We need to do better if we are to protect girls

We need to do better if we are to protect girls

We need to do better if we are to protect girls

two girls with arms around each others waists
alex mulhare

22nd July 2021

 

There’s no simple way to put this: I fear for the current generation of girls, teenagers, and young women who are growing up in an always-online world.  

 

As I scroll through social media, advertisements for cosmetic surgery pop up on my feed, and a heavily-edited selfie is posted with a casual caption; at first glance, I don’t even recognise it as someone whom I have known for years. When did this become normal?  

 

The era of uploading unflattering albums to our Facebook accounts feels very distant these days, even though it was only ten years ago. Backcombed hair and questionable fashion choices ruled the roost – the idea of lip fillers and contouring your face would likely be laughed at. There was no pressure to be picture-perfect – because let’s be honest, digital cameras in the hands of teenagers take terrible pictures. 

 

The real conversation lies in asking ourselves why altering our appearance has become so normalised and readily-available as a cosmetic service.”

I think that, in most cases, it’s counterproductive to shame anyone who has decided to undergo cosmetic treatments or who enjoys using Facetune. It’s their body, and their choice to do what they like with it. The real conversation lies in asking ourselves why altering our appearance has become so normalised and readily-available as a cosmetic service. When and why did our natural faces with textured skin and varied features become undesirable and “ugly”? Our Patriarchal society is probably the fastest and most simple answer (even though it isn’t simple at all, really). Essentially, a patriarchy is a system in which men are the dominant figures in all areas of power within society.  

 

Already, within the short period of time from 2008 to 2021, our online landscape has changed rapidly. Social media used to mean booting up your family’s personal computer and checking your Facebook notifications – a far cry from tapping an application on your phone and receiving instant validation from friends and strangers alike at any and all stages throughout the day. The Myspace and early Facebook era of the internet may not have been an inherently better place, but it was certainly more innocent.  

 

As many researchers have pointed out, the “always-on” mentality is where the current danger of being online lies, and this is especially true for young people. Let’s say you have Instagram notifications turned on and each time you open the app, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a quick look through your timeline. There’s another good chance that altered photos will appear on your newsfeed, either from friends or as suggested posts. It is inevitable that regular consumption of edited photographs will result in a detachment from what real people look like, eventually taking a toll upon how you view yourself and others. This process is so subtle though, that teenagers in particular may not even notice their own perception of beauty standards shifting.  

 

The reality-television series, Love Island, provided food (or rather, a large meal) for thought in this vein during an episode of the seventh season which aired last week. The show’s contestants were challenged to answer sensitive questions about each other, and one particular question asked the men to guess which types of cosmetic surgery that all of the women on the show had undergone. This immediately provoked an online discussion about how commonplace surgically altering your appearance has become, if it can just be assumed that each female contestant has opted for at least one cosmetic treatment. Nonetheless, almost all of the men guessed correctly, with each one writing down some variation of “lips, boobs, botox.” All except one woman on the show could admit to having gone under the knife for some reason or another. Interestingly though, in another round of the same challenge, the contestants were asked to list their turn-offs. Most of the male contestants listed personality traits but one said that “hairy arms” were his biggest turn-off. Unlike bad manners or being too loud, hairy arms are a completely natural trait that many girls and women have no control over. Not to mention the fact that women are naturally hairy; we’re just told that hair is dirty or unhygienic because it’s a convenient excuse for the patriarchy to get the hairless women that it desires (let’s not forget that a core aim of a patriarchal society is to exert control over women as much as is possible).  

 

As the show cut to an ad break, it was difficult to think about anything other than how a girl or teenager might have consumed this content. Would she feel pressured to look in the mirror and re-evaluate her own appearance? Would she question the fullness of her natural lips, or the natural movement of a forehead wrinkle when she raises her eyebrows? Would she feel self-conscious about the hair on her arms, and find a new insecurity to wax away on a regular basis? I left the television that night with a sense of dread and frankly, fear, about how a person younger than myself might fall victim to the ever-expanding trap of surgeries to fix each “‘insecurity”’ that the beauty industry and patriarchy both profit from.  

 

TikTok trends have begun to evoke the same anxiety from me in recent months – why do they so often focus upon creating imagined flaws in the predominantly young female audience who partake in these challenges? The trend which struck me the most was a filter that mirrors each side of your face to create two new faces. The idea was that one side of your face would be “ugly” and the other one “pretty” – unless of course, you were so symmetrical that both faces looked very similar. Showing off your symmetrical face or laughing at the expense of others who looked “ugly” with this filter was the primary goal of this challenge. Immature as it was, I can’t help but wonder how many girls tried the challenge for themselves and were too afraid to even upload the end result because they felt that they looked “ugly.” Many of us can attest to the fact that if our teenage peers perceive us as bad looking in any way, shape, or form, it has a long-lasting effect upon our self-esteem and overall confidence. 

 

There are many places to point an accusatory finger as the source of these problems: the make-up and beauty industries, social media apps, a general disregard for the safety of children online or the content that they consume – the list could truly be endless. The internet and its culture as a whole is a good place to begin looking for answers. Gone are the days of pre-teen girls watching actors their own age dressed like the kids that they are on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Now, this same age group has instant access to social media where they are encouraged to wear make-up and dress with sex appeal, despite the fact that they are literal children. If this is hard to believe, then why has Millie Bobby Brown, the star of Stranger Things, been rolled out onto red carpet events dressed like a fully-grown woman for years? Why was Billie Eilish harassed for refusing to wear revealing clothing as a teenager – why was she expected to show off her body, and why did it become offensive to grown men online when she didn’t play into this expectation?  

 

“They were guinea pigs. They are the first group of young people to grow up with the world at their fingertips, and the first to go through our school systems under the shadow of social media.”

The deeper you delve into this subject, the more it feels as though we have let the upcoming generation of girls down. To be frank, they were guinea pigs. They are the first group of young people to grow up with the world at their fingertips, and the first to go through our school systems under the shadow of social media. As someone who went to secondary school during the more innocent, pre-influencer age of social media, I still feel like having access to a smart phone at the age of sixteen fundamentally altered the school experience for me. It’s difficult to even imagine the vastly different adolescent landscape that would be created by handing a child a smartphone while they are still in primary school – their lives have never existed offline, or without Snapchat stories, or without YouTube celebrities.  

 

The internet itself is not to blame, however; the problem lies in the unrestricted access to online content that young people with malleable minds and opinions have been given. We, as adults, and especially Millennial adults with a deep understanding of social media and the darker facets of the internet, could have prevented the mentally-damaging rise of beauty filters and influencers who aggressively peddle dangerous, “weight-loss” teas. While society in the 1990s was actively telling girls who weren’t malnourished that they were ‘fat’, post-Noughties society revels in forcing girls to believe that their natural faces can be ‘fixed’ with plastic surgery, Botox, or filler injections. While Norway’s new law which will forbid influencers from posting photos without labelling the edits, filters, or alterations contained within is not a solution to this vast problem, it would appear to be a good start at tackling it.  

 

As a general takeaway from this surface-level discussion, it would appear that there exists a pattern that needs to be broken. Consistently, each generation of girls and young women have been led to believe that some aspect of their physical appearance is inherently flawed. Why are we, as a society, so obsessed with convincing girls that they are broken and that they must drastically alter their body in order to be considered beautiful, or even just pretty? Why do they even need to be objectified and considered good-looking in the first place? The short answer, of course, is patriarchy – there’s a reason why those with the most privilege in society (men) don’t feel the need to view themselves as objects and alter their personhood accordingly. There are always exceptions to rules though, such as men who endanger their health to achieve the perfect, toned body, but this doesn’t discount the fact that it is other men who make them feel pressured to physically appear a certain way. They are victims of the same system.  

 

From the onset of pre-teen years, we are teaching girls to objectify themselves, and social media appears to have intensified this process by flooding each app with ads and beauty filters. There is nothing wrong with filters as a concept but they quickly evolved from giving users cute dog ears into a more sinister feature that completely changes the shape of your face, usually granting the appearance of an altered jaw, blue eyes, and a smaller nose. For obvious reasons, this has sparked conversations about beauty filters and race. What if a girl of colour was playing with these filters on Snapchat or Instagram and in each one, saw her skin and eyes lightened, along with a new, Eurocentric nose. Research has already shown that when used consistently, beauty filters alter our perception of our own appearance over time.  

 

The question that I consistently walk away from this train of thought with is, why are some features seen as undesirable? Our features carry family history, ethnic history, and the beauty of individuality all in one package, but then society turns around and tells us that unless we all look uniform, we are flawed. Perhaps most sickeningly is that what is deemed to be “desirable” changes at the flick of a switch – think of beauty standards shifting from Marilyn Monroe, to Kate Moss, to Kim Kardashian. All of these women possess vastly different physical appearances but at one point or another, everyday women were told that these body types were the most desirable: “you should look like this too.”

 

Perhaps older women find these societal pressures easier to deal with, as they have watched uncontrollable body ‘trends’ come and go with the decades. Needless to say, the pressure for women to look perfect is not confined to any age group, although the youngest girls and women among us are inevitably the most fragile and at risk of being mentally-impacted by society’s harmful messaging. Rather than the fixation upon weight and being “fat” that was prevalent in the 1990s, the current generation are made to feel as though they must always be social media ready. What if you’re out with a friend who wants to post a story on Instagram or Snapchat, but you don’t look your best because your face is bare (see: “natural”) and filters are too obvious? This situation is a nightmare scenario for anyone who feels pressured into curating a perfect image of themselves online. The solution to this, apparently, is to ensure that your appearance is always ready to be posted online, usually by means of seeking cosmetic procedures or semi-permanent treatments.  

 

It may sound like there’s no real escape from the pressure to look a specific way and to have a “trendy” body feature or type. The truth is that women’s bodies are individual and unique, and for most of us, it’s entirely impossible to achieve the coveted “snatched waist.” Oh, and girls aren’t women, they are children. Children who are being institutionalised into viewing themselves as women so that adult beauty standards can be imposed upon them and enforced throughout their lifetime. In the words of Kate Winslet, referring to her own acclaimed role in Mare of Easttown, “There are clearly no filters. She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.”

 

 

Featured photo by Priscilla Du Preez

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Fianna Failing: can Micheál Martin hold on for much longer?

Fianna Failing: can Micheál Martin hold on for much longer?

Fianna Failing: can Micheál Martin hold on for much longer?

person casting their voting ballot
Sean Creagh

21st July 2021

 

It is September 2021: the Fianna Fáil TDs (Teachta Dála) have finally arranged to meet and reflect on both the abysmal Dublin Bay South by-election loss and equally poor performance in the general election of last year. All the TDs are gathered in a circle. “Okay Micheál, we are going to play a game of blind man’s bluff. Put this blindfold on and get in the closet,” Barry Cowen (TD for Laois-Offaly) instructs the Taoiseach. “Will there be anyone else coming in with me?” questions Martin. “Just get in the closet,” Cowen repeats with an exasperated sigh. The Taoiseach wanders unknowingly into the closet, the door slamming behind him. The rest of the Fianna Fáil cabinet continue their conversation in peace.

 

I will not be at this recently announced Fianna Fáil “think-in” meeting on September 1st, but I can only imagine it will go something like that. The tension between party members is palpable, combined with the prominent “leaking and sniping” going on and the unrest is almost too difficult to disguise at this point. Fianna Fáil is only going one direction in the polls; and now members want out.

 

The Dublin Bay South result was straightforward. Candidate Deirdre Conroy won just 5 per cent of the vote, finishing in a distant fifth place – an historic low for the party. This is in stark contrast to when back in 2011, even after bearing the brunt of the blame for the financial crisis, Fianna Fáil still managed to win 10 per cent of the same constituency. Now, they are trailing behind most major political parties and struggling to remain relevant in a rapidly changing Ireland. Ironically, the candidate that ran for them in Dublin South-East 10 years ago (Chris Andrews) has since switched his allegiance to Sinn Féin, possibly symbolic of what was to eventually come.

 

Naturally, a lot of the dialogue now centres around Taoiseach Micheál Martin. After all, he is the face of the party and the country itself. A growing number of TDs want him to step down before the next election, including one rebel Marc MacSharry (TD for Sligo-Leitrim) who was seeking 10 names for a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach last week. However, for others, focusing on Martin alone is merely a distraction to the wider issues in the party. “It’s not all about the leadership. There are issues that need to be addressed that go much wider than that,” says Niamh Smyth (TD for Cavan-Monaghan).

 

So, if not Martin, then what are the issues at stake here? It is not like Fianna Fáil has been floundering for that long. They did win 44 seats in the Dáil back in 2016, a not-so-distant memory. Most of the key figures have also remained the same. So, what is the problem?

 

Put simply, most of the instability in Fianna Fáil support comes down to a lack of effective communication with voters. Particularly, they struggle to engage with voters below the age of 34, an age group only polling at 10 per cent first preference votes in the latest Business Post Red C poll. This perhaps correlates with the fact that Fianna Fáil have been mostly absent from social media for the last number of years, leaving Fine Gael and Sinn Féin TDs to joust it out over Twitter themselves. There at least seems to be some recognition in this department with Kildare North TD James Lawless, who addressed  the Dublin Bay South by-election results on Today with Claire Byrne. He acknowledged the disconnect between the Taoiseach and his ministers from voters.

 

Fianna Fáil has typically been the party of housing and social protection. But where are they when this is exactly what the voting public are crying out for? Where are these affordable estates for working families, and where are the council houses?”

There are also policy choices that no longer resonate with voters in 2021. Fianna Fáil has typically been the party of housing and social protection. But where are they when this is exactly what the voting public is crying out for? Where are these affordable estates for working families, and where are the council houses? Sure, there has been the COVID-19 pandemic at play in shutting down the construction industry, but that ultimately will not matter when people go to the polls. In a matter-of-fact sense, housing will either be there, or it won’t. Other political blunders such as the handling of fair wages for student nurses and the everyday financial consequences of the 2020 Finance Bill could also be considered factors in the party’s widening unpopularity.

 

In the end, there is no denying that what was Ireland’s dominant political party is now on thin ice. They still represent the status quo for many, which isn’t really a very exciting mantra to go with. As well as this, most of their voter base lies in the over-65 age group, which is an ageing demographic. is. Unless the party recognises the prevalent public desire for radical change, they too will be seen as an ageing, irrelevant political party.. There will need to be swift political shifts and pivots into how the party operates and manoeuvres, with some new faces at the helm.

 

There will need to be some hard conversations about how the organisation goes forward from here. Change can be painful, but nothing will be as painful as stagnating until you plummet down through to the ugly pit of irrelevancy. The facts are there: the Fianna Fáil brand is not as strong as it once was. This will be a case of knocking down the house foundations to build back better, ridding the party of any Bertie Ahern era ghosts for good- including Micheál Martin himself.

 

For now, it seems that TDs are at least aware of their party’s failings. They are happy to snipe at the Taoiseach from a distance and disassociate themselves from any major gaffes that the party makes (much to the chagrin of Martin). It seems they are happy enough to move away from him if it means that they themselves can survive a little longer. However, what they might not yet realise is that when you oust a political leader, there is always room in the closet for one more. “Who is next for blind man’s buff?” questions Barry Cowen spitefully.

 

 

Featured photo by Arnaud Jaegers

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Alex

 

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

woman holding a clapperboard
Deepthi Suresh

20th July 2021

 

It is a privilege to witness legends perform. Kate Winslet is a legend on every count that I can think of. I must confess that I have been a diehard fan of her since her role in Peter Jackson’s masterclass, Heavenly Creatures released in 1994. Articles were popping up on digital media describing Kate Winslet’s performance in the HBO series, Mare of Easttown as priceless, sensational, brilliant, and so on with a subtle tone of surprise among the reviewers and the audience. Why were they surprised?

 

Before I digress into listing down the very many triumphant acting laurels that Kate Winslet has achieved in her life, I focus my thoughts on the stunning murder mystery, Mare of Easttown. The HBO limited series is a character study set in Pennsylvania, the not so perfect cousin of Boston or New York. The elegant, accented Brit makes it seem like a piece of cake with the way she can nail the look, sound and feel of the townspeople of Delaware County. Winslet plays the lead character of Mare Sheehan, the town police detective who has been called to investigate a murder to start with. But it becomes clear that the audience is in for a ride much beyond the mystery of a murder in this seven-part drama series. This character study showcases the grief and trauma of a divorced woman’s loss of her son to drugs and suicide while raising her grandson in the face of a custody battle with his mother who has been on and off the rehab herself. It also takes in ordinary strains of a common life that routinely pushes Mare’s buttons as she sways through her painful journey. Mare is also burdened with a prior unsolved case of a missing girl and another girl while the investigation is underway.

 

What makes the show special is its achievement in the understanding of what real life could look like while in the guise of a murder mystery.”

What makes the show special is its achievement in the understanding of what real life could look like while in the guise of a murder mystery. Although, with each episode, the storytellers spin interesting webs to garner the attention of the audience and we are taken into the lives of the usual suspects and strangers as our doubts are raised and then lowered through the hour-long episodes of Mare’s police work. But this was not a murder mystery to begin with. You are not investing your time to find how it all ends but instead, how the journey takes place. How does Mare get back to normalcy after losing her marriage, her son, her daughter who moves away for college and her relationship with her best friend? These are the questions that cloud your mind while you embark upon this story.

 

Mare of Easttown has also been raving up the discussion on how female bodies are portrayed in TV shows. The Oscar-winning actress who has never been shy of performing nude scenes goes one step ahead and decides to portray a middle-aged woman’s body accurately in a sexual scene despite being offered the technologically induced magic of perfect bodies which has been the norm. She believes that the audience connected to her character in part because she is “a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from.” Kate Winslet’s weight has been the talk of the tabloid media since her rise to stardom in the 1990s and she has frequently spoken about the pressures on actresses to maintain a particular appearance. In 2008, she told Vanity Fair about her early years of acting: “I was fat. I didn’t know any fat famous actress. I just did not see myself in that world at all, and I am being very sincere.’’

 

Winslet refines the character of Mare into multiple layers that could have easily been missed by other performers. She elevates every character around her with her sincerity and trueness to human emotions. The subtle expression on her face after being pleasantly surprised by a kiss or, the time when she breaks down in the middle of the night longing for her mother who hugs her after a near death experience, makes you realise the powerhouse of talent and ease with which legends like her are made of. Mare of Easttown celebrates emotions in the rawest sense possible and somehow, this brings you peace.

 

 

Featured photo by Jon Tyson

This article was supported by: STAND Arts + Culture Editor Deepthi & Programme Assistant Alex

 

Inside Amazon warehouses

Inside Amazon warehouses

Inside Amazon warehouses

warehouse worker looks at shelves stacked high
conor doyle

19th July 2021

 

At the start of April in Bessemer, Alabama, we saw the first unionisation drive of Amazon’s US history. The vote came against the backdrop of a plethora of complaints of poor working conditions lobbied against Amazon and, more broadly, the deepening inequalities we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic. It would ultimately fail, but what can we learn from this? And why should we care about it in Ireland? 

 

The poor working conditions in Amazon facilities have garnered a lot of attention. The most prominent, for the visceral reaction it invokes – is the urinating in bottles accusation. Many workers at Amazon’s ‘fulfilment centres’ and drivers alike have claimed the need to urinate in bottles – stemming from Amazon’s ruthless efficiency and productivity standards which doesn’t leave time for bathroom breaks. Amazon surveils its employees, tracking their ‘time off tasks’, with excessive time-off-tasking leading to write ups. Speaking to Vice, one employee said that they try not to go to the bathroom or get water for fear of being fired. This would not appear to be an unfounded fear, either. Bloomberg reported in 2020 that many Amazon workers are fired within a year or two of starting for productivity infractions.

 

Amazon of course denied this being the case – on Twitter. Proclaiming that if the urinating in bottles charge were true, no one would work for Amazon. However, much evidence that this does in fact take place was proffered to Vice reporter Lauren Kaori Gurley. And yet, people do still work for Amazon. In fact it’s the second largest employer currently in the US, behind Walmart – and growing. The sweet blowback of Amazon’s quippy tweet was that it laid bare the balance of power between Amazon and it’s workers. Amazon’s working conditions are such that people have to pee in bottles. Yet they still work there. In huge numbers. Bessemer, Alabama is a relatively poor town, with less than 15% of its population having attained a Bachelor’s degree. The notion that those warehouse workers – in a pandemic especially, are making a choice is nonsense. One Amazon worker who spoke to Vice, Catherine Highsmith, was laid off from her job because of the pandemic. She had heard bad things about Amazon and it’s conditions, but she was desperate.

 

In New Jersey, warehouse workers earned $24 an hour before Amazon moved in. By 2019, warehouse workers in New Jersey earned $17.50. In 68 countries where Amazon has opened one of its largest facilities – average industry compensation drops by more than 6% during the facility’s first two years.”

Amazon pay their workers $15 an hour. The same $15 that leftists in the US tried to force Joe Biden to install as the federal minimum wage earlier this year. This is also higher than the average for an order and stock filler in the US – according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, at $12.92. Amazon also provides healthcare to their workers. Two weeks ago Amazon also launched their AmaZen Zen Booth for meditation and wellness practice. Good right? Not exactly. 

 

In unionised positions, warehouse workers earn upwards of $30 an hour in the US. Bloomberg reported that one man – Joey Alvarado makes $30 an hour working with Stater Bros Markets – a southern Californian supermarket chain. Also, Amazon drives down warehouse wages. In New Jersey, warehouse workers earned $24 an hour before Amazon moved in. By 2019, warehouse workers in New Jersey earned $17.50. In 68 countries where Amazon has opened one of its largest facilities – average industry compensation drops by more than 6% during the facility’s first two years. 

 

Amazon has also adopted a gig economy model for its delivery workers where drivers download an app to accept assignments, Deliveroo or Uber style. The pay is $50 for three hours. When factoring in the cost of their own vehicle and fuel, it comes out at more like minimum wage. UPS, by contrast, has a similar model where drivers are paid by the mile and given a stipend for phone internet. They are members of a union. Many of Amazon’s workers struggle financially. There is little opportunity to move up or earn more money and more than 4,000 of Amazon’s employees are on food stamps in the US.

 

Only a few months after the facility in Bessemer opened up in March of 2020, a few employees met to discuss the possibility of a union. The working conditions being the catalyst. They met with members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to discuss the potential unionisation effort. Having weighed up the pros and cons, they decided to do it. 

 

So set in motion the historic and laborious effort of unionising in one of the most union averse companies and sectors in the US. Long shifts into the night, sleeping in cars, grabbing two minute conversations with workers as they were stopped at red lights, accumulating signatures. However, they weren’t the only ones working hard to sway worker opinion.

 

Anti-union leaflets were passed out and workers were sent texts almost daily. Workers were also forced to attend anti-union seminars during work hours. Amazon says this was simply to allow workers understand all the facts of joining a union and give them a chance to answer questions.”

Amazon turned its attention and thus ruthless efficiency into stopping its workers efforts at collective action. A shiny new anti-union website was set up – doitwithoutdues.com, apparently replete with cartoon infographics, dancing dogs and of course, fear mongering anti-union sentiment. I say apparently, because by the time I went looking – it had been taken down, such was the clearly unforeseen public distaste. The information on the website told its workers that if you’re paying dues it will be restrictive – meaning it won’t be easy to be helpful and social with each other. Care packages were sent out complete with t-shirts, pins and instructions on how to vote ‘NO.’ Anti-union leaflets were passed out and workers were sent texts almost daily. Workers were also forced to attend anti-union seminars during work hours. Amazon says this was simply to allow workers understand all the facts of joining a union and give them a chance to answer questions. 

 

This radical information campaign had the desired effect, too. Before the vote had taken place, workers spoke about Amazon cutting their wages and potentially shutting down the facility. When it was all said and done – the unionisation effort lost by 1795 votes to 738.

 

Why do we care? Especially some 6,000 kilometres away. 

 

Earlier this year it was reported that Amazon had attained planning permission to build a warehouse, not unlike the one in Bessemer, in Dublin. Only the latest in a long line of large tech facility openings in the Silicon Bog, or the Silicon Isle or the Silicon Republic or… Ireland has loads of tech jobs, is the thing.

 

Not only is this a problem for existing warehouse jobs – as previously mentioned it drives down warehouse wages. But Amazon also has a long history of bullying states, particularly around payment of taxes. In 2010, following pushes from Texas officials to pay $270 million in taxes, amazon closed its facility in the state and scrapped its plans of expansion. In Seattle in 2018, the city council debated a tax on large employers which was meant to pay for homeless services and affordable housing. Amazon opposed it publicly – telling a newspaper columnist in the state that it would halt plans to build one tower and reconsider its lease for a second. The tax was eventually repealed.

 

A lot has been made about how Ireland already shows it’s arse – otherwise known as it’s 12.5% corporation tax incentive – to attract foreign investment. But even apart from that, Ireland has a thriving tech industry with other ways of avoiding both tax and employment responsibilities. 

 

Martin McMahon, activist and host of the ‘Echo Chamber Podcast’ has been talking about bogus self-employment for a long time. This is the practice of falsely classifying a worker as self-employed, when they in fact carry out their work exactly as an employee. This is in order that the company needn’t pay PRSI or provide basic employment rights – maternity pay, holiday pay, protection from erroneous dismissal etc. He went before the Committee of Public Accounts in March and told that, extrapolating from figures from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in the construction sector, that  €1 billion was being lost in tax revenue from this. 

 

He also mentioned that this practice was big in the technology and multinational sector, where the use of intermediary companies – third party companies which hire workers for tech firms, is prominent. It’s unclear what percentage of tech jobs in Ireland are misclassified as self-employed. However, I was in contact with a worker from a very large and ubiquitous social media company earlier this year regarding a piece of collective action he and his colleagues were taking. He and his colleagues are not classified as employees, despite working full time with the large social media company, on company provided laptops with a contract without an end date. They were pushing for basic sick pay. My understanding is that they got it. 

 

All this is to say that the multinational and tech industry in Ireland already uses its considerable weight to get its way. States like Ireland are either unwilling or unable to take action against these companies. Workers on the other hand, might be better placed.  

 

In Germany, where union culture is strong, Amazon warehouse workers went on strike and though not able to unionise, were able to get improvements in overtime scheduling, an increase in break rooms and a pledge by Amazon to pay Christmas bonuses – a standard practice in German industry. This piece of collective action in an industry with a long history of anathema to unions, both blue and white collar, is something.  

 

A Christmas bonus and a second room for tea seems a monumentally small something though, when considering the last year’s developments – I will admit. In a totally not deranged indicator of a perfectly unbroken society – Jeff Bezos added $74 billion to his net worth in 2020. The same 2020 that saw massive job loss and financial insecurity. 

 

Though the pandemic exacerbated it, Bezos’ feudal level wealth is not, of course, exclusively a consequence of his multiplicity of courier tentacles being our only connection with the outside world for the last year. His wealth has been growing in parallel with deepening inequality for a long time. 

 

Amazon’s size and influence is growing. 1.3 million people now work for the megacorp worldwide, and it looks as though a fulfilment centre is coming to Ireland. If there is any hope that Ireland won’t be bullied into accepting poor and dangerous working conditions in exchange for meagre taxes and a loss of autonomy in tax policy – it’ll be workers, not the state who does it. Perhaps that, rather than a win, is what we can take from the Bessemer effort. That there is worker consciousness growing out there, however burgeoning a stage it might currently be in. And that a worldwide worker consciousness, class consciousness, is what could bring about a reckoning for these companies. Failing that, we can learn meditation.

 

 

Featured photo by Nina Smirnova

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Alex

 

Are you not entertained?

Are you not entertained?

Are you not entertained?

two elephants at sunset
anastasiya stand news

16th July 2021

 

Ah the circus, a place for fun and games, where bears wear cute tutus and tigers jump through hoops, the smell of popcorn filling your nostrils and the stickiness of candy floss on your fingers. It brings us all back to our childhood filled with laughter and clowns, complete ignorance of what happens behind the scenes and the question of how wild animals become showmen. The truth is, most circus animals are treated poorly; beaten, starved, and kidnapped. They sit in tiny cages travelling from place to place for our entertainment. Have we ever thought about what the once big and mighty beasts feel when they are dressed in silly costumes and forced to perform tricks that are dangerous and downright unnecessary? They do not perform because they enjoy it, it’s because they are forced to. Why can’t they just stop and not perform then? That is a very simple answer, they are afraid. Afraid of what will happen if they do not perform.

 

Animals are trained and punished with whips, muzzles, tight collars, electric prods and metal rods. There are multiple videos and photographs showing animals being beaten and abused in cruel ways. Those fake smiles and cheers from the circus trainers and handlers are all for show, to trick you into thinking that the animals enjoy performing and that they are loved. Tigers and lions have a natural fear of fire, but due to the desires of their circus trainers, they are forced to jump through hoops which have resulted in many animals being injured. These mind tricks are precautions circus trainers take in order to avoid being reported, since the only real way a circus can get punished for mistreating their animals is by being reported by the public, and governments do not monitor what happens behind closed curtains.

 

Circus animals often have a lot of pent up anger and frustration from years of abuse. There have been multiple cases worldwide were circus animals have escaped and attacked people and their surroundings. The animals that go crazy are not sedated and given care, instead, they are killed.”

While travelling the circus, owners often keep animals in trailers or trucks. Big cats are crammed into tiny, dirty cages and elephants are chained down. Circuses travel all year round in various weather conditions meaning the animals are often exposed to the elements, forced to suffer through hours and days of travel without getting the chance to move around. Circus animals often have a lot of pent up anger and frustration from years of abuse. There have been multiple cases worldwide were circus animals have escaped and attacked people and their surroundings. The animals that go crazy are not sedated and given care, instead, they are killed. For example, take the 2014 Moolah Shrine Circus show in Missouri. During the performance, three elephants escaped from their handlers in the children area after being put under stress from the noise. They were loose for 45 minutes which resulted in multiple damaged vehicles. This was not the first time an elephant got loose, and it wouldn’t be the last.

 

Thankfully there have been circus bans in place in multiple cities and countries around the world which restrict the use of animals for entertainment. The Animal Welfare Act states that circus animals have the right to be protected and treated humanely, so circuses that disobey this act and mistreat their animals are breaking the law. Most circus cases focus on elephants, however, all animals should be protected from harsh treatment. The training of elephants begins when they are babies, they have all four of their legs chained up for 23 hours a day and while chained they are beaten and choked with electric rods to break their spirit. Most wounds are covered with make-up or blamed on the clumsiness of the animal.

 

An investigation by the Animal Defenders International found that dancing bears spend around 90% of their time inside a cage. ADI had also published a video showing a bear circling around a tiny steel cage measuring about 3½ feet wide and 8ft high, demonstrating the surreal life conditions these animals have to endure for our entertainment. It has been reported by the United States Animal Welfare, that most major circuses which used animals had been cited for violating the minimal standards of care set out by them. It has been documented that since 1990, 123 attacks on humans were made by large captive cats in the US, 13 of which were fatal.

 

There are three countries in the world that led the movement of banning the use of animals in circuses, the first being Bolivia, followed by China and Greece. The UK has banned the use of “wild” animals and the United States are currently fighting to ban the use of exotic animals. Ireland has banned the use of wild animals as of 2018 making it the 42nd state globally to do so. We can confront the use of animals in circuses by boycotting those circuses and supporting animal-free circuses like Cirque Du Soleil and Cirque Dreams, as well as the first ever circus using holographic animals, Roncalli, in Germany.

 

 

Featured photo by Mylon Ollila

This article was supported by: STAND Environment Editor Anastasiya + Programme Assistant Alex