These two articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) look at the response in Ireland (south and north) to the killing of George Floyd and then the response of the PSNI and the Garda to these demonstrations. The first article argues for the power of solidarity in the face of shared exploitation and oppression rather the ‘allyship’ based on intersectional identity. Both highlight the role of the Garda and PSNI in attempting to suppress the demonstrations. The first article also points to the role of Garda in suppressing the Debenham workers in Dublin (1). The second article highlights the response of the Stormont government, falling back on the PSNI’s RUC past to enforce the harshest state response in the UK to these demonstrations.
1. GEORGE FLOYD DEMONSTRATIONS IN IRELAND
The Black Lives Matter demonstrations across Ireland have shown a massive upwelling of support for the protestors in the US. They show the immense power of spontaneous human solidarity. This is not “allyship” based on modern identity ideologies, but a concrete solidarity that sees racism and oppression in the Irish State and the British colonial enclave and is not afraid to say so. Initial demonstrations took place spontaneously across the island, with the main demonstrations in Dublin and Belfast. They were followed by more structured demonstrations on Saturday 6th June in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Derry and many other centres. Although all were pressured by the police, with a number being cancelled and a Newry demonstration dispersed, turnout was in the thousands at the main demonstrations with black protestors joined by large numbers of white, mostly young, activists.
That spontaneity has already achieved much. By linking with other protests in the US and across the globe, they have forced back a racist administration that is protecting the killers and further exposed the corrupt Trump regime.
Solidarity is not simply an emotion. It is based upon a concrete reality of oppression under capitalism. Some speakers referenced a common history where Ireland’s civil rights movement had drawn upon the experience of the US movement against segregation. Racism and sectarianism are bedrocks of capitalist rule that bear down on us all.
If any are in doubt about this all they have to do is reference the response of the Garda and the Northern police. That response was overwhelmingly hostile, using the covid pandemic as grounds for denying political rights rather than to try to ensure that precautions against infection were followed.
The Garda have form here, having already threatened and dispersed Debenhams workers. The retail chain had sacked its entire workforce by email and redundancy payments were to be set at the State minimum, but attempts to demonstrate, even with social distancing, were initially suppressed.
Immediate #blacklivesmatter demonstrations caught police by surprise, but this did not prevent threats that charges would be brought. The more organised demonstrations at the weekend met with threats and intimidation that led to smaller venues being canceled. The PSNI in Belfast did their best to recreate the atmosphere of the ‘68 civil rights confrontations. The demonstration was surrounded by a wall of armoured police vehicles and officers in paramilitary dress, with some in full body armour. Demonstrators were halted, interrogated, threatened, fined and a number were turned away. The organisers were informed that they were likely to be prosecuted and the meeting disrupted with loudspeaker warning that participants were breaking Covid 19 regulations – this despite the organisers marking out 2.5 metre distancing across the square. It was evident that the police action was political. In the centre of Belfast crowds were routinely breaking distance guidelines without police intervention and the police themselves were completely indifferent to social distancing. Their barricade of the demonstration caused congestion that the march regulators had sought to prevent.
The movement in the US is advancing beyond protest to develop a political programme, demanding the disbandment of the racist and militarised police force. Ireland’s political assemblies should be called upon to publicly break with and denounce the barbarism in the US. To apply the maximum pressure, political parties, unions and cultural groups should be asked for formal support. We have to link up with the US movement and global support.
And to win over the working class we have to point to parallel realities in Ireland. Racism and sectarianism run alongside mass unemployment. As the administrations North and South become more corrupt so the parties blend into each other and political opposition disappears.
At the moment there is a strange tension between demonstrators and organisers. The demonstrators offer spontaneous rejection of racism, spontaneous solidarity and unity and a mass outpouring of discontent, not to a far away repression, but to a horrific reality imposed by a decaying capitalism on young workers everywhere. They lack structure, a political programme and a strategy and they are extremely naive about the repressive system they are facing.
Traditionally the Left and pressure groups have provided structure and policy, and this is the case today in that United Against Racism, organisers of Saturday’s Belfast demonstration, is a front for People Before Profit. However the organising role stopped with physical organisation, which was itself anonymous. Proposals? Strategy? Analysis? All were absent! Of course it would be completely insensitive for a political group, largely white, to impose its views, but providing analysis and structure around which debate can take place is necessary if we are to move beyond spontaneity towards a structured political movement. The immediate danger is that a powerful political moment will dissipate as quickly as it formed.
Why the Left are so shy about policy is a matter of speculation. It may be the conversion to identity politics and the idea that the role of “allyship” is to keep quiet for fear of being patronising. It may be uncertainty about how to manage protest within pandemic restrictions. It may be the growing extent to which the major Left groups define themselves in terms of parliamentary and electoral activity.
The next phase of the battle will be defined in the US and dampened or amplified globally by the extent to which national authorities in other countries decide to respond with repression. We are at the end of a long period of defeat. Many on the American Left have retreated into electoral politics to the extent that they are now bracing themselves to vote for Joe Biden, a man with a long history of oppression of Black people and of support for wars of conquest abroad.
#blacklivesmatter is an insurrectionary movement. It has done more to damage Trump and push back against a militarised and racist police force in a few weeks than activity in the Democratic Party would do in a century.
Let’s hope that the major Left groups can make the turn to insurrection. If they cannot, new groups will arise but the tide is on the move towards insurrection and towards revolution.
2. SUPPRESSION OF BLM SOLIDARITY PROTEST
“reminiscent of the notorious Special Powers Acts”
In an earlier report of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ireland we applauded the spontaneity of the demonstrators but warned of a naive view of the local police and the State. In fact both the Garda and the Northern PSNI, formerly the RUC, moved against protestors.
However the reaction in the North was extremely aggressive, with the use of armoured jeeps and riot gear, threatening organisers and fining demonstrators.
The strategy became even more questionable when it turned out that the police were using a Covid 19 recommendation against social gathering that had no enforcement powers. However on Friday evening a Stormont committee representing the executive parties pushed through powers that came into force at 11 o’clock on Friday night to be deployed on Saturday.
The action has led to a crowdfunding drive to defend protesters and organisers and to vigorous protests by Amnesty international and by the Committee on the Administration of Justice.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK, said:
“The last- minute amendment of regulations to allow fines against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests is unacceptable…. even in times of emergency, law enforcement officials may only use means… necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective… Boris Johnson has tweeted that ‘People have a right to protest peacefully and while observing social distancing’, yet people in Northern Ireland are being fined and face prosecution for doing just that. The fines should be voided and allegations of racial profiling in the issue of such fines must be examined.”
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, said:
“We have serious concerns both about the confused and unsatisfactory nature of emergency legislation in Northern Ireland and the policing operations over the past weekend in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. The regulations here do not address the right to protest and instead the PSNI is relying on powers designed to restrict social gatherings that only became enforceable the night before the protest. The enforcement powers themselves are so vaguely drafted that they are reminiscent of the notorious Special Powers Acts”.
Those who thought this was some sort of administrative glitch were disabused by the debate at the Stormont Assembly following the demonstrations. Only Gerry Carroll of PbP protested the police action and he was brushed aside. Justice minister Naomi Long claimed unconvincingly that these were longstanding regulations that were just coming into play. Sinn Fein’s line was that these were police operational matters and not the business of the Assembly – a sign of just how far Sinn Fein have travelled in recent decades.
There are a number of factors at work. The popular solidarity with Black Lives Matter is countered by Garda and PSNI solidarity with the US cops. In addition lockdown measures have given them a great deal of control over working class activities that they are reluctant to surrender. For their part, the aim of the capitalist parties is to avoid at all costs any diplomatic break with the Trump regime. It is fine for Sinn Fein to commission murals of George Floyd on the Falls Road, quite another to openly attack Trump.
In the North of Ireland there is another factor. Virus restrictions have led to a cancellation of the 12th Orange demonstrations, offering a respite from tens of decades of sectarian provocation. The Orange will only accept this if all demonstrations are banned, so the coalition parties in the executive want to see the current demonstrations shut down quickly.
That means that democratic rights have been sacrificed at the altar of sectarianism. That is actually the foundation of the current political settlement in Ireland, brought into focus by spontaneous acts of solidarity.
The current demonstrations across the world focus on injustice in the US. However as soon as they mobilise they find the State and the police on their own doorstep, implacable enemies of democracy and of the working class. Further action and organisation requires defence from their hostile actions.
These articles were first posted at:-