May Day Greetings – what James Larkin Jones and Martin McGuiness have in common
The respected English trade union leader James Larkin Jones (or more popularly Jack Jones) died last week at a nursing home in London - síocháin ar a anam agus imeasc laochra an lucht oibre go raibh sé anois - may his soul now rest in peace amongst the other departed heroes of the labour movement. This is my prayer on this special day for workers all over the world. There have been some excellent obituaries about James Larkin Jones and his remarkable life. See for example the Guardian
Jack Jones at a workers rally in London
In England in the late 1970s, along with a number of other socialist youths of the far left, I ran after Jack Jones as he walked into the annual Congress of Trade Unions shouting “Jack The Rat, Jack The Rat!”.
I feel a sense of great regret at my actions that day and as a practising Catholic I have communicated this to Jack in the past week in the usual way – candles, prayer, expiation and explanation. If all that doesn’t work, I do hope Jack reads this blog up there in the ultimate blogosphere in the heavens.
Now what was I doing chasing after poor Jack and what does any of this extended Mea Culpa have to do with Martin McGuiness? The answer to that question lies in the long period of evaluation and maturation of my political, religious and philosophical views since the 1980s. I must say that the political reasons for my haranguing of Jack Jones that day still remain valid. I have not changed those views. As an unemployed youth just about to be plunged into the wasteland that was Thatcher's Britain, I felt that Trade Union leaders like Jack Jones had placed far too much focus on the pact between trade unions and government (a labour government obviously) as a panacea for all social ills. Jack Jones was a major architect of the so called Social Contract between the unions and government. I agreed with those on the left, and I still argue, that it is not the job of the trades unions to worry the about the management of capitalism in crisis. Unions exist to defend the interests of workers (including unemployed workers) and historically they have fought for a more equal society. We can see this argument in sharp relief here in Ireland at the moment where corrupt bankers have been bailed out to the tune of billions of Euro whilst union members and workers generally are asked to take pay cuts, all in the name of alleged social cohesion.
Be all that as it may, I now believe I was completely wrong to call Jack Jones a rat. Here was a man whose father named him after James Larkin the “Liverpool Irish” workers' hero. Jack Jones was a brave man who not only risked grave physical injury by standing up to Moseleyite black shirts (similar to our fascist Blueshirts) as a youth in Liverpool but also went on to fight in the Spanish Civil War where he was badly injured at the battle of Ebro. All through his life Jones maintained very strong anti fascist principles, even to the point of making himself unpopular by telling hundreds of thousands of British trades unionists that they should not take their holidays in Spain until democracy was established there. Even later in his life when he was offered a seat in the House of Lords, he performed the rare feat of sticking to his principles and declining the invitation.
My thoughts about Jack Jones led me to think about the recent death threats made against Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuiness. Some, but not all, of these threats were made at a dissident republican Easter Rising commemoration in Derry. From the footage I have seen of that event, a lot of the youths present were about the same age as I was or even younger when I was casting insults at Jack Jones, a man I now regard as a mentor and comrade, even though I still strongly disagree with the position he took.
I see many of those youths in Derry making the same journey that I did. I hope they never stop being what they claim to be, which is socialist republicans, but that over time they will recognise like I have done that the internecine strife that dogs not only left wing groups but more especially Irish republican groups is a recipe for disaster. It may well be that the dissidents regard the Good Friday Agreement as a sell out but they will someday have to accept that the agreement was subject to an all Ireland vote which carried the day by an overwhelming majority. Anti peace process dissidents have a right to put forward their case but I feel that all bloggers and commentators on the left should be proactive in calling on them to desist from the kind of blackguarding of names that we saw in Derry that day. It will do nothing to advance their political agenda and is plainly wrong.
By way of a conclusion on this day for workers, peasants and sailors and as a challenge to the dissidents to think outside of their, in my view, narrow and bitter box, here is a picture of another comrade who fought against the fascists in Spain.
Bob Doyle The smiling revolutionary
(Permission to use this picture was very kindly given by photographer Mark Read)
Yes I can already hear certain dissident hisses at the sight of the word British on the flag. But the comrade proudly holding that flag is none other than the legendary socialist, anti fascist, and IRA man Bob Doyle. Bob ended up fighting with the British contingent in the international brigades in Spain. Does that make him less of a hero? Bob chose to live out the later years of his life in England and was strong supporter of the peace process which according to his old comrade and friend Harry Owens filled him with “joy and hope”. Will this great and unassuming Irish hero be called a sell out? Is he a rat? Clearly not.
As I am sure other comrades are doing, I appeal to those within the dissident republican community who will accept the name of comrade to take a step back and recognise a simple truth: we are too few in number and the forces of global capitalism are too great for us to channel all that productive, radical socialist energy back into the dungeon of death threats, house raids, unquiet streets and unquiet beds. Talk to the people who carried the IRA – the grannies who gave up their spare rooms, the people who watched dumps, collated intelligence and moved material. They are exhausted and in military terms fought a brilliant campaign - this is recognised on all sides. Now, after the long war, they are looking forward to the long peace. Are they too going to be condemned as sell outs? The answer again, of course, is no.
Sí, por supuesto, la lucha continua pero, Dios mediante, sin la violencia. Cinnte leanfaidh muid ar aghaidh leis an streachailt ach le cuidiú Dé gan fhoréigean. Yes the struggle continues but with the grace of God without violence.
As republicans and socialists, we recognise that we must not only talk a great struggle but also be active in that struggle. A comrade from the human rights and justice group Afri sent me details of a famine walk at the end of this month. Here are the details for this important event for those who are able to attend (where once again the crucial link with our brothers and sisters of the native American nation will be made):
Famine Walk 2009
From Doolough to Louisburgh, Co. Mayo
Saturday 30th May 2009, beginning at 2pm
Power concedes nothing without demand
Willie and Mary Corduff (Erris) * Philip Ikurusi (Niger Delta) * Gary Whitedeer (Choctaw)
with Donal O'Kelly and Sorcha fox performing a short extract from the writings of Frederick Douglass
Read more about the annual Famine Walk on the Afri website