Mar 29 2017

PADDY BORT – 1954-2017

Allan Armstrong writes about the contribution made by Paddy Bort, who died on February 17th, to our understanding of Scottish and Irish cultural and political links.

 

PADDY BORT – 1954-2017

Eberhard Bort, Germano-Scot and Germano-Irish by choice, “in essence the ultimate European”, and known to most acquaintances in Scotland and Ireland as Paddy, died unexpectedly on February 17th. Steve Byrne, founder member of the folk group, Malinky, and convenor of the Hamish Henderson Archive Trust, wrote what has become Paddy’s much circulated obituary. It begins with the strikingly appropriate words, “A hole the size of Arthur’s Seat is in the Edinburgh folk scene today.”
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Mar 25 2015

DEFINING REPUBLICANISM

John Tummon (Republican Socialist Alliance) responds to Murdo Ritchie’s (RCN) Promoting Republicanism (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/promoting-republicanism/)

Murdo Ritchie’s ‘Promoting Republicanism’ is a very important contribution to something we Republican Socialists need to keep working on until we have a theoretically rigorous and internally-tested critique of the poverty of any socialist analysis that fails to incorporate a full understanding of democracy and republicanism; only when this is in place can we think about breaking through to a position of genuine influence on the Left, let alone wider society outside of Scotland.

I see Murdo’s ‘Promoting Republicanism’ as a key stage in that development – and a very welcome one at that – and my comments, including my attempted development of aspects of what Murdo has written, are put forward in that spirit. What I increasingly find is that the most interesting left thinking in Britain comes from Republican Socialists, which was born out by the impressive quality of discussion at the recent RSA AGM in London; much of what passes as debate within the rest of the British (certainly the English) Left is stale repetition and, within Left Unity, the recycling of stale certainties from past eras in the name of ‘doing politics differently’. Unless we think politics differently, a failed practice will recur.

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Nov 27 2013

THE GHOST OF JAMES CONNOLLY – Book Launch

THE GHOST OF JAMES CONNOLLY 

James Connolly and Edinburgh’s New Trade Union, Independent Labour and Socialist Movements (1890-96)

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James Connolly’s role in Irish history is well known and celebrated.  However, Connolly also played a prominent part in the ‘New Union’, independent Labour and Socialist movements in Edinburgh. Allan Armstrong, who conducts Radical Walks in the city, has written the first book looking at Connolly’s years in Edinburgh. It includes a Gazetteer of locations in the city linked with Connolly.

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Jan 28 2013

ATHENS CALLING: UNITE AGAINST FASCISM

Edinburgh demonstration against Golden Dawn, outside First Minister's official residence

Edinburgh demonstration against Golden Dawn, outside First Minister’s official residence

Demonstrations against fascism in Greece took place on Saturday 19 January in several cities around the world, with Athens as a central location (http://uaf.org.uk/2013/01/solidarity-with-greece-anti-fascist-movement-sat-19-jan/). This initiative was about protesting against the fascist role and activities of the Greek party Golden Dawn, which is unfortunately growing fast, creating new branches around the world (there are rumours that they are about to open a branch in Chicago!)

The demo in Edinburgh was attended by approximately 100 people. There were some SWP protesters with nicely designed banners and posters, as well as several Greek students from the University of Edinburgh protesting against the rise of fascism in Greece, but also some non-Greek protesters of various ethnicities representing more generic anti-racist positions and claims.

We stood for about an hour in front of the National Gallery listening to short speeches and responding to the weak threats of a tiny fascist group (maybe 10 people in total), who were standing opposite to us with two swastika signs, drawn in a ‘postmodern’ style, as mentioned by Willie Black (of the SWP) in his speech.  We then went to Charlotte Square to drop a petition to the First Minister’s house, but there was no letter box, so we had a little ceremony of sticking the petition on the door with tape, and the outcome was documented with still cameras with the intention to be circulated via Facebook pages.

Demonstrations took place in several locations, including the city of Leeds in England. This one had a very small number of participants, not even twenty people, but included a couple with their twins in a double pram, and some others who had attempted to include Greek words on their banner! The spelling mistakes on this banner with the double pram in the background turned this miniature demo into a rather touching event, very much telling about the power of human nature, as a core element in the project of the revolution.

 Sophia Lycouris, 20-01-2012

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Jan 17 2011

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose? – Global Commune Event

3rd Global Commune Event

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Registration 10. 30 for 11. 00 – 16.30

Out of the Blue Centre,
Dalmeny Street,
Leith
Edinburgh

In both the UK and Ireland today, the overwhelming majority of trade union leaders have signed up to social partnerships. These effectively reduce unions to a free personnel management service for the employers. However, the traditional Broad Left response of electing alternative leaders has shown itself unable to counter social partnerships. Indeed many current union leaders, who now accept social partnership, were themselves earlier Broad Left members. The third Global Commune event, jointly sponsored by the Republican Communist Network and the commune, asks the question – Trade unions – Are they fit for purpose? A number of different approaches to organising workers will be discussed in workshops over the day.

Cost

£5 for full-time employed
£2 for others

First session 11.00 – 12. 30

Panel followed by workshop sessions and follow up plenary

1. Working within trade unions – the rank and file perspective – Allan Armstrong

Allan is a member of the Republican Communist Network and the commune group. He was the convenor of Lothian Rank & File Teachers and involved in the three month long independent industrial action of Scottish teachers in the mid-70’s. He later became the Chair of the first regional Anti-Poll Tax Union, which was formed in Lothian.

2. Working with the IWW – Alberto Durango

Alberto is a member of the Latin American Workers Association, UNITE and the IWW. He is worker from Colombia who has been centrally involved in the campaigns of migrant workers cleaner in London. This culminated in an attempt to victimise him by the Swiss bank, UBS, which prompted a solidarity campaign. UNITE union officials tried to sabotage this, so Alberto has looked to the IWW (which comes from an industrial unionist tradition) to organise cleaners.

3. Building the Independent Workers Union – Tommy McKearney

Tommy is an organiser for the Independent Workers Union in Ireland. He is also the editor of Fourthwrite, a journal designed to promote debate amongst communists, socialists and republicans. Ireland was the first place in these islands where a government/employer/trade union social partnership was formed. The IWU was created to organise workers opposing social partnership.

4. Supporting workers from outside – an autonomist perspective – Mike Vallance

Mike comes from an autonomist tradition, writes for Counterinformation and is involved in the Autonomous Centre for Edinburgh (ACE). Mike was a dedicated activist in the anti-poll tax struggle. ACE has recently been providing support to the street cleaners employed by Edinburgh City Council. They have been involved in a longstanding dispute, hamstrung by local UNITE officials.

How do communists organise in trade unions? – Stuart King

Stuart is a member of Permanent Revolution. He will be drawing on the experience of the Minority Movement in the early Communist Party to show possible lessons for today.

Second Session 1.30 – 15.00

Community unionism – Should trade union membership be confined to employed workers? Patricia Campbell and Paul Stewart

Patricia is a member of the IWU and has been centrally involved in health workers struggles in Belfast. She has also been to Palestine to examine the health implications of the Israeli occupation. Paul is co-author of We Sell Our Time No More – Workers Struggles Against Lean Production in the British Car Industry. He has produced a short film, which will be shown. This shows examples of union organisation in the community, particularly in Japan.

Workshops

15.00 – 15.15 – break

Third Session 15.15 – 16.30

Repeat workshops followed by plenary

There will be a chance to continue the discussion informally afterwards.

Further information can be had by contacting Allan Armstrong at:-

allan.armstrong.1949@hotmail.co.uk

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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
hero?

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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