|Keep the Red Flag flying…|
|Magazine - International|
|Sunday, 03 June 2012 09:53|
Mick Gilgunn, Islington Trades Union Council, reports following this year’s Jim Connell weekend in Crossakiel, Kells, Ireland on 5th and 6th May.
Jim Connell was a blacklisted docker who was very much a part of the trade union movement here in Britain as well as Ireland. He is remembered every year during the May Bank Holiday weekend at his birth place near Kells. Since 1997 a memorial has stood in Crossakiel as a testament to the man who wrote The Red Flag, which is now sung throughout the world in celebration of our progressive movement. Inspired by a Social Democratic meeting in London, Connell wrote the poem on the back of scrap paper while he was on a train from Charing Cross to New Cross.
The weekend was an uplifting experience. On Saturday a conference took place on the recession in Ireland, the austerity measures and how unions can fight back. A packed meeting in a community hall in Kells was welcomed by the Labour mayor Brian Collins, who organised the weekend alongside the Jim Connell Society. Contributions both from the platform and the floor reported on youth unemployment and workfare both in Ireland and Britain. The recession has hit Ireland hard, and just as in Britain it is the working class that are paying the price.
There were guest speakers from Britain and Ireland, and delegations from the Durham Miners Association, the RMT, the RMT Youth Committee, Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils and Justice for Shrewsbury Pickets. From Ireland, the Workers Party, Labour Party and Sinn Fein all had a presence.
David Hopper, Secretary of the Durham Miners Association, spoke powerfully of the Thatcher years and how the 1984-85 strike had destroyed the mining communities – but the spirit and courage lives on in the Durham Miners Gala, where 100,000 people gather each year in defiance and to uphold the spirit of working class solidarity. He also spoke of the significance of The Red Flag, Jim Connell and the international struggle for peace and socialism. Terrista Trujillo, Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, brought greetings to the event and paid tribute to the international support from Ireland and around the world to the people of Cuba.
Carmel Pollen from Battersea and Wandswoth Trades Council spoke about ethical threads, and Ashley Farrent, RMT youth section, spoke about the results of the London Mayoral election, the legacy of the Olympic games and relations with the London Mayor post-Olympics.
Patricia King from Ireland’s largest union SIPTU spoke about youth unemployment, the desperate need for training and education, and the disappointment in seeing once again a whole generation leave Ireland’s shores. During this session representatives from Irish trade unions MANDATE and IMPACT also spoke. Tom Geraghty, from the Irish Fire Brigades Union spoke on how Dublin Fire service was one of the first in the world to be municipalised and went into some fascinating history and arguments against privatisation.
On Sunday a march through Crossakiel was led by an RMT brass band. Bob Crow gave a rousing speech in a rally at the monument about the solidarity between the two islands and gave the event a class perspective on the fight against cutbacks and job loses. Among the banners were those of SIPTU’s construction section and Lagan Brick workers, who are facing redundancy. One of their stewards spoke on their plight and how they are fighting back. Irish trade unionists, TDs and local historians also spoke, and Councillor Brian Collins chaired the proceedings.
The proceedings ended with The Red Flag and a reception in a local bar with an Irish band with a radical flavour. Those of us who stayed on the next night continued with a good singing session and pledged to promote this annual event.
Next year will focus on the 100th anniversary of the Dublin lockout and the legendary trade union leader Jim Larkin who, along with James Connolly, forms the backbone of socialism in Ireland. What they have in common with Jim Connell is the link between two nations and their part in shaping working class history.
I would encourage socialists and trade unionists to attend next year’s event in Kells, just as we attend events here in England such as the Tolpuddle festival and the Durham Miners Gala. We should double our efforts for the Dublin lockout centenary event next year, which many regions in Britain’s TUC and the London Association of Trades Union Council wish to highlight in the coming year. Remember our past; organise our future.