By Steph Lacey
Over the last few months, far-right agitators have been going into libraries and bookshops across Ireland and harassing the workers over what they claim are ‘pornographic’ books being forced on children. In reality, these books are sex education guides for queer youth if they wish to access them, and doing so would require parental permission.
Due to a lack of comprehensive sex education in our schools, teenagers, and even children, are turning to the internet for answers, which can have disastrous consequences. While sex education books have been available for decades, they have been heteronormative ones. These books give information on same-sex relationships, and therein lies the real reason the far right has taken aim.
A long history of queerphobia
The far-right agitators attacking libraries have a long history of being queerphobic. They include recording themselves taking down Pride posters and spitting on them, saying that gay people are the biggest spreaders of diseases, and calling every Pride flag a ‘groomer’ flag. They aim not to ‘protect childhood’, as they claim, but to erase queerness.
The far right are going into libraries, video recording the workers and library users, calling them horrific names, demanding the workers take the books off the shelves, and threatening them with legal action if they do not. Unsurprisingly, even when given ample notice of the upcoming harassment of library staff, the Gardaí have either not turned up to help the staff or, in one case when they did, actually escorted the far-right goons into the library.
Noticing that the library workers were left to deal with this abuse themselves, Socialist Party members and others have organised to try to protect them. Limerick was the first city to keep the far right out of its library successfully. This was done through our members and other outraged members of the public coordinating a plan of action for when the far right arrived. By mobilising people, countering the far right on the street, linking arms outside the library, and blocking the entrance, the far right were forced to retreat.
Counter-protest in Cork
Fearing for the staff’s safety, Cork City Library had to close its doors during a far-right rally. The only other group that ever forced the closure of Cork’s library was the Black and Tans. After seeing the successful actions against the far right in Limerick, anti-racist activists, along with Socialist Party members in Cork, were inspired to do the same. On 3 September, the far right held a rally on Grand Parade, and fearing that the library would be targeted, members of the queer community and others guarded the library from 9 am until it closed at 5:30 pm.
Throughout the counter-protest, for which the Socialist Party mobilised and participated, they chanted slogans such as “trans rights, workers’ rights; same struggle, same fight” and “when workers’ rights are under attack; stand up, fight back!” as well as singing renditions of ‘Bella Ciao’ (the Italian anti-fascist partisan song) and ‘Solidarity Forever.’ Members of the Irish Writer’s Union and Forsa were in attendance.
Role of trade union movement
Forsa organised a significant demonstration in Cork in July, supporting the library workers and demanding an end to their harassment. While this demonstration was significant and welcomed, it has not stopped the harassment. The far-right have taken things to the street and have a well-documented history of not abiding by the law; legal steps will not deter them. Trade unions, particularly those representing workers on the frontline of these attacks, such as library workers, need to mobilise the power of their members in protests and walkouts against any form of intimidation by the far right.
They need to follow the example set by those who have successfully taken on the far right. Groups such as Limerick Against Fascism, Limerick Anti-Racist Network and Cork Rebels for Peace organised the barriers preventing the harassment of staff. It will be more difficult for the same mobilisation in smaller, rural towns, where libraries and librarians are harassed. Trade unions must implement policies and actions to assist and protect their workers. Libraries are a haven for many people for many reasons, and working-class people, activists, and trade unions must get organised to protect them.