Anarcho-Syndicalism in Ireland 1984 – 2016

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Anarcho-syndicalism might be said to have arrived in Ireland in the mid-1980s when it was adopted by the Ballymena Anarchist Group.  There had been individual anarcho-syndicalists active in their trade unions previously, including some Dublin supporters of the (British) Syndicalist Workers Federation in the 1960s, but this was it’s first public appearance.

The past three decades can give an impression of there having been numerous shortlived groupings.  The reality is that, despite many changes of it’s name and that of it’s publications, there is a continuity of politics and members.  Essentially, we are seeing different phases in the development of the one organisation.

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Membership was initially based on Antrim town and Ballymena.  By the late 1980s Belfast had more members and it has remained like that since.  Membership has been almost totally north of the border, with just the occasional member in Cork, Kildare and Dublin.

 

1984

saw the creation of Ballymena and Antrim Anarchist Groups. The Ballymena group, some of whom had previously been in the Young Socialists, was in existence for several months before the Antrim group and published two issues of Black Star.  Both groups then went on to jointly publish six issues the Antrim Alternative, with a circulation of 300-500.

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1985 – 1989

The Antrim Alternative was succeeded by an explicitly syndicalist magazine, Organise! the Voice of Anarcho-Syndicalism.  By late 1986 the Ballymena and Antrim Anarchist Groups had changed their name to Organise!  

Organise 5 coverClick here to download

1991 

Belfast Class Struggle Anarchist Group – Initially influenced by the British Class War, this small group from the (loyalist) New Mossley and Rathcoole estates, found their definition of working class too narrow.  A couple of those involved went on to contact Organise! and were involved in that group’s re-emergence.  While still sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalism, it initially described itself as “class struggle anarchist”.

Organise - where we stand 1991Click here to download

1991- 1999

Organise! – IWA  (publication: Rebel Worker). In this period Organise! again became specifically anarcho-syndicalist and the name of the bulletin, for a time a magazine, reverted to Organise – the voice of anarcho-syndicalism.  In 1996 Organise! affiliated to the International Workers Association as it’s Irish section.  By 1999, with a much reduced membership, it found sustaining local activity and their involvement in the IWA increasingly difficult to maintain, and decided to disband.

Rebel Worker 4 coverClick here to download

 

Organise 2:8 coverClick here to download

1999 – 2001

After the dissolution of Organise!-IWA a series of discussions were held by anarcho-syndicalists under the banner of the Syndicalist Solidarity Network.  Those involved created the Anarcho-Synicalist Federation shortly afterwards.  The SSN produced a single issue of Solidarity Magazine.  They also produced the Belfast Solidarity Bulletin.

 Solidarity mag cover Click here to download

 

2001 – 2003

The name changed to Organise! – Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation and they continued to produce the Belfast Solidarity Bulletin.  They also put out 2 issues of Wildcat, a joint bulletin of Organise! and the tiny Anarchist Federation (Ireland).  The AF(I) was very closely connected to the (British) Anarchist Federation.

Resistance 10Click here to download

In it’s brief life, the AF(I) -with a scattering of members in Kildare, Dublin, Warrenpoint and Belfast – produced 10 issues of Resistance, before merging into Organise!

 

2003 – 2012

In 2003 it was announced that “after successful discussions, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, Anarchist Federation (Ireland), Anarchist Prisoner Support and a number of individuals merged to relaunch Organise!”   Published Working Class Resistance,

WSR10 coverClick here to download

then The Leveller.

Leveller 6 coverClick here to download

This version of Organise! initially attempted to build a broader class struggle anarchist federation becoming specifically syndicalist again, probably by 2005.

 

2012 -2015

The organisation decided to join the British section of the IWA, the Solidarity Federation, as it’s Belfast branch.  Members of Organise! in other parts of Ireland were attached to the Belfast branch.

At the 2013 conference of the Solidarity Federation Belfast was formally admitted and its constitution changed so that it was now the IWA section for Britain and Ireland.  Irish members reserved the option of forming an independent IWA section in Ireland in the future.  Organise! remains the name of the SolidarityFederation (Ireland region). Currently this consists of the Belfast branch, along with members in Lisburn and Portadown.

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In April 2016 they opened an office/meeting room/library at 22 Berry Street in Belfast city centre.

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Outta Control – Belfast – January 1983

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Outta Control 35 pngClick here to download

The cover story tells of how the British Army were able to veto the building of new houses on Belfast’s Crumlin Road, despite the Housing Executive, the Planning Office, and the local community association all being in favour of the development. It goes on to report that Housing Executive managers were holding regular meetings with the Army, and that Belfast Development Officer John Steel had been photographed in military uniform during a visit by the Queen to Hillsborough Castle.

Their Dublin correspondent details the fatal shooting – in the back of the neck and while unarmed – of Eamon Byrne. Byrne was a known robber whose life had previously been threatened by Gardai.

Other stories look at Northern Ireland Electricity’s heartless treatment of families in debt; plastic bullets; the Shoot-To-Kill policy of the RUC and British Army which saw seven unarmed men killed in an eight week period; and how the punk band Crass and 50 friends occupied a disused music venue in London, repelled the police and gave a free concert to 1,500 fans.

Outta Control – Belfast – November 1982

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The cover story is about the Health Board boss, Ernest Kirkpatrick, who also ran a company which used blood pressure gauges stolen from Craigavon hospital and then sold the finished products back to the NHS. Kirkpatrick also conned the health service into buying him a luxury house. Sharing the front page is an article by the Moyard Housing Action Committee about the sewage problem on their estate which led to an outbreak of polio.

Inside there is an interview with two shop stewards about the strike for union recognition at Eastwoods scrapyard (a major employer in West Belfast and owned by the same ‘Mr Eastwood’ who was boxer Barry McGuigan’s manager).

Their Dublin correspondent reports from the campaign against the amendment which put the ban on abortion into the Constitution. How the anti-choice brigade got the Black Sheep pub in Coolock to cancel a room booking for an anti-amendment public meeting, and then tried to break up an outdoor meeting organised as an alternative.

Other pieces cover segregation of loyalist and republican prisoners, a Channel 4 tv programme about animal experimentation, John DeLorean (he of the gull-winged car, as seen in Back to the Future) and his move from motor manufacturer to cocaine dealer, and one on religion taken from the Dublin Anarchist Collective’s Nobody Rules OK pamphlet

Self Control – Belfast – March 1980

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Outta Control was a monthly bulletin from the Belfast Anarchist Collective who published 42 issues from 1980 to 1984. The first issue was titled Self-Control, after much joking that the title seemed more appropriate to an anti-masturbation tract, it was changed to Outta Control from no.2 onwards.

The BAC also ran a bookshop, Just Books, at 7 Winetavern Street (where the Castlecourt Shopping Centre now stands). The shop opened in June 1978 and finally closed 16 years later in June 1994.

click here to download

Contents of this issue include the republican prison struggle in the H-Blocks, the court case for conjugal rights taken by anarchist prisoners Marie and Noel Murray, and a piece accusing local punk-pop band Stiff Little Fingers of “selling out” because they signed to a major record label.

Workers Solidarity no.29 (Autumn 1988)

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ws29 coverClick here to download

Among the articles are

Kevin Doyle‘s A Fight for Useful Work, which looks at the response of Lucas Aerospace shop stewards in Britain to threatened job losses.  Their proposal was to stop producing for the military and for people’s needs to be put before the owners’ profits.  After assessing the skills and machinery in the firm’s plants, they came up with an alternative plan for socially useful production.  Among their findings were that they could manufacture artificial limb control systems, a ‘hobcart’ to give mobility to children with Spina Bifida, heat pumps to save waste heat, solar energy cells, wind turbines, a combined petrol/battery car which could cut fuel requirements by up to half, and much more. “…it showed what enormous potential a society based on socialism could have”.

– An obituary for Daniel Guerin; a veteran of the French resistance, anti-imperialist, gay rights campaigner and anarchist.  Accompanying it is his article For a Libertarian Communism.

– The story of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, retold by Alan MacSimóin, for its 75th anniversary.

– A review of Cliff Harper’s Anarchy – a graphic guide.

– The second ‘Thinking about Anarchism’ column, which ran for twenty years, was from Myles Kennedy.  This one looks at ‘freedom’, and concludes that new and democratic forms of organisation are necessary because oppressive structures, like the State, “can only be used to impose the will of a minority on the majority”.

– Ryanair’s anti-union behaviour (some things haven’t changed)

– The leader of the Italian Communist Party sending a message of condolence upon the death of Giorgio Almirante, the leader of the fascist MSI party.  This was the man who, 1944, ordered all Italians to rally to Mussolini’s Salo Republic within 24 hours and decreed that “those who do not present themselves will be considered outlaws and executed by shooting in the back”.  Almirante died an unrepentant fascist.

– How a union won Ireland’s first workplace agreement prohibiting discrimination against workers with HIV or AIDS, and did this at a time when there was irrational hysteria about this condition.

– The privatisation of the Harland & Wolfe shipyard and Shorts aircraft factory, or how those mainly loyalist workforces got a slap in the face inreturn for their loyalty.

– The arrival of ‘two-tier’ wages in the Bank of Ireland.

Workers Solidarity no.28 (Summer 1988)

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WS28 coverclick here to download

This 24 page issue marked the reappearance of Workers Solidarity after an absence of almost a year.  It had changed from a monthly 8-page paper to a quarterly 24-page magazine.  The new format saw a move away from labour exchange and Friday night pub sales to a greater concentration on events attended by people who already had some sympathy for radical ideas.  The print run was reduced to 500 and the new format saw a move away from labour exchange and Friday night pub sales to a greater concentration on events attended by people who already had some sympathy for radical ideas.

More interestingly, the editorial explains that this change was due to a loss of members who had “found it difficult to come to terms with the temporary lull in the momentum of the class struggle that we have seen in the last few years.  Instead they started to look for short cuts to socialism and eventually rejected anarchism”.  It goes on to say that “after much discussion we identified much of what went wrong and now are in a position to step up our level of activity”.   The WSM also published a statement about this, which is still online here

Among the articles are
– The fight for abortion rights five years after the 1983 “pro-life” amendment was put into the 26 county Constitution;
– An interview with the then Old Vic barman on BBC TV’s Eastenders, actor Tom Watt;
– The adoption by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions of a “radical policy document” on Lesbian & Gay Rights in the workplace.  This was at a time when gay sex was still illegal and technically punishable with life in prison;
– An explanation of “The anarchist idea: socialism and freedom”;
– Looking at Sinn Féin’s “socialism”, and concluding that it was “based on the Cuban/Russian model, which has shown itself time after time to be just as repressive as Western style capitalism.  They draw inspiration from third world National Liberation Movements, which once they have won power have shown no mercy in oppressing their on workers”.  [Since the collapse of the Soviet Union they have moved into the political mainstream and would now be happy to go into a coalition government with Fianna Fail];
– The first ‘Thinking about Anarchism’ column, which ran for twenty years.  This one tackles the question of what is the State, and why anarchists want to abolish it;
– A history of May Day, and it’s origins in the 1886 execution of anarchist trade unionists in Chicago for their part in the struggle for the 8-hour day.

Ainriail, Belfast no.1 (1985)

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Ainriail 1 cover

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This A5 magazine was published by a group of anarchists in Belfast, who had earlier that year also published a similar magazine called R@view.  Seven issues of Ainriail* were produced, with the final one appearing in March 1987.  As they note in their ‘Who We Are’, “This paper is an attempt to carry on where it [R@view] left off.  Our Aims and Principles are a more refined version of R@view’s”.  Their politics now placed capitalism at the centre, with various oppressions (national, gender, etc.) flowing from it – rather than seeing capitalism as just one more bad thing.  Their goal was explicitly stated as “a classless and free libertarian communist country”.

Perhaps reflecting the nationalist ideas surrounding most radical dissent in Northern Ireland during this period, the 26 counties are described as a “neo-colonial” state.  For nationalists this meant that sections of the southern ruling class could be won to involvement in the ‘national liberation struggle’ as they were still partially under the thumb of Britain.  However, there is no evidence that Ainriail shared this view.

Most other Irish anarchists rejected the ‘neo-colonial’ tag and pointed to Ireland’s membership of the EU, the declining role of British investment in the economy, and the rapid growth of a confident native capitalist class since the era of Sean Lemass and the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement in the 1960s.

Other articles included:

How the use of plastic bullets against marchers supporting the republican hunger strikers in the Lower Ormeau had the effect of making local people afraid to take to the streets, even on issues like the lack of community amenities.

The failed court case taken by life prisoners Noel and Marie Murray for conjugal rights in prison. There were two anarchists from a small Dublin group, composed mainly of ex-republicans, jailed in 1975 after the fatal shooting of a garda during a bank robbery. Interestingly, among their legal representatives was Sean McBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and later a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The long running (and ultimately successful) strike against selling South African apartheid produce in Dunnes Stores.

The censoring, by the BBC, of the ‘Real Lives’ TV programme because it included an interview with Martin McGuinness – the same man who is now Deputy First Minister at Stormont. The National Union of Journalists held a one-day strike against this censorship, which resulted in the programme being shown later with only minor changes.

Asbestos being removed from the Divis Flats in West Belfast by the Housing Executive, and just dumped in open skips on the street.

*Not to be confused with the Ainriail published in the 1990s by the Frontline Collective in Galway.

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