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(en) Ireland, WSM, Red and Black Revolution #8 - Book Review No Global: The People of Ireland Versus the multinationals By Robert Allen

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 31 Dec 2004 08:45:49 +0100 (CET)

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No Global is based on Robert Allen and Tara Jones's Guests Of The
Nation (1990). Essentially it is an account of the various environmental
clashes that have taken place in Ireland since the mid-70s when the Irish
Government's policy of attracting multinational corporation into Ireland -
in particular in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector - moved into full
In terms of being a record of these many struggles, No Global is a very
useful compendium with a lot of first hand information as well as useful
analysis. The author was involved in some of the events he addresses and
this adds a particular validity to the account.

No Global is a departure from Guests Of The Nation in terms of its scope.
It covers new ground and updates the reader on what has happened since
1990. But Allen also attempts to re-position the context of the various
struggles that have taken place in Ireland in the past 30 years within the
much more recent 'anti-globalisation' movement. Although this may be
useful in seeing the conflict within the larger picture of modern capitalism
it never seriously adds to the analysis.

Environment versus jobs is a theme running through the book and anyone
who knows anything about recent Irish history will not be surprised as to
why this is so. The Irish State's policy of attracting foreign multinationals
into the country - with lucrative tax breaks and set-up grants - had much
to do with the ongoing crisis of employment-creation and emigration.
Different class interests were at play. For Irish workers unemployment and
emigration had been an ongoing disaster. For the Irish bourgeoisie there
was the simple economic need to become a player in the developing
international capitalist economy. Also, unemployment and emigration
were huge and probably unsustainable long-term burdens on the State.
Attracting foreign multinational was vital.

The arrival of a series of major multinationals in the 70s (Pfizer was one of
the first) galvanised the newly emerging environmental movement. No
Global documents a series of hard-fought victories at Raybestos
Manhattan, Merck Shape Dohme and Merrell Dow (to name just a few).
Although a lot of detail is given - in some cases too much, it must said - it
nevertheless becomes clear what an important role the environmental
movement has played in forcing the Irish State to tighten up on
environmental licensing and effluent discharge laws - which were even
laxer than they are.

But No Global also indicates, to me at least, that overall the Irish State was
able to outmanoeuvre the environmental movement and push ahead with
its plans. The reasons for this are interesting and in the long term very
useful to look at. Also, they are undoubtedly the subject for much debate.
Clearly, in terms of the overall confrontation between the State and the
environmental movement, the climate of emigration and unemployment
was key. But equally relevant (and ultimately debilitating) was the class
nature of the environmental movement. Although often composed of
people from many classes it was fundamentally dominated by those with
little or no appreciation for working-class difficulties. Very often the
workers in the noxious industry area were ignored or abandoned to 'the
other side' - to bring them on board the environmental movement was
simply seen as impossible. But this failure seriously weakened a number of
the protest struggles as well as leaving a longer term legacy that continues
to hamper the oppositional movement and its ability to take on the Irish

No Global does well to draw attention to the somewhat spontaneous and
local nature of many of the struggles that it documents. Often
communities had little time and few resources when facing the combined
might of the Irish State, the multinationals and the various local Chambers
of Commerce (who were, needless to say, pro-multinational). Struggles,
moreover, emerged piecemeal and many vital decisions had to be taken on
the move. In many respects it is a great credit to the participants that what
was achieved was done so at all.

But No Global is less clear and less persuasive when it comes to dissecting
the political ideas within the environmental movement and the problems
these caused. References are made to activists 'living in green bubbles
immune from the harsh social realities of modern Irish life'. This was
partly about class politics but it was also about what differing sections of
the environmental movement wanted. In this sense the difficult matter of
'the alternative' is often side-stepped or not addressed at all. At one point
reference is made to alternative State policy that might favour small
industry and craft based employment (rather than multinationals) - but
what is one to really make of this? Resonances of De Valera and dancing
at the crossroads?

Although the overall thrust of No Global seems to underline the schism
between jobs and environment, there are important exceptions to this that
are examined and described. For example at Penn Chemical plant in Cork
(now Smith Kline Beecham) the struggle between the workers and the
management eventually spilled over into a major struggle within Cork
Number 2 Branch of the SIPTU trade union. But this led on to the
embattled Penn workers finally whistle-blowing on some of the
environmental practices within the plant. (Interesting to note in passing
that the workers saw fit to approach the media first and not the very active
environmental movement in Cork harbour.)

A second and more important example of the link between workers'
interests and the environmental struggle was at the Raybestos Manhatten
plant near Ovens outside Cork in the late 70s/ early 80s. This early (and
successful!) struggle saw the workers out on strike on a number of
occasions in pursuit of their 'environmental' health. Important in this
struggle was the activities of the much (at the time) maligned Noxious
Industry Action Group (NIAG) which consciously sought to link the
community's opposition efforts to the interests of the plant's workforce,
particularly around health risk at the plant. Pilloried by the 'official' trade
union movement, NIAG's activities paid off handsomely in a series of
work stoppages that eventually forced Raybestos Manhatten out of Ireland
(although to where, one wonders). The Raybestos Manhatten dispute is
clearly important as an example of what is possible when an anti-capitalist
rather than anti-industry perspective informs the environmental struggle.
On a minor point I can't agree with the author that NIAG was anarchist in
nature. It had a socialist focus, but the dominant ideas were still
authoritarian Marxist.

As is pointed out in the introduction to No Global, the war over the
environment is far from over. Capitalist production and the realities of
profit making will ensure this. Here in Ireland the next stage of the
struggle will focus on the issue of incinerators. In this sense No Global
appears at a vital time. Anyone who wants to see how the bigger picture
has unfolded to date can read in detail about the numerous struggles. The
author is to be congratulated for such an achievement. This book is well
worth a read.

Reviewed by Kevin Doyl
This article is from Red & Black Revolution (no 8, Winter 2008)
Read more articles from this issue

Print out a PDF file of Issue 8
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