Music at the Maldron 2017

 

Richard and Jimmy

Jimmy Crowley and Richard T. Cooke

Music at the Maldron

 

Among the liveliest events at the Spirit of Mother Jones festival are a lunch time series of concerts held at the Maldron Hotel each day (Wednesday to Friday 1 to 2pm) featuring some wonderful Cork singers and musicians. Organised and compered by the irrepressible Richard T Cooke, these “Music at the Maldron” sessions should not be missed. Come along and enjoy……see you there!

   

 Lunchtime Song & Music Concerts

 

Richard T. Cooke MC

 

 Wednesday, August 2nd 

 

Muddy Lee & Shandon Street Shawlies Choir

 Frances O’ Sullivan 

(Traditional Singer, Cork Rokk Choir)

The Vocalic 

 

  Clann Chorcai members: 

Aoife Delaney (Young Mother Jones, Singer, Actor)

Joan Goggin (Singer, Poet, Actor)

Eadaoin Delaney (Singer, Musician, Poet, Actor)

Joan Goggin

Singer, Actor and Poet, Joan Goggin dressed as “Mother Jones”. Picture: Andy Jay

 NICHE: Sing Your Heart Out Group members:

Rose Broderick, Nuala Panek, 

David McGrath (Singers)

 

 

Thursday, August 3rd

 Mother Jones Ceili Band Concert & Guests

 

Friday, August 4th

The Jimmy Crowley Concert

Cork born, international renowned recording artist and author 

 performs a selection of songs from his songbook in his own quintessential Cork style. 

 

  • Admission Free
Cork Shawlies

Richard T. Cooke (centre) with Lord Mayor Des Cahill and the Shandon Street Shawlies at last year’s festival. Photo (c) Martin Duggan.

 

The Revolutionary Women of Cork’s Northside 1916-1923

On Wednesday evening, the 3rd August, Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group will speak on the above topic at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

Anne Twomey

Anne Twomey of Shandon Area History Group speaking at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The recent celebrations of the 1916 Rising were marked by an examination of the central role played by many women during the period of the Irish Revolution. In contrast to 1966, when little mention was made, publications such as “No Ordinary Women: Irish Females Activists in the Revolutionary Years 1900-1923” by Sinead McCoole and John Borgonovo in his “Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918” made determined attempt to reveal the story of the contribution of women during this period.

The landmark exhibition by the Shandon Area History Group “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary times” at the St Peters Vision Centre in Cork in June 2016, concentrated on the activities of ten women in Cork whose roles lay largely hidden.

badge

Cumann na mBan lapel badge

Through their efforts and others the full extent of the invisible yet essential infrastructure provided by women which supported the ongoing revolution from 1916 all over Ireland is being unveiled.

With Cork becoming the cockpit of the revolution from 1917 onwards, a number of extremely determined yet forgotten (or ignored) women constructed an impenetrable yet vital support network to the struggle for independence then taking place. Their pivotal and defiant actions, deemed almost irrelevant by history more concerned with the glory of the battle is slowly emerging into the consciousness of their communities.

Anne Twomey at a recent lecture where she detailed the tireless and heroic work of those revolutionary women remarked how “those that knew…..knew!” Now we need to know!

Memorial Window

Stained glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes church, Ballinlough, Cork in memory of Birdie Conway.

The Shandon Cumann Na mBan group after 1916 provides a touchstone for many of the women. At the centre of this group was Lil Conlon and her sisters. Lil was an indefatigable worker who performed many tasks during the troubled period and later penned a book Cumann Na mBan and the Women of Ireland 1913-1925 in which she posed the question “What did the women of Ireland do anyway?”

Lil Conlon book

Lil Conlon’s book on Cumann na mBan (published 1969)

Kate “Birdie” Conway, whose early career was as a professional operatic singer, later became a founder member in Cork of Cumann Na mBan and afterwards Shandon Branch president, played a huge role from 1914 to 1922. Her fundraising, her organising and support activities for prisoners’ dependents and in the cultural area were legendary. She arranged concerts, and often sang at them herself. “Birdie” Conway passed away on 21st February 1936. Today she is remembered by a magnificent stain glass window in the entrance portal at the Ballinlough Church in Cork city.

In Clogheen, on the northern ridge of the city, Mary Bowles was arrested in January 1921 as she tried to hide a Lewis gun while local men escaped from an attempted ambush. She suffered dreadfully at the hands of her captors, and was imprisoned although just a very young teenage girl. She is remembered in a ballad “Mary Bowles… the Pride of Sweet Clogheen

Across in Blackpool, Peg Duggan and her sisters Sarah and Annie, living at 49 Thomas Davis Street, operated an escape network for those on the run for years. Her flower shop on Parliament Street was a centre of Volunteer/IRA activity until closed by order of the British authorities. She was among the first on the scene of the murder of Lord Mayor Tomas MacCurtain in Blackpool on 20th March 1920 and she rendered first aid and comfort for his widow, children and the extended Walsh family throughout that terrifying night.

Emma Hourigan who lived nearby at 45 Maddens Buildings was very active, running intelligence, putting up posters, campaigning and organising. Yet six of her neighbours from Maddens Buildings consisting of just 76 houses were killed during World War 1. Historian Mark Cronin (Blackpool to the Front: A Cork Suburb and Ireland’s Great War 1914-1918) details how hundreds of young men from Blackpool and surrounds had fought in the British Army during the Great War and almost 70 never came home.

Emma Hourigan

Emma Hourigan

From this small Blackpool community one begins to appreciate the complexity of Irish life and history in a small urban village and the difficulties faced by Emma Hourigan and others who bravely took the republican road to freedom. By a sad irony the contributions of the women in the War of Independence and the men who went to fight for John Redmond to achieve Home Rule were virtually written out of Irish history.

In the very heart of Cork City in St Augustine Street stood the innocuous paper shop run by the Wallace sisters who were members of the Irish Citizen Army. This unpretentious premises was effectively the intelligence post office for the volunteers and the IRA for 5/6 years. Nora and Sheila Wallace’s heroic and invisible contribution to the revolution is only now surfacing from the shadows.

Wallace Sisters

Sheila and Julia Wallace

Margaret Lucey typed drafts of Principles of Freedom by Terence MacSwiney, while MacSwiney’s sisters Mary and Annie spent their entire lives working for the achievement of a Republic.

Young Kitty Daly was very active, she took part in the burning of Macroom Railway Station and was involved in the ambush of a British officer near the present St. John’s School.

Geraldine Sullivan (Neeson), was Muriel Murphy’s bridesmaid at her marriage to Terence MacSwiney on 9th June 1917. She transported explosives on her person around the city. The transport of arms and explosives from place to place became normal for the more active women in 1920-1921.

In 5 Devonshire Street, Nora O’Sullivan was actively involved and bravely hid and carried weapons for volunteers, who were subject to constant searches. Sinead McCoole’s book contains a curious self-prophetic note made by Nora to her friend Kitty Coyle, while a prisoner in Kilmainham Gaol during the Civil War….

“Remember me is all I ask,

and if remembrance proves a task,

forget”

 

Their unique stories will be told on Wednesday evening 3rd August by Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group. The Group has made a major contribution to public history by researching and continuing to tell the story of these extraordinary women and others during the Irish Revolutionary period. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wishes to thank Anne Twomey and Maeve Higgins for their research on which this article is based. Photos courtesy of the Shandon Area History Group except where stated.

“A Plastic Ocean” at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School 2017.

plastic pollution at sea

Plastic Ocean – floating plastic

The Cork Mother Jones Committee will screen the stunning environmental film “A Plastic Ocean” at the sixth Spirit of Mother Jones festival on Thursday afternoon 3rd August 2017 at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon. While many regard tackling climate change as being vital to the survival of the planet, other threats are also accumulating in the environment.

This film investigates how the world’s increasing addiction to plastic is impacting the food chain and how that is effecting every one of us through new and developing human health problems. The results will astound viewers as the film captures never-before-seen images of marine life under threat from plastics.

A Plastic Ocean – film poster

A Plastic Ocean is filmed in 20 locations around the world and documents in chilling detail the effects of the some 8 million tons of plastic which we dump in the world’s oceans annually. Each year some 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured in the world, half of which we use just once before we dump it, making it one of mankind’s most destructive inventions.

The film follows documentary film maker Craig Leeson and a free diver Tanya Streeter, who while filming the blue whale, discover huge quantities of plastic floating in the waters off Sri Lanka. What follows is a global odyssey to discover what is happening in the oceans around the world.

Taking four years to film, and costing some $3.5 million the results should force people to question the plastic pathway and urge industry and all of us users to seek safe alternative solutions.

The evidence of plastic pollution which the film makers found shocked them and made them question a world where plastic is everywhere, yet few question why we produce so much, use so much and where it goes when discarded. The build-up of micro plastics and the creation of ocean garbage patches places the viability of the world’s oceans to sustain life under huge pressure.

Tanya Streeter

Tanya Streeter on the island of Tuvalu

The ratio of plastic to plankton in the Mediterranean Sea is 1:2, in some places the small plastic particles outnumber plankton by a ratio of 26:1.  A large amount of discarded plastic carries toxic chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, pesticides and PCBs. Over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs. If this trend continues, and with studies showing that plastic is entering the food chains, then what is the future for human health and our very planet?

Plastics are created from the oil hydrocarbons and one solution would be to return plastics to oil. The search for bacteria to break plastic molecules down continues but the oceans or indeed the earth are not able to do so.  Some proposed solutions such as incineration create many toxic and poisonous emissions to the environment. Have the plastic manufacturers any real answers to safeguarding the environment from their products?

Oil Rigs

Oil – leaves lasting damage

Plastic Oceans is a global network of independent not for profits and charitable organisations, united in their aim to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation.

“A Plastic Ocean” will be screened on Thursday afternoon 3rd August at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon as a contribution to an “Environment Day” at the Spirit of Mother Jones festival. Discussion to follow. All are welcome. Further lectures on environmental issues will be announced shortly.

New film “Blood on the Mountain” will feature at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017

Blood on the Mountain

Blood on the Mountain movie poster

Blood on the Mountain is a newly released award-winning documentary.  It  is a fearless look at the 150 year history of the US coal industry. It has been endorsed by both the United Mine Workers of America and Sierra Club.   This is a story of human struggles endured at the mercy of unregulated industries and corrupt politicians.
The film’s director is Mari-lynn Evans who is “a life-long fan of Mother Jones.” She faced terrific obstacles and efforts to stop the film from the coal industry, which “reminded me of what Mother Jones and activists 100 years ago had to face.”
The film, she notes, “is a story of human struggles endured at the mercy of unregulated industries and corrupt politicians,” that should interest people far beyond West Virginia: “The injustices to the workers, environment and communities in the coalfields of Appalachia are the “canary in a coal mine” illustrating to all Americans what happens when corporations are allowed absolute control to inflict atrocities and politicians abdicate responsibility for those they are elected to protect.”

The film is showing at the Mother Jones Museum & Heritage Project Newsletter

May Day Special at the Mother Jones Museum at Mount Olive, Illinois on 29th April.  We are delighted to announce that we will also be showing the film for the first time in Ireland at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones in Cork which runs from 1st to 5th August in the Shandon area of the city – further information coming soon when the 2017 Festival Programme is available.
For further information on the Mother Jones events in Illinois visit it the Mother Jones Lives! page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MotherJonesLives/

Mother Jones featured on Irish Times series on Irish diaspora

Today’s Irish Times (Saturday, 25th March 2017), includes a features an interesting article on Mary Harris / Mother Jones.  The feature, which is part of an ongoing series of diaspora related articles under the heading “Irish Connections”, covers Mother Jones ‘ personal journey and her campaigning across North America for the rights of working people and their families, especially those consigned to the margins of society and without a voice.

The full article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/mary-harris-who-became-mother-jones-the-united-states-fiercest-union-organiser-1.3017717

 

Richard T. Cooke’s eulogy at the funeral of Dr. Sean Pettit

 

Richard T. Cooke (right) with Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba

Richard T. Cooke (right) with Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba

 

Richard T. Cooke, President/Chairperson, Cork Adult Education Council

delivered a personal eulogy at Dr. Sean Pettit’s

Requiem Mass at 11.00am Monday, November 28th 2016

St. Patrick’s Church, Lower Glanmire Road. Ireland

A tribute to my good dear friend, Dr. Sean Pettit – The Romantic Historian

By Richard T. Cooke

 

Charming, theatrical, enthusiastic, passionate and generous are some of the words that spring to mind when I think of my dear friend Dr. Sean Pettit who went to his eternal rest on Wednesday, November 23rd 2016. I took a deep breath when I read of his passing in an email I received from his dear loving wife Aruba and I picked up the phone to ring her immediately to express my profound condolences. I felt so sad. Sean was one beautiful sweet man and I was so lucky to have him as a friend for over 30 years.

Dr. Pettit & Aruba in younger days

Dr. Pettit & Aruba in younger days

My first sighting of him was way back in 1984. I was working in the Cork Archives Institute and attending UCC. Our tutor Mr. O’Brien told us about an upcoming lecture in the Boole Library by a Dr. Sean Pettit which might be of interest to us as the topic was on history. That following night off I went with a couple of friends to the lecture. We took our place in the lecture hall and chatted amongst ourselves while we waited for Dr. Pettit to arrive. And boy, did he arrive. His stage presence was unlike anything I had ever seen before and as he began his lecture, I said to myself, something magic is going to happen here and indeed it did. He spoke about Cork’s wonderful rich colourful heritage, tradition and culture with gusto. I was in awe, spellbound with his charismatic presentation. The blood flowing through his veins I imagined was not unlike the water flowing through the river Lee. Passionately he delivered his historical pearls of Cork’s history and eagerly I soaked up his knowledge. It wasn’t a lecture in fact but a theatrical performance that captured all my senses. His passion was infectious and on that night, I wanted nothing more than to be like him. He was like a rock star of history. He made Cork’s past come alive, he made it exciting. He was like Moses preaching the gospel of Cork in the most romantic of ways that would undoubtedly cause any one from any part of the world to fall head over heels in love with our beautiful smiling thriving city of Cork.

walking tour

Dr. Sean Pettit leading a walking tour of Cork city

Over the years we became firm friends. We often met and had a good auld chat on one of Cork’s historic streets or landmarks like the time we met in the English Market and we shared the history of that historic place with throngs of people around us by the fountain which was decorated with Turkeys, geese and chickens in was Christmas time.  And we used to lunch together in the Imperial Hotel on the South Mall, that grand elegant 19th century building which Sean loved so much and our conversation would always be on some aspect of the history of Cork.

I was intending to meet up with Sean on Thursday, November 24th last for another lively chit-chat but this will now have to wait until we meet again on the other side and no doubt we will. People loved him so much just like me. He was so generous and giving with his knowledge like my good dear great friends and mentors, Wally McGrath of the Evening Echo and CJF McCarthy of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

Dr. Sean Pettit will be remembered for his overwhelming generosity and kindness and no doubt I am only one of his many friends, colleagues and fans.

Shandon

With friends in the Shandon area

As I was walking the streets of Cork after hearing the very sad news I could feel his presence and I’m sure that his loving spirit is now happily strolling the streets of our proud city sporting his characteristic warm furry Russian hat and puffing his pipe – he was a gentleman of gentlemen.

He had that elegant rich old fashioned romantic way about him and this could be witnessed every time he was in the presence of his dear and loving wife Aruba – I can still see them linking hands – they were sweethearts. And you can see for yourself this romantic old fashioned chemistry in the film on YouTube titled: Dr Sean Pettit & Aruba Coghlan Honoured that documents the Lifetime Award that Aruba received in 2015 for her wonderful work in the field of ballet and the Historian of the Year Award that Sean received for his lifetime work in the field of history from the then Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Chris O’Leary and from the Committee of Celebrating Cork Past in the City Hall, Monday, September 28th 2015.

Sean loved speaking about Cork. He was loud and proud of his native city and its wonderful heritage and especially its people. His last two public lectures were in St Peter’s Cork, North Main Street, for the Cork Adult Education Council Lunchtime Lecture Series on Monday, April 4th 2016 and at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Friday, July 29th 2016. As always they were thronged with his many fans.

And finally, an 18th century writer once wrote: the greatest gift that God could give to a human being is a friend. Goodbye my dear friend until we meet again…

I would be delighted if you would join me now in giving Sean a round of applause in celebration of his wonderful life. Thank You

A tribute to the late Dr. Séan Pettit – “The Final Curtain”

Sean Pettit and Richard T. Cooke

Dr. Sean Pettit (left) with Richard T. Cooke at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The Maldron Hotel was packed, last seats already taken…..standing room only now……still 20 minutes to go. Mild apprehension among even experienced members of the Mother Jones Committee……….the growing crowd…..aged from 8 to 80….a sense of anticipation…….crackling expectation……electricity in the air.

He arrived from the rear of the room, advancing slowly through a flash of cameras and mobile phones, hugs and handshakes and a standing ovation. Reaching the front of the room he raised his arms in the air with a broad smile. The “Master” had appeared….resplendent and immaculate in cream jacket…….he was ready to perform!

Dr. Pettit with some of the members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

Dr. Pettit with some of the members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

Introduced by his old friend Richard T Cooke…….he commanded the packed room and hall with professional ease, just as 40 years earlier in his trademark swishing black gown he commanded the packed lecture halls of the West Wing of his beloved University College Cork…….bringing history to life for young students!

On Friday afternoon 29th July 2016, Dr Sean Pettit was at home on Cork’s Northside in the North Infirmary speaking of Cork in the 1800s and portraying the Cork city experienced by a young Mary Harris. He seamlessly worked through his amazing collection of slides, gently and modestly describing the reality of life for the wealthy and the degrading poverty of the poor on the streets of Cork. From the sedate wonder of the then beautiful Mardyke to the resilient Shawlies of the Quays we moved back in time with a genial Sean to ramble around and imagine the city of our ancestors.

Crowd photo

Shot of the crowd who packed in for Dr. Sean Pettit’s talk.

In his classic book This City of Cork,published in 1977, Dr Pettit wrote in a chapter entitled “The Sick, The Poor and the Beggars” with passion and scarcely disguised anger about the human distress and the plight of subsistence living of ordinary people in Cork in the 1830s. His empathy for the poor always shone through his presentations. He spoke of the mansions on the hill and the carriages of the rich and famous but he never forgot to speak also of the social injustice experienced in the laneways and alleys of Cork.

His lecture at the Mother Jones summer school 2016 was a remarkable performance, a public historian graciously speaking of the heritage of the people of Cork, of his love for his native City and generously passing on his knowledge, experience and appreciation to those so lucky to be present on that glorious day and as he had done also for many thousands more over the past 50 years.

We instinctively understood then that we were witnessing a rare performance from “The Master” but could not know that Sean was taking his final curtain after his finest hour.

 

Dr Sean Pettit passed away on Wednesday 23rd November 2016. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to express our condolences to his beloved wife Aruba to whom he dedicated all his books.

 

 

Dates for Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017 announced

The 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School will be held from Tuesday 1st August (Mother Jones Day) until Saturday 5th August. The full programme of events will be announced in Spring 2017.
 
The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to thank everyone who assisted in any way with the 2016 event. We want to thank especially our speakers, musicians and singers and we appreciate very much the huge numbers of people who attended the events. We enjoyed five wonderful days in the Shandon community. The Committee is now looking forward to the 2017 Festival and summer school and if you have any ideas or suggestions for 2017, please forward for consideration to us via motherjonescork@gmail.com   

Jack O’Connor: A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People

Jack O'Connor

Jack O’Connor speaking at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2016. Photo: Niamh O’Flynn.

The 2016 Cork Mother Jones Lecture was delivered by Mr Jack O’Connor, President of SIPTU. Jack presented a paper entitled “A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People” on Thursday the 28th July, the opening night of the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones festival at the Firkin Crane in Shandon.

In this challenging paper he concludes “that as we stand today, we have the capacity to ensure that workers can organise to win but that will not remain the case indefinitely. The sands of time are ebbing away. It is time to wake up and smell the roses” 
 
Jack referred to several trade union documents during the course of his talk. He has kindly forwarded the “Report of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement….A call to Action presented at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Delegate Conference in Killarney in July 2011 andFuture Positive – Trade Unions and the Common Good”  also from the ICTU in 2013 and which are available from the links to same at the end of this page.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to thank Jack O’Connor for delivering the 2016 Cork Mother Jones Lecture.

 

Speech at the Mother Jones Festival, Cork by SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor.

 

A Trade Union Strategy to Win for Working People

 

Comrades and friends,

This year’s Mother Jones Festival takes place against the background of the continuing trauma of the most serious crisis in global capitalism since the 1930s. It is important to say from the outset that this is a demand side crisis largely attributable to exponentially growing inequality in what we know as the “developed world”.

The phenomenon manifests itself in the world of work or the “labour market” in the form of mass unemployment, increasing precariousness and social insecurity on an unprecedented scale. This is increasingly evident in Ireland, Europe and the West. Precarious work, of course, is not new in the developing world where it has been the order of the day for a long time.

It falls to the trade union movement to step up to the task of reasserting human priorities in the workplace and ultimately in the wider economic and social paradigm. It is important to stress this because in the culture of “business unionism” this tends to be taken for granted or even lost sight of altogether. It is also important to say that trade union organisation is the only way to address the task. More important, it is crucial to assert that the trade union movement in Ireland still has the capacity to meet the challenge and to win for working people. Indeed, this is the fundamental premise of this short paper here this evening.

However, to do so, our movement must transform itself, ideologically, culturally and structurally.

In practical terms, it is a challenge which must be met at an industrial, pedagogical and political level.

In order to approach it, we must disabuse ourselves of a number of deeply held myths and misconceptions. One of these, for example, is that the dramatic growth in the, post- Lockout, Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union between Easter Week 1916 and the end of 1918 was primarily attributable to the resistance offered during the Lockout itself and the subsequent events which occurred throughout the decade of rebellion. The fact of the matter is that what happened had more to do with the Munitions Act. This was because, in 1917, the legislation which had been put in place by the government in the United Kingdom to maintain industrial peace for the duration of the war was extended to Ireland. Agricultural Wages Boards which had been set up across the UK to determine wages and conditions to guarantee the food supply were then put in place in Ireland as well. Virtually immediately, agricultural labourers found that the most effective way to secure improvements was by joining a trade union and they flocked to the ranks of the ITGWU in their thousands. It quickly established itself as the dominant union in the sector, absorbing smaller land and labour unions along the way. Membership, which had fallen to somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 by the time of the Easter Rising, increased to 68,000 by the end of 1918 and 120,000 in 1920. Obviously, the sentiment engendered by the Lockout, the Rising and the War of Independence influenced developments but they were not the primary reason for the growth in union membership. The institutional arrangements put in place for conciliation and arbitration over a whole range of industries also resulted in a very dramatic rise in trade union membership and density across every single region of the UK.

That phenomenon has replicated itself repeatedly in all circumstances in which conditions favourable to the growth of union membership have presented – e.g. during the post war period across Europe, the period following the economically regenerative 1960s and the period following entry into the EEC in Ireland. The purpose of this reference is to debunk the myth that declining union density in the Ireland or indeed throughout the developed world is in some way attributable to some kind of inter-generational or cultural disconnect. It could be argued that such exists but it is consequence rather than the cause of the phenomenon.

The simple fact of the matter is that working people and indeed people generally for that matter will organise in one of two circumstances or better still when a combination of both exist. These are:

  1. When they believe they can win and
  2. When they have no other alternative.

That rule applies throughout the history of industrial societies and in all circumstances irrespective of generational dynamics. It therefore follows that the challenge we must overcome is to instill a belief in people that they can actually win by organising.

Of course, the reality is that the balance has shifted quite dramatically against organised workers and in favour of capital over the past quarter of a century or more. This is attributable to the complex interaction of an array of global factors, each of which merits an entirely separate paper on their own. However, for this evening’s purpose I will simply cite the most significant of them:

  1. The fall of the Soviet Union more than a quarter of a century ago. This immediately virtually quadrupled the global supply of labour available for exploitation by capital (from about 750,000 to two billion when China is included).
  2. The extension of the process of globalisation. This imposed the exploitative employment standards of the developing world in the marketplaces of the West.
  3. The decline of manufacturing in the developed economies.
  4. The expansion of household credit and indebtedness in response to the collapse of real incomes.
  5.  The ultimate global collapse of 2008.
  6.  The decline of social democracy and the shift to the centre right in the political arena.

Lenin wasn’t wrong when he said “the crisis of social democracy is the crisis of capitalism”.

In Europe, in particular, the response which has been employed since 2010 (and earlier in our case) has been one of retrenchment – austerity combined with a “race to the bottom” in the workplace to maximise “competitiveness”. This, as we know, has resulted in the generation of mass unemployment particularly among the young in several European countries which has not been seen since the immediate post war years, accompanied by precariousness and hopelessness which is increasingly evolving into desperation.

We are now entering a new and more dangerous phase in the evolution of the crisis of capitalism and of European and global history. What has happened is that the politics has now caught up with the economics as we always said it inevitably would and it is manifesting itself in a sharp swing in most cases to xenophobic nationalism and the radical right. It is no overstatement to say that we are on the road to catastrophe. This leads through the disorderly collapse of the euro which would inevitably result in levels of deprivation and societal break down beyond anything that can be visualised in our everyday imagination. It would end in a regime of competing nation states and ultimately in regional wars.

I should say at this point that unless the policies of one-sided austerity or even fiscal neutrality as they now call it, combined with the race to the bottom in the world of work, are abandoned immediately the scenario I describe above is not some vague possibility – but is actually inevitable.

I turn then to the question as to “What is to be done?”. After all we are not the EU Commission, the Council of Ministers or the governing board of the ECB. We are not even the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). What can the trade union movement under pressure in a small country in the western periphery of Europe actually do? Well, it remains to be seen – but our obligation is to do everything that we can in our own space.

First and most importantly, we must address the ideological question. Our movement is comprised of an array of organisations founded on the basis of different but not incompatible premises. A number of our unions are vocational organisations formed to promote the interests of those employed in a particular profession, vocation, trade or craft. Others are more general in character formed to promote the interests of members but in the context of a wider historical mission towards an egalitarian society. As long as we function on the basis that, irrespective of the prevailing conditions in the economy and more particularly in society, the cause of a particular vocation or trade or craft can be furthered independently, we cannot make real progress. We have to face up to the challenge of influencing the conditions within which we organise and operate as distinct from simply promoting the cause of a particular group in a context which is determined by others.

The other concept that must be debunked is the notion that it is in some way our role to provide an antagonistic voice against management in those businesses and institutions which recognise their employee’s right to organise and be represented by trade unions. This thinking is fundamentally flawed. Our task is to optimise the quality and the security of our members’ employment in these businesses and institutions. It therefore follows that we must be at the forefront of the thrust to enhance productivity and innovation instead of getting in the way of it as we sometimes do. The fact of the matter is that the security and quality of our members’ employment is entirely dependant on the prosperity of the enterprises in which they work. Moreover, the key to good working conditions and indeed standards of living generally is exponentially increasing productivity. I emphasise, because it will undoubtedly be misrepresented, that this is not about increasing the drudgery or onerousness of work. Actually, it is precisely the opposite.

There is another complementary reason for this approach and that is to minimise employer hostility. We have to reverse the current equation in which we can sometimes find ourselves impeding the prospects for an enterprise that engages in collective bargaining instead of actually enhancing them. Meanwhile, we fail to confront those who do not respect their employee’s right to organise or be represented by trade unions. This equation is graphically evident in any analysis of the deployment of trade union resources as between ‘servicing’ members where we are recognised and organising to confront those who do not afford recognition. It is a fundamentally flawed strategy and it is doomed to failure. The reality of it is that, apart from workers, we should be able to demonstrate that employers who recognise trade unions also enjoy an advantage over those who don’t.

The second criterion I mentioned at the outset arises in the pedagogical arena. This is at least two-dimensional.

In the first instance, we have a responsibility to equip workers to assert their own interests by knowing their rights and understanding how to vindicate them. At a collective level, that extends to developing a greater understanding among our members and workers generally of the nature and character of the forces and influences at work in capitalist society. This applies both in terms of the economics of the companies in which people may work and the wider political arena as well.

In parallel with this, we equally have a responsibility as has been the case with the craft unions of the past to facilitate the education, training and development of our members and workers in the enhancement of their skills. This is particularly applicable in the rapidly changing dynamics of the modern labour market where skills and competencies are becoming redundant almost as rapidly as they are appearing.

The third criterion I mentioned at the outset relates to the political arena.  As long ago as the new unionism of the 1880s, our leaders recognised the necessity to compete for political influence and power in order to overcome the limitations of what could be achieved through workplace collective bargaining. This saw the development of political funds and political affiliations to the labour and social democratic parties. Today, in the light of the crisis of social democracy and the increasing diffusion of political representation on the left, there is a need for a more nuanced approach. However, this is not an argument for the depoliticisation of trade unionism. Indeed, quite the opposite is the case. However, our political activity should focus on shifting the entire fulcrum of the debate in society in a manner which prioritises human considerations and egalitarian objectives as distinct from promoting one political party. The aim must be to frame the architecture of the political ‘centre ground’.

On the face of it, this seems an awesome challenge. Yet it is still entirely within the capacity of the trade union movement in Ireland as things stand at present but it cannot be undertaken successfully by any single trade union. Thus, we must have the courage and vision to make the changes that will enable us to accomplish it. The roadmap was outlined in the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Trade Union Organisation to the biennial delegate conferences of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in Killarney in July 2011 and then in Belfast in July 2013 – the centenary of the Lockout.

These envisaged developing a stronger, more united, more coherent movement, organised in a federal rather than a confederal congress. This, while respecting the autonomy of each individual trade union, would facilitate co-ordination of collective bargaining and organising across each of the individual sectors of the economy in both jurisdictions on the island. Such co-ordination would optimise the prospects for the negotiation of the best possible agreements with employers who respect their employees’ right to organise.  Simultaneously, it would enable the deployment of irresistible force in support of workers seeking to organise where unions are not recognised.

This capacity would be reinforced by the development of a fully resourced research capacity, a new workers college, an independent workers controlled media platform and the opening of trade union centres in every major town on the island.

The elements are actually reflected in the ‘One Cork’ project which is underway on a small scale here in this city.

As we stand today, we have the capacity to ensure that workers can organise to win but that will not remain the case indefinitely. The sands of time are ebbing away. It is time to wake up and smell the roses!

 

Documents referred to in our introduction to Jack O’Connor’s address:

Report of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement – A Call to Action

Jack O Connor A Call to Action Final version 

Future Positive – Trade unions and the Common Good

Jack O’Connor TradeComReport_web