Jobstown: Not Guilty – trade unions must oppose criminal injustice

Members of NIPSA General Council, with President Carmel Gates, join together to show solidarity behind the prosecution of those involved with the Jobstown protest against tánaiste Joan Burton.

One of the crucial things which PCS Annual Delegate Conference does each year, as well as taking the decisions which will ensure our National Executive Committee carries out the will of union members, is remind us all that our struggle – that of labour against capital – is a global struggle. Many delegates regard the international and affiliations section of ADC as a chance to nip out for a quick cigarette – but for many, solidarity with other groups involved in the same struggle, even international groups, could not be more important in the age of Trumpism.

As well as motions on the National Campaign, on jobs, on terms and conditions, on welfare, on equality and on the myriad other issues which affect PCS members in their day to day lives, PCS Left Unity will also be proposing motions on affiliation to Tamil Solidarity and the Jobstown: Not Guilty campaigns. This article explains why, and includes text of the model motion which is being proposed and which we hope all branches will pass, in order to ensure the issue is debated.

What happened in Jobstown?

Setting aside the breathless reporting of large sections of Joan Burton being “trapped in her car”, what actually happened on 15 November 2014? A protest happened. A largely spontaneous protest of a working class community that has taken the brunt of austerity, the worst parts of which are personally associated with Joan Burton – rent allowance cuts, cuts to child benefit and cuts to lone parents allowance more recently.

A community that had previously voted heavily for the Labour Party heard that Joan Burton was in the area and hundreds and hundreds gathered to express their anger, their sense of betrayal, and yes, for all the gnashing of teeth of sections of the media about the word, the political hatred of many towards a figure who symbolised both sell-out and austerity.

The car that Joan Burton was in was met with a sit-down protest as she exited from a graduation ceremony. That took place at the exact point that a foodbank operates, which growing numbers are forced to go to. It was a few minutes drive from a couple who were living in their car. There were eggs thrown by young people – who were separate from the main protest, but who have no less reason to be angry, bearing in mind the forced, underpaid work they’ve been obliged to provide through the now-scrapped JobBridge scheme.

 

Intimidation of women in politics?

The majority of the five hundred people who attended the protest were women. Women were no less scathing and vocal about Joan Burton and the betrayal of working class people by the Labour Party. Many of the things said by men using a loudspeaker that night were echoed by dozens of women. Yet the Irish establishment has attempted to portray the anger shown against Joan Burton as somehow an attack on women in politics. Using this to defend someone responsible for taking food out of the mouths of working class women and their families is disgusting.

After the protest dispersed, in a different part of the community, where clashes between local youths and police are far from irregular, the media filmed a clash in which a brick was thrown. Much like during the Miners’ Strike in the U.K., the media attempted to conflate the two incidents in order t discredit the protesters and back up the claims of kidnapping, intimidation and property damage being hurled at those who had demonstrated against the deputy Prime Minister.

Criminalisation of protest

In February of 2015, the state retaliated. Dawn raids across Dublin saw dozens arrested, including a 16 year old, dragged out of bed. This was not just about the protest against Joan Burton. Up and down Ireland, thousands and hundreds of thousand of people had been protesting the water charges, introduced by the Irish government, and likely to hit all poor and middle-income households very hard indeed. Following the February arrests, the Garda began cracking down on those protesting the installation of water meters. Some police at these protests were even armed.

Since that time, revelations about Operation Mizen have shown that the Irish police, like their UK counterparts, were quite happy to use an extensive network of spies against those exercising their legitimate right to protest. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is widely tipped to resign as pressure over the McCabe scandal, a smear campaign by senior police officers against a Garda Sgt who questioned why political figures were not being prosecuted for offences including traffic violations. The depths of corruption in the police is being widely discussed in the press.

The arrests of 23 protesters, including two women, were not in response to criminal damage or “kidnapping” for the two hour period in which the Deputy Prime Minister and her police were held in their cars – but an attempt to criminalise protest and break political opposition to austerity, expressed by the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit organisations. If the state is permitted to get away with it, it will result in anti-austerity elected representatives who attended the protest being barred from office, such as TD Paul Murphy. It will also mean that future pickets – like the mass picket she at Dublin buss – could be criminalised.

Political policing can be defeated however. The Irish ruling class is split on what to do about the incident. Bringing international pressure to bear can force a retreat from the political prosecutions being mounted by the government. The model motion is below.

This Conference notes that on 21 October 2016, a 17 year old was found guilty of false imprisonment in the Children’s Court in Ireland. He was 15 at the time of the “false imprisonment”, which consisted of participating in a protest against water charges and austerity on 15 November 2014, which resulted in Joan Burton’s (the then Deputy Prime Minister) car being delayed for 2.5 hours in Jobstown in Tallaght in Ireland. There was no allegation or charge against him of any violence. He was recognised by the judge as having led a “blameless life”.

However, the judge found him guilty of false imprisonment and listed the following factors which led him to that conclusion: He sat in front of a car and encouraged others to do so; He participated in a slow march; He momentarily stood in Joan Burton’s way and asked to talk to her; He used a megaphone to chat “No way, we won’t pay.”

It is clear that he was protesting, not kidnapping. Although he was given a “conditional discharge”, meaning that he will not face imprisonment if ‘of good behaviour’ for nine months, the important fact is that he was found guilty of false imprisonment because of participating in a protest. The verdict prepares the way for convictions and imprisonment of 18 adult defendants next year, and a dramatic broadening of the definition of false imprisonment to include many forms of protest. Striking workers could find their picket lines classed as “false imprisonment”;, as could any protesters who engage in a slow march or sit-down protest.

The first trial of adults starts on April 24 with a group of seven defendants charged with “false imprisonment”. One of those is Paul Murphy, a TD (MP) for the Anti-Austerity Alliance. If jailed for more than six months, he will be removed as a TD and the people of Dublin South West (which includes Jobstown) will be denied the democratic choice they made.

This Conference:

  • Condemns the conviction of the 17 year old protester of “false imprisonment”;
  • Recognises that “an injury to one is an injury to all” and this conviction is a threat to everybody’s democratic right to protest and calls for all charges to be dropped against Jobstown protesters.

This conference instructs the NEC to send a message of solidarity and a donation of £500 to the #JobstownNotGuilty campaign and to publicise activities supporting the campaign.

 

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PCS Left Unity

Left Unity is a faction within the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) that is represented at every level of the union, from branches and workplaces to the National Executive Committee. We believe in a democratic and fighting union and have a proud history within PCS and its predecessor unions in delivering for members.