Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ireland: As Irish Water crashes and burns, a people is risen

Water protest in Dublin
The Irish government’s unpopular public utility, Irish Water, has been dealt a body blow, after it failed two key tests within the space of a fortnight, gifting a huge victory to opposition parties and the massive anti-water charges movement.

On 15 July the government revealed that, of Ireland’s approximately 1.5 million households, only 645,000, or about 43 percent, had paid the first water bills issued by the new body.

Facing down threats of tax increases or of having water supplies cut off, and accusations from an increasingly hysterical government that those opposed to water charges were “fascists”, "ISIS" and a “sinister fringe”, more than half of Irish households have refused to pay the hated new charges.

Perhaps expecting a poor return, the government has already rammed legislation through the Dáil that will allow unpaid bills to taken from people’s wages and welfare payments.

Mary Lou McDonald TD, Deputy President of the anti-austerity republican party Sinn Féin, welcomed the low payment figures.

“This is a serious embarrassment to the government who have done their best to denounce and belittle the resistance to their introduction of water charges,” she said.

“The defiance of the Irish people tells them in no uncertain terms that water charges are unwelcome and that they will not be cowed by threats.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Germany: Left-wing politician car-bombed as attacks on refugees rise

Die Linke councillor and refugee activist, Michael Richter
Just after midnight on Monday 27 July, a bomb exploded in the car of left-wing politician and refugee activist, Michael Richter, in the town of Freital, on the outskirts of Dresden in eastern Germany.

Richter, a 39-year old town councillor for the socialist party Die Linke (“The Left”) was not in the car at the time, and fortunately noone was harmed by the blast, which damaged a nearby car.

While police are yet to assign blame, Richter is certain that the attack came from right-wing groups in the area, who have threatened him repeatedly in recent months over his campaigning work for refugees.

"I am one of the faces in Freital who say we are for asylum, and I think that's the reason for the attack," Richter said after the blast.

"Threats have now become reality. They are trying to scare me, but I will not give up,"

Germany has seen a steady rise in violence against asylum seekers in the past year, with the German Federal Ministry of the Interior recording 202 attacks in the first six months of 2015 alone, compared to 162 in all of 2014 and 58 in 2013.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thermopylae or Versailles? Greece deal threatens to destroy the European project

Europe, as we know it, appears to be over. 

The promise of a peaceful integration of capitalist equals lies tattered on the floor of a negotiation room in Brussels. There, the SYRIZA-led Greek government finally succumbed to the blackmail, economic carpet-bombing and “mental water-boarding” of the institutions of European capitalism.

The final weeks of the debt negotiations culminating in a cynical political coup against Greece have laid bare the undemocratic, technocratic nature of the European Union (EU), which operates as a thieves’ kitchen to protect vested financial interests at an incalculable human cost.

For many, the brutal humiliation of the Greek government and people heralds the end of the dream that the EU could be softly nudged towards a benevolent economic and political union. For others on both the political far left and far right, it provides further justification for a perspective of exiting the EU to return social and political issues to a primarily national level.

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, an intellectual figurehead of European integration, told The Guardian on 17 July that the outcome of the negotiations means that the “European Council is effectively declaring itself politically bankrupt”. 

Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman, described the terms of the deal as “madness”, and argued that “[w]hat we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the Eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line.”

“This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief … it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for,” he said. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ireland: British collusion exposed in hundreds of paramilitary murders

The BBC’s Panorama program on May 28 made explosive revelations about British state collusion with paramilitaries in the North of Ireland, implicating it in the murder of hundreds of people, and in subsequent cover-ups.

The documentary, titled "Britain’s Secret Terror Deals", detailed British security forces collusion with illegal paramilitary groups in the North on a vast scale, running thousands of informants and agents, many of them known criminals and murderers.

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan told the program that some paramilitary informants recruited by the security forces during “the Troubles” were serial killers, and that their crimes – including murder, intimidation, drug smuggling and terrorism – were covered up.

“They were running informants and they were using them,” O’Loan told the program.

“Their argument was that by so doing they were saving lives, but hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people died because those people were not brought to justice and weren’t stopped in their tracks,” she said.

"There was impunity really for these people to go on committing their crimes. Many of them were killers, some were serial killers."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Germany: G7 meets amid mass protests

Schloß Elmau, venue of the G7 summit
Tens of thousands of anti-capitalist, environmental and social justice activists have taken to the streets and the country roads of Bavaria to protest the Group of Seven (G7) nations summit, which took place on June 7 and 8 in a secluded castle in the German Alps.

On June 4, over 35,000 demonstrators marched peacefully in the Bavarian capital Munich, protesting the destructive policies of the G7 industrialised nations – climate change, militarisation and NATO expansion in Europe, economic austerity and poverty, democracy-destroying free trade deals and more. 

Some protesters dressed as clowns, while others wore black or even traditional Bavarian lederhosen, and carried rainbow flags and banners bearing slogans such as “Stop the G7 now!”, "G7 go to hell" and “Revolution is the solution”.  

On June 8, another 8,000 protesters marched through the alpine resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a few hours south of Munich, in the shadow of Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze. 

The meeting between the leaders of the G7 nations – the United States, Britain, Canada, Italy, France, Japan and Germany – was held nearby at Schloss Elmau, a picturesque castle converted into a luxury hotel, at a cost of approximately US$350 million.

Over 22,000 police were deployed to protect the summit – the largest police operation in Bavarian history – and 17 kilometres of temporary fenceline was erected to keep protesters out.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Euskal Herria: Historic pro-Basque coalition forms government in Navarre

Uxue Barkos, leader of Geroa Bai
Regional elections held in Spain on May 24 have installed an historic pro-Basque state government in the autonomous community of Navarre for the first time,  bringing to an end 16 years of rule by the pro-Spanish, centre-right Navarrese People's Union (UPN).

The UPN won only 15 seats, down four from 2011, while their allies the right-wing Spanish People’s Party (of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy) won 2, half of their quota in 2011.   

Instead, Uzue Barkos, leader of the pro-Basque coalition Geroa Bai (“Yes to the Future”) – itself a coalition of centre-left Basque nationalist association Zabaltzen and the centre-right Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) – approached other pro-Basque parties to negotiate a coalition government after her party won 9 seats.      

In order to form government, Geroa Bai needed to secure 26 seats in the 50-seat Navarrese parliament – 17 more than their direct mandate.      

Geroa Bai immediately entered into discussions with the Basque leftist pro-independence coalition Euskal Herria Bildu ("Basque Country Unite", EH Bildu), which won 8 seats, the new Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos (7 seats) and the left-federalist Izquierda-Ezkerra ("Left-Left", I-E) – the Navarra affiliate of Spain's Izquierda Unida ("United Left") – with 2 seats.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trade Union Royal Commission signals new attacks on workers’ rights

On May 19 the Abbott government’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption released a 116-page discussion paper (PDF) of potential law reforms, recommending a swathe of new attacks on union rights.

The proposals in the paper give the clearest indication so far of the likely outcome of the expensive inquisition into the union movement when the Commission releases its findings in December.

The document presents little more than a sweeping wish list of restrictions on the rights of union officials and the ability of unions to carry out their work to benefit members.

Among the ideas presented for “discussion” is further restricting right of entry provisions, making it harder for unions to enter worksites to investigate safety and other breaches by employers.

In this, as well as other proposals, the pro-employer bias of the commission is clear. Rather than the importance of union right of entry in preventing workplace deaths and protecting work conditions, the paper is concerned with union right of entry powers as a “serious encroachment upon liberty” to be curtailed.

Directly targeting union militancy, the paper also suggests new police “move on” powers to break up picket lines and protests at construction sites.

Under the proposed new laws, anyone who failed to leave an area within 15 minutes of a police direction would be guilty of an offence, and conviction would be grounds to automatically ban a person from holding any union office.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Germany: SPD wins Bremen election amid record low voter turnout

The German city-state of Bremen went to the polls on May 10
Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has narrowly held on to power in the city of Bremen, Germany’s smallest state, after elections on May 10 saw the governing coalition returned with a diminished majority amidst a record low voter turnout.

While the SPD still topped the poll with 32.9 percent, its vote share was down 5.7 percent on the 2011 election, and marks its worst ever result in Bremen.

The SPD has governed the city-state – one of Germany’s main industrial centres – continuously since the end of World War Two. Bremen, with a population of only 655,000, has been hard hit by a gradual decline in the local shipbuilding industry and by weakened public finances.

It now suffers from Germany’s highest unemployment rate, at 11 percent, as well as high levels of debt. According to a recent report by German charity Der Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband, nearly a quarter of people in Bremen live in poverty, more than any other German state.

The level of political engagement has suffered as a result, with barely fifty percent of the electorate turning out to vote in this election – the lowest turnout in any poll in modern Germany history. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ireland: Attacks on leading Sinn Féin members a threat to peace

Arson attack on a Sinn Féin billboard in Derry
A series of violent attacks and bomb threats against leading members of Sinn Féin, as well as a fatal shooting, threaten to overshadow May 7 elections in the six counties in the north of Ireland.

In recent weeks leading up to the May 7 British General Election there have been a series of arson attacks on Sinn Féin electoral billboards across the six counties.

Since the start of May, however, these attacks have escalated dramatically into a campaign of intimidation and violence, including arson, death threats, and bomb alerts targeting leading republicans.

On May 2, a number of cars were set alight in Derry, including one belonging to well-known local community worker and Sinn Féin activist Sean McMonagle.

Early in the morning of May 5, high profile Sinn Féin member Gerard “Jock” Davison was gunned down near his home in the Markets area of south Belfast on his way to work at the local community centre.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Germany: Record rail strike brings country to a halt

Striking GDL workers
On May 5, thousands of German train drivers and railway workers embarked on a week-long strike, the longest rail strike in the country’s post-war history, after fraught industrial negotiations broke down again.

Approximately two thirds of Germany’s long distance trains and a third of regional trains have been cancelled, with trains in the eastern region around Halle, Leipzig, and Dresden reduced to around 15 percent of services.

Some subway systems were also affected, including those in Hamburg and Berlin.

Deutsche Bahn accounts for about a fifth of Germany's freight transport – around 1 million tonnes per day – as well as moving 5.5 million passengers daily.

During earlier railway strikes, economists from the Federation of German Industries estimated that extended train strikes could cost Germany's economy "up to 100 million euros per day", and German industry has, predictably, condemned the strike.

In November last year, train drivers announced an until-then-unprecedented four-day strike, but then shortened it to three days, the longest since a GDL-led national strike in 2007.