Fed my children and made my pay.
Them smokestacks reaching like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay.

Someone worshipping a beautiful sky of soot and clay makes for an interesting situation for eco-socialists. Knowing as we do the effect of pumping vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, would we ourselves be forced to close down the coal mines and steel mills, even though they provided the very means of existence to many?

Surely the difference would be that we would handle any closures and subsequent redundancies made to protect the planet in a humane manner by creating jobs in renewable technologies for the out of work miners and steel workers.

For the record, I nearly wrote in a more humane manner in the previous paragraph, but stuck with humane manner instead. The word more is comparative and its use would have implied that there was some degree of humanity about Thatcher and her attitude to the miners and, indeed, the whole working class.

There wasn’t!

The central character of the song is another who went on to become someone who ended up going down the road of doing just like your daddy done. Like his father before him he has returned from war to a job in a vital industry.

But he will be the last of his family to do this. His children will not do just like your daddy done. The third verse of Youngstown is a mournful requiem for the steel mills of that Ohio town.

Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he came home from World War Two.
Now the yard’s just scrap and rubble.
He said, ‘Them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do’.

Both he and his father had unquestioningly served the state well in time of war, but his father’s life and his own were worth nothing to American based multinational corporations in time of peace when they found somewhere that steel could be made cheaper.

With the release of Born In The USA in 1984 and the world tour which followed it, Springsteen became one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, but celebrity and fame posed for him the question that all international rock stars face with their vast wealth and jet set lifestyles. How do you stay in touch with where you came from?

Some don’t even try. Others preach about saving the world from the stage during their concerts, all the while moving their tax affairs offshore only to end up wondering why they still haven‘t found what they‘re looking for. It seems that Springsteen is at least aware of the dichotomy that exists in his situation.

Following a three-month world tour with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’door, sponsored by Amnesty International and promoting the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Springsteen split from the E-Street Band. It would be eleven years before they played together again in public.

Springsteen simply told the band that he would not be requiring their services for the foreseeable future, that he wanted time to pursue other ideas. He did, in fact, tour in 1992 with a new group of musicians, and in the song Better Days he bemoans the fact that

I took a piss at fortune’s sweet kiss,
It’s like eating caviar and dirt,
It’s a sad, funny ending to find yourself pretending,
A rich man in a poor man’s shirt.

Perhaps it is a dilemma with no resolution.

Twenty-nine-and-a-bit years on from that far-off night at the Playhouse in Edinburgh when I first saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert, so much has changed. The big industries in Scotland—the coal mines, the shipyards, the car plant, the steel mill—all now gone. Methil no more. Linwood no more. Ravenscraig no more. Ghosts that now only inhabit and haunt the memories of those of a certain age.

But yet, so much remains the same. Unemployment, war and poverty have not died. They are every bit as real now and every bit as awful as they were nearly three decades ago, the stench that follows capitalism around like some unshakeable bloodhound.

Regarding war, it must be said that Springsteen’s attitude towards his country’s foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been better. He toured Europe in the spring and summer of 2003 round about the time of the US (sorry, coalition) invasion of Iraq.

When he toured in 1988 he closed the first half of his shows with the Edwin Starr classic War flowing into Born In The USA. What a message he could have sent out with that ending to his 2003 shows. But it was absent. He did not come out against the war till much later. Neil Young, Steve Earle and the Dixie Chicks did it so much better.

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?

The River, Bruce Springsteen

Like a remake of a classic movie once more we are told that we are all in this together, as times of austerity forced upon us by a failed ideology threaten to engulf us in a tsunami of redundancies and cuts to vital services.

Once again the rich elite who took the profits in the good times tell us that we must pay for their greed and folly in the bad times. And, as in any movie remake, only the actors have changed. The plot remains the same.

Those who would have had us believe that it was the end of boom and bust have been proved laughably wrong. Neither has the end of history arrived, for history is still being written, and though the hand that writes the story of our current times has previously written it on more than one occasion it seems never to tire of recording the same tale.

If ever there was a need for a new hand on the pen which writes the story it is now—and it is a need for a kinder, fairer hand, a hand that would write a happier ending for those who lack the naked greed and blind ambition which has brought us to our present pass.

Badlands, you’ve got to live them every day,
Let the broken hearts stand, that’s the price you’ve got to pay.
Keep pushing till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good.

Badlands, Bruce Springsteen.

Anyway, enough. On July 14 last year, I and 50,000 others turned up at the National Stadium in Glasgow to see Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band in concert. The question I asked myself prior to him hitting the stage was this. Here was a man just a few months short of his sixtieth birthday. Could he still hack it?

Thinking thus, it was with no small degree of trepidation that I approached the concert at Hampden Park. In the end I really shouldn’t have worried. Three hours after Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band took to the stage on that summer evening they left it, cheered to the rafters. The man still rocks!

I’m just a prisoner of rock ‘n’ roll.

—Bruce Springsteen.

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Nov 14 2009

The Legacy of James Connolly

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 20RCN @ 9:03 pm

Allan Armstrong interviews Jim Slaven, a founder member of the James Connolly Society and currently Chair of the Connolly Foundation. Jim outlines the longstanding campaigns to have James Connolly commemorated in Edinburgh, the city of his birth.

Our own radical tradition is a mystery to us, that we don’t know about our historical links
with people who we should be proud of – we should be proud that James Connolly is an
Edinburgh man, why are we not proud of that? One of the greatest twentieth century socialists
was murdered by the British army in 1916. Why do we not admit what happened with John
Maclean, somebody who was murdered, who was poisoned by the State. Why is he not a

James Kelman, Edinburgh Book Festival, 26th August, 2009

James Kelman’s comments on James Connolly (and John Maclean) at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival seem very pertinent. How did James Connolly first come to your attention?

I think Kelman’s comments at the Book Festival really hit the nail on the head about the ignorance that exists about James Connolly in Edinburgh or John Maclean in Glasgow. Personally, with my own experience coming from Edinburgh, where my family was brought up in ‘Little Ireland’, when they first arrived in Scotland, I would have been aware of Connolly from an early age. I made the connection between James Connolly in 1916 and modern politics in the early 1980’s, at the time of the Hunger Strike, particularly when Francis Hughes died on May 12th. May 12th was the date that Connolly was executed by the British state and the date that this hunger striker died. For me, this connected the history and the reality of politics at the time.

When was the James Connolly Society formed and what was its purpose?

Well, the James Connolly Society grew out of the Rising Phoenix Republican Flute Band which had been formed in Edinburgh in 1984, round about the same time as many republican flute bands appeared in Scotland, in the late 1970’s and early 80’s political context of the prison struggle. The Rising Phoenix organised the first Connolly march in Craigmillar Edinburgh in 1986. It became clear that after that initial march in the city that what was needed was a broader political organisation to take forward the memory of James Connolly as well as some of the Irish solidarity work that was required at the time. So, out of the band, came the James Connolly Society, which was formed in the late 80’s after the first march.

The Connolly march in Edinburgh was the subject of a great deal of official hostility. Why was this?

For us, the primary reason why there was such hostility from the state to the Connolly march was because of its politics. James Connolly was a revolutionary leader who was incredibly important for working class people in Edinburgh, but also important to people in Belfast and other areas of the occupied ‘Six Counties’. We felt that Connolly had been very badly neglected in Edinburgh and that his revolutionary analysis of republicanism and socialism needed to be expounded to a wider audience.

The other element, which shouldn’t be neglected, was the fact that the Connolly march was very mucha working class event, organised by young working class people in the city. That is what differentiated it from earlier attempts in the early ‘80’s to organise Connolly events in Edinburgh. These had been smashed by loyalism. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen when local, young working class people were determined to defend their rights.

Although the struggle for Irish self determination, and opposition to British troops in ‘the Six Counties’, was at the centre of the Connolly marches, the organisers always invited a wider range of speakers. What was the thinking behind this?

Well, consider the Connolly marches principal objectives – one was to show solidarity with the risen people in ‘the Six Counties’. We were very clear that the Connolly march was taking place against a backdrop of ongoing military conflict and this was an opportunity to take to the streets in solidarity with the Irish people and their fight against the British state.

The second principal objective of the march was to try and take James Connolly to a wider audience; to make the connection with other people in struggle. So, it wasn’t just about Ireland, or the Irish in Edinburgh, it was linked to various other campaigns. Sometimes speakers were from some ongoing industrial action, and speakers from Palestine, South Africa or various other international struggles. So, it was important for us that we recognised James Connolly’s work in its totality, and not just one aspect.

Despite state and labour movement recognition in Ireland, and American-Irish and labour movement recognition in the USA, there has been a much greater reticence to recognise Connolly in the city of his birth. Why is this?

We have to recognise the difficulties in Scottish society. At times, Scotland is a terribly nasty, divided, sectarian state. The Irish community in Scotland is under continuing pressure and clearly James Connolly was seen as someone of particular significance. His memory was treated with great hostility by the forces of state, including the police and the council, but also by reactionary elements like the Orange Order and British National Party, in a way that would not happen in the United States, where there would perhaps be greater recognition of the contribution immigrants have made.

Scotland has been very slow to recognise the contribution of the Irish community. And certainly, with the revolutionary politics of James Connolly, some did not take very kindly to the centre of Edinburgh being taken over by people who were expounding these ideas.

Even the Left here is hardly aware of Connolly’s key role in building the first Socialist Movement in Scotland. What do you see as the reasons for this?

I think it has to do with the particular political terrain in Scotland. We have to be honest, the Left in Scotland, in this regard, is a bit of an embarrassment. They showed very little support for the Connolly march at all, which was a disgrace. Even when the annual Connolly march was the only place where the BNP publicly organised themselves in Scotland, with counter demonstrations in conjunction with the Orange Order, publicly encouraging large groups to come along and attack the march, significantly, most of the Left decided to stay away. At times they organised events to coincide with the march to provide an excuse to stay away. They were afraid of the legacy of James Connolly, scared of the conflict that was going on in Ireland, and wanted to keep their heads down, which, as I said, was a disgrace.

When the decision to end the annual march in Edinburgh was taken by the Connolly Society, how did you see the work to commemorate his memory continuing?

We made the decision in 2006, after 20 years of the Connolly marches, that it was time for a strategic departure. The Connolly Society decided it was going to advance Connolly’s memory through other pieces of work and the establishment of the Connolly Foundation, which would be a centre for research, education and advocacy, based in Edinburgh.

It was very important that, although it was the end of the Connolly march, it wasn’t the ending of commemorating James Connolly. Indeed it was about advancing Connolly, perhaps in a way that the backdrop of the march and all the controversy surrounding it, wasn’t able for us to do. So the Connolly Foundation is a new vehicle to achieve this aim.

How is work progressing with the Connolly Foundation, and in particular, with the campaign to have a statue erected in this city to honour Connolly’s memory?

One of the key pieces of work for the Connolly Foundation in the future is going to be to raise the necessary funding and the public and political support for the James Connolly statue. We’ve signed an agreement with Tom White, an American artist, who was recently commissioned to erect a monument to Connolly in Chicago, and who is ready to go ahead with one in Edinburgh.

A statue of Connolly shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself, but as a recognition of the contribution made by the working class and immigrants to the city. There are all sorts of statues in Edinburgh to all sorts of people – mostly distasteful – but there are no statues to working class people or to immigrants. So, it is in that wider context that we want a statue erected to James Connolly.

The Edinburgh Trades Council faced a considerable political battle, both within its own ranks and from the city council, to have the small James Connolly commemoration plaque installed by his birthplace in the Cowgate. However, the recent article in the Edinburgh Evening News, announcing the campaign to have a statue erected was surprisingly sympathetic. Do you think today’s campaign will face fewer obstacles?

We recognise that there will still be obstacles, but clearly we are in a different place to where we were, when we started in 1986. The James Connolly plaque was erected in 1968 at the end of a fifteen-year campaign. We hope that we can get a Connolly statue considerably quicker than that! We think it should be a process which directly engages with the local community.

Connolly himself saw the importance of song in creating a culture of resistance.Both Irish traditional and rebel songs and music have been very important to the Irish struggle. A more recent development, which goes back to Connolly’s own songs drawing on both republican and wider socialist imagery, has been the songs of The Wakes, who are also trying to bridge this gap. Do you see this as significant?

Definitely. One of the important things about Connolly’s life was the way he used different vehicles to get across his political message. So, as well as his political activism and the organisations he joined and founded, he was also a play-writer and a songwriter. I think over the years we have tried to work with various bands, like The Wakes, who have tried to make the connection between socialist song and Irish republican song. It is definitely something we think is significant. Cultural expression is important.

You personally took the decision to get yourself involved in the Edinburgh Peoples’ Festival. Do you see this as important?

I think that the Edinburgh Peoples’ Festival, as an organisation, does a lot of good work in taking the arts to working class communities that are excluded from the official cultural celebrations that take place in this city. I think by drawing attention to James Connolly, we want to work with the Edinburgh People’s Festival in highlighting the hidden histories of this city – the different narratives that exist. I think this is fantastic work and some people are very supportive.

Are there any other ways in which you think the memory of James Connolly could be enhanced in this city or in Scotland as a whole?

I think there are various ways that this can be done. One of the things the Connolly Foundation is keen to do, is to look at some of the research around the experience of the Irish community in this city; but also to focus on some of the problems that exist for that community, looking at material issues like health inequalities, educational attainment and the interaction with the criminal justice system. So the Connolly Foundation is keen that Connolly’s memory is enhanced in the city through improving the material conditions of working class people.

Republic of the Imagination Kelman also highlighted the importance of John Maclean in Glasgow. I think that Maclean is right up there with Connolly as a giant in the Socialist movement in Scotland. I think that it is vitally important that Scotland tries to explore the history of both James Connolly and John Maclean, as well as others. Certainly, the Connolly Foundation would like to work with comrades in Glasgow to try and uncover and celebrate the history of John Maclean. We recognise his contribution in combining the wider struggle for socialism with support for the Irish war of independence.

No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and the hopes, the loves and the hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement, it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude.

James Connolly, from the Introduction to his Songs of Freedom, 1907.

The Connolly Foundation

To support the campaign to get a statue of Connolly erected in Edinburgh contact: statue@connollyfoundation.org or go to: http://www.connollyfoundation.org

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Nov 14 2009

Migrant workers are at the heart of our fightback

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 20RCN @ 7:27 pm

Editorial from The Commune, no. 6

The jobs massacre currently taking place under the cover of recession is an attack which particularly endangers casually or precariously employed workers; furthermore, migrants are also being scapegoated for ‘stealing’ hard-to-come-by jobs.

Immigrants, many of whom are forced to leave their countries of birth by repressive regimes directly or indirectly put in place with a helping hand from British foreign policy, are expected to work long hours at low pay on casual contracts: and most of all, not to complain.

However, brave organising efforts have been mounted by many migrant workers to stand up to employers and demand basic rights: for example cleaners at university campuses or banks in the City of London demanding a living wage rather than just the legal minimum and fighting against redundancies. They are an example to the entire labour movement of how to fight back: they show the possibility of building working-class resistance to the recession. Yet as the ‘Justice for Cleaners’ episode shows unions like Unite are indifferent, or even hostile, to migrant workers. This despite the fact that for many migrants, raising your head above the parapet risks determined efforts by employers and the state to question your ‘right’ to live in the UK and therefore to weed-out troublemakers and organisers.

Recent liberal calls for an ‘amnesty’ offering ‘a pathway to citizenship’ for ‘hard-working’ illegal immigrants do not challenge this, since business interests and the state still decide who is ‘suitable’ for entry. The use of border controls to determine who may or may not live in the UK is an affront to any notion of democratic rights of the individual, and is also intimately linked with the racist idea that where you come from should determine whether you are allowed to choose to live here. Such border controls are also highly gendered, with women bearing the brunt of deportations and violence perpetrated by immigration officials.

Those who argue that migrants should not be allowed into the UK ‘for their own protection’, to stop them being exploited by unscrupulous employers, ignore the fact that hundreds of thousands of people work in the UK illegally regardless: in fact their status simply means that they are denied basic employment rights; subjected to practices such as the nonpayment of wages; and are in constant fear that their already precarious work status will be swept from under them. Borders, detention centres and deportations are a savage weapon in the hands of the bosses to control people. Capitalism needs to move the workforce around at its whim in order to mobilise it efficiently, much as the EU Posted Workers’ Directive has allowed bosses to ‘undercut’, breaking union and minimum wage agreements: the best way to fight this exploitation is not to retreat into protectionism, but rather to demand full freedom of movement and equal work conditions for all, regardless of any form of national discrimination.

As communists we are for a world without any borders or states. Opposition to all immigration controls is fundamental to the free society we envisage and the fight to build it starts now. We do not believe it to be some ‘optional extra’ to be neglected as it was by recent left electoral projects from Respect to No2EU. All workers have a common enemy in these racist, sexist, union-busting immigration controls.

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