Fr. Peter McVerry to speak at Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

Fr. Peter McVerry will speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School on Thursday afternoon 30th July at the Firkin Crane. He will address the topic “Homelessness – AFailure of Social Policy”.

Fr. Peter McVerry.  Photo:  Degreezero

Fr. Peter McVerry. Photo: Degreezero

Fr. McVerry is an advocate on behalf of the homeless and of people who suffer from social disadvantage. A tireless and fearless campaigner for those who have no roof over their heads, he has resisted the easy complacency of our times as he speaks out repeatedly on an issue which many in power might like to ignore.

Born in 1944 in Belfast, he is a Jesuit priest and is probably one of the best known and respected clergymen in Ireland. He continues to emphasise that homeless people are ordinary people like the rest of us and we as a society must confront and solve the problem.

He points out that there is an average of six new people becoming homeless every day and the ongoing failure to address the lack of provision of new social housing and the escalating rents in the private sector continues to increase the problem. The Irish courts are now full of bank repossession orders and this will exacerbate the situation, as people lose their homes.

Fr Peter studied philosophy and theology in Milltown Park, as a young priest he witnessed at first hand the homelessness and poverty in Summerhill in Dublin. He established the Peter McVerry Trust in 1983 to tackle homelessness, drug misuse and social disadvantage. The Trust’s vision is of an Ireland that supports all those on the margins and upholds peoples’ right to inclusion in society. (www.pmvtrust.ie)

During 2013, some 3,586 individuals were supported by the Peter McVerry Trust.

Fr. Peter McVerry at Áras an Uachtarán with President Higgins

Fr. Peter McVerry at Áras an Uachtarán with President Higgins

He has warned of a “tsunami of homelessness washing over Ireland”, and he wants radical action taken to resolve it.  He believes political decisions need to be taken to solve this issue and describes the inability to do so as a failure of political will by those in charge.

The reduction in the construction of social housing, the eviction of people from their homes, the failure of landlords to take rent supplement are all contributing to the growing problem.

Addressing the recent Annual Human Rights Conference, Fr. McVerry commented as follows; “ Over the past 40 years, I have spent most of my weekends in the various Dublin prisons and a disproportionate percentage of people in prison were homeless prior to imprisonment and will be homeless again on release”.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is honoured that Fr. McVerry has agreed to address the summer school at Shandon.  All are welcome to attend.

Joe Hill – the man who never died!

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

Joe Hill

Joe Hill was executed by the State of Utah on the 19th November 1915. Born Joel  Hagglund in Gävle in Sweden on October 7th 1879,he went to America in 1902 and used the name Joe Hillstrom, which he shortened to Joe Hill.

Joe had been active for many years in the Industrial Workers of the World known as the Wobblies, and had gained a reputation as a writer of ballads. (Mother Jones had been the only woman present at the initial foundation IWW meetings in Chicago in 1905)

His trial for the murder of John G. Morrison and his son Arling a Salt Lake City grocer became a national event. His subsequent conviction aroused a huge campaign to save him, Helen Keller lent her support,even President Woodrow Wilson made two unsuccessful interventions to save him from the firing squad to no avail.

His supporters believe he was executed solely for his union activities, following an unfair trial, the State authorities denied this.

Joe Hill refused to cooperate with the trial and would not explain a bullet wound he had when he was arrested. It subsequently transpired that Joe was wounded following a confrontation with a rival, a fellow Swede, Otto Appelquist for the attentions of Hilda Erickson. William M. Adler in a recent book The Man Who Never Died (Published by Bloomsbury 2011) named the most likely murderer of the Morrisons, a man the authorities had earlier arrested but subsequently released.

Why did Hill not explain how and why he was wounded, which would have provided the alibi required? Would it have mattered anyway as the authorities seemed hell bent on attacking the Wobblies? Did he come to believe that he was freer in death as a hero and a martyr rather than continue a life as an impoverished labourer? The arguments have gone on for a hundred years. His principled if perhaps reckless stand has been long debated in union circles.

Joe Hill book cover

Joe Hill book cover

“Big Jim” Larkin gave the final oration over Joe Hill’s grave and read from the letter Hill sent to his friend Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who had led the campaign to free him (even visiting the White House!). Larkin urged those present to ensure that “his blood should cement the many divided sections” of the Labour movement.

Alfred Hayes wrote and Eric Robinson put music to the Ballad of Joe Hill in 1936 and Paul Robeson performed it in Carnegie Hall. Joan Baez sang it at Woodstock in 1969. Joe Hill has inspired generations of singers;from Guthrie to Dylan, from Utah Philips to Billy Bragg, from Anne Feeney to Si Kahn…….Joe Hill lives on “where workingmen are out on strike, Joe Hill is at their side”. Here in Ireland Luke Kelly is well remembered for his version.

The Rebel Girl

The Rebel Girl, dedicated by Joe Hill to Elizabeth Gurley-Flynn

Joe Hill wrote some very important songs himself. He was one of an IWW group of songwriters and poets such as Ralph Chapin (Solidarity Forever) and Jim Connell (The Red Flag) who contributed to the Little Red Song Book.  His best known song is the “Preacher and the Slave” from which the phrase “pie in the sky” originates, sung to the tune of “Sweet Bye and Bye”.

He wrote “The Rebel Girl” for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, while another of his compositions “Casey Jones – the Union Scab”quickly became a favourite among striking railroad men. “The Tramp” resonates with the thud of aimless walking and despair of unemployment, while “Down in the Old Dark Mill” contrasts a lost fleeting Mill romance with the brutal lasting consequences of a factory injury. His own father had died following an industrial accident involving a train when Joel was 8 years old.

During the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015, we hope to commemorate the life, death and the legacy of the songs of Joe Hill as we approach the 100th anniversary of his execution. All are welcome to participate with a Joe Hill or union song on Saturday night 1st August from 9pm.

The Durham Miners’ Gala 2015

Durham Gala crowds

Procession of bands and banners and some of the 100,000 who attended the Durham Miners’ Gala 2014

The 131st Durham Miners Gala will take place on Saturday July 11th 2015. Organised by the Durham Miners’ Association, the parade through the beautiful city of Durham, the subsequent Big Meeting and the blessing of miners’ banners in Durham Cathedral remain one off the greatest manifestations of trade union, labour and community solidarity in Western Europe.

The 2014 Gala, attended by over 100,000 people was a striking panoramaof banners, colour, music and good humour and drew a vast concourse of people of all ages to the city. The parade took some five hours to pass the County Hotel and down the old Elvet.

Not to be missed at the Gala are the speeches at the Old Racecourse which commence in the early afternoon, a location which houses hundreds of stalls, campaigning groups, unions, food, and plenty room for a picnic on the banks of the lovely River Wear as one watches the colliery brass bands and the banners arrive until the entire surroundings of the Racecourse are encased in the spectacular and vivid colours of the banners. This living tapestry confirms its obvious sense of community, heritage and solidarity which has outlasted those who once claimed “there is no such thing as society”.

Politicians such as Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Neil Kinnock, and Ed Miliband have stood here, trade union leaders Bob Crowe and Jim Larkin, singer Billy Bragg stood here and like countless others since 1871 have spoken to the assembled throng.In 1914, Larkin like a harbinger of doom warned miners’ against any foolishness in trusting leaders and politicians. A week later Britain was at war with Germany and the miners’ banners were not unfurled until 1919.

Big Jim Larkin

Big Jim Larkin

By way of backdrop, high on the overlooking Durham nestles one of the greatest Churches ever built, begun by Bishop Carileph in the 11th century, Durham Cathedral has witnessed human history unfold for almost a millennium, yet the annual blessing of the miners banners ranks as a truly awe inspiring ceremony and should not be missed by anyone attending the Gala.

In 2014 new banners from the Tow Law, South Shields St Hilda, Fenhall Drift, New Brancepeth, Lanchester and the Leamside and West Rainton communities were presented and dedicated following their journey to the altar behind the miners’ bands in a dignified, moving and solemn ceremony. Labour/Community and Church working together in a seamlessand common purpose recognising the men and women in working class communities who built Britain.

Near the south door to the Cathedral Cloister is the Miners’ Memorial. Erected in 1947 it is inscribed ”Remember before God the Durham Miners who have given their lives in the Pits of this country and those who work in Darkness and Danger in those pits today” The last pit in Durham closed in 1994, but the Gala and remembering goes on.

Durham city is in celebration for the day and if one wants to see the true heartbeat of labour, the legacy of the mining communities and the hope that one day the workers will bring about a just and fairer world, the “grander civilisation” of Mother Jones, then a visit to the Durham Gala is essential.

Dave Hopper of Durham Miners Gala

Dave Hopper of the Durham Miner’s Gala at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, Cork in 2014

General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association, Dave Hopper attended the Spirit of Mother Jones festival in Cork and explained the history and the purpose of the Gala. Dave issued an open invite to all those interested in the legacy of Mother Jones to come along to Durham on Saturday 11th July 2015.

For details visit www.durhamminers.org. Why not visit the site and become a Friend of the Durham Miners Gala? There are direct flights to Newcastle from Cork and Dublin, Durham is but a short train journey away!