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That EU falling apart trope… not exactly working out according to plan…  July 26, 2017

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Anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with the comments sections of British media will over the last twelve months or so seen a particularly irritating line from some that now Britain was leaving the EU was falling apart, or in a variant line that the EU was already falling apart and Brexit was merely hastening that day.

 

This overview in the Observer from a while back tends to undercut those analyses completely. It’s not just the political – though that was always overblown. Even Le Pen arriving as President of France would not in and of itself engender a Frexit. It is possible that it would see France leave the eurozone, temporarily one suspects, and even that might be too much of a stretch given the forces arrayed against her and the NF. Granted it would be a torrid time politically and not one that any of us would feel happy with – and perhaps the EU aspects would be the least of it. But again so much of what we see has been filtered through a UK-centric viewpoint, one where everything is one crisis away from catastrophe.

There’s the economic too.

I always found that idea remarkably parochial on the part of those arguing it. And it betrayed a huge lack of understanding of what the EU and what it isn’t. In a way it is of a piece with the overly emphasised reification of the EU as the embodiment of all the UK’s woes – none of which is to ignore the very real pernicious aspects of the EU. But pretending the EU was a vast monolithic structure – just a step away from the USSR (or perhaps the Warsaw Pact for those with a fraction more nuance in their analyses) was absurd. It’s a lot lot looser an arrangement. Sovereign states remain sovereign states even where there is shared sovereignty or open borders or what have you.

But another aspect of the Brexiteer line was the way they ignored the convenience aspect of the EU. Simply put the EU makes perfect sense if you live on continental Europe. Why have hard borders when relatively minor infringements on national sovereignty allow for ease of passage of people and goods? It’s not perfect – anything but. And of course there’s more, the eurozone, the ECB etc, etc. But for us on this island given we have actual partition we have a curiously clear insight into how those elsewhere in the EU feel in that respect.

And that I think is why even were a centrifugal dynamic to take hold around Europe it would be very difficult to not see the EU or a successor organisation which was functionally a continuation of the current one comprising the original 12 or 15 remaining in place. And even then, why would the Scandinavian states depart? Why would many of the central European states go? None of this makes any great sense.

Again, none of this is to argue that what is there is perfection, or to argue that even as matters currently stand a looser arrangement might not suffice. Or a confederal EU of some sort. But ultimately the sort of arrangements that currently exist in Europe would likely be maintained by something similar in many respects to the EU. Indeed for many of us on the left a left successor that would retain many of the positive aspects while jettisoning the negative would be precisely what we would want. Open borders – strong cooperation, for many of us some structures allowing political representation, form follows function.

Someone is channeling the 1990s… July 26, 2017

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The Hibernia Forum, home of Eamon Delaney has the following analysis from earlier in the year relation to unemployment benefit. An article by Brendan Burgess of Askaboutmoney.com which originally appeared in the Sunday Independent. This can be summed up by the headline ‘dole payments should be cut, not increased’. And it argues that payments are higher than in the North. And so:

Despite the very low levels of tax and PRSI on low-paid employees in Ireland, it’s simply not worth their while to get a job. With almost-free housing, free health care and extraordinarily generous levels of dole, they would lose money by going out to work, especially if they can supplement their dole through working in the black economy.

This is amusing for a number of reasons, and irritating for many more. But let us note that unemployment, even in the self-serving fashion it is counted by the state, has been declining in the last number of years. So clearly it simply is ‘worth ‘their’ while getting a job’. The more jobs available the more people will take them.

And we know from the experience of the 2000s boom that precisely the same dynamic was evident, that when work was available workers worked. Indeed this state achieved a level of employment that was effectively technically full employment during that period.

If such a basic fact is missing from an analysis one can reasonably assume that the analysis in total is incorrect, and that as employment increases workers will be employed contrary to the assertions otherwise by the author.

Yet from there the writer spins a tale which because all else is incorrect becomes more and more fantastical. Not least with this:

If you have worked continuously for 30 years and have paid PRSI for 30 years you will get €193 per week dole – the exact same as someone who has sat at home watching daytime TV for 30 years. Despite the fact that it is called “pay-related social insurance”, it is neither pay related nor insurance in any normal understanding of the word. You get no extra dole for contributing to the social insurance fund. And in retirement, a person who has paid PRSI all their lives gets €10 a week more than someone who has lived on welfare all their life.

So what is to be done to bring a bit of sense and fairness into the system? The level of non-contributory dole and pension must be cut, and cut significantly. If people choose not to work, then they must be poorer than people who get out of bed in the morning and go to work and contribute to society.

Always with the punitive. Always. And the line that contributory pensions should be higher is unconvincing. Better by far to increase all pensions. Because again, we know that a very small minority may indeed prefer to stay at home – and many more who do so are unable for entirely legitimate reasons to work. And that is simply a cost that society must carry. Some people are chancers, or work shy, but again we know that when employment is widely available the numbers of same are minimal.

But the assertions keep coming:

In any event the current ridiculously high levels of social welfare are totally unsustainable for the national finances. Everything is going in our favour at present. Our exports are booming. Our tourism is booming. We have artificially high Corporation Tax receipts due to US multinationals diverting their earnings through Ireland. And although our national debt is huge, the cost of servicing it is low because interest rates are so low.
Despite all this, we are taking less in tax than we are spending to run the country. When interest rates rise, when Britain leaves the EU and when Trump demands that US companies pay tax to the US government rather than to the Irish government, we will be in trouble. We should fix this now under our own control, rather than have it fixed for us under another bailout.

Are welfare payments genuinely the problem? Are they going to torpedo our national finances? He himself states that ‘everything is going in our favour at present’. How can that be true if welfare payments are ‘totally unsustainable’? And more to the point how does he think matters will proceed if there is a further crash?

What you want to say – 26th July, 2017 July 26, 2017

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

The UK and EU directives on labour law. July 25, 2017

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Recently a comrade suggested that the UK hadn’t signed up to EU directives on labour law. Correct-ish. In other words… there were famous derogations, but… but… the UK actually did accept a significant tranche of directives which were EU originated.

Here’s one listing.

And here’s another.

As the Guardian noted.

The EU has had a massive influence over UK employment law rights. The following were introduced by virtue of our membership of the EU, and are at risk if we leave or renegoniate our membership terms (this is not an exhaustive list).

And:

It doesn’t stop there. There are also employment laws derived from the EU regarding transfers of undertakings (when the business you work for is sold or taken over), collective redundancies, and works councils (giving employees the right to receive information about a business and be consulted about some of its activities).

Not to be sniffed at. And it would be a brave person who will argue that the Tories won’t roll all this back given half a chance. I’ve always argued that the EU is a mixed blessing. It is vitally important to be aware of the negatives and to push back against them. But likewise the positives are far from unimportant. And here’s a point from the Guardian:

The UK has traditionally been among the most active opponents of European employment rights, only grudgingly accepting many of the social aspects and only when it has had to. In many cases, such employment rights have been seen by the government to frustrate a flexible workforce and add red-tape to businesses.

And:

In some cases the government has managed to block the introduction of European rights altogether through its vote on the Council of Ministers. But in other cases the European workplace agenda carries on. The government is, for example, presently being forced to adopt a EU directive for additional parental leave – its preferred option is to increase leave to up to 18 weeks a year, which is the minimum implementation of EU requirements.

Left resources and links – July 2017 July 25, 2017

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We’re looking for links/resources useful to the Left at Starkadders suggestion. This can be archives, support groups, study groups, whatever people think can assist in building up a stack of easily accessible tools necessary to the tasks ahead. Perhaps keep articles – unless they’re longform, to the What You Want to Say thread.

That ‘centre’ ground… July 25, 2017

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Excellent piece by Steve Richards on the last British election in Prospect (unfortunately mostly behind a paywall).
He writes that LP MPs were convinced Corbyn was leading them to destruction and asks ‘why’ did they hold that view?

Because lazy assumptions about some fixed ‘centre ground’ defined by timeless ideological co-ordinates warped all of their assessments. Brought upon the nervy expediency of the New Labour sera most LP MPs like virtually the entire media commentariat – assumed that any pitch to the votes a few millimetres to the left of Tony Blaire would lead to electoral slaughter. This view extended to senior BBC broadcasters who reflected on air (wrongly) the Ed Miliband had lost in 2015 because he was too left-wing. They implied, insofar as they could within the rules of impartiality, that by moving further left, Corbyn’s LP was doomed.

In fairness Corbyn’s parliamentary persona wasn’t – prior to the election – fabulous. It was alright, but not great. Speaking to solid left wingers to the left of the BLP across the last year there was some hope but also frustration at the inability to get the message out. He certainly has been revitalised by the election (and in fairness to him continual sniping from those nominally in his own party didn’t help either).

But I think Richards point is well made. It’s breathtaking to read the comments beneath the piece which as lazily as the dynamics that Richards points to equate Corbyn’s LP and its policies with supposed excesses of socialism. One has to wonder if they’ve read the actual manifesto – but that trope of the 1970s and the Winter of Discontent are clearly hard to dislodge, and fascinatingly any shift leftwards is regarded as delivering the UK to same rather than say to more mainstream European social democracy or whatever. It’s remarkable the hegemonic grip that has on parts of the UK political narrative.

But the out workings of that, particularly austerity and the mania for deficit reduction now as Richards notes ‘looks more like a crankish obsession’. He notes that in 2015 Miliband was lambasted for not mentioning the deficit. In 2017 no one mentioned it.

One of the most interesting points though is the following:

The keenest advocates of the ‘centre ground’ seem to lack all curiosity about the world before the 1990s or indeed about anywhere beyond the UK and the US. The world, as they know it, began with BIll Clinton’s victory in 1992. They admire that as paving the way for Blair’s win and are entirely untroubled by the Clinton administration’s failure to bequeath a positive legacy.

And he notes that even the slightest bit of curiosity would show that their belief in the middle was disprovable by then quite recent electoral history. Thatcher didn’t win from the centre. Anything but.

Again, thinking of the comments – the idea that state or part state ownership is per se a bad thing would be risible on the continent. Railways, etc are owned either in part by the state or municipally or what have you – and the supposed constraints of the EU on public ownership are actually much less rigid than is usually portrayed in such discussions in the UK. Yet this just isn’t mentioned in the UK discourse (and we get some of that here too). In a way this speaks of the insularity of the UK, but it also shows how distorting its position is and its history. Privatising the railways was essential to the Thatcher project, not in the sense that it mattered hugely materially but as a tokenistic aspect. As were other privatizations great and small. It didn’t matter if the returns (such as they were) were minimal or non-existent. They had to happen because they were their own justification.

It’s very difficult these days not to view the UK as an anomalous state in Europe – its politics, its approaches, profoundly different and strikingly self-obsessed. And this spills over both right and left. And on to this island too. Worse luck for us.

Finally he makes an excellent point, at least in relation to the BLP.

Another lazy and wrong assumption is that the left is not bothered by winning.

More on state papers… invasion 1986 July 24, 2017

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Don’t know why I didn’t mention this before, but the last batch of state papers released earlier in the year, as noted in the IT – included plans for an invasion to protect nationalists should the worst occur. That worst being the establishment of a unionist/loyalist independent state:

State papers from 1986 indicate that high-ranking British officials such as cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong considered the declaration of an independent state by unionists an eminent possibility.
The high-level Defence Forces paper warns that within such a state “all the organs of power particularly the security services would be in the hands of loyalists.”

That last is fascinating. It underscores the reality of who had the potential for state power in Northern Ireland at that time, and the dominance of unionism in that geographic territory.

The following is also interesting, though I’d like more information and references to support its central contention:

Indeed, withdrawal from the territory was a popular topic of discussion among Westminster elites exasperated by the attitudes of unionists and nationalists alike. Against this backdrop, it is little wonder that the Republic was preparing for the outbreak of serious conflict across the Border.

Meanwhile here’s something with a more contemporary note:

The eight-page document prepared over six months in 1985/86 states it would be “more prudent than alarmist” to consider the consequences of a British withdrawal, pointing to the “reckless disregard” shown by the UK under similar circumstances in Israel/ Palestine and India / Pakistan.
This would not, however, compromise the loyalists’ military capabilities, with reference made to the formation of battalions comprised of UDR members and reservists, and backed up by loyalist paramilitaries and armed militia enlisted from the ranks of the RUC.

‘Reckless disregard’ is reminiscent of something happening at the moment. Be that as it may the ‘invasion’ plans appear fairly thin. As the IT notes:

While such a course of action may appear farfetched, the plans contain some outright aspirational elements such as the prospect of aerial assaults on Belfast or at least the mass evacuation of Catholics using only the handful of ill-equipped aircraft available to the Air Corps at the time.
This strategy combined with a sea assault/transport to Belfast harbour would be complemented by an “infiltration element”; an indication that the authorities may have considered deploying guerrilla-style tactics to soften the northern capital’s defences.
Roughly shaded sketches of Protestant and Catholic areas of Northern Ireland using orange and green coloured markers serve to further detract from the document’s credibility as a blueprint for cross-Border aggression.

And it does all appear to be highly theoretical and unlikely to survive contact with an actual armed force opposing its aims. And yet, the very fact that it was drawn up – even as a contingency – suggests that there was an official view that matters were out of control. Intriguingly the IT notes that the plan did not envisage ‘opposition from British Army companies’.

In any event, politics and pragmatism – perhaps sensibly – outran it:

The Council of Defence – which included the minister for defence Patrick Cooney and secretary of the department as well as the chief of staff, adjutant general and quarter-master general of the Defence Forces – voted unanimously against any possible intervention in Northern Ireland at its August 1985 meeting.

For some fairly solid reasons:

It suggested that the Defence Forces’ “numerical strength and equipment are hopelessly inadequate”, which reveals the divergent attitudes existent in the military hierarchy of the time regarding such a plan’s prospects of success.
This perspective contrasts sharply with the contents of the subsequent invasion plans, which state that the Defence Forces “have a capability for intervention to achieve certain objectives” in regard to Northern Ireland.

I wonder is the idea that there was any great split in thinking a bit of a stretch. Military planners are paid to make military plans however unlikely they may appear or are. Obviously the Defence Forces would be well able to carry out limited military operations – for example an evacuation of a town or city close to the border, say Newry or Derry (although not in the face of an armed response from British forces).

Notable, isn’t it that the fundamental issue in these plans, and the broader context, was not PIRA, though this is not in any way to downplay its activities during this period or how those fed into that context, but the possibility of a UDI by unionism/loyalism in the wake of the AIA. Frankly I’ve always thought that far fetched – as far fetched as London actually pulling out (though perhaps that last is less far-fetched). Unionism and loyalism’s raison d’être was always predicated on the relationship – however unreciprocated – with London. To call for UDI would fundamentally sever that relationship. Indeed what’s telling is what a difference a decade made. For all the bluster unionism and loyalism were unable – despite the levels of violence prevailing, to mount the sort of opposition seen against Sunningdale. That change is highly intriguing.

With power and without… July 24, 2017

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A very very interesting point made in a recent edition of Prospect magazine. In an overview of two books on the EU and the Eurozone crisis – one being the now ubiquitous Adults in the Room by Varoufakis, Chris Bickerton notes:

Adults in the Room has a fly-on-the-wall quality that makes it a captivating read. Those who come out worst are Europe’s social democrats, the French and the Germans in particular. In one meeting, Sigmar Gabriel, the Vice-Chancellor of Germany and until recently the leader of the Social Democrat Party (SPD) tells Varoufakis about his recent yachting holiday in Greece. Gabriel had repeatedly offered to pay his mooring fees, only to be told that there was no rush and that he could pay “whatever he wanted,” a sign in his view of the excessive “informality” that characterises Greek economic life. Varoufakis generously folds Gabriel’s remark into a wider conversation about tax evasion, but the reader cannot help thinking that the German’s main interest in Greece is as a picturesque location for his sailing trips.
The hypocrisy of centre-left politicians, who express sympathy with Varoufakis in private but then toe the austerity line in public, is dispiriting. France’s former finance minister, Michel Sapin, is one more culprit. The behind-the-scenes camaraderie towards Varoufakis, in Sapin’s case, comes from his interest in the ancient coins of Aegina, a Greek island near Athens. This fascination with Greek history contrasts with his unforgiving public pronouncements on the fate of contemporary Greece.

What an absolute shower. And Bickerton argues that Eurogroup meetings are a bit like committees where the ‘real’ decisions are made elsewhere and before hand and that any genuine engagement at them is infrequent at best. But this, as he notes, is down to those who are participating at them. They have the authority and the capacity to challenge and overturn this. Yet they don’t.

Understood in this way, it is easy to see why Varoufakis became such a hate figure. His boss, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, was told that negotiations would only continue if there was a change in finance minister. Varoufakis certainly lectured his peers and berated them for believing in a Greek recovery that did not exist, even on paper. But his real sin is challenging the “apparent consensus,” and bringing into the Eurogroup a debate about the eurozone and its policies.
Why did the finance ministers of countries like Spain and Slovakia round on him? Not because they wanted Greece to suffer as they had. Their grudge was far more personal. By tearing up the consensus, Varoufakis exposed them as cowards. He revealed how little they had challenged Germany’s interpretation of the euro crisis. The more Varoufakis argued, the more they could see how low they had sunk. For that reason alone, he had to go.

Left Archive: Grapevine – Newsletter of the Irish School-Students Union (I.S.U.), No. 3, September 1972 July 24, 2017

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To download the above please click on the following link. GRPVINE

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to Jim Monaghan for forwarding this very interesting document – issued by the Irish School Students Union from 1972. The newsletter outlines a range of activities that the ISU was involved in including meeting the Chief Executive officer of the VEC – as well as noting that they were unable to attend a meeting on Youth Security in Helsinki.

It would be very useful to have further information on the ISU and its goals.

Also included is a leaflet demanding the establishment of a Secondary Students Union which presumably predates the above document.

Green Sleeves exhibition, National Print Museum July 23, 2017

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Nice overview of the Green Sleeves record sleeves exhibition at the National Print Museum here at RockRoots, who was involved in preparatory stages and planning of the exhibition and loaned a large number of record sleeves to it (indeed a number of people who comment or participate on the CLR also loaned record sleeves).

The exhibition continues until the beginning of October. There’s a curators guided walkthrough early in September and some linked events on Culture Night in Dublin later in that month.

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