On May 25th an unarmed black man named George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minneapolis, US. The video of his death is both deeply upsetting and infuriating, and is also not uncommon. In the US, black people are killed at more than twice the rate of white people. Institutional racism, as well as poverty, unemployment and deprivation are rampant in working class black communities.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, massive protests involving both black and white people have taken place in all 50 states in the US, many of them going on for days, under the broad Black Lives Matter banner. In Washington, 200,000 people took to the streets. There has been a brutal response in many areas, encouraged by President Donald Trump. This has further exposed the role of the police and the state against protesters. The same heavy handed approach did not apply to the right wing “Re-open the economy” protesters who took to the street only weeks previously, wanting to remove Covid-19 restrictions.
These protests take place in the immediate aftermath of the murders of a black woman Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in an unannounced raid on her house by plain clothed police in March and of Ahmaud Arbery, another black man, who was chased and murdered by 2 men, one of whom was a former police officer.
The police must be held to account by the communities they represent, including the trade unions and young people. Any investigations against the police must be independently done by those committees. We cannot expect a serious investigation into any allegations to be done by the very institutions that are responsible for them in the first place.
The anti-racist movement also must be viewed in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic which is both an economic and a health crisis. Due to decades of discrimination black people are disproportionately represented in the working class and working class people have been hit hardest by the Coronavirus, and are also more likely to be unemployed because of the pandemic. Both systematic racism and the widening of inequality play a role in the radicalisation we’ve seen through the Black Lives Matter Movement. The movement must take up the wider issues of inequality, poverty and oppression.
Anger at systematic racism, police brutality and poverty didn’t stop in the US, with protests taking place all over the world- in London an estimated 100,000 people marched in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Hundreds protested in Belfast, thousands in Dublin and all across the country there have been localised protests. Unfortunately, there have been some serious attacks made on the right to protest, under the guise of public health concerns. We take public health extremely seriously, but protests can and must continue and organisers should encourage the wearing of masks, sanitisation and social distancing. There have been investigations launched into organisers of protests north and south, and with special legislation passed by Stormont only hours before, protesters were fined in Belfast and Derry. Young people organising protests were contacted by the police and intimidated and pressured into cancelling them. Councillors on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, including Militant Left member Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh, were sent an email warning that the Black Lives Matter protests were potentially unlawful – suggesting a potential threat to remove them from office under the highly restrictive code of conduct! This warning was disregarded.
Young Socialists also came under pressure from the police in Balbriggan after calling a protest in the area. Balbriggan has one of the youngest populations in Ireland, and is also very multicultural. We felt it was necessary to proceed with the protest, which was attended by up to 100 working class young people, nearly exclusively from the general area.
Far right campaigners Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters were organising mass gatherings and protests across the country following their court challenge to the legality of the lock down at the very height of the Coronavirus restrictions, and haven’t received the same level of state repression as the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.
We also went to a protest in Drogheda, organised by local black youth that was attended by an estimated 300 people, nearly all young and working class. The protest was extremely enthusiastic and vibrant, with one speaker saying that he was not willing to accept being treated in a racist manner in the same way his parents were, and another young woman quoting Angela Davis, of the Black Panthers- “I’m no longer accepting the things I can’t change, I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” Unfortunately, there was brutal racist abuse hurled at these young people on Twitter following the protest, including numerous videos being circulated that were actually from months ago, and some not even in Drogheda. There is clearly a cohort of people who must be challenged on their backward racist ideology, but it stands in stark contrast to the young people standing up against racism, overwhelmingly supported by their peers.
The movement against racism has forced Irish people, not only to stand in solidarity with protesters in the US, but to look at our own country too. Direct provision, how the government houses asylum seekers, is a for profit business in reality, where its residents are expected to live off €38.80 a week, in entirely inadequate conditions, often for years, and can still be deported back to the country they left. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil recently that direct provision is “not the same as a man being killed by the police.” This is true, but it is certainly a product of the same inherently racist society that facilitated the murder of George Floyd. Asylum seekers should be provided with an income that’s actually possible to live on, security, decent housing and the ability to work in a way that actually assists them instead of trying to profit of their misfortune.
The travelling community are also an extremely discriminated against minority in Ireland that are pushed into the outskirts of society. A number of traveller organisations released a joint statement condemning the murder of George Floyd and called for an end to all discrimination and racism in Ireland. They pointed as well to the discrimination faced by travellers and called on the coming government to tackle these issues. Unemployment figures are at 85% in the travelling community, suicide rates are astronomical and recent data also shows that more than 1,000 traveller families are living in unsafe housing conditions. Discrimination against travellers is often wheeled out in order to divide the working class.
Police brutality and racism in the police force in Ireland must be addressed. Just because people aren’t being murdered by the police on a regular basis doesn’t mean there aren’t racist attitudes, racial profiling and the experience of unnecessary force or violence- particularly toward young people.
We say that the Black Lives Matter movement here in Ireland must provide full solidarity with the movement in the US, but also take up issues of institutional racism and brutality here in Ireland. We must challenge racism among our own peers too and provide a practical alternative to racist ideas that are consciously used to divide us. We reject the racist narratives put forward, and call for a united working class movement against racism that can fight for jobs, homes and a better life for all of us.
The trade unions should give a lead in the anti-racist movement. They are the biggest organisation of the working class, and can be a powerful tool in uniting workers through struggle for better jobs and conditions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it became clear that it was the low paid workers like health care workers, shop assistants, delivery drivers that actually keep society running. If unionised workers were organised in a campaign and could take co-ordinated strike action against racism it would make huge gains for the movement. In the US, transport workers have refused to transport police to the protests and other workers have taken strike action to protest against racism. Imagine the impact that would make if done on a large scale by the trade unions! Militant Left trade unionists have been raising anti-racist struggles within the unions, and are pushing to pass anti –racist motions through different branches. Trade unions must come out fighting with a strong position on this issue.
Fred Hampton of the Black Panther party said “We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.” Young Socialists believe that the only way to fully defeat racism, as well as all other forms of oppression and inequality is by fighting for a socialist future. The current capitalist system depends on and encourages divisions and discrimination. We want a world in the interests of the working class, regardless of race.
Young Socialists are the young members of Militant Left. We want to build an organisation of like-minded young people to organise and struggle against racism and oppression, for jobs and housing, and all the issues that affect us as young working class people. We want to fight for a socialist society, and to overthrow capitalism. The establishment politicians are organised, the police forces are organised, the far right are organised- we must be organised too.