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Brendan Scott;The Struggle for a Socialist and Secular Ireland – review July 26, 2021

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A review here, amongst others, from the current issue of the ILHS Saothar of John Swift’s Brendan Scott;The Struggle for a Socialist and Secular Ireland. The book itself is fascinating as an insight into a figure on the Irish left from the 1960s and 1970s who was of considerable interest.

Speaking of ‘Hospitality’ and workers… July 26, 2021

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Mandate and the ICTU have a rather different take on the ‘reopening’ of indoor ‘hospitality’ than industry lobbyists. I’ve underlined some particularly striking points and it’s worth keeping in mind why from a workers perspective there’s solid reasons to avoid indoor dining etc at this point.

Or as the document notes “No worker should have to go to work and risk their health unnecessarily and we are all entitled to the greatest possible protections from workplace hazards.”

Mandate & ICTU sought greater protections for workers on Government initiated Hospitality Group

Sunday 25 July 2021

As we mark the reopening of the hospitality sector it is important to point out that Mandate Trade Union and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) alternated as the worker representatives on the Government established Hospitality Group since it was established a number of weeks ago.

The role of the trade unions, unlike that of the business representatives who made up the overwhelming majority of the group, was not to rubber stamp the government’s plan as it evolved, rather it was to ensure that when the sector reopened it did so in the safest way possible from a workers’ perspective.

We constantly held the view that the planned reopening was somewhat premature and it would have been better if the vaccination programme had been further advanced. Having said that, if the government was intent on opening up the sector, it was important that the voice of workers was heard. As such, we laid out our priorities in a number of core areas:

  • Vaccination: It is extremely dangerous not to provide immediate access to a vaccine for young hospitality workers in particular. The Trade Union movement foresaw this when the government moved to an age-based vaccination programme rather than occupation and health based programme, which left front-line workers who cannot avoid interactions with the public to wait for the protections a vaccine provides. It was on this basis that we proposed the immediate roll out of vaccines to the younger age cohorts in line with other European countries
  • Ventilation: We called for the sectors involved and the individual businesses to ensure they provide the highest standards of ventilation within the working environment. This also entailed the installation of CO2 monitors without exception. Our efforts were recognised in this area through the HSA issuing new guidelines which place a greater focus and importance on the need for adequate ventilation.
  • Antigen Testing: We called for a similar approach in hospitality as has been adopted in the meat processing industry.
  • Existing Work Safely Protocol: We demanded that the existing Work Safely Protocols and Public Health Guidelines should be strictly applied. Where appropriate they should be strengthened having regard to uniqueness of the sector we are were dealing with and the involvement of the Lead Worker representative is crucial to this process
  • Verification: We demanded that verification of vaccination or Covid recovery should be done at the point of entry to a premises. It should not be presumed that this task will automatically fall to any staff member in the course of their normal daily duties rather a specifically designated person should be appointed by the business owner and they should be properly trained and supported in the performance of this task. In this regard additional emphasis was placed on the role of the Workplace Covid representative.
  • Service: We insisted that all service should be conducted on a waiter only basis and in a pub nobody should be allowed approach the bar to place an order.
  • Enforcement: We called for the strictest and best resourced measures to be put in place. This should entail the use of various state agencies to ensure the availability of sufficient numbers of inspectors and inspections.
  • Restrictions: We also raised matters such as time limits and maximum numbers of customers. Specifically we referenced previous time limits, maximum number of customers per square foot and social distancing rules for customers.

While much of the genuine concerns of the workers representatives on the Hospitality Group were acknowledged and adopted, others were not. We believe this will be to the detriment of workers, particularly young workers, who will now be potentially exposed to Covid and may face serious health implications such as Long Covid.

No worker should have to go to work and risk their health unnecessarily and we are all entitled to the greatest possible protections from workplace hazards. We believe more could have been done to protect workers in this regard, but we also know that we were the minority voice on what was an advisory group that was heavily loaded with business representatives.

Our advice for all workers who are either currently at work or are expected back at work over the coming days and weeks is to: ensure your employer is taking necessary precautions to preserve your health and well-being and don’t take any unnecessary risks at work. Ultimately the best way to secure these protections both in the immediate and long term is to be a member of a trade union.

You can join Mandate Trade Union at www.joinmandate.ie

You can find your union at www.unionconnect.ie

Those new indoor dining and drinking regulations… July 26, 2021

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Was actually slightly surprised at how, on paper at least, robust they look. Now, granted I’m not in the market for going indoors before the end of August, but to be honest they seemed a bit more substantial than I’d expected.

No counter service, only 6 adults at tables, masked at all times other than at the tables, contact details of all in attendance taken, designated tables. It seemed, if somewhat of a step in the dark, at least one where there was a degree of oversight.

And then this morning one will read that:

Contact tracing is now only required for the lead person at a table and for solo customers under new updated guidelines, which were agreed last night.

Restaurants Association of Ireland Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said another change is that designated tables have been removed.

“This means businesses don’t have to keep a record of what table a party sat at – we only heard about these updated guidelines through an email at ten past midnight this morning.”

 

And there’s this gem from RTÉ:

Vintners’ Federation of Ireland CEO Padraig Cribben has welcomed the changes that were made to the contact tracing element of the guidelines.

Speaking on the same programme, he said it has been almost 500 days since some businesses were able to open and while there is a lot of relief in the industry, there is also a lot of anxiety.

He urged people to work with publicans and stick to the public health guidelines, and said he did not accept that the spread of Covid-19 over Christmas was as a result of indoor dining and alcohol.

Well some would point to a most interesting article in the IT only a weekend ago about a certain restaurant in Dublin in the run-up to Christmas and how matters proceeded there which suggests that seemingly indoor dining and alcohol was a significant factor if not the only one. 

Quite the experiment they’re running now…. 

Left Archive: Workers Power – Postworker Bulletin, Workers Power, No. 3, Feb 2006. July 26, 2021

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Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

A very slightly unusual document from Workers Power – the UK based Trotskyist political grouping extant from 1974 to 2015. This one is aimed at Communications Workers Union members in Belfast who had just staged a strike at the Royal Mail in that city. The piece outlines the dispute and argues that:

As if this wasn’t enough, management played the sectarian card, and claimed “sinister” forces lay behind the strike. None of this put a dent in the magnificent determination of the workers. The strike was solid, and united Catholic and Protestant workers. Their demonstrations deliberately rejected the lies, by marching from the Protestant Shankill Road to the Catholic Falls Road, breaking the infamous dividing line between the two communities.This shows that working class action can break down the poisonous ideas of racism and Orange Unionism, which the bosses push on the working class, through their newspapers and political parties, in order to divide and rule us.

It also argues for ‘a Rank and File movement in the CWU’.

To overcome the dead hand of the bureaucracy in the CWU – and unfortunately at the helm of all the unions in Britain and the TUC – we need a democratic organisation of the ordinary workers in the post that can spread the news of strikes such as Belfast, organise solidarity to defend it and extend the action.

Such an organisation would be based on meetings and conferences open to all members to decide its policies. Its elected leaders, and officials who wanted the organisation’s support, would have to fight for its agreed policies, accept a workers wage and agree to be recallable.

It calls for a national strike but also argues for a New Workers Party in Britain.  

Our immediate goal should a national strike against the cuts and privatisation.

But a rank and file movement needs to have a bigger political. strategy too. We should aim to split from labour and support the Campaign for a New Workers Party Conference this month. We should build a working class movement against privatisation with other public sector unions, community organisations, and youth. We should fight for the transformation of the entire sector we work in, nationalising the other private postal operators without compensation and placing the communications sector – post, telecoms, and internet – under the control of the working class, running it for need not profit..

Such a rank and file movement could spearhead a revival of the working class movement in Britain, and help bulid a revolutionary party that could lead the working class in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, and for a new socialist society.

The media firmament gains another star… July 25, 2021

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…Maybe. For news comes (thanks to JH) that:

Former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster says she’s joining GB News ‘to bring Northern Ireland very much into the mainstream of UK politics’

Hmmm… GB News, the ‘mainstream’… eh?

And how will she be involved?

 

Mrs Foster was unveiled as a contributor on the Political Correction show, presented by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Some real space science July 25, 2021

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While some are going up in rockets, to no great effect, NASA’s Juno probe last month completed its 34th flyby of Jupiter. It’s quite a mission, there’s a fantastic animation drawn from images taken by Juno (in part) on this RTÉ report. And it has had an extended mission, having first arrived in orbit around Jupiter in 2016 (having been launched in 2011) and originally intended to deorbit after 7 years, but now still going and with a planned deorbit in 2025. The cost?

Juno was originally proposed at a cost of approximately US$700 million (fiscal year 2003) for a launch in June 2009 (equivalent to US$985 million in 2020). NASA budgetary restrictions resulted in postponement until August 2011, and a launch on board an Atlas V rocket in the 551 configuration. As of 2019 the mission was projected to cost US$1.46 billion for operations and data analysis through 2022.[62]

A bargain at that price. There’s also, as wiki notes in the linked to article above a plaque dedicated to Galileo with a text written by him in 1610 as he observed the moons of Jupiter as well as three small lego mini figures – representing Galileo, the god Jupiter and the goddess Juno. Nice touches. 

Sunday and other Media Stupid Statements from this week… July 25, 2021

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Thanks to the person who sent this this morning:

And a fitting response:

Is someone rewriting political history with a very contemporary spin in the following example?

The PDs remained a significant policy force for almost a quarter of a century and could claim a number of important achievements on social and economic policy during the party’s four terms in coalition. Ultimately, though, it was the party’s stance on the North that defined its identity and after the Belfast Agreement its primary objective had been realised.

Why get an opinion on public health issues from someone who runs an airline? Why indeed?

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said he would turn the NHS Covid app off because it is “complete rubbish”.

The chief executive of the Dublin-based airline group said the app is creating too much “caution”.

More than half a million people were instructed to self-isolate by the app – which is available in England and Wales – during the first week of July.

The dreaded ‘we’ appears again as well as a massive overstatement:

Of course, the most socially acceptable kind of discrimination in Ireland has always been that directed at the English. Yes, but we’re entitled, the argument goes. Eight hundred years and all that: Bloody Sunday; Brexit; Priti Patel’s food shortages; the Border; ongoing ignorance of Irish history, politics, culture; amnesty for British soldiers; and co-opting of Saoirse Ronan’s identity. Maybe “sitting back and watching the Brits self-destruct” is more entertaining summer viewing than Love Island or the Olympics. But who does it serve? Ireland is the country with most to lose – not least because Johnson seems determined to weaponise unionist disquiet to put pressure on the EU, a dangerous game to play under the heat of the July sun.

We’re no better than Boris or the most rabid Brexiteers if we can’t resist our own version of the misty-eyed obsession with the past and bitter identity politics that led directly to Brexit.

Any other examples people have seen today?

Toy rockets July 24, 2021

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Listening to the Bugle podcast the other day I was struck by a comment by Helen Zaltzman where she noted – and I paraphrase – that it was striking that billionaires with all their money seem unable to think of anything better to spend that money on than things that go vroom vroom – yachts, sub-orbital spaceships and so on. And she suggested – again I paraphrase – that it was as seven year boys were given unlimited money to spend stuff on.


Catherine Bennett last week made a similar point, complete with quotes. Branson apparently suggested that:

“I was once a child with a dream, looking up at the stars,” the author of Screw It, Let’s Do It offered as the origin myth behind a video of him bobbing about in his space suit. It may be an incongruous thought for anyone who has come, after a lifetime’s exposure, to understand Branson’s dream as primarily that of making money and hoisting nearby women into the air. But fair enough, he was probably innocent once, even if it doesn’t, like any early interest in the stars, come across in his autobiography, Losing My Virginity.

And:

“Ever since I was five years old I’ve dreamed of travelling to space,” Jeff Bezos says. Specifically to ride upwards for roughly as far as Huntingdon is from London, float for a few minutes, then come back again?

The unfortunately – one presumes – phallic shape of the Bezos rocket has been the cause of some hilarity online. It certainly seems weirdly parodic. 

But beyond that what strikes me is the paucity of all this. Here’s a bunch of billionaires who – with an assist financially from states – are offering sub-orbital flights to those who can afford them. Musk is the only one who seems to be doing more than sub-orbital flights, but all this seems to raise the question what precisely is all this effort for? Four minutes in freefall for stupendous sums seems extravagant. And beyond that what is the plan? There’s no clear scientific outcomes from all this, and precious few commercial ones – indeed in some ways all this seems to be nothing more than advertising campaigns for the various billionaires activities. And the idea this somehow ‘opens up’ spaceflight to people is so fatuous as to be hardly worth engaging with. Only a tiny elite are going to have the resources to engage with this area. Frankly that’s no great return, no great step forward. It makes the inegalitarianism of Concorde look like red revolution by comparison.

One small entertaining note. One of those who paid $30m dollars backed out ‘due to scheduling conflicts’. One has to wonder did the person take a look at all this and think ‘doesn’t look the safest’. Now I may be overly sensitive to such matters having managed only in the last decade to quash a very deep fear of flying, but while I’d happily board passenger aircraft (commercial, not so keen on private jets – not that I’ve ever had the opportunity, though when the CLR Institute gets going, well, who knows?) I think I’d be fairly leery about stepping aboard any of the capsules that are going up. 

You listen to what? July 24, 2021

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Rather enjoyed this interview with Turkish novelist Elif Shafak in the Guardian. A very insightful overview of her work and indeed her political background. But most enjoyable was this:

I notice what a good listener she is, her body angled towards mine confidingly. She is a very serious person. It’s not only that she regards it as her political duty to talk of such things as equality and diversity; she seems to relish doing so. But there’s a larky, student-ish side to her, too. Is it true that she loves heavy metal, I ask. Her gentleness seems a bit at odds with headbanging. “Oh, yes,” she says. “I’ve always loved it.” She lists several bands, none of which I’ve heard of. “I like all the sub-genres: industrial, viking…” While she’s working, she listens to the same song over and over, using headphones so her children don’t complain. Crikey. Can she concentrate? “Yes! That’s when I write best. I don’t like silence. It makes me nervous.” Somewhere in the distance, I hear the obliging roar of a motorbike.

The air of near disbelief that Shafak might listen to that is palpable. 

There’s this from the Spectator:

Ever since my early youth I have loved, followed and respected a certain music genre that some people consider strange, even dangerous: heavy metal. The journey started in Istanbul, at a small, stuffy music store on a side street in Taksim, nestled between an Ottoman mosque and a fish market, where I would buy cassettes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Megadeth, Twisted Sister, Metallica… and then go home and listen to them endlessly while eating sunflower seeds, because that’s what we Istanbulites do to pass time. Over the years I veered towards less-well-known sub-genres, such as industrial metal, symphonic metal, metalcore, gothic metal, Viking/pagan/Nordic metal; and while the cassettes disappeared, my love for heavy metal remained solid.

And this from Prospect:

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am huge fan of Gothic metal, industrial metal, Viking-Pagan-folk metal and metal core. Especially dark, loud, aggressive Scandinavian metal bands. I listen to this kind of music on repeat while I am writing my novels.

Then there’s this from the New Statesman:

I arrive at Hay and the sun is shining. In the artists’ green room I run into friends, old and new. My first programme is BBC Arts Hour. Writers and musicians, we join Nikki Bedi for a wonderful conversation. In the evening we have a writers’ Question Time. We’re anticipating questions on British politics and the EU, and Trump’s dangerously irresponsible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The first question comes from a middle-aged Welshman: “I’ve listened to you on Desert Island Discs,” he says to me. “How can you possibly enjoy heavy metal and write fiction to that kind of music?” I blush. It is something I don’t usually talk about – my passion for Gothic, industrial, folk, progressive and alternative metal. I do not have piercings or tattoos and people tell me I am a calm person. As a result, they do not expect me to listen to that kind of music.

Where though is the surprise. Shafak is six years younger than myself and grew up in perhaps a not entirely different cultural milieu where music was at least part of the mix. Not entirely surprising that some people in that milieu would – larky student-ish not withstanding (given my own experience both as a student and teaching students the idea they’re generally heavy metal fans is for the birds) – be into metal. Or as she notes implicitly, classic/heavy rock shading into heavy metal and then as time progressed into other forms. I know people of her general age whose musical attachment to more recent forms of heavy metal is similar.

But perhaps more interesting the idea that somehow it is difficult to believe that people would like this tells its own story. I’ve faced that sort of disbelief myself – even if my musical tastes would be considerably broader than metal/heavy rock and sneaking punk in as the flip side of that coin, I can’t deny that it remains along with post punk and dance/electronica one of the three touchstones of my own musical taste. Though granted I’ll throw a lot of music in under those three categories. Unlike Shafak I kind of checked out after 1983 for a good while, too interested in post-punk, and found a lot of the sub-genres not that interesting, or less so than goth or whatever. But all the while I was still getting the occasional metal album in whatever genre – Megadeth, Celtic Frost, Voivod, The Beyond, Cathedral, Monster Magnet, Acid King and too many others to mention and keeping up with previous outfits. And that’s not stopped, Ruby the Hatchet, Power Trip – it never ends.

And speaking of influence a cursory glance at programmes of this period, and arguably for a good decade or more now, shows how punk and post-punk period has washed up in various parts of media. All those snippets of Joy Division in the background of television shows – or most oddly to my ears on the IT politics podcast as the music used for the intro – merely demonstrates that a certain age cohort with a certain musical taste made it to certain jobs. Yet few will drag Hugh Linehan out of the IT studio and demand he account for his enthusiasm for Closer or Unknown Pleasures. 

Perhaps the fact that metal remains more of an outsider music – to a point though, there’s been something of a slow reassessment, but somehow I doubt it will go that far – is interesting too. And I can understand why it is regarded as less, well, palatable. Where some see/hear primal, protean others see/hear childish, simplistic, puerile. Worse again is the sense that much metal revels in that. But then, I’ve been reading John Cooper Clarke’s autobiography – oddly depressing in parts, though without question amusing, and that of Stephen Morris of Joy Division/New Order and both touch on just how puerile and simplistic and yeah childish punk was too (by the way, to me listening to the Ramones in my teens and hearing just how compressed and efficient they were was a revelation – it was metal (mostly) without tedious guitar solos. Much to recommend it. And there’s huge areas of metal I’m completely uninterested in, or simply dislike the sound or content – almost all hair metal which was annoying and often sexist and bizarrely homophobic  – G’n’R’s didn’t exactly do themselves any favours by certain lyrics; almost all nu-metal; tracts of death metal and certain racist sub-genres – but none of these are unique to metal. I’ve mentioned it before I am big fan of Oi but you don’t want to prod too closely around the margins of that genre. 

In the Spectator piece Shafak reviews a book on metal and writes:

Approaching the subject from various angles, Franklin talks to academics, doctors and people in health care about their take on heavy metal and its impact on young people. He questions the genre’s relationship to religion, authority, power and sometimes racism, sexism, xenophobia. While he does not shy away from pointing out the problematic parts of the history of heavy metal, he also refrains from generalising everything in one broad brush. Heavy metal is a complex nation. As in any nation we have some bad characters, but that doesn’t mean they represent everyone.

One could argue that metal contains multitudes, that in some ways it is punks twin, starting out slower and more plodding, then speeding up a bit, inflecting punk along the way, before being inflected in turn and racing off twice as fast, just ‘cos, all the while drinking beer and trying to find a party. There’s no surprise to me how punk and metal made up in the 1980s and after. Your mileage may vary.

 

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Without the Moon, Ann Margaret Hogan July 24, 2021

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Ann Margaret Hogan (aka Anni Hogan) is an interesting character, having started out as a dj and promoter in Leeds before moving into writing and making her own music and through that appearing live as part of Marc and the Mambas with Marc Almond and at the time Matt Johnson. As keyboardist and arranger she continue working with Almond and later with Barry Adamson. And she really has never looked back. The list of guest appearances and collaborations is extremely varied, from Zeke Maniyika, Yello, Regis and Wolfgang Flur. She released an album recently on the Downward label which is great and gives a sense of where she is now (see below the track Mesto taken from it).

But Without the Moon brings together work of hers that in effect spans three decades – Come Take My Hand with Barry Adamson, Delirious Eyes with Gini Ball, Burning Boats with JG Thirlwell and Marc Almond, Scattered Carelessly with Jarboe of Swans, Nick Cave on Vixo and Kid Congo Powers on Black Nocturne. That’s an incredibly impressive lineup but it is Hogan who pulls it all together into a cohesive whole mostly through her piano.

Great music. And a bonus in terms of her cover of Lou Reed’s Temporary Thing with Karl O’Connor (Regis).

Come Take My Hand · Ann Margaret Hogan & Barry Adamson

Ann Margaret Hogan ft Gini Ball – Delirious Eyes (Official video)

Ann Margaret Hogan ft Jarboe Scattered Carelessly

Ann Margaret Hogan ft Kid Congo Powers – Black Nocturne

Ann Margaret Hogan – Mesto

Temporary Thing

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