The Peadar O’Donnell Forum in Belfast

The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum has held another successful weekend political school, this time in Belfast, from the 22nd to the 24th of September.

The weekend opened with a public meeting on “Brexit and the Irish working class.” Brexit has split much of the left and sections of the republican movement.

The speakers were Gerry Carroll, elected MLA for West Belfast, Patricia McKenna, former Green Party MEP, and Jimmy Doran, Dublin District chairperson, CPI.

Gerry Carroll outlined why the People Before Profit alliance supported the Leave campaign and why people, and in particular workers, need to mobilise to push forward their demands as negotiations get under way.

Patricia McKenna, who was elected to the EU Parliament for two terms, drew upon her knowledge and experience of the EU and its institutions. She stated that it was simply not possible to reform the EU, to “challenge it from within.” Policies and goals are determined by the treaties already adopted, and it would need the consent of the other member-states to change anything. What has been created is in fact a blocking minority.

Jimmy Doran drew attention to the class nature of the EU, to the role of powerful employers’ institutions, to the imperialist nature of the EU itself and the fact that it is part of the global apparatus of capitalist domination of countries and people. He also stressed the importance of an Irish withdrawal and of opposition to any hard border imposed on the Irish people by the EU and the British government.

Saturday opened with a talk on imperialism, its nature and how it developed, given by a member of the CPI. It was pointed out that imperialism is not just old-fashioned colonialism but is a qualitatively new development, a consequence of the concentration and monopolisation developed for capitalism itself as an economic system. This session, like the others, was followed by workshops, with participants breaking up into smaller groups to discuss the topic in more depth.

The second session was on workers’ rights in the European Union. Mel Corry spoke, and the session was chaired by Ernest Walker. Mel outlined the role of the EU regarding the attacks on workers’ rights, and pointed out that many of the rights secured by workers were won at the national level after a long struggle and bitter industrial disputes. Nothing has ever been given to workers, only what they fought for themselves.

The scope broadened out to discuss the role of trade unions, particularly in the north of Ireland, and how socialists and republicans need to be involved in them. Some of those at the Forum offered the view that trade unions needed to allow space for people to express views regarding national unity; it was felt that not allowing political opinions to be expressed closed trade unions off from a large section of the population. It also gives the impression that the constitutional status quo was a fixed position for trade unions.

On Saturday afternoon there was a presentation on “Poverty, austerity and class struggle” by Dessie Donnelly (PPI), chaired by Lynda Walker. The speaker outlined the strategy of his organisations for building people-led campaigns against attacks on welfare, such as housing benefits. They took a more direct-action approach, exposing the anti-people ideology and the hostility of the state towards working people.

The final session of the day was a presentation on “Where does class and state power rest in the north of Ireland in the aftermath of the Belfast Agreement?” The speaker was Tommy McKearney, a member of the Steering Committee of the Forum. He outlined the class nature of power in our society. Despite many changes—for the most part cosmetic—there is a growing sectarian element in politics, some of it arising directly from the institutional structures brought about by the Belfast Agreement. Real power, and in particular state power, remains firmly in the hands of the British ruling class.

The final event of the weekend was a public meeting on the Sunday morning dealing with Venezuela. The theme was “Defending Venezuela.” There was a presentation by Marcos José García Figueredo, first secretary of the Venezuelan embassy in London, and the meeting was chaired by Seán Edwards, who had just returned from Caracas, having attended an international conference of solidarity with the people of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan speaker outlined the present difficult situation in the country and especially the destabilising role that the United States is playing, in alliance with the right-wing opposition. He stressed the importance of the National Constituent Assembly and how the elections had galvanised millions of working people.

This event was organised to show that anti-imperialism does not stop at one’s own border, and how essential anti-imperialism is for working people and all those struggling to build a new society and oppose exploitation.

This Forum weekend showed the importance of these gatherings, bringing diverse forces together to share experiences. While there is still a certain reluctance to engage among some republicans and left elements, nevertheless what has been achieved so far has proved very useful. The Forum continues to provide a space for republicans and socialists to come together for discussion and debate.