Saturday, 27 August 2016

The bells of Rhymney...

Just following up the history of Pete Seeger's 1958 song The Bells of Rhymney, familiar to many from the Byrds' 1965 version. The lyrics are by Rhymney poet Idris Davies, from Gwalia Deserta. Davies was a miner's son and worked in the pit for 7 years before an accident, the General Strike and the pit closing propelled him into becoming a teacher and a poet.

The lyrics are often taken as speaking for themselves but as so often the locations carry a lot of meaning, as comments here point out:

"As to the bells themselves the bells of Brecon and Wye are off the s Wales coalfield, which meant that they could be happy without the mass unemployment endured by the coalfield to the south. Neath is in the anthracite coalfield of s Wales, which didn't experience the depression of the 20s and 30s so severely. Caerphilly is just off the coalfield. Many miners from Merthyr and Rhymney traveled to pits in the Neath valley at that time. At this time the British government was talking of closing down Merthyr and transporting the people to England- hence the brown bells."

"As for the phrase "Throw the vandals in court" this isn't a reference to the coal owners. Because this cry came from Newport an area which suffered less unemployment in the 1920s than the south Wales coalfield, the cry to put the vandals in court refers to the militant miners of 1926, as they were seen as vandals who refused work and created social disturbance. From Swansea onwards Idris Davies is portraying the social unease felt by the more prosperous areas towards the south Wales miners."

The bells aren't agreeing with each other, they are voices in conflict (though Davies might also have been remembering the uprising of the Newport Chartists a century before). Here's the original poem (the song cuts the Brecon line in order to repeat the Rhymney line as chorus):

Gwalia Deserta XV
O what can you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.
Who made the mineowner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.
And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina.
They will plunder willy-nilly,
Say the bells of Caerphilly.
They have fangs, they have teeth
Shout the loud bells of Neath.
To the south, things are sullen,
Say the pink bells of Brecon.
Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.
Put the vandals in court
Cry the bells of Newport.
All would be well if — if — if —
Say the green bells of Cardiff.
Why so worried, sisters, why
Sing the silver bells of Wye.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Hope in the dark

Just finished reading the updated edition of Rebecca Solnit's short book Hope in the Dark. It's not perfect - a bit US-centric and oddly hostile to the word "left" for someone who is so positive about the Zapatistas, desde el abajo y a la izquierda - but still a great antidote to the politics of radical despair. A good essay of hers linked to the book is free online here:

"We write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision. And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both."

Friday, 15 July 2016

Keeping going in hard times

Sound advice from Harry Giles here on how to keep going when you're feeling terrible about politics.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Student funding - the "hard decisions"

The fix is well and truly in. Although the Cassells report - produced by someone whose state-imposed attempts at "mediation" in Rossport took the state's view so much for granted that the counter-forum is still an annual fixture there - supposedly presented 3 options, it is no secret that the preferred option is student loans.

This preference has been clear for several years reading the barely-literate stuff that passes for commentary on the part of mainstream journalists, academic managers and "policy experts" - writing which would barely pass if submitted as first-year essays, so much is assumed rather than argued and so little research is actually involved. The "hard decisions", we are told, involve accepting that student loans are the only possible way forward to fund the Irish education system, because the money isn't there to do anything different.

As Allen Ginsberg asked, "What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?" Being part of the Irish elite, of course - the only people who think that student loans are the best thing since dance hall music.

Let's have a quick look at the Dickie Rock of 3rd level education policy.

The US now has a total student debt of $1.2 trillion (yes, trillion), second only to mortgages in terms of consumer debt and a real brake on purchases of things like houses and cars that drive growth in mainstream models. About 1/4 of these are “in delinquency or default”. Here’s a non-radical take on the scale of the problem: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/americas-growing-student-loan-debt-crisis-2016-01-15
 
In Britain, 3/4 of students are unable to pay off their loans and the combination of student debt writeoffs plus net lending is close to equalling the entire 3rd level budget. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/student-debt-to-cost-britain-billions-within-decades-9970340.html

If ever there was a case of ideology-driven policy, student loans are it: they don't even work in the neoliberal terms they are supposed to. But - as with mortgages - the idea of creating a vast, "subprime" bubble of bad debts will no doubt offer some wonderful new money-making opportunities: in debt collection maybe.

Also in neoliberal terms: what those individual rationalists are likely to do, once graduated and faced with huge debt burdens, is to leave the country and take their education elsewhere. As already happens in other countries.

Notably, the pundits and experts involved in discussing all this have consistently called on US and UK "experts" - as with Irish Water, the people involved in making money from these failed systems - rather than asking people from the majority of European states (including many which are no better off than Ireland) where education is free or fees are lower than here: see e.g. https://www.studyineurope.eu/tuition-fees.

Various "concerned parties" used to wheel out the argument that because 3rd level education is classed (though far higher proportions of Irish young people go to college than in many western states, including our nearest neighbour, and we have relatively good proportions of mature students) it is iniquitous to put money towards it as against primary and secondary - a bit like arguing that you shouldn’t fund A&E departments because cancer and heart attacks is what will carry most of us off – but sounds clever when proposed in the student bar.

Incidentally whatever the payment model, 3rd level education is still massively subsidised by the state (as it should be). The real cost, at least as calculated for non-EU students (which it shouldn’t be but that is another story) is around 12 – 13k per annum. So all of this ideology is about the idea of paying for state services - most Fine Gael voters couldn't afford to send their little Johnnys and Marys to college if they had to pay its actual cost on a retail basis, but the idea of something just expensive enough to deter the plebs from doing so is pretty attractive.

Back to "hard decisions", though: the real hard decisions would have been not to guarantee private banks. Or to burn the bondholders. Or to refuse to go down the road of the farce that is Irish Water. Or for that matter not to waste state money fighting a case to enable multinationals not to pay the tax they should. Or not to hand over our natural resources to a different bunch of multinationals. Or, who knows, to raise taxes in a progressive way (ie asking the rich to pay more) rather than introducing one regressive tax after another.

Spot the difference? The "hard decisions" for right-wing hacks are those which come at the cost of ordinary people (and are "hard" because they might bump into that little problem of democracy). The ones they would actually find hard are the ones that might involve standing up to wealth and power. Those "hard decisions" are not on the table, and not to be found in the opinion columns.

Meanwhile, students continue to pay the price, as do teachers. Which is just as well for the opinionistas - the last thing they want is a population that knows how to think, and read, for themselves. People who might notice that this particular emperor has no clothes.

Laurence Cox



Sunday, 10 July 2016

Marx-Engels Collected Works at Maynooth




The Dept of Sociology at Maynooth, together with the Depts of English and Anthropology, has just purchased the new electronic edition of the Marx and Engels Collected Works (in English) for the Maynooth library. Originally published by Lawrence and Wishart from 1977 – 2005, these 50 volumes constitute the largest available collection of translations of Marx and Engels. Covering the period from 1835 – 1895, the collection includes all their major theoretical, political and historical works, their journalistic writings and several volumes of correspondence. Overviews of the contents are available here and here. The electronic edition is fully searchable, an important step forward in relation to Marx and Engels’ voluminous and complex work. 

The founder of the German SPD, Wilhelm Liebknecht, recalled:
Marx went (to the British Museum library) daily and he urged us to go too. Study! Study!  That was the categoric injunction that we heard often enough from him. Marx was a stern teacher – he not only urged us to study, he made sure that we did so. 

Dr Eamonn Slater of the Dept of Sociology comments: “With this magnificent new electronic resource we here in Maynooth are provided with an amazing opportunity to study how Marx and Engels studied the real world, not just to interpret that world but crucially to change it.”



Maynooth staff and students can access this collection in various ways, including this link, the “eBooks and eJournals“ page or Project Muse’s site (from outside Maynooth you have to log in for off-campus access first.) The complete text can be searched using the “Search inside this series” box.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Water charges discussion at SAI plenary

The plenary discussion at this year's Sociology Association of Ireland conference was on water charges protests, with Rory Hearne, Mary Murphy, Laurence Cox and Niamh Gaynor. The soundcloud from the session can be heard here (about 90 minutes).

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Deadline for internal postgrad funding applications: June 1st

The deadline for applying for internal funding for taught MAs is June 1st. This site has details of the sixty €2,000 taught MA scholarships and the €5,000 alumni scholarships (for Maynooth graduates and currently-graduating students). For full details on fees and funding see this post.

All about the course here and what's been happening recently here.

If there was ever a time to get strategic about changing the world, surely now is the time...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

"We Make Our Own History" half price, reviews, debate

Radical publishers Pluto Press have put all their books on half price until May 9th, via this page. That includes We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism, by CEESA's Laurence Cox with Alf Nilsen. We Make Our Own History just got some very striking reviews from Bill Carroll in Socialist Studies and Chris Gunderson in Interface. An older list of reviews and podcasts is online here.

The recent discussion in Connolly Books with John Bissett, Margaret Gillan, Andrew Flood and Fergal Finnegan is online here (audio). In mid-May the book will be the subject of a plenary session at the Sociological Association of Ireland with Colin Coulter, Marie Moran and Fergal Finnegan again.

Monday, 11 April 2016

MA CEESA - a masterclass in changing the world

 

Around the world today, movements and communities are making history – or trying to.  Austerity is being challenged across Europe.  Elsewhere massive popular movements are challenging the powerful:  from Latin America and Hong Kong to Turkey and US cities. In Ireland, struggles around water charges, fracking, abortion rights and direct provision are shaking the old certainties that “there is no alternative” to neoliberalism, that being co-opted by  state institutions is the only game in town, that communities are powerless, that we are condemned to an endless rerun of the same party politics.

The need for change is huge and the outcome is still all to play for. We see seemingly unstoppable movements squashed - and seemingly hopeless ideas winning against all the odds. Movements seem to come out of nowhere and shake the powers that be – but then it can be hard to see a way forward. What makes the difference, and how can our movements really change the world?

Are you
-        Active in political and social justice struggles?

-        Committed to community activism but frustrated by the co-option of the sector?

-        Fighting to preserve radical education in a seemingly cold environment?

-        Politically minded but don’t know how to turn that into an effective and radical practice?

-        Involved in NGO or trade union activism but feel constrained by structures?

-        Committed to a more equal and just society but unsure how to build on this commitment?

-        Interested in spending a year with experienced activists and community educators?

The Masters in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism (CEESA) at Maynooth responds to the crisis as we learn from each other’s struggles in dialogue between different movements, different communities and different generations. The course is not tied to any single movement and participants come from many different communities and countries. Some are experienced activists who want to go back to education; others are people who are just getting involved in movements. 
This lively mixture of ages, backgrounds, experiences and questions is an integral part of what makes the course so rewarding. Together we are building a diverse network of movement activists, radical educators and campaigners for equality and creating new alliances for change. See the video at http://tinyurl.com/ceesavideo

The course team are experienced practitioners and engaged researchers working on equality, radical education and movement struggles. The course combines political strategy, bottom-up organising methods and social analysis with a wide range of learning and research approaches.  Its focus is on “useful” knowledge for change and encompasses a practical but radical look at the issues facing movements today. We don’t just learn within the classroom: we organise joint events with a huge range of community groups and social movements in Ireland as well as running events with international activists like Hilary Wainwright, John Holloway, Selma James, Ian Manborde, Jane McAlevey, Eurig Scandrett, Rhetta Moran, Firoze Manji, John Krinsky…

Often we are told we have to choose between our politics and “real life”. This Masters shows how to integrate the two with confidence, practicality, solidarity, emotional resilience, seeing the bigger picture, taking time out to reflect and supporting each other for the long haul. Participants re-engage with their own movements refreshed, with new ideas, thinking and networks, to set up new projects, to find work in movement organisations, to go on to further education - and bring back what they have learned to their own struggles.