Advances in Ireland
Hands Off the People of Iran in Ireland held a successful teach-in on November 10 in Dublin. Anne Mc Shane reports
Despite an unforeseen clash with an Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM) demo on the same day, the meeting attracted around 30 participants and was an interesting and informative event.
Deirdre Clancy, a leading anti-war activist, chaired the first part of the meeting. Deirdre became known for her role in an action that disarmed a US war plane in Shannon in February 2003. She and four other activists were arrested, imprisoned and later tried on counts of criminal damage that could have meant up to 10 years in prison. But after two collapsed trials the five defendants were finally unanimously acquitted by a jury in 2005.
The stunt drew attention in a dramatic way to the use of Shannon airport for the transport of US troops to the Middle East (as well as 'rendition' flights). It showed that it is clear nonsense to describe Ireland as a neutral state. The Irish government is in fact a loyal adjunct of imperialism. Shannon was and continues to be one of the main stop-overs for US troops - as today the forces build up in the Gulf for the threatened attack on Iran.
David Landy of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign was the first speaker in the meeting. He expressed his support for Hopi against the recent attacks against it on Indymedia (www.Indymedia.ie). He argued the importance of upholding two essential principles - to be against imperialist attack and at the same time not support the local elite.
But for him there remained complexities for solidarity movements in deciding who to support on the ground. This was especially true in Palestine, where there is a "disarticulated movement" that is difficult to connect with. These were issues that needed to be discussed and taken up by the anti-war movement. He called for Hopi and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to link up and work together wherever possible.
Yassamine Mather spoke next and set out the new circumstances in Iran. She said that people there were becoming increasingly afraid of an impending attack. Certainly war is closer now than it has ever been. Meanwhile the regime has been busy moving its money out of the country. All resistance to state laws is now classed as a violation of national security. Students, workers and women activists are being arrested and face flogging and imprisonment for demonstrations that were staged months ago. The regime is conducting a crusade of terror against all opposition.
Yassamine showed a series of photographs that have been taken of activists on demonstrations over the last year. The demos illustrated the existence of the movement against the government. The slogans on those demos also showed clearly the anti-imperialist nature of that opposition. These images have now been posted on the Hopi website (www.hopoi.org).
The debate that followed centred on the need to make clear that Hopi is anti-imperialist. An attack on Iran would be a disaster for the Iranian people and we are first and foremost an anti-war campaign. However, we strive to make solidarity with those in struggle in Iran - not the regime itself.
The afternoon session was led off by David Mather, who spoke about the conditions of the Iran Khodro car workers and their campaign to organise. He described the problems they face, which include low (or no) pay, long hours, dangerous conditions and the use of temporary contracts. The fact that the plant is now a joint venture between the islamic regime and the Renault transnational shows the commitment of the regime to neoliberalism. The Iran Khodro workers, however, consistently strive to organise, despite the illegality of doing so. They are also extremely keen on making links with workers and unions outside Iran.
Des Derwin, president of Dublin Trades Council, who chaired the meeting, remarked on the need for this kind of information to be made available to the Irish trade union movement. He and others also spoke of the similarities between conditions facing Irish workers, particularly in terms of temporary contracts. Capitalist need for 'flexibility' in the workforce is affecting workers internationally. While recognising the worse conditions faced by workers in Iran, there is no doubt as to the commonality and the need for solidarity on the basis of a shared agenda. It was agreed that we need to start to move to make practical links. Since then Hopi supporters have distributed a leaflet to striking bus workers in Dublin calling for solidarity with fellow bus workers in Iran.
Another issue that was debated was our attitude to the trade union leadership in Ireland, who are hand in glove with government and bosses through 'social partnership' policies. We agreed that, while it is useful to have trade union leaders sign up as supporters, we do not want to simply leave it at that. We want to reach out to trade union members - not to just get resolutions passed, but to try to get some action and debate around them. But it was also acknowledged that we do not at present have a militant rank and file movement and therefore we need to begin where we are and use all avenues.
Finally there was some controversy over US sanctions against Iran. Amir, from an organisation called 'Free Iran', attended the afternoon session and argued for sanctions, as they would weaken the Iranian regime and allow them to be removed from power, he said. We should also not criticise the US so much in the circumstances.
David Mather replied by making it clear that we are firmly anti-war. Deirdre Clancy also argued that the people who suffer from sanctions are never the rulers, but always the ordinary people. This was shown in the run-up to the war on Iraq, when children were left without food and basic medical supplies. Kevin from Socialist Democracy said that sanctions were an act of war, laying siege to a people to weaken them before a military attack begins.
One positive development seems to be a change in attitude on the part of the IAWM towards Iran and Hopi. I recently reported on a conference held by this campaign - which has up to now been dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (Weekly Worker October 25).
At that meeting, the SWP leadership was at pains to dampen down calls for solidarity with struggles in Iran. Now, just a few weeks later, Yassamine Mather was invited to address the IAWM rally held on the same day.
Supporters of Hopi who attended with Yassamine reported that leading SWP member Marnie Holborrow had announced from the platform that they too are in contact with the opposition in Iran and support regime change from below. This was a welcome step forward from the previous line and shows that these comrades have been thinking. Rather than ban Hopi, as their British comrades have done, they invited us onto the platform.
This, I hope, will lead to more cooperation within the anti-war movement, which in Ireland is divided - in addition to the IAWM there is also Anti-War Ireland (AWI). The split, which took place a few years ago, was somewhat predictably caused by the SWP's intolerance towards those with differing views within the campaign. Understandably there remains tensions and distrust of the SWP.
But I believe that principled unity is important and that Hopi should make links with all campaigns, including AWI, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the IAWM. Working together for joint demonstrations, meetings and other campaign work, if done openly and democratically, is a necessity to strengthen our struggle.