is hardly the eighth wonder of the world to find Eamonn
McCann in Sandino's Bar in Derry when it is playing
host to a radical event as it frequently does. And
on Monday last, the energetic Derry man was there
to express concern and solidarity for trade unionists
being murdered by Coca Cola in Colombia. Having watched
the two suits that lead the North's nationalist parties
on the Politics Show on Sunday, it is invigorating
to engage with McCann's politics and forget what looked
like a verbal joust between two boring Belgian businessmen
- easily enough forgotten. Catholic nationalism no
more appeals to me today than it did while I was in
the H-Blocks and then we denounced it. Redmondite
traitors I think is the term we used. And today it
mouths the same bland nothingness now as it did then
even if the faces have changed a lot - different singer
Sundays Observer Darragh MacIntyre made
the point that 'while many of his erstwhile comrades
from the civil rights days have swapped their jeans
for tailored suits, their scarves for silk ties, McCann
is attired in black wrangler jacket and matching jeans.'
Pretty much as he was when I met up with him in Derry,
where he is contesting one of the six seats in the
Foyle Constituency. After we both had listened to
Luiz Eduardo Garcia outline the horrors of life under
the regime of Coca Cola, we shared a table in a thankfully
vacated room. I was fortunate to catch him. He had
set aside a slot for me in between the talk by Luiz
and the door rapping which would conclude his day
as he set out in search of those who would be willing
to make something of their vote and cast it for a
candidate who stood for issues that were really different;
a political activist rather than a career politician
who is 'out to disturb the unionist-nationalist consensus
which sees the interests of society and of big business
as the same.' At a time when there is a discursive
sameness about the establishment parties on economic
matters, McCann makes you sit up and listen. Here
seems someone who has not been charmed by what Fred
Cobain called a middle class government for the middle
classes. A minimum wage of £7 an hour - how
would that go down in some businesses that prey on
our community where the maximum wage may be £2
eyes on the tussle in the Foyle constituency will
lock on the battle between the two strands of Catholic
nationalism. The SDLP hold three seats and Sinn Fein
two. If electoral newcomer, Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney
were to have been the first man alive in place of
Adam the world would not know original sin because
Raymond is wholly innocent of an original idea. But
with the party ticket clasped firmly in his hand he
is, in the view of many observers, well placed to
take a third seat for Sinn Fein, ostensibly at the
expense of the SDLP, but in real terms at the expense
of a radical project.
such a project is the business of Eamonn McCann. In
1970 he stood as a Derry Labour Party candidate in
the June Westminster election which produced the disastrous
Heath government and the following month the Falls
Curfew. By the time the miners dispatched Heath, Maudling,
Whitelaw and Pym four years later the damage had been
done. The Wilson government proved no better. 33 years
on McCann now sports the unmistakably red colours
of the Socialist Environmental Alliance. Unlike those
whom it is pitted against SEA 'have no premises and
haven't a penny.' Although they have since managed
to get 'an office' for a three week stay. And penury
has forced it to scale down its printing plans, leaving
it at a disadvantage to other parties. 'We're skint
- can't print' may be a catchy election slogan but
it disables a useful medium for conveying an important
message. Although regarded as a man carved from flinty
ideological rock, Eamonn McCann is quite capable of
making his pitch in 'common sense' terms. In this
election the communal issues are there but:
cannot solve the communal problems if you set out
in the first instance to solve the communal problems
only. If your sole focus is on the line of communal
conflict, you cannot eradicate that line as the
main basis for politics. This isn' t a matter of
ideology, but of common sense.
he has a sense of the wider world not shared by his
fellow candidates. Most of them seem to think that
George Bush was elected with a mandate solely to listen
to them talk about the North. So wrapped up in the
place are they that they deluded themselves into thinking
Bush came to Hillsborough this year to hear what they
had to say rather than to use their subservience to
legitimise his war on Iraq. McCann was under no such
illusion - for this reason he was outside Hillsborough
lambasting those inside and those who the following
day would come to worship at the altar of US militarism.
'We wouldn't have taken George Bush's hand at Hillsborough
except to twist it up his back and run him out the
door.' He points out that Sinn Fein, the SDLP and
Women's Coalition abused their electoral mandate to
go to Hillsborough to give cover to Bush and Blair.
of them claimed they would go in and use it to express
their opposition to the war. But Sir Peter Stothard
the former editor of the Times who accompanied Blair
for a thirty-day stint including Hillsborough wrote
a book about that period. In it he said that Bush
lined all these parties up in a horseshoe formation
and proceeded to lecture them on the need for the
war. Stothard made no mention of as much as a mute
being raised in opposition.
SEA is without equivocation a class party. It stands
opposed to the Programme for Government agreed by
the centre right administration at Stormont which
was 'centred on a curb on public spending, private
finance in schools and hospitals, and lower taxes
on business.' Nor has SEA any qualms about urging
'tax the rich to pay for public services.'
will campaign for the rights of women, including
the Right to Choose. We want to galvanise opposition
to sexism, sectarianism, racism, homophobia, and
discrimination against people with disabilities
or on grounds of age. When we use the word ' equality'
we don' t just mean Catholics and Protestants having
equal shares of scarce resources. If elected, we
will accept only the average industrial wage. Our
aim is a socially just and ecologically sustainable
world from which exploitation and oppression have
been cleansed, in which there is peace, and where
the common people are defended from hatred, want
and the abuse of power.
why stand now after a 33 year unbroken run unsullied
by the electoral fray?
was because I wanted a socialist candidate to enter
the field. Over the past five years it has weighed
on me more and more that to be anti-imperialist
you need to be anti-capitalist and anti-war. All
my political life I have wanted to see the Brits
out as part of anti-imperialism. We no longer have
a Brits Out party - it is now all down to an equality
agenda and maximising representation within the
existing constitutional arrangement.
while republicans in the North have settled up for
an internal solution, there is little point in looking
South for a shoulder to the wheel. For McCann the
Southern state rightly sees itself as fully integrated
into the world capitalist system - the terms of debate
seem to evolve around whether Dublin is closer ideologically
to Berlin or Boston. 'No one in the ruling class is
asking for a united Ireland to complete their bourgeois
we have failed miserably to get the Brits out and
are enthusiastically doing the bidding of the British
chancellor by spending what he permits us; a united
Ireland is as far off as ever - but is the critique
waged by the SEA not phrased in the old language of
a redundant class politics paradigm? Not so seemingly.
McCann speaks passionately about the haves and have-nots
in a society where inequality and poverty is increasing.
The most casual glance at the produce of CORI, St
Vincent de Paul or Combat Poverty - hardly Bolshevik
bodies - is enough to suggest that wealth production
works for the betterment of the wealthy. And we need
only look around our own streets to see the 'great'
difference that the political class tells us the Good
Friday Agreement has ushered in - it is great for
themselves and for those who benefit from the patronage
industry they have constructed. For the majority of
people, the absence of a visible presence of RUC on
the rubbish strewn streets is the main difference.
SEA is motivated by class, how does it stand in relation
to the Protestant working class? McCann rejects the
old timeless notion so beloved by many wooden Marxists
that Protestant workers continue to be bought off
by imperialism. 'We have a convergence of disadvantage.'
Why then are Protestant workers still loyal to Britain?
one is arguing within the unionist community for anything
about the PUP - their party political broadcast seemed
to be the only one that appeared to be immersed in
issues of class?
Eddie Kinner sprang up in the 1990s and gave a radio
interview in which he put forward a left perspective
he generated a lot of interest. Kinner gave out
yards on the deprivation that existed on the Shankill
and he spoke of the betrayal of the Protestant working
class. Now we have the ideological collapse of the
PUP with Ervine saying defend the union before everything
else. Take the PUP in Derry who are shouting that
all Protestants should unite against the name of
the city being changed. If you defend the Protestant
working class solely then you have to support them
against the Catholic working class and widen the
fissure between them. Now the PUP possibly stand
to lose both seats.
concedes that there is one similarity between SEA
and the PUP. 'Our demand for the extension of the
1967 Abortion Act to the North is supported by the
PUP. Apart from ourselves they are the only other
party who support such a position.'
if elected what would he register as? McCann is as
rapid in his response as he is unequivocal. 'Other.'
But is being neither Unionist nor nationalist not
going to convey that SEA is neutral in the sense that
Alliance purports to be?
I do not hesitate to speak about the Brits on Bloody
Sunday. You do not tone this down in order to be
socialist. You need to stand up to the state - that
is what socialists do. There is no solution to poverty
and oppression in the Catholic working class that
at the same time would not be a solution to poverty
and oppression in Protestant areas.
an eye of SEA's election manifesto, which is unmistakably
and unapologetically situated in a robust leftist
genre, I suggested that the legalisation of cannabis
demand would curb his ability to secure a higher vote.
Again the logic was clear and delivered unhesitatingly.
'It is the only way to take it out of the hands of
paramilitary gangsters.' Can the police not do this
without legalising Cannabis? - I tossed in just to
stoke the embers. Here McCann reached his most animated
point of the evening and in the course of doing so
did not bother taking up my point about Cannabis.
police are the police of the ruling class and we
will not be supporting it. The real problem is that
other parties are calling for people to join the
police. Socialists, whether they are in Spain, France,
Germany, UK or the US should not be telling people
to join the police. We must police the police.
irony of the stated intention of one time radical
political activists, now turned politicians, to have
young people from the Bog and Creggan working as cops
is that working class communities throughout the world
rarely serve as an employment pool for the cops. How
the mouths of counter insurgency strategists must
water when they cast their gaze over this conflict,
so rich in lessons for those seeking to suffocate
insurrection. Being defeated is one thing but seeking
to join those who inflicted the defeat is something
else; a real gem to be contemplated for decades to
come by those intent on quelling protest and resistance
against Sinn Fein in a city which the party must think
is theirs for the taking now that John Hume has departed
the scene, what chance does a socialist have offering
an alternative that is so far removed from the daily
intake of nonsense that it is almost certain to be
rejected? Again the response is more nuanced than
that often put forward by the Left. Eamonn McCann accepts
that Sinn Fein is a constitutional nationalist party
'but there are lots in it - and I see them every day
- who are instinctively left wing. But the path the
party has chosen can only lead them to the right.'
The logic of SEA's position would seem to be that
not all in Sinn Fein are totally divorced from the
idea of a socialist project and that by keeping socialist
ideas in the ring no matter how battered they become
as a result of an ideological onslaught from capital,
the socialist project cannot be put to rest by those
who worship the free market. Seemingly, the logic
of socialist ideas will put itself up to those socialists
still left in Sinn Fein: continue in a party that
is as socialist as Blair's Labour or look elsewhere.
would be his first act as a Stomont MLA - presumably
not follow the rest and award himself a wage rise?
'Ban Coca Cola.' But does he see himself getting there?
McCann is nobody's fool and does not delude himself
or his supporters that it is just a matter of turning
up to the election count to hear victory pronounced.
Nor is he into giving his listeners the standard guff
that seems obligatory for election candidates.
don't expect to take a seat. But this campaign helps
raise the profile of the left. I would like to see
it moving us in the direction of producing a single
left candidate for the European election which takes
place next June. If we can manage that we could
perhaps pull 40,000 votes. That would not be enough
to take a seat in Europe but it would announce that
a new kid had arrived on the block.
then, he was off on the election trail. Speaking with
a Belfast republican tonight who spoils his vote -
as I shall my own - he lamented the fact that McCann's
constituency is restricted to the North West otherwise
he would give him his vote. It was a sentiment I shared.
Surveying what is on offer to us in West Belfast,
my ballot paper will be marked with a £ sign
inside a circle. A simple way of registering opposition
to the fact that radicalism has degenerated into the
politics of the pound. They all have their price.
Eamonn McCann hasn't.
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