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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Irish anarchist interviewed about the 1970s and 80s (part 2)

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This is the story of Alan MacSimoin a long-time Anarchist activist who, as a young man, joined the Official Republican Movement (Sinn Fein).  MacSimoin was part of the Murray Defence Committee in 1976-77 to stop the state execution of anarchists Noel and Marie Murray for the killing of a member of the police.  He was a founder member of the Workers Solidarity Movement in 1984.

nmmurrays-coverrep

In this interview, filmed in October 2014, MacSimoin talks about the death sentence handed down to Noel and Marie Murray, the H-Block hunger strike, the current crisis within capitalism, also the lack of a response to the Palestinian struggle from western governments, and why socialists need to be a lot positive.

Alan lives in Stoneybatter, where he is involved with the Stoneybatter and Smithfield Peoples History Project and the local campaign against the Water Tax.

The interview was conducted by the Irish Republican and Marxist History Project, and is at https://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/alan-macsimoin-a-long-time-anarchist-activist-part-two/

Black Star no.1 (October 1981)

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Black Star was the paper of the Ballymena Anarchist Group. Interestingly, two other anarchist papers came out of Ballymena in the 1980s and 1990s (Antrim Alternative and Organise!).

click here to download

This first issue has articles on anarchism as working class politics, marriage, the build up of nuclear weapon stockpiles, religion as a prop for the status quo, the Labour Party as a “party of government, not of the class”, and a biographical piece about local man Jack White of the Irish Citizen Army who became an anarchist after his experiences in Spain fighting against Franco.

Possibly reflecting their background in the unionist community, there is no mention of the ‘national question’, British imperialism, republicanism or loyalism.

Black Star no.2 (February 1984)

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click here to download

This second (and final) issue of Black Star appeared two and a half years after the first! Four pages are given over to graphics illustrating Proudhon’s ‘What is government?’. Other articles deal with workers councils as enabling both the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a new society, an anti-militarist piece by Jack London, Spanish anarchism, and a biographical note about local anarchist and atheist Ida White, whose husband was the founder of the Ballymena Observer newspaper.

On the back page we see “Anarchists are now having regular discussion meetings throughout Ireland in Belfast, Cork, Ballymena and Dublin. The possibility of forming a national anarchist organisation has been discussed…” This process did see the foundation of the Workers Solidarity Movement later that year but the Ballymena Anarchist Group did not join. Instead they moved towards syndicalism. Organise!, an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist group and paper was the result.