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(en) Ireland, WSM*, Red and Black Revolution No 10 - Environmentalism Class and Community

Date Fri, 23 Dec 2005 21:23:20 +0200


The economic boom in Ireland and the construction boom that has
come alongside it has led to a growth in the importance of
environmental campaigns. There has frequently been a large gap
between the environmentalists involved in such campaigns and the
left - including anarchists. Sean, one of the 'Carrickminders' and
now a member of the WSM gives his view on what can be learnt
from the recent struggles.

Capitalism in Ireland is certainly booming. The country in profit
based terms has seen unprecedented growth. This growth is
illustrated on the great barometer of Capitalism- GDP (Gross
domestic product) which has increased each year since 1991.

With this capitalist driven development of the economy, an improved
infrastructure was desperately needed. As the economy developed
the state decided to upgrade the infrastructure of the country as well
as facilitating construction of buildings. This meant several changes
to Ireland. Roads and new housing had to be built. This could have
been a chance to improve the country instead it is leading to
environmental problems. Poor and often corrupt planning (as proven
in the Flood/Mahon tribunals) has lead many communities to take
on the state.

Environmental issues are becoming crucial issues for those seeking
to change society in Ireland. We are a generation, which is
witnessing the result of this abuse of the environment by the Irish
State and Corporations. On a local scale we see the effects of this
planning directly. Alongside the construction boom we have also
witnessed a growth in waste. This has lead to a crisis of how we
should deal with it (Irish Times 03/06/2005). Local communities are
continually trying to stop incinerators and super dumps. The State
has found its usual solution to these problems - the poor will bear
the brunt.

Despite these problems and social tensions, capitalism in Ireland is
pushing relentlessly forward. The infrastructure being created is
showing this drive. The National Development Plan 2000-2006
(which "involves an investment of over EUR 52 billion of Public,
Private and EU funds" is the state's plan to push its development of
the country forward. The plan "involves significant investment in
health services, social housing, education, roads, public transport,
rural development, industry, water and waste services, childcare and
local development." As part of the NDP Ireland is to get a greatly
expanded road network. This is not necessarily a bad thing but from
the outset there were reasons to be worried.

It seems sensible to most that the government would first finish the
National Spatial Plan - which is "aiming to achieve a balanced,
sustainable form of development for the future of the State" - to
understand where the roads were going to be built. Included with the
NSP is the requirement that "Local Authorities will designate land"
for housing - and one would expect that the new roads would serve
the areas designated for housing.

Not that our enlightened ones were thinking along these lines, they
designed the NDP and then two years later got the report on what
the roads were being built for. This may seem like being "typical
Irish", but it wasn't. It was typical capitalism. The politicians knew
for whom the roads were being built to serve, they knew where their
friends businesses and lands were and that their friends in the
engineering firms and construction companies were building the
roads. Most importantly they didn't care where the public was. Then,
when as usual the plan ran over budget, the Minister for Transport at
the time turned to his cronies in the private sector to fill the two
billion euro deficit through Public - Private Partnership schemes..
They say motorways such as the M3 (see below) are built to alleviate
congestion that they are so desperately needed that life as we know it
can't continue without them but yet they place it in the hands of
private corporations to make a profit. This just highlighted again the
public's role in the NDP 2000-2006 - there wasn't one. That we will
be fitted in around their agenda is illustrated by the way we are being
crammed into housing estates around the roads rather than vice
versa. The environment, in short, is fast becoming one of the
battlegrounds where communities are coming into conflict with
capitalism.

The last few years have seen several campaigns in Ireland revolving
around the environment. Three campaigns, where to one degree or
another, activists and communities overtly tried to take on the State,
stand out. (In this I mean in all three cases the government placed
political capital on defeating the campaign). These were the Dublin
Bin Tax, the Carrickmines/m50 and the Glen of the Downs. These
three are different from most others because the overt nature of their
demands led to a face-off against the state. At the Glen of the Downs
and Carrickmines the issue revolved around transport and sensible
(or perhaps unsensible) planning whilst the bin tax was an issue that
revolved around waste management and taxation.

Analysis of these three campaigns is very useful for our inevitable
further involvement in environmental struggles. They took place in a
similar political climate, where to one degree or another the
economy was in a capitalistic sense "prospering" and Ireland had a
right wing coalition government. The campaigns however were
fought very differently and it is from this activists can learn.
The Dublin bin tax campaign

The bin tax saw a prominent libertarian involvement in the
campaign in some Dublin communities as well as being involved in
the central campaign. The class analysis in the Bin Tax (which was
by no means only argued by libertarians) gave the campaign a very
different edge. Traditionally, an issue such as waste management
may have been raised by environmental groups in a manner not
questioning the taxation issue in itself.

Waste management is a crucial issue and would have to be part of
the focus of any campaign. It is not a great rallying point as it
inevitably ends up in an academic arguments between specialists.
The class analysis of questioning taxation rather than solely the
issue of disposal was far more inclusive. The campaign had many
genuinely local groups across Dublin and seriously challenged the
state by fighting implementation of the tax through mass
non-payment and blockades of waste depots. The campaign
ultimately seems to have lost momentum but crucially it could have
won. In an interesting comparison to the Bin tax, another
environmental campaign, reached its critical point simultaneously
this was Carrickmines/M50
Carrickmines/M50 Motorway

This was a campaign that proposed rerouting the final leg of the
M50 ring road around Dublin. The opposition was based on the
discovery of the ruins of a medieval castle, which would be destroyed
by the motorway. The campaign revolved around an occupation of
the medieval castle site and later around several legal challenges. It
challenged the right of the state to build a road on the ruins of a
medieval castle. Little attention was paid to the impact of the road on
the people and local community where clear class discrimination in
the soundproofing of the motorways was obvious. Huge banks of
earth protected rich areas whereas only thin cinderblock walls
protected working class areas from the noise.

The castle occupation fell in numbers as it failed to attract
widespread interest. This allowed infighting and personality politics
to destroy the campaign. The campaign also over-concentrated on
the legal challenges whilst failing to engage people. Although we
often talked about leafleting the local area - this was never done. The
over-concentration on the legal case meant a further alienation of
those who were not of a legal mind or willing to be litigants. The
dangers of such an approach is obvious and activists learned the hard
way when they won a legal challenge and the government
subsequently changed the law to suit their ends.
The Glen of the Downs

The Glen of the Downs was a campaign which opposed the
widening of the N11 motorway in Wicklow. This widening was
having a detrimental impact on a nature reserve. Activists occupied
the site in 1997 and began what became a three-year battle. The
campaign again fought the authorities through court action. Their
focus was largely based on an ecological analysis and in many ways
it was influenced by "deep ecology". The campaign at times engaged
the population but mainly as a media driven spectacle. The
campaign, after three years, was isolated enough for the state to
move and forcibly remove protestors.

Both Carrickmines and the Glen of the Downs reached varying
degrees of success but ultimately failed. The Carrickmines campaign
almost collapsed internally due to effect the personality politics could
have on a small group of people. The campaign relied on the support
of history and archaeological enthusiasts and gave the local
community little material interest in the campaign.

The Glen of the Downs was far more successful but when the major
cull of trees happened the campaign had failed to interest enough
people to the point of direct action. The activists courageously did
face down the forces of the state to the point that 13 people went to
prison - some only being released after two months and a hunger
strike. However, largely alienated from society at large, similarly to
Carrickmines they lost. The N11 is completed (problematically as
activists predicted). The M50 at Carrickmines is about to be opened
shortly.

These campaign also raised issues which are very much expert
based. The Carrickmines campaign in particular was debated in very
technical language between academics and engineers, thereby
isolating itself from a majority of the population. This obviously
alienated people as they felt they could not aid in any practical way.

Though the Dublin Bin Tax campaign has effectively collapsed it
was a very different campaign, with some local communities having
direct participation. This was because the issues were presented to
people in the context that they had a direct material interest in the
campaign winning. The argument was simple and presented in
common language; you didn't need to be an expert in commerce to
participate.
The Future

Libertarian activists can no longer approach the issue of the
environment as something we lament as an unfortunate victim of
capitalism. The destruction of the environment is intrinsically linked
to the development of capitalism and the oppression of the poor.
This destruction is also having huge ramifications on local
communities.

Environmental campaigns, which present the issue of the
environment as something removed from communities, can no
longer suffice. A strategy such as that applied during the Bin Tax is
necessary. We must question the social consequences of
environmental destruction. The approach of many campaigns,
regardless of intention, where single issues, such as archaeology, are
put forward as primary are too similar to the government's agenda.
They sideline local people in favour of individuals personal interests.

The Bin Tax illustrated the power of a social analysis on
environmental struggles. It gave more people an interest in the issue.
This is not to say that issues such as waste management or nature
should be sidelined. These issues are complementary to a social
analysis but the most important issue is the impact on the lives of
ordinary people, as issue too often sidelined by campaigns.

The success of this strategy is now being seen at the Corrib Gas
Campaign. In Mayo, Shell is trying to build a potentially highly
dangerous pipeline. The local campaign with the support of activists
from elsewhere has concentrated on the issue of safety and then
brought other issues into the struggle such as water pollution, death
of wildlife and visible beauty. This campaign, which has seen five
local people imprisoned, has by no means won but it has currently
forced Shell to withdraw for several months. The campaign as a local
lead campaign has raised local safety issues unlike the campaigns
which concentrate on archaeology history or nature.

A crucial issue to raise is why environmental campaigns which focus
on individual interests are like this. They are often criticised from the
sidelines because they do not incorporate class politics. However, if
archaeologists initiate the campaign it will inevitably be based
around an archaeological analysis. We should not disregard their
campaign but rather work in tandem with them where possible.

This said, it is also important that in certain cases we must realise
our differences, for example, I think it's impossible for class struggle
libertarian communists to work with primitivists on issues like road
or development because our points of view are so far apart. Our
working together will only heighten tension and weaken campaigns.

Activists in Ireland still lack involvement in what are seen as more
directly environmental issues, such as road projects. There is
certainly a trend within anarchism influenced by 'deep ecology' that
opposes all roads and development. We do not oppose all road
development but we should certainly take issue with many of the
current proposals where profit is all and community is nothing.
Instead we should support sustainable development such as the
plans suggested for the M1, M2 and M3 to be replaced by a single
motorway with link roads to the major towns. These also
incorporated reopening a disused railway that runs almost exactly
down the route of these motorways.

The case of the M3 illustrates classically how our analysis could
succeed. The M3 is a motorway to nowhere, serving little purpose
and will partially destroy one of Ireland's and indeed north-western
Europe's most important prehistoric sites - Tara. The motorway is
supposedly being built to alleviate traffic for commuters to Dublin
from the major towns on the route - Dunshaughlin, Clonee, Kells.
The support for the motorway in some of the local towns is naturally
quite high. People in the area have been told continuously that this
road will solve all the congestion problems. The motorway will
however only feed the commuters to a huge traffic jam where this
motorway will meet the ring motorway around Dublin, the M50.

At the moment the campaign is being fought over the historically
and archaeologically rich valley of Tara- Skryne. That the campaign
against the current route has focused on the archaeological
significance of the sites to be destroyed in many ways shows equal
disregard for the people of Kells, Dunshaughlin and Clonee (the
towns most effected by the traffic congestion). It's only when the
campaign spokespeople are accused of holding up progress that they
challenge the need and practicality of the motorway.

This approach along with an over-concentration on legal cases
alienates the most crucial people whose support is needed to win
these cases - the local communities.

The arguments being made by the campaign are largely academic
and risk alienating those without the time and money to buy and
read archaeology texts. The government are prepared to change the
law, as illustrated at Carrickmines, should they lose any legal
challenges.

There is a danger that once the campaign reaches that stage it will
have alienated a majority of the local support needed to mount a
serious challenge to the motorway. This campaign may well lose in a
similar fashion to the way Carrickmines and the Glen of the Downs
lost where a relatively small group of activists try to face down the
State and the courts through direct action.

However if the campaign were to follow the example of the Mayo
pipeline campaign and concentrate on local people rather than the
special interest of a minority (which, although I hate to admit it,
archaeology is) the campaign could succeed.

Many people of Dunshaughlin and Clonee are now turning to the
only people who are claiming to have their interests at heart - the
National Roads Authority (N.R.A.) and the government. They have
not been told the reality of the motorway, which is that it is really
only a faster way to get people to a super traffic-jam.

Undoubtedly there are going to be more environmental struggles in
Ireland in the next few years. The approach to the Bin Tax was very
positive in many respects. People are perhaps in a strong position to
fight issues like the attempt to implement a water tax in Dublin. We
have seen mistakes but more importantly we have also seen a
working example of how people taking real direct action can really
threaten the power of the State.

They have been parts of a working model of how communities can
take on the power of the state. Crucially these are past examples of
how we can engage the issues around environmentalism. Activists
must, however, broaden our horizons and tackle issues like the
National Development Plan, whilst working with special interest
campaigns where possible.

This article is not an attempt to be a pejorative statement from a
class struggle point of view; there is a lot to be learnt on our part
from these campaigns. Primarily the heritage based activists who
took on the authorities at Carrickmines and the ecologists at the
Glen of the Downs were doing something we failed at - taking on the
issue of the environment. The campaign at Carrickmines, which I
was directly involved in, felt resentment at the time due to the lack of
participation and even interest from organised political left-wing
groups.

Individuals at the Glen of the Downs felt a similar resentment at the
fact that left-wing political parties used them at the time when the
campaign became high profile. Without help from other groups they
concentrated on what they knew best - at Carrickmines it was
archaeology. In this they were undoubtedly right - they fought the
campaign on their ground. The point I am making is that
archaeologists will do what they do best, as will ecologists. If class
struggle activists feel we have a better approach and analysis then we
must act on it.

The issues of the environment should not be dismissed, but the
preservation of trees or heritage is unlikely to be the main priority of
people who spend up to four hours getting to and from work. But
both sets of issues are crucial to us and should not be mutually
exclusive with sustainable development.

by Sean Mallory
--------------------------------------------
This article is from Red & Black Revolution
(no 10, Autumn 2005) http://struggle.ws/wsm/rbr/rbr10/index.html

Read more articles from this issue
http://struggle.ws/wsm/rbr/rbr10/index.html

Print out a PDF file of Issue 10
http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/rbr/rbr10.html

Back issues of Red and Black Revolution
http://struggle.ws/wsm/rbr.html#Back
====================================
* WSM is an anarchist federation
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