Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: An alternative Europe - questions and answers
An alternative Europe - questions and answers

The following information on plans for Dublin’s May Day weekend is from Dublin Grassroots Network.

 

.1. WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE MAY DAY WEEKEND?

What are the events going on over the weekend?

Dublin Grassroots Network (DGN) is organising a weekend of events for an alternative Europe, beginning at 5.30 pm on Friday with a Critical Mass slow cycle ride (starts Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Sq.), followed by a No Borders Morning of street theatre on Saturday from 10 am (starts Civic Offices, Wood Quay) and Reclaim the City actions from 2.30 pm (starts at Stephen’s Green end of Grafton St.) Simultaneously Another Europe Is Possible (AEIP) are organising a march and carnival, leaving the Central Bank at 12 noon and going to Parkgate St. at the southeast end of the Phoenix Park.

Dublin Grassroots Networks’ “Bring the Noise” march will leave Parkgate St. / Benburb St. at 6 pm and will attempt to reach Farmleigh and make enough noise that the EU heads of state can hear the voice of their own citizens. On Sunday, we are organising a No Borders camp in solidarity with immigrants (leaving Custom House Quay at 11 am). The weekend finishes with a Reclaim the Streets party (meet 3 pm outside the Ambassador Cinema on O’Connell St.)

Indymedia Ireland are hosting a ten-day festival, culminating in the May Day weekend. There are film screenings, photo exhibitions, practical workshops on independent media, and various other events happening.

Are the Dublin Grassroots Network and Another Europe Is Possible events separate?

Yes, and there are simultaneous events on Saturday afternoon. However we are protesting about fundamentally the same issues - Fortress Europe, privatisation, militarisation and social justice - and we each support the other’s right to protest. DGN hopes that many participants from the AEIP carnival will join the evening march to Farmleigh.

How many people do you expect?

It is impossible to say. Until the start of this week there was a sustained media campaign of intimidation emanating from security sources which highlighted the massive levels of state preparation for repression and hyped up the possibility of trouble from protestors. Obviously this would have the effect of frightening off people who might otherwise have joined the protests.

Since serious journalists started questioning this over the weekend the hysteria has died down, and we are starting to get the impression that significant numbers of ordinary people will join us, probably in the thousands but not the tens of thousands.

How many foreign activists do you think will come?

We are not expecting large numbers. There are simultaneous May Day events in Barcelona, Milan and Bygdosz (where protestors are experiencing severe repression). We have had something over a hundred requests for accommodation and expect most groups to come from Britain. All the groups we have been in contact with are peaceful.

See www.globalproject.info for more details on May Day events elsewhere

Which events do you think will be the largest?

The Bring the Noise march at 6 pm on Saturday and the Reclaim the Streets party at 3 pm on Monday are both events in a style which is by now traditional in Dublin, and we expect these to be the highpoints in terms of numbers.

Other events however are likely to be richer in terms of colour (Critical Mass cycle ride, Saturday morning and afternoon actions) and human interest (No Borders camp).

What do you think is going to happen on the weekend?

We expect that large numbers not only of activists but also of people who have heard about the event from the media over the past few weeks will come along; our indications are that a lot of people will travel from other parts of Ireland to join in. At present the feeling is friendly, upbeat and enthusiastic.

Do you expect trouble?

No. After nearly a month of intimidatory media stories about armed police, razor wire, tear gas, “non-lethal weapons”, temporary detention centres and calls for the suspension of the freedom of travel, matters have calmed down. This is due in part to the good efforts of serious journalists calling scare stories about foreign protestors into question, to civil liberties groups who have pointed out that the freedoms of opinion and assembly are fundamental to the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, and in part to the fact that the Government and police have started to realise that this will be a large event, not a small handful of people.

Do you want to force your way into Farmleigh?

No. Dublin Grassroots Network has issued guidelines for the “Bring the Noise” march which make it clear that we are following a non-confrontational approach. However we do want to come close enough that EU leaders will be able to hear the pot and pan lids, whistles and bells that protestors will bring with them.

The guidelines for “Bring the Noise” are available at www.geocities.com/eufortress/timetable.htm

.2. WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT GROUPS ETC. INVOLVED?

What is Dublin Grassroots Network?

Dublin Grassroots Network is a network of activists involved in different groups and campaigns around specific issues such as environmental issues, the anti- war movement, community work, the women’s movement, traffic campaigning, anarchists, socialists and democrats.

Our principles stress a rejection of top-down organisation, solutions which involve ordinary people controlling their own lives, workplaces and communities, and arguing for a sustainable environmental and economic system.

See www.geocities.com/eufortress for more information.

What is Another Europe Is Possible?

Another Europe Is Possible are an umbrella group bringing together a range of organisations such as the Socialist Workers’ Party, Green Party, Sinn Féin and the ATGWU trade union.

See www.freewebs.com/anothereuropeispossible/ for more information.

Who are the WOMBLES / Dissent?

The WOMBLES are a London-based group whose best- known tactic is dressing up in padded overalls to protect themselves from police violence. DISSENT is a protest network of which the WOMBLES are part.

See www.wombles.org.uk for more information.

What is an anarchist?

Anarchists believe in grassroots democracy and economic equality. Anarchists work together with other activists around issues of common concern such as social justice, opposition to war, civil liberties, women’s rights, and unfair taxation.

See www.infoshop.org/faq/ for more information.

Is Dublin Grassroots Network an anarchist group?

No. However a number of the groups involved in DGN are anarchists and we welcome their participation wholeheartedly.

What is the padded bloc?

The padded bloc is a tactic, not a group. It involves people wearing padding of various kinds to protect them from police violence. On May Day 2002, police attacked a peaceful Reclaim the Streets party and hospitalised a dozen people. This was massively covered in the national media at the time and we support anyone’s right to protect themselves against such events happening in the future.

What is the pink and silver bloc?

The pink and silver bloc involves people coming together wearing deliberately frivolous and cheerful clothing in order to lighten up protest situations, defuse tension between police and protestors, etc. Participants in this year’s Pink and Silver Bloc are expected to include the world-famous Radical Cheerleaders!

What is an affinity group?

An affinity group is a small group of people who know each other and agree to stay together and look after each other during a protest.

.3. WHAT ARE THE ISSUES YOU ARE PROTESTING ABOUT?

What is anti-globalisation?

Anti-globalisation is probably the wrong word, because we are arguing for a different world, not for any kind of isolation. We believe strongly that in the free global movement of people rather than profits, where neo- liberal economic doctrines want the free movement of money and the exclusion of human beings. Many of us have strong personal and political links with groups across the world.

Better phrases to describe us would be the global justice movement or the “movement of movements”, because we have come together out of people who have realised that the different issues they were working on (third world debt, poverty in industrialised countries, the global drive to war, racism, environmental crisis, GM foods etc.) were not separate but interlinked.

Are you against Europe?

No. Again we are arguing for a different Europe, and many of us have spent long periods in other European countries (some out of choice, some out of necessity). We are very much saying that the current direction the EU is taking - towards a “Fortress Europe”, towards increased privatisation, towards becoming a military power and towards ever greater social inequality - is not the Europe we want.

Are you against enlargement? If not why protest this weekend?

No. We are holding this event on May Day for three reasons:

May Day is the traditional European day of festivities and protests, and we see no reason to abandon that tradition because it embarrasses the Government in the face of people like mass killers Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi.

It is hypocritical for the Government and EU to paint this as a “Day of Welcomes” when the reality is that all 15 old states have put some form of restriction in place on the rights of citizens from the new states. This is more about opening up Eastern European markets than it is about making connections between ordinary people.

Events such as this are essentially PR events (the real work having been done beforehand) whose point is to boost the rapidly declining popularity of the key global institutions (G8, WTO, EU etc.) In Ireland, the last free vote on the subject (on the Nice Treaty) went against the EU and voters were bullied and cajoled into voting the “right” way. If we are no longer even allowed to use the ballot box to reject EU policies, we have no choice but to take to the streets.

Why do you talk about “Fortress Europe”?

In advance of joining the EU, the 10 accession countries have had to open their borders to the flow of money, but the movement of the peoples of these countries is to be limited for up to seven years. We welcome the admission of the people of these countries, but the governments of the EU want to keep them out as long as possible, all the while using them as cheap labour - profit before people.

Beyond Europe, many countries have been forced to open their markets to European capital and to low- wage, European-owned factories. European corporations want to use the EU as a common front to force these harsh neo-liberal policies on the third world. Yet the people of these countries face fences and walls if they try to enter Europe. Many are forced to make desperate boat journeys around these barriers.

The EU’s repressive anti-immigrant policies claimed the lives of at least 3,000 people between 1993 and June 2003, people drowned in the Mediterranean, electrocuted at the Channel Tunnel or suffocated in Wexford. This is 10 times as many as were killed at the Berlin Wall during its 30-year history. These policies are designed to make immigrants illegal and force them to survive in a precarious, hunted position, or live on short-term visas, dependent on work permits held by their employers. In both cases they are vulnerable and open to extreme exploitation as cheap labour. They have little access to heath and safety enforcement, as shown by the tragic deaths of 19 Chinese people at Morecambe Bay this year.

Surely the EU has been a moderating force in foreign affairs?

The foreign policy of the European Union is based on satisfying the interests of Big Business, irrespective of social cost. The militarisation of the EU is evidenced in the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Rapid Reaction Force (the European Army). These are the EU’s tools to promote the global interests of European multinationals. Again, profit before people.

Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern has waffled on about protecting Irish neutrality, yet he ignored 100,000 protestors when he allowed the US to use Shannon Airport as its major air stopover for US troops on their way to Iraq. In 2003, 125,000 US troops passed through Shannon en route to the Iraq war. Munitions of war, including Tomahawk, Cruise, and Patriot missile components, as well as napalm, passed through ‘neutral Ireland’. Considering this support for the war effort of a country that is not even an EU member, can we believe one word Bertie says about defending Irish neutrality within the EU?

What does the EU have to do with privatisation of public services?

The Irish government’s official EU website declares that “the Lisbon strategy is a major priority for the Irish Presidency”. The Lisbon Agenda specifically targets “gas, electricity, postal services and transport” for privatisation. Water, health, education and social services will be next.

The first step in privatisation is forcing people to pay for public services to make them profitable and attractive to investors. We can see this in Ireland with the bin charges, the back-door reintroduction of third level fees and the threatened privatisation of Dublin Bus and other public services. Privatisation invariably results in worse working conditions, greater inequality of services, lay-offs and wage cuts as bosses seek to cut corners to maintain profits.

So who decided that this is how the European economy should be run?

It is estimated that Brussels hosts some 500 industry lobby groups, employing some 10,000 professional lobbyists. Corporations that spend millions ‘lobbying’ the EU make no secret of the influence this brings. One of the most powerful is the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), which brings together more than 40 “European industrial leaders.” Ireland is represented by Michael Smurfit, while most of the other corporations are household names across Europe, such as BP, Unilever, Carlsberg, Fiat, Vodafone, Volvo, Philips, Nokia, Renault and Shell.

The ERT has boasted that “at European level, the ERT has contacts with the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament ... Every six months the ERT meets with the government that holds the EU presidency to discuss priorities ... At national level, each member has personal contacts with his own national government and parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other opinion- formers and the press.”

Baron Daniel Janssen of the ERT boasted that it was “very much involved in the preparation of the [Lisbon] Summit.” In Lisbon EU policy was shaped by the 40 “industrial leaders” of the ERT and not by the 50,000 demonstrators outside the summit building or by the needs of the people of Europe. Now we are all required to dance to the ERT tune.

Why are you complaining about taxation? Isn’t that a right-wing issue?

The Irish government has used EU policy to transfer the cost of public services from the rich to the poor. Chief amongst the methods used has been the introduction of high levels of local taxation, disguised as the bin tax. Environment Minister Martin Cullen has indicated that he hopes to get the bin charge up to 700 Euros a year and the Government plans to introduce other new charges, such as a water tax. In 10 years, such local charges are expected to total 1000 Euros, which would mean people on low incomes paying 5% of their income on service charges and the very wealthy paying 0.5%.

Between 1987 and 2001 the proportion of GDP going to Irish workers (measured as wages) fell and the proportion going to Irish bosses (measured as rents and profits) shot up.

Hasn’t Europe been good for Ireland?

Irish people have generally seen the European Union as a good thing, for reasons that include investment in infrastructure and farm subsidies.

But increasingly the EU is an excuse for privatisation, for shifting the burden of taxation onto ordinary Irish people and for Ireland’s increasing involvement in military adventures.

We are struggling with others across Europe for a different type of Europe, one that puts people before profit and does away with top-down decision making. Join these protests in the struggle for an alternative Europe.

Isn’t democracy about voting at elections and referendums?

These are only a very small part of what democracy consists of. To vote once every few years for someone over whom you then have no control, or to be asked a question to which you can only reply “yes” or “no” are not particularly powerful tools for giving people a say in their own lives.

We believe in a democracy where all local communities are directly run by the people living in them and all workplaces by the people working in them; a future in which everyone has control over their own lives and an equal say in the decisions that affect them. We put this into practice in our own organising work.

If your group has no elected representatives, then who do you represent?

We represent firstly ourselves, as people who care strongly enough about these issues to come out and protest. That is what demonstrations are about: showing that people care.

Secondly, we represent a large network of activists organising around issues such as social justice, opposition to the war in Iraq, environmental sustainability, women’s rights, and rejection of “Fortress Europe”. We are linked with movements worldwide, literally from India to Brazil, who make up the “movement of movements” contesting the neo- liberal policies which dominate the decision-making not only of the EU, but also of the G8, the WTO and the IMF.

Thirdly, we represent those people who have asked for our support: the Colombian trade unionists who are being shot when they oppose Coca-Cola, the Iraqis who are calling for democracy and an end to the US occupation, the Palestinians who are seeing their homes taken away and their children killed, the Argentinians who are seeking economic justice after the failure of “dollarisation” and the impoverishment of the country... the list goes on.

.4. WHAT ABOUT THE RESPONSE FROM MEDIA, POLICE, GOVERNMENT?

What do you make of media stories about police preparations?

These have been hyped up out of all proportion over the last few weeks, in a clear attempt to intimidate possible protestors. Now the same people who were responsible for the hype (security sources, right-wing journalists) are telling us that these stories are alarmist.

We are calling for a low-key security presence on the day to minimise tensions and are hoping that the police will show a high degree of professionalism rather than repeat the violence of May Day 2002 when they attacked a peaceful Reclaim the Streets party.

What do you make of media stories about possible violence from protestors?

They are entirely hypothetical. Other than anonymous posts to public websites, many of them probably written by “trolls” seeking to gain a reaction, the worst the media have been able to come up with in a month of digging is that between 30 and 50 Wombles (figures from “security consultants” and crime correspondents who have appeared in the media) might come over and wear padding!

All the groups we have been in contact with are entirely peaceful. We are however concerned about reports that there will be undercover policemen on the demonstration. At the protests in Genoa in 2001 such policemen were widely charged with being agents provocateurs and starting violence; the Italian magistrature opened 9 investigations after the events, 8 of them into police behaviour.

See http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engEUR300122001!Open for further information.

Do you not accept that the police have to plan for every eventuality?

The police have a primary duty in a democratic society to protect the right to protest. This has been stressed, among others, by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in recent statements. Instead, what we have seen is a systematic campaign aimed at smearing protestors as potentially criminal and threatening all kinds of violence from the security forces, with lovingly detailed accounts of police weaponry and equipment, military- style maps, etc.

Do you ask the police for permission to march, if not why not?

No. Another Europe Is Possible requested permission to march along a traditional route and were refused. They quite rightly stated their intention to go ahead anyway and have appealed the decision. All the indications to date (including statements that the police intend to “prevent large numbers of protestors gathering”) indicate that the police far from protecting the basic democratic right to protest are treating protestors as the enemy.

How have the Government responded to your protests?

The Minister for Justice is ultimately responsible for all statements, off-the-record briefings and leaks from the police to the media, including attempts to criminalise protestors and hysterical claims about the potential for violence. Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern claims that we are “misguided hooligans”. We regard this as an insult to the thousands of Irish people, Europeans and others who will take part in the weekend’s events.

Why do you not have a single spokesperson like most groups?

Firstly because we are ordinary citizens doing this work in our own time, not paid professionals like most spokespeople. So we need a number of spokespeople to share the work around. Secondly because we are not interested in creating media “stars” or achieving some kind of political “brand recognition”. Our 4 spokespeople work closely with each other and with other members of Dublin Grassroots Network to ensure that what they say represents DGN’s point of view rather than individual opinions.

What is Indymedia?

Indymedia is an independent, self-published media network with about 150 different groups in over 50 countries. It grew out of dissatisfaction with mainstream reporting during the protests in Seattle (1999), in particular the tendency of the mainstream media to report the official (police, government) side and ignore or trivialise protests. It is an open, democratic forum in which there is far more debate and challenging of statements than is common in the commercial or state media.

See www.indymedia.ie for the Irish Indymedia festival

© 2004 Irish Republican News