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Irish Times: Conference told of alienation

EXTRACT: Take the recent Rossport crisis, where the Government found it could not exert leverage over Shell. Why? Because they had given everything away to Shell.”

THE ARTICLE

Kitty Holland,
Published: Mar 12, 2007

Discontent and alienation in society are not being represented by mainstream political parties, a conference of left-wing groups was told in Dublin at the weekend. Marxism 2007 was held over three days, and heard calls for alternative approaches to bringing about change in society.

It discussed such issues as global warming, the health service, social class in the Celtic Tiger, the Iraq war, Cuba after Castro, trade unions in social partnership and the sale of sex and sexualised popular culture.

Kieran Allen, sociology lecturer at UCD and a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, organised the conference.

He said there had been an “explosion of left-wing, grassroots organisations” over the past number of years. Citing the People Before Profit group, Shell to Sea, the anti-war movement and anti-bin charges groups, he said their views were “not being represented in conventional political parties”. There was “real discontentment” and alienation in Irish society.

“There is alienation from the traditional power structures and people believe there is no alternative. But there is an alternative, there are lots of alternatives and that’s what this conference is about – exploring what we can do at grass-roots levels to make changes.”

Speaking at a meeting entitled The End of Social Partnership – Is it Time for Radical Trade Unionism?, he said the union movement was failing Irish workers.

“The trade unions think they can work and compromise with the employers, but the result for the workers has been the lowest holiday time in Europe, effective pay cuts and job losses. Union density is declining.”

Journalist Frank Connolly said political decisions made during the 1980s and 1990s had given undue power to unelected bodies and people. “We are now living and suffering the results of decisions taken then. Take the recent Rossport crisis, where the Government found it could not exert leverage over Shell. Why? Because they had given everything away to Shell.”

Melissa Halpin, a feminist campaigner, spoke about how teenage girls were encouraged to believe that objectifying their bodies was a self-liberating act.

She said the recent trend among some teenage girls of wearing jewellery and T-shirts with the Playboy bunny symbol was akin to them embracing their oppression as a badge of honour. This was “a shabby kind of equality for men and women under capitalism”.

Ailbhe Smith, UCD lecturer on equality issues, said the neo-liberal model applied the supply and demand approach to everything which meant “every human experience is potentially an economic transaction.”

She said the only way to stop the trafficking of women into Ireland to work in the sex industry was to criminalise those who pay for sex. However, this would mean intervening in the market, which neo-liberal governments did not like to do, she said.

Participants were also urged to join a picket at the Fianna Fail ardfheis on March 24th to protest against the US military’s use of Shannon Airport.

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