Class-consciousness is increasing

The Right2Water campaign and communities from all over the country last week held their third massive national mobilisation within a few months, and the message was clear: people won’t be bullied or bribed, and they see through government lies and propaganda.

The recent retreat by the government is not enough, and is not accepted by the people. The government has lost the Irish Water issue and has no popular mandate. The view of hundreds of thousands of people and families is irrefutable; the government does not have our support to govern.

Last week’s protest followed an intensification of violence, supervision and vilification of communities resisting Irish Water and water charges. But the resistance is growing. Mobilisation against the installation of water meters has spread throughout the country. Peaceful protests against Garda brutality capture the mood.

And all this has occurred peacefully, despite constant propaganda from the O’Brien-dominated media and the spin from establishment politicians and Irish Water itself.

Lies were put out deliberately before this demonstration to break the movement and discourage people from attending. They failed. They failed miserably. The diverse platform of speakers and supporters and the magnificent diversity of the near hundred thousand people in attendance demonstrates the unity, resolve and determination of this burgeoning political movement.

On the day, protest songs and rousing music were provided by a number of local bands, with Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard showing their support for this growing national movement.

Clearly, over the last few months this has developed from a resistance into a movement, and this is the potential that must now be harnessed not only to secure victory on this issue but to tip the balance of power in Ireland away from billionaires and their political system to communities and working people.

The question now is not whether the government resigns, or who from Right2Water is going to stand in the next election. The relevant question we have to ask is, How do we strengthen the politicisation of this movement and strengthen community groups and the ties that are developing in a very positive way. Unless we do this, the rich will still continue to govern and rule us through the vast array of instruments they have, including the government, senior civil service, procurement arrangement, media, European Union, tax arrangements, trade agreements, IMF, Gardaí, etc.

We must, therefore, be in this for the long haul and not just for short-term electoral advantage. For even if you elect a progressive left coalition, unless they are committed to a progressive withdrawal from the European Union and to challenging the power of corporations they will not deliver any meaningful change.

To do this, these difficult and challenging issues need to be discussed within the movement and popularised within our class. They cannot be ignored, though they will be ignored by those people seeking to use the issue of water charges for their own short-term electoral strategy. We cannot allow this to continue, or this movement will be lost and this historic opportunity wasted. We need to begin building popular support for a withdrawal from the EU and for demands that challenge the power of corporations in our country.

New Briefing Document: Public Enterprise versus Private Inefficiency

The Trade Union Left Forum has put this brief guide, available at http://www.tuleftforum.com/discussion-papers/, for union activists to use in combating commonly used arguments in favour of privatisation and against public ownership. There is mounting evidence of the value of public-sector investment, compared with the inefficiency and waste of private-led investment; yet this is silenced by the privately owned media, just as they call into question the right of communities to peacefully resist the imposition of water charges.

We have all had arguments with a friend or colleague where the claim of the efficiency of the market is made, that competition is good for customers, without anything to substantiate it. Or we have sat angrily on a Sunday morning listening to radio commentators boldly say that private enterprise is superior to public, that privatisation provides savings for customers, or that the state benefits from the sale of public companies, without ever having to provide any evidence to support this highly political statement.

This guide is to help activists with short facts and figures to help you to combat these arguments, or to send tweets, texts or e-mail to the media so as to raise public awareness of the damage privatisation does and the great value that public ownership brings and can bring to our economy.

So, next time you’re in a pub with mates, or listening to a current affairs programme or being canvassed for a vote and you hear one of these false claims being made, don’t stay silent: use the evidence in this guide to counter their claims.

We hope you find this useful, and please distribute it as far and wide as possible.

Jimmy Nolan

Chairperson, Trade Union Left Forum

 

 

Rejecting the slurs and seizing the moment

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In recent weeks we have seen a concerted and co-ordinated effort by the Government, the Gardaí and the media to paint protesters as dangerous and violent, with an agenda of manipulating communities into confrontation for the sake of confrontation. This is a deliberate and outrageous misrepresentation of protesters and communities that are opposing Irish Water, the installation of meters, and water charges more generally. It is insulting to our class and shows the contempt in which the establishment hold us.

Reports of violence against Irish Water employees and gardaí are spun and widely commented on without a shred of evidence. Meanwhile photographs of Garda brutality are blatantly ignored. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, senior politicians and now even David Begg, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, openly accuse protesters of violence and even imply membership of armed organisations, without the need to show any evidence. Extremely convenient “bomb threats” are made public and given hours of air time. Raids are made on dissident republicans at opportune times. And then in the Dáil a Government TD likens protesters to ISIS terrorists.

This is all a co-ordinated effort to blacken the name of protest and turn people away from standing up for themselves. We have to ask ourselves, Why we are seeing the most widespread and overt attacks, physical and ideological, on working-class communities in decades? Why are the Government, the media (private and state), judiciary, Gardaí, a variety of both domestic and foreign corporations, various chambers of commerce and the European Union all lined up against us?

The state—not just the Government political parties—are losing the support of the people. Communities are joining the dots between the debt and austerity, between establishment parties and private corporations, between the media and big business, and between the state and the European Union. And this is dangerous: this is dangerous to the establishment and to the position of Ireland within the global economic system. This is why the state is now scrambling to crush communities and blacken the name of activism and protest.

The state wants us to play by their rules, and confine ourselves to their truncated conception of democracy. They want to reduce politics to the farce of the Dáil and of elections every few years. This is safe; this is their ground. But people—very many brave working-class people—have managed to bring politics back into the street, and that scares the establishment parties. The working class are the majority, but they are not meant to organise, and they are certainly not meant to engage in political action. At best they should passively vote every few year for one of the list of political parties approved by the Irish Times.

This overtly violent response and increasingly desperate reaction of the state should give us courage and the conviction that we are winning; but it should also give us even more reason to think deeply about tactics for now and strategy for the long term. And that is why the beautiful, almost poetic candlelight vigil outside Coolock Garda Station protesting against police brutality was so right.

Knowing the state’s tactics of trying to create violence to discredit the movement, of planting stories, and of possibly even infiltrating movements to create splits and division, means that we have to be clever and not fall into their traps. Every time they hit us we must stand with dignity and discipline. Unity in the national movement must be maintained, and the right of peaceful, dignified and militant protest defended.

Deeper thought on long-term strategy among groups and within communities is now needed. But a big turn-out on 10 December will keep the state under pressure and show that their tactics are failing.

Water charges the EU and TTIP!

The origin of the planned water charges lies in the EU’s Water Framework Directive (2000), which provided for full cost recovery for water use and whose Article 9 states; ‘Member States shall take account of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services …’ It also required Member States to have in place water-pricing policies by 2010. The Directive was transposed into Irish Law in 2003. The Water Framework Directive, which seeks to commodify water provision through the establishment of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services. The EU took advantage of the ‘bailout’ to make it a condition of the ‘loans’.  This will open the way for the sale of Irish Water either in whole or in part, ostensibly to complete the single market or to promote competition ‘in the interests of the consumer’. This is just one reason why there is such government resistance to a constitutional referendum to permanently retain Irish Water in public  ownership – the other is TTIP.

Both sides in the TTIP negotiations have made clear their intention to use TTIP to get access to what is described as “public monopolies;” that is, public utilities including water. These services would then be vulnerable to greater outsourcing and private tendering for service delivery and eventually, to privatisation. TTIP would open up public procurement contracts to the private sector, meaning that social, environmental or “public good” goals in public procurement would be removed. A private monopoly can fix its price at an unaffordable level, as Bechtel did in Bolivia, leading to a popular uprising; the termination of the contract and replacement of the government.

It would also make the nationalisation (or renationalisation) of services or resources virtually impossible, as incredibly, corporations would be able to sue for loss of future and expected profits. This is facilitated by the inclusion of an (ISDS) Investor – State Dispute Settlement clause in TTIP. TTIP would increase the pressure for the privatisation of ‘services of general interest’, such as water services. Foreign suppliers of services of general interest should not be entitled to claim “forgone profits” through ISDS. This provision, in effect would further legalise neo-liberalism as the economic and social framework in Ireland and the EU.

But even if ISDS is removed from TTIP, the main goal remains; to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules, regulations on the use of toxic chemicals and digital privacy laws. Public water provision is only one of the services under threat from TTIP. Both water charges and TTIP must be defeated!

Frank Keoghan

Resisting the Water Charges and Defending Our Right to Protest

We are residents of a number of communities in Dublin North East. Over the last number of months we have come together to resist the installation of water meters in our areas, and to oppose this unfair double taxation that the government calls water charges.

For most of us, this is the first time in our lives that we have engaged in any sort of protest and have only done so because we simply cannot take any more of this government’s austerity agenda. At all times we have sought to resist the installation of these meters in a peaceful, dignified and resolute manner.

We are therefore appalled at the recent developments in how An Garda Síochána have policed our protests, and with the blatant campaign to vilify and demonise us that the government and Gardai, supported by segments of the media, launched in recent days.

They have claimed that Gardai are routinely assaulted at protests, and that our movement has been infiltrated by a “sinister fringe” or by “dissident republicans”. We categorically reject these claims. In recent weeks we have been subjected to heavy handed and abusive policing by the Gardai. Men and women, protesting peacefully, have been pushed, pulled and punched by Gardai. To our knowledge not one of our fellow protesters has been convicted of assaulting a member of An Garda Síochána, and violent protest is not something we would endorse or tolerate.

With respect to the claim that our movement has been infiltrated by sinister elements, we reject this also. We are the people on the streets, day in, day out, peacefully resisting these meters; we are mothers, fathers, parents, pensioners, workers and unemployed – we are not sinister, dissident republicans.

In light of these developments, we are genuinely fearful that the Gardai, at the behest of the government, are preparing to become even more aggressive towards our protests and to eviscerate our right to protest.

We therefore call on all of the people of Ireland to come out and support us this coming Monday, 10 November 2014, in Dublin North East. We fear that GMC Sierra will attempt, with heavy Garda support, to enter our areas and install meters that we do not want. It is our intention to continue to resist this unjust tax in a peaceful and dignified manner, but we fear that the decision has been made to strip us of a meaningful right to protest.

Each and every one of us has resolved to resist this tax and these meters, we will continue to do so in a peaceful way, but if we are to succeed we need the support of other communities. If we all stand together, we can resist these charges, retain water as a public good and human right, and vindicate our right to protest.

Communities Against Water Charges
communitiesagainstwatercharges@gmail.com
09 November 2014

Real trade unionism in action – right2water

The type of class-conscious and politically active trade unionism that the Trade Union Left Forum has advocated at many of its meetings, and in its publications, is truly on display and being built in the Right2Water campaign.

The 1st November saw the second national protest against the water charges and the potential privatisation of what should be a guaranteed, universally available public resource. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people took part. This follows the 100,000 who marched on 11th October as well as the daily militant class struggle being fought in communities throughout the country, led in the main by self-organised working people.

The Right2Water campaign, led by five unions of both the private and the public sector (Mandate, Unite, CPSU, CWU, and OPATSI), has provided a broad national platform for a variety of groups, parties and communities and has maintained a progressive and impressive unity, despite attempts by some to break it.

This is now clearly and without doubt the biggest and most militant mobilisation of working people this country has seen for some time. As trade unionists it is wonderful to see unions take a leading role in the national campaign and beginning to build alliances within the movement but also with community groups and tens of thousands of workers who are not members of any union.

It is not pleasant to have to draw attention to the role of the leadership of the largest union in the country, SIPTU; but while it organises for justice in society and fairness at work, its absence from a campaign where unions are actively campaigning and building towards these goals is regrettable. Many thousands of SIPTU members are active in this campaign on the ground but by the leadership not endorsing Right2Water they are playing into the hands of a right-wing Government.

The intervention by the general president of SIPTU, Jack O’Connor, the day before up to 200,000 mainly working class people marched in support of the Right2Water campaign on 1st November, was particularly unhelpful. His criticism on Newstalk (the radio station owned by Denis O’Brien) of the Right2Water campaign and calling for “realistic” policies was regrettable. Calling for concessions, such as “water tax-credits,” to placate opposition to a tax that the trade union movement in general correctly labels as regressive, only assists those seeking to undermine the momentum of a working class mobilisation not seen since the PAYE marches of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

O’Connor’s call in the wake of the mass mobilisation of 1st November for a Referendum on public control of water supply is welcomed. However, it will only be effective if it is followed up by an acceptance that the ongoing water commodification process overseen by Irish Water must be stopped immediately.

A constitutional amendment to secure water as a publicly owned universal resource, paid for through general taxation is a proposal that the TULF will give full consideration to as this struggle develops. We must remember that water charges were beaten in the 1980s and mid-1990s; and if we are to make this a lasting victory, a constitutional amendment may be the demand to mobilise around.

The TULF take seriously also the impact the closure of Irish Water, which was formed as vehicle for privatisation and as such can have no constructive role to play in the supply of a public resource, will have on public service workers who have been transferred to its control and these workers should be secured in employment as part of public water provision in the future.

Denis O’Brien’s role in this growing political struggle is crucial. He owns the main water meter installation company and so is the not so hidden hand behind the offensive on working class communities who are resisting their imposition. He is also a major link between the Fine Gael party, and the present government, and the international neo-liberal agenda which seeks to attack democratic ownership wherever it is found. As the current struggle develops its clear class nature will see an intensification of the focus on O’Brien and his cohorts.

Members of Unions not involved in the Right2Water campaign must begin to challenge their own unions to become involved and strengthening the campaign and the resistance movement. On this basis the TULF will shortly launch a petition for union members to sign to encourage those unions not involved in the right2water campaign to join it and strengthen this working class mobilisation.

The combined strength of progressive unions and local communities, playing a heroic role facing constant harassment and brutality from the Gardaí, has the potential to transform this country. This alliance is crucial, and must be built on. Unity must be maintained. Political education and demands must be expanded, within unions and communities, to secure water as a resource, to win this once and for all, and to strengthen our class in other areas of struggle.

A new kind of trade unionism emerging

A new kind of trade unionism is emerging and consolidating itself within the right2water campaign, led by Mandate and Unite and supported by OPATSI, the CPSU, and the CWU. These unions are bringing the broader social and economic interests of their members to the fore and committing resources, time and effort to support mobilisation not only of members, but also the working class and communities more generally.

By viewing their members as workers (as opposed to people paying a subscription for work-place representation services) these unions are placing the workers’ immediate social demands alongside, and equal to, their immediate work-place concerns. This is crucial if the trade union movement is to really represent its members and to recover its power and leverage in society. Wage increases alone will not improve the lot of workers while the political economy of the country is being restructured from one made up of citizens to one of customers in a toll-booth economic and political structure.

The TULF on many occasions has suggested that the trade union movement has a unique position in Ireland in having the resources and channels of communication to support the mobilisation of working people in a way that no left party can. And now it seems that some unions are realising this potential, which is both necessary and welcome.

The right2water alliance is a genuine alliance of union, political and community groups, making a clear demand and statement, “calling for the Government to recognise and legislate for access to water as a human right. We are demanding the Government abolish the planned introduction of water charges.”

As well as the five unions mentioned, community groups and parties have signed up to the campaign. Some 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for the scrapping of the water charges, close to 100,000 marched at the demonstration on 11 October, and more local actions are planned for 1 November.

The right2water campaign is not dictating tactics to communities or individuals but is building and growing a broad campaign of groups and people based on the principle of water as a human right and as a publicly owned utility and resource. Some on the left have attacked the campaign for not demanding non-payment; but at this moment building the biggest, broadest alliance against water charges and privatisation is the priority. A turn towards direct non-payment may be necessary in the future, but right now the campaign’s strength is in growing and building the alliance rather than splintering over tactical matters.

The fact that trade unions, rather than left parties, are now playing the central role makes this campaign different and arguably is what has made it so hugely successful, as demonstrated by the march on Saturday the 11th.

With working-class communities showing militant resistance on the ground, often being physically bullied and assaulted by a police force violently supporting the right of capital, this campaign has an opportunity like none before it to be a tipping-point in the resistance against austerity and the diktats of capital.

While tactics will need to advance and develop as the campaign grows, so too will the politicisation process be required to intensify. Opposing water charges—a noble effort—is one thing, but the real struggle needed and the one that has transformative potential is the struggle to hold a vital natural resource in public ownership and under democratic control, even in the limited form of democracy that is now allowed, against the desires of the EU, the United States, and the Irish corporate elite.

If this is to be a tipping-point, the real enemy needs to be identified; and this is not the corruptly appointed Irish Water and its hacks but the Irish and EU political and corporate elite and their political-economic system.

There is much to be hopeful and optimistic about for the first time in a long while, and those unions leading the charge should be applauded and supported.

ICTU on TTIP

Trade unionists must take a principled position opposing the TTIP between the US and EU. It is an anti-democratic treaty that will enhance corporate power, reduce regulations, provide for further privatisation and intensify the ongoing race to the bottom in workers rights, wages and protections.

The ICTU has produced an overview document available at http://www.ictu.ie/publications/fulllist/congress-sub-to-public-consultation-on-modalities-for-investment-protection-and-isds-in-ttip/ and their initial overview is below. While this is welcome trade unions need to coordinate a campaign with environmental groups, 3rd world justice groups and communities to mount a serious opposition. TULF activists are now working with other groups to establish this. We call on ICTU to join this effort.

ICTU:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is a proposed trade deal between the US and the EU. It is currently the subject of intense negotiations and given the scale of the two economies, which together account for more than 50 percent of world GDP and one-third of global trade flows, the sheer magnitude of the potential deal means there is a lot at stake. The stated aim of TTIP is to provide a boost to the EU economy, and create jobs for citizens. There are numerous economic forecasts of the benefits of the deal however these forecasts may be exaggerated.

However the TTIP is about far more than trade. The agreement under discussion will tie governments’ hands in many areas that are only loosely related to trade. It does this in six ways

1) TTIP aims to remove or reduce tariff barriers but not just taxes on good on goods and service, instead the main focus of TTIP is removing or reducing ‘non tax barriers’ (NTBs) such as regulation. This means, to be successful, regulations with regard to chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food environmental protection, patent protection for drugs, local government purchasing, public services and labour rights must be removed or reduced under TTIP.

2) Where ‘NTBs’ cannot be removed or reduced TTIP plans to harmonise the regulatory standards, the plan is to accomplish this by means of mutual recognition of standards. There is a concern that higher regulatory standards will be undermined by mutual recognition of the lower standard, for example the EU uses the ‘precautionary principle’ that requires where proof that new products causes no harm before it can be marketed or used in the workplace, there are no such safeguards in the US.

3) TTIP aims to further liberalise the trade in services, including public services. It is not clear what public services will be included and whether any public services will be ruled out of the TTIP provisions.

4) A central concern about TTIP is the threat to democracy, labour rights and public services posed by additional ‘investor protections’ these allow investors to challenge state actions which they perceive as ‘expropriation’ and’ indirect expropriation’, i.e. threatening their investment.

5) Investor protections do not automatically prevent the EU or a Member State from adopting laws in the future, nor will it necessarily mean that States have to pay compensation to investors whenever doing so. However, the results of companies being able to sue for compensation and the resulting cost to the exchequer are likely to have a significant chill factor resulting preventing any new regulatory initiative and effectively preventing the reversal of privatisations.

6) Companies who launch a claim under the enhanced investor protections do so not in courts of law but in secret and unaccountable private arbitration known as ‘ISDS’ Investor State Dispute Service. Usually a three person tribunal comprised not of judges but lawyers who specialise in company law. Their decisions are final and binding. There are no matching rights or mechanisms for citizens, workers or communities harmed or abused by investors‘ projects and products.

The Irish Congress Trade Unions is not alone in raising concerns, the trade unions throughout the EU and US have called for improvements to TTIP with AFL-CIP President Trumka stating that ‘Trade policy for the privileged few must end. TTIP must work for the people, or it won’t work at all. ” and ETUC General Secretary, Bernadette Ségol, stating that “European and American trade unionists are united in supporting a free trade deal between the EU and US only if it promotes workers’ rights, generates quality jobs, upholds public services and procurement, democratic decision making and international conventions.”

European Commission rejects a citizens’ petition against the EU-US trade deal (TTIP)

The European Commission has today rejected a proposal from an alliance of European campaigners to hold a ‘European Citizens’ Initiative’ against the EU-US and EU-Canada trade deals (known as TTIP and CETA). This decision prevents citizens from forcing the Commission to review its policy on the deals and to hold a hearing in the European parliament.

Negotiations on TTIP and CETA deal have provoked strong opposition across Europe, the US and Canada. Campaigners fear these treaties will give unprecedented power to multinational corporations, risking privatisation of public services and dilution of environmental standards and workers’ rights. To express this opposition, over 200 trade unions, social justice campaigns, human rights groups and consumer watchdogs applied for a European Citizens’ Initiative to force a re-think on the deals.

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was created to give European citizens formal petitioning rights over an often unaccountable decision-making process. Citizens who collect one million petition signatures from 7 or more EU states can force the Commission to formally respond to their request and hold a public hearing in the European parliament.

Campaign groups the World Development Movement and War on Want accused the Commission of stifling citizens’ voices on TTIP and CETA.

John Hilary, director of War on Want said: “This is an outrageous decision by the European Commission. These trade deals are already facing unprecedented opposition for their secrecy and unaccountability, but now we are denied even the right to petition our own EU leaders. An unelected executive, facing growing vocal opposition, has put his hands over its ears. ”

Nick Dearden, director of the World Development Movement said: “Nothing could more clearly show that these trade deals are a disaster for democracy on our continent. The European Union wants to stich this deal together behind closed doors, because if it lets citizens anywhere near it, it won’t be able to control the opposition. But the people of Europe will not have this corporate power grab imposed on them – we will fight against this decision, and we will defeat these trade deals.”

British Unions likely to oppose TTIP

Three of the UK’s biggest unions have tabled motions at the Trade Union Congress in Liverpool outlining their opposition to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), a huge trade deal being negotiated behind closed doors at the European commission between EU bureaucrats and delegates from the US.

Critics say the TTIP threatens to make the outsourcing of health services in Britain permanent by allowing US multinationals, or any firm with American investors, to sue any future UK government if it attempts to take privatised health services back into public ownership, jeopardising their profits. Critics say it will also water down environmental standards and banking regulations.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, one of the unions that have tabled motions, called on David Cameron to use his veto to ensure the NHS is not included in the deal.

“It is time he put the people’s concerns above the interests of a handful of US companies and Wall Street investors which want to profit from our NHS. The movement against including our NHS in this trade deal is growing and the Tories simply cannot afford to ignore it.”

Efforts by the trade union movement to raise awareness of the potential consequences of the trade deal have gathered pace across Europe in recent weeks, with a coalition of environmentalists, trade unions and leftwing parties voicing their opposition.

Last week almost 10,000 people took part in more than 600 events in the UK organised by campaign group 38 degrees to leaflet and talk to people about the potential consequences of the deal. And 170,000 people have signed a petition calling on the UK to either fix or scrap TTIP.

McCluskey said: “The government and bureaucrats from Brussels thought that they could tie this deal up behind closed doors without any fuss, but ordinary people who care about the NHS recognise this danger and are making their opposition clear.”

Last week the government moved to rebut accusations that the deal was being driven by the interests of big transnational companies which variously want to deregulate markets, make NHS privatisation irreversible, and water down regulations on food standards and banking.

Trade minister Lord Livingston argued that the TTIP could add as much as £10bn to the UK economy a year. He said consumers stood to gain from more choice and cheaper goods, workers would benefit from higher wages as manufacturing makes gains and small companies would be able to break into export markets.

He added that the deal, which seeks to cut remaining trade tariffs and simplify regulatory rules, will not change anything for the NHS. “The NHS and how it chooses to operate will not be impacted by TTIP.”

But Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said the NHS must be exempted from a deal which he said threatened the fabric of a publicly run, free-at-the-point-of-use NHS.

Burnham said: “In the EU-US trade treaty, we want designation for healthcare so that we can exempt it from contract law, from competition law. The market is not the answer to 21st century healthcare. The demands of 21st century care require integration; markets deliver fragmentation.”

Taken from

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/ttip-biggest-threat-democracy-youve-never-heard