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It Could Happen Where You Live: Stopping the Rise of 21st Century Fascism

Last week someone told me that he believed the reaction to Trump’s victory was an “overreaction.” Subsequently, another man I know called my terming of Trump and the galvanising of the US right as fascism to be “hysterical.” Media commentators state that anti-Trump activist are whipping up fear unnecessarily but I defy any right thinking individual to watch this video and not be horrified by it.

It is an open white power rally complete with Nazi salutes and declarations that maybe their opponents “aren’t people at all.” This in combination with the regular demonisation of all Muslims is shocking. To compare this to 1930s Europe is not a disproportionate exaggeration.

Years ago I travelled in the former Yugoslavia shortly after the war. A war that was synonymous with ethnic cleansing and where extreme promotion of nationalistic patriotism assisted the xenophobia that led to the genocide in Srebenica where 8,373 Bosniak civilians were murdered. A lot of Belgrade was still rubble and there were signs around Sarajevo saying not to walk on the grass because there were still landmines. I remember talking to someone who had also been there who said to me that a local Serb woman had told her to “never think that this couldn’t happen where you live.”

White power rallies are happening right now in the US – a place where black people are routinely shot by cops and an unapologetic racist and misogynist has been elected president. Marine Le Pen is trying to make the fascist National Front more palatable in France. The far right Alternative for Germany are gaining support. Geert Wilders anti-EU and anti-Islam “Party for Freedom” is gaining support in advance of the Dutch elections next year. Neo-Nazis Golden Dawn won 18 seats in the Greek parliamentary elections in September. Anti-immigration party Jobbik are the third largest party in Hungary and won 20% of the vote on a platform of wanting to stop “Zionist Israel’s efforts to dominate Hungary and the world,” and criminalising gay people advocating prison terms of up to 8 years for what they term “sexual deviancy.” The Sweden Democrats won 49 out of 349 seats in the Swedish parliament promoting an extreme anti-migrant agenda and a policy of returning refugees to their home countries. The anti-immigrant Austrian Freedom Party have huge support and almost won the most recent presidential election. Founded by a former SS officer, they have 20% of the seats in the Austrian parliament and links to a range of fascist and far-right organisations throughout Europe. The anti-Roma People’s Party our Slovakia hold 14 out of 150 seats in parliament and whose leader has said “Even one immigrant is one to many” and spoken openly in favour of politicians during WWII who sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps. While the BNP, the EDL and National Front are on the fringes of the right in the UK, UKIP hold little support on a national level but have 163 council seats. The Tories could easily sail further to the right as the US Republicans have in the wake of Brexit. Rallies are being held in Spain where people hold up photos of Franco and give Nazi salutes.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAntenapezTV%2Fvideos%2F1178720505552066%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Aside from some Loyalist organisations in the Six Counties, the fascist right in Ireland are largely confined to the boxrooms of their mother’s houses. Former Youth Defence activist and gormless fascist, Justin Barrett attempted to hold a press conference for his National Party in Dublin last week but he event didn’t go ahead after the hotel it was to be held in cancelled due to public outcry. While Justin Barrett and fellow cretin Peter O’Loughlin of Identity Ireland/Pegida Ireland might have the charisma of a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition, their threat should not be underestimated.

In 2004 I was a student in UCD and was in the room when AFA prevented Barrett from speaking. They were right to do so. Later I recall someone saying that if the far right remained in the hands of anti-immigrant xenophobe Aine Ni Chonaill and the Immigration Control Platform then we would be ok. There was an element of truth to this, the public being largely hostile to the ICP views but this was the same year that an anti-deportation activist I knew had her home address published online by fascist sympathisers in Ireland and received letters telling her they knew what bus she took to college in the mornings.

We live in an environment where the likes of Katie Hopkins is given a platform on RTE, who once suggested that migrants should be let drown and that feminist journalist Laurie Penny should be gangraped by ISIS members, because the national broadcaster views ratings and manufactured controversy as being more important than not allowing a bigot espouse racist views on television. Ultra-Catholic fanatics have columns in national media outlets and take legal action against anyone where there’s the slightest whiff of opposition to their chauvinist anti-woman or anti-LGBT views, despite the fact that their level of actual public support is minuscule. The minority government in this state is a party of the right that has its roots in an organisation of fascists, many of whom went to fight for Franco during the Spanish Civil War. And despite having marginally softened their line on gay rights in recent years, they are still cheerleaders of austerity policy whose leaders routinely present cuts to funding public services as something that just has to be done, and keeps those who arrive in Ireland seeking asylum in camps and institutions where they share dormitories and are prevented from working. Racist incidents and anti-Muslim discrimination are on the rise. Travellers face disgraceful levels of discrimination that involve children being prevented from entering schools because of their ethnicity, Traveller babies are placed on the Garda PULSE system, a facility normally only used for monitoring criminals, and the councils and public are mostly happy for Traveller communities to live in death traps such as the site where the Carrickmines fire claimed ten lives. This is the environment where right wing ideology festers.

The idea that you should put right wing activists on the radio and media in order to allow them to show themselves up for the clueless dolts they are is nonsense. People of colour in Ireland should not have to listen to racists being allowed free rein to spout their bigotry. Allowing this normalises their opinions when journalists refuse to interrogate them in the name of “balance.” There is an onus on the left in Ireland to meet this challenge head on; to organise and to support; to show solidarity; and to prevent the fascist right from organising. Where Trump’s victory has galvanised the right, it should also galvanise the left, both in America and Ireland. Defeating Trump and rising fascistic tendencies across America and Europe, and within Ireland, may seem like a daunting task, but as Bookchin has said, “If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”

@stephie08

#Budget2016: Thatcher would be proud

Use this Feminist Ire Budget Calculator to assess how #Budget2016 affects you!

Are you a multinational company paying little to no corporation tax, or one of the richest people in Ireland? You are? Excellent, then you’ll have even more money.

Are you an ordinary person earning an average wage or a person surviving on social welfare payments? You are? If you’re waged, you may come out with a fiver extra a week but the Government will want it back from you in property tax and water charges, and the increase to minimum wage probably won’t mean much because Labour (the party of work) haven’t done anything about zero hour contracts.

Are you living in your car with your child because you’re scared to go into a homeless hostel? You will get €5 extra in your children’s allowance. NAMA will fund private developers to build houses now but tough shit you’ll never be able to afford it.

Budget 2016 is an exercise in appalling political cynicism. People voted for Labour and Fine Gael because they wanted something different. What they got was years of austerity. Howlin and Noonan were at pains to tell us that this was a pro-family non-austerity budget but it’s just more of the same. The great big giveaway budget we’ve heard so much about means people entitled to fuel allowance will get an extra €2.50 in each payment. Congratulations, that will get you an extra briquette each week, burn it wisely!

The extra €5 a week in child benefit will do nothing to meaningfully address the quality of life that children living in poverty currently have. It is not an investment in children, it’s an investment in electioneering soundbites that members of Labour and Fine Gael will use when they’re dressing up their brutal neoliberal politics as warm and fuzzy family friendly economics.The income disregard of those on JobSeekers Transition Allowance has been increased, but it won’t make much difference to one parent families who are really struggling. You can’t tell people you want to improve families’ lives when you don’t invest in childcare and afterschool care. Two weeks paternity leave is welcome but it is not going to make it easier for women to work.

What tiny increases that have been given are barely fit to call crumbs from the table of the corporate bodies and their private developer mates and landlords who have inflicted utter misery on people in Ireland for decades.  The Government have given a tiny amount to everyone in an effort to buy the election, but not everyone needs a tiny amount. The 1,500 children living in direct provision who receive €9.60 a week- a payment that hasn’t been increased in sixteen years – they need more. The 1,496 children living in emergency accommodation need more. The Traveller families living in dangerous conditions, forgotten and dismissed as if their lives are considered disposable by this Government; they need more.

They are telling us they’re giving  €900m extra for the health service when in real terms it’s about €100m which isn’t even enough to provide the same level of service in 2016. People will still die on trolleys.  They’re allocating the minimum number of extra teachers to cope with increasing numbers of children that are going to school and have the nerve to dress this up as a great policy move. As if providing their bare minimum of teaching staff was a gift to the population of children under twelve, thousands of whom will still attend school in a prefab.

Labour and Fine Gael gave commitments to not raise student contribution fees before the last election. They have raised them to €3,000 and actively pushed students out of education, not to mention how they made it more difficult for students to get grants in the first place a few years ago. They give with one hand and take with the other. There is a vague commitment to invest €3m in the Student Assistance Fund to provide support to struggling students however the exact figure won’t be confirmed until Spring 2016. The number of recipients of SAF monies has gone from 7,681 students in 2009 to 15,166 in 2014 which has resulted in an actual reduction in monies allocated to each student in real terms. The government persist in dressing up paltry sums and tell us that they’re doing vulnerable people a favour.

There’s no increase in the basic rates of social welfare payment or to dole payments to under 26s. I still can’t figure out how those under 26 need to eat less than the rest of us, but I’m all ears if someone in Labour wants to fill me in.

For every euro that the Government has given away in capital gains and corporation tax, it is money taken away from the people that actually need it. It is a shameful insult to the people to tell them that this budget is a good thing when the biggest beneficiaries from it will be the likes of Facebook and Google and other multinationals who’ll be handed even more tax avoidance mechanisms.

The gloating speeches from government benches were stomach churning. That might sound a bit hyperbolic, but there is something genuinely very nauseating about watching Ministers bleat on week in week out about how we could combat bullying in schools, and then they sit and sneer from the government benches. Richard Boyd Barrett only has to stand up for the snide comments to start. If some of Labour suddenly started pelting him with lumps of chewing gum one of these days, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me.

To make it worse, Ministers and their TD colleagues now expect cookies and a pat on the back for allocating €17million to homeless services when they allocated €50million to commemorations. It will take you 57 years to be reached on the housing list? Diddums, wrap yourself in this copy of the Proclamation to keep warm. Your autistic child doesn’t have an SNA? Well that’s too bad, but here have a tricolour instead. There’s always a lot of squabbling among Irish politicos about what the leaders of the Rising would have wanted but you really don’t need to be a genius to know that James Connolly would probably say that ending homelessness would be a more fitting commemoration of the ideals of the Proclamation than this. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher would find it quite fitting.

@stephie08

This is why we can’t have nice things; Upping the price of drink in Ireland

The Oireachtas Health Committee is due to launch a report soon that will propose the government introduce a law to ensure that there is a minimum price per unit of alcohol. Much is being made of the fact that this will mean you won’t be able to buy a single bottle of wine for less than a tenner anywhere in the state. Compared to many other European states, the price of alcohol in bars is already ridiculous. The Vintner’s Association must love this. They’ve been banging on about how they’re losing business to people drinking at home for a long time, so an Oireachtas committee has decided to help their businesses by trying to prevent people from doing that by making it more expensive under the guise of a health initiative.

Despite the fact that Alcohol Action have been banging this drum as a health initiative for quite a while it’s painfully obvious to anyone who isn’t after necking a bottle of wine that using price to control behaviour unfairly penalises those on low incomes. There can be no equality of outcome in this situation.

Well-meaning but misinformed lobbyists have consistently put forward lines which are untrue such as “Minimum pricing, by definition, impacts on those that drink the most.” Clearly this is incorrect – the impact will be felt by those on lower incomes. The subtext of the statement from Alcohol Action is that those that drink the most are poor –  and they must be stopped from drinking. They must be saved from themselves. Increasing the price of pints wouldn’t have stopped TDs from drinking and then getting up to vote or speak on some of the most important Bills in the history of the current cabinet. Ensuring that a bottle of wine is more than €10 would not have stopped former TD Jim McDaid from getting behind the wheel of the car while absolutely hammered and tearing up the wrong side of the dual carriageway on his way home from the a race meeting at Punchestown. Nor would the cost of alcohol per unit have stopped other political figures such as Liam Lawlor, Labour’s Michael Bell, Senators David Norris, Joe O’Toole and Deputy Ruairí Quinn from being convicted of drink driving. That isn’t really how drink driving works. I hate cultural stereotypes that position all Irish people as pissed up, because they aren’t correct and are the product of anti-Irish racism of Victorian England. In saying that, Ireland is probably one of the only places where you can be convicted of being drunk behind the wheel and still have a reasonable run at a presidential election or subsequently hold the position of senior government Minister. Our attitudes to alcohol are simply different to other places, and making alcohol more expensive isn’t going to change the practice of well-paid middle class parents in south county Dublin who put Cabáiste and Quinoa to bed at night and then neck two or three bottles of wine. That leads to long term negative impacts on an individual’s health and the healthcare system – but that’s ok because it’s not poor people doing it. The cost of the drink isn’t the issue, it’s actually the mind of the people drinking it and the culture that surrounds them. Bags of coke don’t come cheap but that doesn’t stop people snorting Dickhead Dust to beat the band in certain circles. The price, or legality for that matter, is irrelevant.

Rightly or wrongly, drinking is a culturally accepted social past-time in Ireland. The Guinness toucan is an internationally recognised symbol of Irish cultural experience and we play up to it. We celebrate writers like John B. Keane and Brendan Behan whose grá for a jar is well known. Yes, alcohol contributes to a lot of terrible aspects of Irish society; Dublin is like a warzone after 3pm on St. Patrick’s Day; we’re a pretty depressed population and drink doesn’t particularly help that; and our A&Es are overrun with people getting charcoal stuffed down them at the weekends when staff and hospitals are already near breaking point. But increasing costs isn’t suddenly going to mean that there’ll be less vomit on O’Connell Street early on a Sunday morning. It just means that when someone rings in to complain on Joe Duffy, a government Minister can say “Well, it’s not our fault! We did something!” and some people will have a bit less in their pockets to pay for their breakfast rolls in Centra that afternoon.

Budget day always brings a collective whinge from the nation when there’s an increase in the price of alcohol, but adding a set rate per unit of alcohol simply stops those on lower incomes from engaging in what is a cultural norm without having the evidence to back up whether this is going to have a significant public health benefit for those you want to target. The definition of poverty is if people’s income is so inadequate they are precluded from engaging in activities and having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society. Why shouldn’t someone who goes out and is exploited by doing a week’s work on Jobbridge for €50 quid on top of their dole and the luxury of keeping the social welfare off their back have a drink of something cheap at home at the end of it? Those drinkers aren’t really the problem but they’re the ones who will pay for it.

The problem of alcohol consumption in Ireland, like drug abuse, isn’t going to be solved overnight, and this is just the latest proposal that’s well intended but isn’t going to change anything. Headshops were closed down and people are still doing yokes. The price of drink will go up, and government TDs will still be in the Dáil chamber three sheets to the wind. The more things change the more they stay the same and a policy that looks like it has emanated from the mind of someone with a superficial grasp of Leaving Cert economics won’t even scratch the surface of deeply embedded social problems.

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

RTÉ’s outrage over protesters insulting the president illustrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the media establishment. Let’s be frank here; no one in RTÉ gives a toss about ableism. Of course it isn’t nice to see someone being called a “midget parasite”. It is ableist language and pretty nasty, and not a word that should be bandied about like that.

I’m not unfamiliar with pointing out when people use rubbish or offensive terminology, but I’m finding it really hard to jump on the condemnation here. It’s not that I think this is fine behaviour or in any way acceptable, or that I have some special regard for the office of President (although while I’m on the subject I don’t think protesting against the president because he signed a bill into law and refused to do an Article 26 referral is a good politics. It’s silly and lacks an understanding of what the implications of a finding of constitutionality under Article 26 actually are). It’s just that I literally do not care that a bunch of people did this in Finglas to register their dissent given what’s going on elsewhere.

The media are gleefully hawking this video around like snuff at a wake but their fury has nothing to do with ableism or even affording appropriate respect to the office of President. Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins called it “incitement to hatred” on twitter mere weeks after tweeting about the “free world” and the hashtag #jesuischarlie. RTE expressed outrage, and anyone who wants to say Paul Murphy is an apologist for hooliganism is given a platform to air their views. Michael D is a man that goes to League of Ireland football games, so I’m pretty sure he’s heard worse and much less cares, but to RTÉ, Finglas is rapidly taking Jobstown’s place as Ireland’s home for a feral community intent on destroying civilisation as we know it. Production staff on Morning Ireland would probably save themselves time if they just played Tony Harrison from the Mighty Boosh on a loop screaming “It’s an outrage!”

But as I said, I don’t really care about what happened in Finglas.

I really don’t care that a bunch of people said some mean things to the President when he is surrounded by a gaggle of Gardaí to protect him. Sure. They shouldn’t have said it, but I don’t care because I have watched too many videos of people being beaten with impunity by the guards and having excessive force used on them.

I don’t care because as I type this a private police force decked out in balaclavas is roaming through Stoneybatter and Broadstone assaulting people, abusing pregnant women, and filming  people coming  and going from their homes all at the behest of Irish Water. I don’t care because I have listened and watched as Irish Water staff screamed at my next door neighbour that he was a “cunt” at the top of his lungs. There are plenty of videos on youtube where the Gardaí stand by and watch as Irish Water staff abuse and assault people, and more where the guards assault people.

I don’t care because two people using the word “midget” to the president is a convenient mechanism for distraction for a lazy media (including the government mouthpiece RTÉ) who can wring their hands over this instead of airing stories about communities under siege and families in poverty looking at prospects of Irish water bills that will push them over.

That protest was last week so why is the video only coming out now? Oh that’s right. There’s a protest this weekend. It’s the equivalent of throwing a stick for dog to distract him from chewing your shoe. If there was half as much righteous indignation in the media over Garda brutality and Irish Water and GMC Sierra as there was about name-calling, it would be in much healthier shape.

The feigned shock and condemnation is hypocrisy at its worst and there really are bigger and more urgent things to worry about. People need to stop falling over themselves to try and be the most respectable game in town.

Get over it.

Get organised.

Get out on Saturday and show the zero fucks that you give about this.

Parental (and paternity) leave is a feminist issue

The Irish Times this week, followed en masse by other papers and mainstream media outlets, breathlessly rushed to report that 2 Irish MEPs were the MEPs with the worst record of attendance at voting sessions of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. What they didn’t manage to initially include in the story, and which transpired over the course of the day that the story broke, was that one of the MEPs (Brian Crowley) has been unable to attend at all as he’s ill, and that the other, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, has needed to be at home with his wife, newborn baby, and other children. His wife has also been ill, in addition to having all the intensive, non-stop demands of a newborn to contend with. As at the time of writing, the Irish Times has run four separate follow-up pieces by Suzanne Lynch, all focusing on Ming’s ‘dismal voting record’, how he should suffer financially for it, and should Irish MEPs (and by obvious inference Ming) have even bothered to run at all if they were going to let down the electorate like that by non-attendance through having the nerve to have babies and families that need caring for? In one piece, Lynch attempted a mealy-mouthed pretence at recognising the fact that Ming was at home, caring for his unwell wife and their newborn baby as well as their other children, calling this ‘mitigating circumstances’, claiming that “[n]o one is suggesting [his need to take paternity leave] should elicit anything less than complete empathy” while immediately following this up by suggesting that his low attendance “while drawing full salaries raises the question as to whether Ireland’s MEP system is fit for purpose.

No, actually, that’s exactly how parental and paternity leave systems SHOULD work. Nobody should be financially penalised for having a baby. (This is not a conversation about whether people who are supposed to be representing the public should be paid as much more than the majority of that public than they are, though that’s a conversation worth having too.) Nobody should be forced to attend their workplace immediately after the birth of a child for fear of losing their job – or indeed, as in the Irish system and in this instance, depending on the time of the birth, DURING the birth of a child. (In Ireland, because there is no entitlement whatsoever to paternal leave, new fathers are reliant on their holiday leave and employer’s vagaries to be able to be present at the birth of their children should that birth be during working hours, as well as to be home with their partner and newborn in the time after the birth.) Nobody should have their absence from their job as the result of the birth of a child and needing to be at home to care for that child, their unwell partner, and their other children reported in the national media and the subject of this kind of intense and judgemental scrutiny. No man should be expected to abandon his sick partner for her to provide alone the kind of intensively demanding all-around-the-clock care that a newborn provides, in order to show up at a place of work. And certainly no sick woman should be left alone to care for a newborn without the support she has a right to expect from her partner in creating that newborn, as well as support in caring for herself and her other children. What kind of barbaric social system would demand that?

Only, of course, the one we live under; a horrible combination of capitalism and patriarchy, which holds ‘work’ (meaning, of course, paid work, done outside the home, not something as petty and gendered as simply bringing a child into the world, caring for its every need, raising it as a moral being and seeing to its needs around the clock) as supreme; as an unquestionable overlord to be served without regard to personal needs and circumstances. “Doing your job”, in this paradigm, is paramount, and excuses everything from the actual killing of another human being to being expected to abandon one’s partner, the person one is assumed to love and honour above all others, to the 24/7 backbreaking work of caring for a house full of children (one a newborn) alone. And sure if you’re paid enough can you not just pay someone else to do that caring nonsense for you?

At no point in any of this coverage has the fact been mentioned that no Irish political representative – whether at local government level, at national level, or European level – has ANY right to any parental leave, whether that be paternity or maternity leave. It took Nessa Childers on Twitter to do that first. Nor did any of the coverage point out that while it’s “only one session a month” (as many on Twitter appeared to enjoy very much repeating), that “one session a month” extends to four consecutive days, and there are no direct flights between Dublin and Strasbourg, meaning this “one session” could very well in fact have demanded a full week every month away from Ming’s wife, newborn baby and other children. Even if his wife weren’t unwell, this would be an utterly unreasonable burden of care to lay on a woman who has just become a mother all over again. The blanket and unquestioning expectation apparent in not only the mainstream media coverage, but also the majority of the Twitter commentary on this, that if she weren’t sick (and in some cases that even though she is; and in yet some more, even more deplorable ones, that somehow they have the right to know HOW sick she is, and why, and since when, and why didn’t they know earlier), that he should have abandoned her, their newborn, and their other children, to the almighty power that is Work, is frankly sickening. A father should have the right to be with his newborn, just as a mother should have the right to not be the enforced sole, isolated carer of her newborn simply because its father needs to worship at the altar of Work. One of the most telling things of the coverage of this whole (non) issue is that there hasn’t been a single piece which can point to any of the votes he missed and name it as a topical one, as one that’s relevant to Ireland’s interests, or indeed one of those missed votes of his as having had any possible impact on the outcome if he had attended. Why isn’t that what’s being questioned as being a broken political representation system, rather than his having needed to take time to be with his family?

It is not possible to expect to see, and argue for, women’s participation in politics and public life rising from its current dismally low level, while also creating a society which excoriates men for taking up their part of the caring responsibilities that having a family entails. Perpetuating the idea and the necessity that only women can have space to do that not only condemns women to unpaid work in the home but also does not allow for space to honour that work; which has the potential to be beautiful, rewarding, and thoroughly worth doing. The work of caring for and raising a child is every bit as important to society, if not more so, than paid attendance at a workplace.

Sometimes people with babies need to be with those babies. Sometimes people with sick partners need to be with those sick partners because that’s what a partnership looks like. (It’s definitely what my partnership with my husband looked like when I was having an absolutely hideous time after our daughter was born, suffering from intense and unexpected postnatal depression, and would absolutely fall apart when he needed to be out of the house for even an hour, let alone travelling to another country for a full week.) No society that is worth living in should seek to punish or castigate its members for so doing.

Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, complain about teachers.

Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, complain about teachers.

The Irish media has been clamouring to give voice to beleaguered parents and concerned citizens condemning today’s teachers’ strike. Some of those commenting on the ASTI and TUI decision to picket seem to be under the impression that teachers are just obstreperous babysitters who live a cosseted existence, overpaid and underworked, doing an easy job that a monkey could do in their sleep – except these monkeys are particularly greedy. The reality of this couldn’t be further from the truth and there is far more to teaching than standing in front of a classroom from one end of the day to the next.

Teaching is a profession that’s viewed with an almost unique level of disdain in some quarters. The phrase “those who can’t do, teach” might be used in a self-deprecating manner by some teachers but it’s something that genuinely appears be the core mind-set underpinning the criticisms of the strike. Texts are being read out on Newstalk from critics saying “these teachers are only afraid of doing more work with no extra pay,” as if teachers should be martyring themselves and teaching for free, for the pure love of imparting their knowledge to students, as if instilling a love of learning in pupils should be reward enough in itself. It’s probably only teachers and nurses that are consistently faced with the attitude that serving others should be compensation enough and it’s no coincidence that it’s a female-dominated professions that bring out comments such as that. The Minister herself isn’t immune from subtly making that same criticism, even though the strike isn’t actually about the rate of teachers pay. But even if it was, who could blame them? Why should teachers do more work for no extra pay?

Reform of the Junior Cert is badly needed. Students who are 15 years old shouldn’t be faced with exams of that intensity. The only thing I even remember about my own Junior Cert is that I bluffed my way through the English Paper 1 and wrote an essay that had something to do with Paul Weller and me on bikes in Drogheda, that a bottle of Sunny Delight leaked in my bag during the history exam, and that the horror of the whole exam experience provoked an episode of insomnia and sleeping difficulties that I’ve never fully shaken off.

Everyone agrees that the JC needs radical changes, and the elements of project work and continual assessment that are being incorporated should be welcomed. But when the people who are being expected to implement these reforms object on the basis that there is no best practice or evidence to support the claims being made by the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, and further that there are issues around the resources being given to support them to implement the reforms, then they should be listened to. No matter how much a media and public given to teacher bashing would like to paint this as ultimately being a pay dispute, the crux of the strike is about who actually marks the Junior Cert papers. The Minister for Education allegedly believes teachers marking their own pupils is, educationally speaking, best practice for students. The Minister has moved from saying that internal marking 100% of the time is best, to saying that 40% internal marking will do, for the purposes of getting the reforms through. It’s unclear how much money will be saved in not paying other teachers to mark the junior cert papers but it’s a substantial amount given the sheer number of students involved, and the research or evidence that the Minister is basing her claims on hasn’t appeared thus far.

There are clearly difficulties in Ireland in making teachers mark the papers of their own pupils in a high stakes exam. That’s not to say that teachers are unable to mark the papers in the same way they would with other exams and tests they set for their classes, but to point out the difficulties that present in a state where schools are controlled by completely unaccountable boards of management and very often securing employment is based on who you know. There are teachers in Ireland who are as precariously employed as a person working in McDonalds on a temporary contract because they can’t get anything other than covering someone else’s maternity leave, and then four hours a week subbing when that teacher returns to their permanent post. Teachers may not cave to pressure in exam marking, but they will certainly come under it. In many cases, the students’ marks will be as high stakes for the teachers as the students themselves.

Teachers might not actively attempt to mark students unfairly (although I wouldn’t afford the benefit of that particular doubt to the teacher I had for Junior Cert geography) but there is evidence to suggest that teachers can be influenced by irrelevant factors in marking such as gender, socio-economic background, effort and behaviour of pupils. They are only human. Many teachers are now engaging in what could more accurately described as crowd control rather than education as a result of consistent severe cutbacks to school budgets and resources by this government. It is completely unreasonable to expect them to teach their class and mark their own students’ exams in an unbiased manner while not being offered adequate training to carry out what is envisaged in the marking scheme, or even enough training to actually deliver reforms to the curricula that they actually agree with; Not to mention that teachers will be expected to continue doing all of the extra-curricular work they do for free, like teaching the choir, or coaching the camogie team, or giving extra-lessons to struggling students in their own time while being continually demoralised by a government that doesn’t value what they do.

The Minister is quick to point out how other states assess students at that level fully through internally marked exams, but they are different school systems. The 26 Counties has one of the highest pupil-teacher ratios in the EU. Thousands of students spend the duration of their school life in cold, damp, mouldy prefab buildings. There are teachers who have never taught in anything else. Schools have had 1% cuts to capitation grants every year for the past three years while pupil numbers have increased. More students with special needs assistants are attending mainstream schools than ever before, so the Department of Education changed the rules to make it harder for them to get special needs assistants to support them in the classroom. Qualified special needs assistants were let go and some replaced with Jobbridge interns. The Department recognised that there are high levels of mental health issues among students in schools and introduced suicide prevention guidelines. However they took away guidance counsellors in schools with under 500 pupils who have ordinarily supported students with anxiety and mental health difficulties, leaving teachers to fill this role. Teachers who can’t secure permanent positions are told to apply for Jobbridge internships and do the same job as their peers for their unemployment benefit plus €50 extra a week. Schools make up the funding shortfall by increasing the so-called “voluntary” contribution that parents must pay. Teachers then have to deal with stressed parents who cannot afford to pay this because the Credit Union won’t lend them anymore money or because St. Vincent de Paul have already paid their electricity bill for them this month and they can’t ask for more.

This is what our teachers deal with on top of teaching. It would benefit us all to recognise the importance of their work and the pressure that they are under right now, and for the government to address the decimation they’ve inflicted on the education system before they go introducing a new system based on research that may or may not exist, that they in no way have the capacity to deliver. This is why we should support the teachers’ strike  – despite the media driven hysteria.

Tesco and the myth of corporate social responsibility

Tesco’s latest charity drive aroused controversy on social media this week after giving customers small blue tokens for each purchase that they could then place in one of three clear boxes for a charity . Every six weeks the Tesco branch will divide €1,000 between the three charities according to how many blue tokens they have in their pot. The idea is nice; you can buy over-packaged food and some local group will benefit from your hardening arteries. Each branch of Tesco was allowed to pick the charities, and that women’s refuges received less money than animal sanctuaries as a result of consumer’s choices caused a bit of a stir.

It won’t come as a shock to anyone who has had even the slightest interaction with liberal types, that it’s fairly common that people give charitable donations to animals before people in need. It’s also fairly common for people to look at this type of scenario and say “Well at least there was a women’s refuge you could donate to” in the range of the deserving poor according to Tesco – and this post does not aim to condemn the people who hold that view. In a climate where the state is engaged in a mission to complete the wholesale abandonment of service provision to people in need, organisations will step in. The organisations who have stepped in to provide services were the state has failed, require funding, and it is very difficult for the people running them to refuse money where it is going spare. That’s not to say that NGOs and service providers should accept donations from any old capitalist multinational regardless of where it comes from or how it’s raised, merely to acknowledge that principles are all very well and good when you can afford to have them.

And while I’m deeply suspicious of people who campaign for the rescue of dogs in the streets before, say, looking for housing for homeless humans in the streets, there is a more important discussion to be had here, and that concerns the absolute myth of corporate social responsibility, and the belief in the idea that charity will solve the social ills of the world when in many cases the reality is that its continued existence doesn’t do anything but further exacerbate those ills. I hold my hands up and say I don’t have the answers to any of this (apart from smash capitalism and patriarchy obviously). Charitable endeavours much of the time are a sticking plaster for the injurious nature of capitalism. Yes, they hold people together, but dependence on state funding very often results in gagging them from articulating just how bad things really are.

Tesco may like to seem nice and cuddly because they are big outfit and they donate money to a women’s refuge, but we as a community need to acknowledge that the women’s refuge needs money because the state will not provide it in the first place. Putting aside for the moment another long but necessary discussion bemoaning the fact that we wouldn’t need women’s refuges if men would keep their fists to themselves, the state will not provide the funding needed, partially because corporations will not pay large sums in corporation tax which could be funnelled in to service provision. Many women are forced for to remain in situations of domestic violence simply because they cannot afford to leave. Poor women find it more difficult to escape domestic violence and I would be willing to put money on the fact that there have been people employed by Tesco sheltered in women’s refuges before – they only pay €9 per hour to their customer assistants, just above the legal minimum wage in the state. Perhaps if women were paid a little bit better, they would have more options other than underfunded domestic violence shelters when leaving abusive relationships.

Which children’s charity will criticise Tesco for making it cheaper to feed children rubbish high-sugar food when it could potentially one day be Tesco’s charity of the year? NGOs are regularly prevented from being overly critical of governments when they depend on state agencies and statutory bodies for funding to do their work. When state funding is becoming thinner and thinner on the ground, corporate social responsibility philanthropic programmes will inevitably make it more difficult for organisations to criticise the actions of businesses that make their existence necessary in the first place.

The Tesco website has a statement on corporate responsibility:

“As Ireland’s leading retailer, our stores serve a large number of communities throughout the country. Our interaction with these communities reminds us daily about our responsibilities as an employer, as a business and as a good neighbour…”

Of course, we know this is nonsense. Capitalist companies having corporate social responsibility because they care about the communities in which they are located, is a myth. As this Forbes piece shows, corporate social responsibility in the form of charitable donations is useful for businesses because it means more profits. Business energy efficiency = lower energy costs = increased profits. The caring business is a complete fallacy.

The Forbes article also describes how New Perimeter are a nonprofit law firm established by DLA Piper providing pro bono legal assistance in developing and post-conflict regions. What Forbes left out, is that DLA piper entered a partnership with Brazilian law firm Campos Mellos Advogados in 2010, who handled and encouraged Brazilian real estate deals for the building of infrastructure for the World Cup 2014. The same World Cup where the building of infrastructure necessary for it to take place left 250,000 people homeless.  DLA Piper and Campos Mellos Advogados have also sent lawyers to Israel to encourage and promote commercial ties with Israel. So DLA Piper staff donate their time to New Perimeter and get to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside while their paid employment is to perpetuate other people’s misery. Caring corporate social responsibility does not exist.

After protests during the past few weeks across Ireland calling for an end to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza strip, Tesco announced that it would no longer stock fruit that came from illegal Israeli settlements. However Tesco has failed to clarify how it is going to differentiate between food from illegal Israeli settlements, and food from outside of them, or whether their boycott will extend to food packaged in illegal settlements but not necessarily grown there. It is a far cry from the BDS campaign that calls for a boycott of all Israeli products until Israel upholds international law. Tesco has form when it comes to being sketchy as to where supplies come from, but it got the nice headlines about Israeli fruit and got to talk about their responsibilities as an employer and neighbour at a time when they knew it was politically popular to do so, while still actually stocking Israeli produce.

So Tesco in Cabra might donate €300 to a women’s refuge in a few weeks, but will probably continue to stock Israeli produce and profit from the violation of rights of people in Palestine, and the actual murder of Palestinian women in Gaza.

Businesses engage in PR exercises that present a facade of social responsibility when their actual business practices are wildly different to what they portray, but it makes liberals feel good about their engagement with capitalism. Buy more stuff. Put another blue token in the box. Save a puppy, and so on. When the motive of an action is profit, there can be no such thing as corporate responsibility, it merely serves to legitimise neo-liberal economics and exploitation, and a few bob to the local women’s refuge won’t change the fact that it capitalism contributes to the need for funding for refuges in the first place.