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The United Left Alliance in Ireland: Is this the left unity we were hoping for?

Richard Boyd Barrett from the People Before Profit Alliance and Joe Higgins MEP from the Socialist Party, during the launch of the new United Left Alliance, November 29, 2010.

By Des Derwin

December 13, 2010 – Irish Left Review – Jodie Ginsberg, Reuters’ woman in Dublin, said on TV3’s Vincent Browne Tonight program on November 25, when asked for her impression of the situation in Ireland, “people are shell shocked”.

They have been for some time, but in little more than two months a series of ever more powerful shells has burst among us:

  • the central bank revises the cost of the Anglo-Irish bailout at up to €34 billion bringing the overall banks’ bailout to €45-50 billion;
  • the deficit to be closed jumps from €7 billion to €15 billion, and this to be done by 2014;
  • the €15 billion to be frontloaded with €6 billion taken out in the December budget and mostly through cuts;
  • the markets push interest rates on Irish debt to over 9%;
  • the state is to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Union (EU) and some other countries, including £7 billion from Britain;
  • the four-year plan for the €15 billion includes a reduction in the national minimum wage and an 11% cut in social welfare;
  • default is widely spoken of;
  • the €85 billion bailout entails use of the national pension reserve fund and the cash reserves, these Irish funds going mainly to the banks;
  • a rate of up to 5.8% makes the bailout a rip-off;
  • the bondholders are let off.

The Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole has tracked this narrative thus: “Like the sorcerer’s incompetent apprentice, the Government ... turned a banking crisis into a sovereign debt crisis, which it then transformed into a crisis of Irish democracy...”[1]

In this litany of lashes the shock of an impending mortgage default crisis, greater than the bank crisis, has got lost along the way. Che Guevara said to Jean-Paul Sartre, probably in 1960, “I can't help it if reality is Marxist”.[2] An honest scholar like Morgan Kelly, professor of economics at University College Dublin, can read like a Marxist simply by telling it like it is. As he does in his Irish Times article of November 8.[3]

His apocalyptic political conclusion is as sonorously chilling as his economic examination. Were he as specialised in politics as economics his vision might have appeared on the other side of the spectrum. Sounding like the more alarmist, or lazy, persuaders of the far left he spoke of:

the first upwellings of an inchoate rage and despair that will transform Irish politics along the lines of the Tea Party in America. Within five years, both Civil War parties are likely to have been brushed aside by a hard right, anti-Europe, anti-Traveller party ...

It is possible; the black shoots of fascism are always possible in the fertile soil of a capitalist crisis. What are already there, though only in brittle buds, are some red shoots which are just as likely to grow to fill the trough of despond as any tea leaves hanging to the right. Actually it is more probable that the historic shift from Fianna Fáil will go to a moderate centre-left in the main, at least for a while. It is the seriousness of the crisis that leads Morgan Kelly to assert that “both Civil War parties” will be brushed aside and for something more radical than anything the Labour Party or Sinn Féin would be prepared to provide.

We’d better put aside cathatrophism, though it has never looked more respectable, and for the minute leave the Nazis in the bathroom, just below the stairs. But we should also remind ourselves it is now over 18 months since Vincent Browne first warned, at the launch of the People Before Profit Alliance’s since underused Alternative Economic Agenda[4], that if the left can’t get its act together and get itself together to present a viable alternative to the people in this crisis then it should just give up and go away.

United Left Alliance

So, for once it was not hyperbole when the first announcement of the United Left Alliance’s arrival proclaimed:

At a meeting held in Dublin last Sunday, 24th October, involving the People Before Profit Alliance, the Socialist Party, the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Group, and [municipal] Councillor Declan Bree and his local group in Sligo, a historic decision was taken to establish a left alliance to contest the next general election and to take the first steps towards a new, left, anti capitalist formation to represent working people.[5]

The Socialist Party made its announcement on, appropriately enough, Armistice Day, November 11.[6] For all its consideration, restraint and reservation, it significantly gave similar prominence as that in the People Before Profit Alliance’s announcement to an eventual higher political and organisational aspiration.

In pushing for the establishment of a slate/alliance, the Socialist Party argued that it was very important to try to get a fraction of genuinely left TDs [members of the Irish parliament, the Dáil] elected at the next opportunity. Given that this crisis will continue to wreck devastation for the foreseeable future and the likelihood that Labour will be in power putting the boot into working class people while ICTU [Irish Congress of Trade Unions] sit idly by, three or four left TDs could become a very important focal point for organising struggle against austerity and for the launching of a new party of the working class to fill the political vacuum.[7]

The United Left Alliance (ULA) was launched at a well attended rally in the Gresham Hotel, Dublin on November 29. There’s a good report giving a flavour of the meeting by Mark P on The Cedar Lounge Revolution blog site[8], some masterful stenographic minutes from Emmett Farrell on Indymedia[9] and a very visual report on the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) site.[10] For many reasons – not least its long delay in arriving – the ULA has arrived in the nick of time:

  • an imminent election;
  • a crisis two years in without a radical left alternative with any leverage;
  • a stunned and momentarily unresponsive populace complemented by a trade union leadership – the one force, in the absence of such an radical alternative, with the authority and means to coordinate a fight back – which has been all too successful in its two-decade crusade to remove struggle from the labour movement;
  • a mounting crisis reaching its EU/ECB/IMF climax that could conceivably lead to Morgan Kelly’s paradigm shift with only small warring clans of the left to meet it;
  • the beginning of new social explorations and formations all over;
  • the apparent dominance of the left field by a Labour Party which is so confidently bourgeois that it can announce the renunciation of even symbolic “labour movement” measures such as tax relief on union dues.

Sometimes the first paragraph on the front page of the Irish Times really does record in summary (and translation) the days that are upon us:

The Government will battle to prevent any increase in the €6 billion adjustment proposed for the 2011 budget and the €15 billion target in the four-year plan as EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) negotiators arrive in Dublin today to intensify talks on a rescue plan for Ireland.[11]

The apocalypse foreseen by Morgan Kelly and the apocalypse generally anticipated for the arrival of the IMF faded before the real apocalypse: the actual details of the four-year plan,[12] the bailout[13] and the memorandum of understanding,[14] which outsavaged An Bórd Snip Nua. Then the budget which activated all this.[15] That the radical left, or the chief chunk of it, commenced a cautious portion of cooperation within days of these developments is more accident than alacrity on the left. Yet for all that it’s a cause for celebration (or sighs of relief!) and, to be fair to all concerned, some recognition of the unitary need Vincent Browne gave voice to in April 2009.

No doubt the formation of the United Left Alliance has had its messy side and things could have been done better. For a start the name contains a superfluous adjective (a double knot perhaps, to anxiously stress the good intentions?). It almost started on the wrong foot by launching in a non-union hotel (since rectified when the launch was postponed). But these are relatively minor considerations. Councillor Declan Bree dematerialising from the list of declared ULA runners between the middle and end of November was not so minor. The airbrush applied by the ULA to this and the reason for it is not a good start either. One ULA negotiating source said the last-minute withdrawal was about Bree’s desire to bring Galway councillor Catherine Connolly & co along with him. He was also said to have asked the ULA to speak with [Communist Party-aligned] the People’s Movement.

The same messiness can be ascribed to the whole decade-long process of unity and regroupment that has led us here and that has involved, to one degree or another, different permutations and combinations of most of the radical left.

One of the imperfections of the current phase is that some additional currents might perhaps have been included – though there is a genuine desire to be open and inclusive within reason. Another imperfection is that there was too much of a “top-down” character to the negotiation and disclosure of the ULA.

“Building a Real Political Alternative”[16], a seven-point program of the ULA was agreed during the negotiations, and a pledge[17], which all ULA candidates must sign, was distributed at the launch. There was some talk of a protocol between the groups to prevent “competitive recruitment” and the gauntlet of paper sellers at meetings, but these don’t seem to have made the final cut so far. There were plenty of sellers and leafleteers at the launch and the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the PBPA had a literature stall each.

Left unity processes since 1990s

There is a history to this process of alliance that colours its outcome so far. Since 2000 there has been a stop-start stumble of conferencing, alliances, separations, negotiations, groupments and regroupments, involving at one time or another almost all of the organised groups on the radical left, including Labour Youth and individual Labour Party members.

In the 1990s an electoral alliance emerged briefly from the water and bin charges campaigns to link the Socialist Party and Seamus Healy’s South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group, in a harbinger of the ULA.

Since the turn of the millennium some of the world wave of left liaison has lapped these shores. There have been several political alliances of varying life spans: the Socialist Alliance briefly brought together the SWP, Socialist Democracy and independents. Some of these independents (recently described on the blogosphere as “the usual left unity suspects”) are a common denominator along this many-leagued road of leagues. The Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) comprised the SWP, environmentalists and some others in Derry. The People Before Profit Alliance consists of the SWP plus various and varying activists, groupings and independents. The Campaign for an Independent Left (CIL) enfolded at one time the Dublin South Central-based Community and Workers Action Group (now in the PBPA), the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group, the Irish Socialist Network and some independents. The rump of the CIL is now in the PBPA and still meets occasionally. Last year the SEA in Derry joined the PBPA.

The People’s Movement is a broad formation of activists close to the Communist Party, dissident Greens and anti-EU-superstate activists (with, interestingly enough, Declan Bree among its patrons). The Grassroot Gathering(s) and the Social Solidarity Network are link-ups of the libertarian left. That end of the left, which works well and works well together, is associated now in the 1% Network, which brings together the Workers Solidarity Movement and Seomra Spraoí with the Irish Socialist Network and éirígí in imaginative and original activities.

As mentioned, almost all and more besides of the above groups and groupings have been engaged in the slow, shaky but secular shift from separation, be it just to send delegates to a conference or all the way to participation in one of the projects. Some came to preach the proper program; some copied the regroupment model of their parent organisations abroad with the hope of control as well as cooperation. Some have stood away when they should have come on board a decade earlier; some have not been invited when perhaps they should have been.

In relation to the, in my view fair, complaint that the talks to form the ULA could have been more open to others, those in glasshouses should admit to common practice on the left even in unitary initiatives. The organisers of the most recent round of all-left general discussions on unity neglected to invite any of the “the usual left unity suspects” who had been hammering on about it to a fault all along. Actually, the ULA proceedings, or the general explorations preceding them, did involve more than the present participants, without final success. (Councillor Chris O’Leary, for instance, actually attended a PBPA steering group meeting before the PBPA learned in the newspapers that he had joined Sinn Féin.)

Besides, after so many false starts and bust ups there is something to be said for a businesslike and thorough transaction between the key players, even if that has been done inter apparti. Getting to the ULA itself has been a survival, as a glance at Indymedia’s archives will show. No, better not!

International influences

There is of course a wider, international history to the current movement towards radical left unity, regroupment and alliances; a zeitgeist that has glided through the European and South American left with bases – and pioneering ifproblematic ones – in the English-speaking world. On the European continent there have been costly collapses like Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, but also abiding broad formations like Die Linke in Germany, the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France, the Left Bloc in Portugal[18] and the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark.

Yet the story in Britain (from where much of Ireland’s radical left gets its culture and current line) is a sorry one with the disintegration of Respect and the implosion of the Scottish Socialist Party (the latter once a model of pluralism across Europe and for some of those professing left unity here).

This endeavour was part of a thrust to build a new left and a new movement which arose with the “anti-capitalist” mobilisations of the 1990s. Within this again there was an urge to build a new left that would be an alternative to a social democracy that had adapted to, or adopted, neoliberalism; an alternative to a Stalinism, which had fallen along with its material walls, and to a splintered sectarianism that had arisen from and reproduced the isolation of the far left. There was a desire to reconnect radical socialist ideas with the very class and forces that the left professed to express politically. Within the radical and Marxist left there has been a consequent international debate over organisation and program, between the immediate perspectives of a broad left party or a revolutionary organisation. This has amassed a copious literature, some of which is referenced and linked to in the Appendix below.

The United Left Alliance is not in the “broad party” camp as such, and (let us not get ahead of ourselves) is just (what’s with the “just”?) an electoral alliance on its first nervous outing. But it is a kind of compromise between those who at least formally take the “broad” approach and those who insist on the need for a tightly knit and explicitly Marxist “revolutionary organisation”.

Elections

As such it is an achievement in itself . The ULA is also a means of facilitating that other new-found aspect of attempting to reconnect with the wider word: contesting elections. Unity is always better, but in elections, when the only rationale is to present general politics to an average electorate, standing obscurely opposing organisations separately is absurd. The practice has even been, and for some remains, to stand candidates of radical left parties against each other in the same constituency. Pure madness and scandal-giving to the working people we are hoping to persuade.

On the other hand, the presentation of an electoral alliance or slate of candidates represents at least the beginning of a real alternative. There’s no shortage of radical left groups, as you know, but the numerous atoms have been too diffuse to make an impression on the space where an alternative should be. On the one side the cartel parties are all on course for cutting the public finances deficit to 3% by 2014 and, on the other side, an increasingly disillusioned electorate is looking for some actual and authoritative alternate option to austerity.

The truth of the cliché oft-mouthed by “the usual suspects”, that the sum of left unity is greater than its parts, can already be seen in the splash created by the media launch of the ULA on November 25 and the second ULA press conference on December 2. And in the faint but hopeful murmuring of non-aligned individuals, who could have joined one of the constituent parts long ago if they wanted to, expressing tentative support for the new venture.

For all its failure to spread its cloak far beyond its original owners,[19] the People Before Profit Alliance put some flesh on the concept of an organisation with a radical and active policy but without the need for complete internal agreement: indeed allowing those who disagree on inessentials to argue and organise. The attraction of a formation that genuinely facilitates democracy and pluralism cannot be overestimated.

The significance of the United Left Alliance in responding to the crisis and to the opportunity of shifting allegiances in the electorate, in “presenting an alternative”, is not in standing a mass of candidates spread like thin butter across a large slice of bread. It is in the breakthrough offered by getting a half a dozen radical left TDs elected and forming a critical platform from which to reach out and build something far bigger. The Socialist Party statement on November 11, already cited above, recognised this (my emphasis below):

In pushing for the establishment of a slate/alliance, the Socialist Party argued that it was very important to try to get a fraction of genuinely left TDs elected at the next opportunity. Given that this crisis will continue to wreck devastation for the foreseeable future and the likelihood that Labour will be in power putting the boot into working class people while ICTU sit idly by, three or four left TDs could become a very important focal point for organising struggle against austerity and for the launching of a new party of the working class to fill the political vacuum.[20]

The Socialist Party’s member of the European Parliament Joe Higgins echoed this at the ULA press launch:

The presence of a number of genuine left TDs in the Dáil offering a visible political alternative will be a massive pole of attraction to workers, unemployed and young people, and can become a real factor in the unfolding crisis.[21]

This is a strategy. It is not being strictly honoured in the actual selection of candidates. The prospect of “three or four” left TDs would indeed be a “pole of attraction” and this is actually less than the six or seven very possible-to-probable ULA TDs. This tantalising possibility is a stepped strategy over time rather than a pretence that an elected radical alternative can arrive nationwide in one fell swoop. 2011 will not be 1918 (Joe Higgins and Fintan O’Toole thankfully have not been shot), and if it was like 1918 the radical left does not have the movement already in place that the radical nationalists had in 1918. The ULA has talked of 20 candidates, which could arguably include some who won’t win but would get a good vote.

Yet there is some “utterly butterly” thinking going on. Both the Socialist Party and the PBPA have been selecting some candidates with no roots or record, and where the relevant vote up to now has been tiny. The ULA press conference on December 6[22] was told that the ULA intends to run candidates in, as the Irish Times reported it, “at least” 14 constituencies. If the 14 names released[23] are the limit, and this is not clear, it would be possible to shrug and get on with it even though only half that number have a real chance of being elected.

The lessons of the 2009 local elections, when hyped hopes sometimes resulted in “also ran” results, haven’t been learned. Quite apart from this public confirmation of weakness and dismissability, some amount of funds and a fair amount of footwear were spent for very little return. A degree of “have a go” élan is a risky luxury when some of the “banker” (oops!) candidates are not guaranteed (oops again!) election at all and will need all hands on deck, and not running the flag up various masts, to make it.

You can pour candidates into the ring if you have bulging war chests. The PBPA for instance has little or no money. There must still however be room for adding really good candidates that might suddenly come forward. The surprise addition of the admirable Conor MacLiam to the slate, campaigning husband of the late and great Susie Long, was a minor sensation.

This is a conservative position and I may be proved wrong. There is an argument for “raising the standard” in a constituency so distant from a target seat that no campaigners would travel to it anyway. But what about diverted funds? Though the SP candidate Cian Prendiville would on paper seem a candidate with too few roots in Limerick, yet it is clear from his performance at the ULA launch that he is charismatic enough to make a mark in the right circumstances.

The expected “historic shift” in the electorate could be a two-edged sword. The leftward edge of the charge for change could see a rush to the Labour Party, as the nearest available alternative place on the port side, which might pitch some of the radical left contenders out of the boat. In an analysis of the Donegal South West by-election results Paddy Healy questions this prospect:

The dog that didn't bark in the night-- Left Independent Thomas Pringle was not squeezed by Sinn Fein or by Labour. In the Spring-tide election Labour squeezed all other lefts. In the coming election the defection from Fianna Fail will be so great that left independents and Sinn Fein will be lifted as well as Labour. This augurs well for the prospects of the recently launched Unite Left Alliance in the next election.[24]

Trade unions

It is by no means just in the electoral field that cooperation must replace competition on the left. In the trade unions the scattered forces of the left – as well of course as the general weakness of organised labour – have allowed a pathetic and pampered peerage to prostrate the unions and propose in perpetuity, as the only “alternative” they perceive, a depreciated partnership that has been passed over by patrons and politicians. In the face of impending catastrophe – not my words[25] – the trade union leadership, or sections of it, has begun to stir into life. It could be only another false beginning like February, March, November and December 2009.[26] Yet the preparatory machine, authoritative call and turn out for the November 27 demonstration contrasted clearly with the meagre mobilisations wrought by the left throughout the year. So clearly that we surely must be open to some lessons in intra-left pooling and modesty, and extra-left orientation to trade union and community structures, however professionalised they are at present.

And during the very birth of the new alliance the same old crap repeats itself even among the allies, reminding us how far we have yet to travel.

One organisation, a ULA participant, through a closely associated campaign, organised a march for budget day. Another organisation in the ULA, along with almost all the rest of the radical left, wished to organise a joint left march for the same time. This might have been sorted out in the spirit of the new departure. But after some diplomatic efforts the original organisers refused to convert the march to a joint one and “the rest of the left”, in those circumstances, declined to row in behind the original march. The march therefore proceeded with the weight of just one section of the left, while the “rest of the left”, rather than gritting their teeth, raising their eyes to heaven and joining the march anyway, held a separate rally at the Dáil before the march arrived there. ULA? Ooh alors! The ULA will either merge the train sets or derail.[27]

Left out?

The disembarkation of Declan Bree before the ULA even left the station reduced it not just quantitatively, from four allies to a less impressive three, but qualitatively. Not in the quality of decisiveness, obviously, but of political genesis. The alliance is consequently open to the unfair and inaccurate jibe of being a Trotskyist mother and child reunion and loses one avenue into other areas of the left. Nevertheless people from some currents have actually and understandably muttered about being left out. There is no objective reason why at this time redundant wrangles cannot be closed or relevant ones discussed with other groups with a view to inclusion.

The Irish Socialist Network has already left an alliance (the old Campaign for an Independent Left) with the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group, the Community and Workers Action Group (now a branch or two of the PBPA) and the rump Campaign for an Independent Left independents now in the PBPA. But moods mellow in five years. The Irish Socialist Network is formally for left regroupment, has supported the pluralist Scottish Socialist Party and produces intelligent and attractive literature. Its usual candidate in Finglas began in 2004 with a decent 6% but that has fallen dramatically since. There is no reason I can see why the Irish Socialist Network cannot be part of the ULA.

The Workers’ Party are not the kettle of fish they were. It is not clear how strongly it still adheres to social partnership (an issue for the ULA) or even to coalition with conservative parties. The Workers’ Party have an abiding interest in elections; a rather enthusiastic one – often standing against components of the ULA and often gleaning low votes. It has a seat on Cork and Waterford city councils. In places, personal relations between the Workers’ Party and the “far left” have greatly improved. Its new magazine, Look Left, has been nothing short of astonishing in its outreach even to the “Trotskyist” left. In some ways Look Left is in appearance, content and intent a little reminiscent of Gralton and Z magazines in the 1980s. It carried a short but positive report of the arrival of the ULA.

The Communist Party of Ireland doesn't stand in elections these days but it continues to punch above its numbers with a consistent flow of events and communications (not least their alternative economic document An Economy for the Common Good) and a well-tended periphery. It had an interesting-looking post-budget public meeting in Liberty Hall on December 14. The Communist Party would probably look to the People’s Movement, which itself would have umbrella aspirations to rival the ULA. The Communist Party’s Socialist Voice[28] carried an unusually scathing criticism of the ICTU’s pathetic down-playing preparation for its photo-shoot on September 29. Maybe it was felt that this needed to be balanced with an unusually explicit go at the far left because the report also castigates the “infantilism of the ultra-left”, naming the Socialist Party and the SWP.

Now some of this was as fair comment as that on the ICTU, but some of it was inaccurate and contrived. The penny has not dropped everywhere that the days are long gone when – talking about exclusions from joint initiatives – the 1970s May Day organising committee could blithely refuse the application for membership of the SWM. (The SWM was the Socialist Workers Movement. It changed its name in the 1980s, while remaining the same organisation, to the Socialist Workers Party.) The “the ultra left” these days has trade union positions, local authority councillors, media celebrities and an MEP! Nevertheless I don’t see why – apart from realpolitik – the Communist Party cannot be seen as a potential part of an even bigger amalgam with the ULA and others.

Eirígí is new enough and post-dates much of the unitary saga. It is probably the most “revolutionary socialist” grouping to come out of mainstream Irish republicanism since the Independent Socialist Party in the 1970s (excepting the small-scale magazine Fourthwrite) but it is not clear how far it has come from republican methods. Eirígí is refreshingly rebellious and their grá for direct action seems to have been taken up recently, under the rubric of civil disobedience, in far wider circles including some hitherto opposed ULA components. Eirígí also have a Dublin city councillor who has recently painted herself into history. I see no insuperable difficulty for Eirígí or the ULA in being on a common slate.

There are other individuals and groups that can and should be invited into the ULA (as opposed to waiting for them to call). The ULA may as yet seem a little narrow for them to consider, but as the Labour Party takes office and puts on John Gormley’s straitjacket there must be a breaking point for some of those in the party who have campaigned up to now for action against austerity. (John Gormley is the leader of Ireland's Green Party, which is in coalition government at the moment with Fianna Fail. Gormley is minister for the environment. While in government the Greens have so far been unable to implement most of the progressive policies contained in its manifesto, and the expected election in March 2011 is likely to virtually wipe them out.)

Dublin North Central is a left-congested area. Councillor Ciaran Perry's organisation has votes, a record and a presence in the constituency though it nurtures little affection for those in the ULA. Nevertheless, since the local elections there has been cooperation on Dublin City Council and respect between Ciaran Perry and the two PBPA councillors, Joan Collins and Bríd Smith. It is not clear if Maureen O’Sullivan TD of the Gregory group identifies ideologically with the left but the legacy she represents is still strongly associated with grassroots opposition. It may be too much of an “ask” to see these strands link up, and there may be real differences of principle in the way, but at a time when even children’s allowance is on the block there’s a big fence, you’re on one side or another, and funny things can happen.

Thomas Pringle stated firmly to the PBPA in May that he had given a pledge to his supporters that he would not be joining any organisation or party. But look how things can change, even the in short time since May. And the ULA is at present but a mere electoral alliance (though there was a little more to the feeling in the Gresham Hotel on November 29 than that).

The ULA is timely too because it is just one of a blossoming array of new coordinations, coalescences and potential centres of leadership responding to a crisis in which more and more are realising that “a totally new approach is needed.”[29]

From the extraordinary Claiming Our Future event to the “Budgetjam” collective of journalists and media activists, from Fintan O’Toole hitting the campaign trail as a very effective rallying public figure to The Second Republic group, from student marches to “pots and pans” protests[30], from school student walk outs to the comedians’ demo, a hundred flowers are blooming. Many of them are genuinely spontaneous, a sure sign of a real movement.

On December 6, the Irish Times carried a roundup of the many and varied protests planned for budget day at the Dáil[31] and the Cedar Lounge Revolution blog outlined the several newborn political parties.[32] There are now as many corresponding X-point alternatives as there are such initiatives and all to the good; all to make up a big answer to the interminable “there is no alternative” talk.

All-left alliance?

The Dublin Council of Trade Unions has temporarily stood down its particular brave attempt to provide such a coordinating centre, “There Is An Alternative”, crushed between “the upper and nether millstone” of the ICTU’s focus on Claiming Our Future and the formation by some on the left of their own alliance, the ULA. The DCTU sought to encourage a coalition of trade unions, community organisations, campaigns and parties against the cuts. Some of this work is already covered by the union-based “Defend Ireland's Communities” campaign.

But the DCTU also sought to add a political dimension in its own seven-point alternative, which aimed at the possibility of an all-left alliance to present an alternative electable, even majority, bloc including the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. This welcome ecumenism extended a new embrace to the far left just as the far left was finally coalescing on the premise of an alternative to the left of Labour.

A left alliance of the Labour Party and all to its left may be a non-runner, with the right of that spectrum[33] as much as the left. It is a diminishing prospect the more the sharpening crisis blunts the edge of the Labour response and the more the narrowing options for capitalism squeezes all parties committed to capitalism into the same basic policies (a 3% deficit in a four/five-year timespan; public sector “reform”, and so on). But it gives rise to a question for the left of how to relate to those along the line of this spectrum who put forward an all-left alliance in all sincerity.

It seems to me that if some senior trade union activists, for instance, are moving into a newly open criticism of the ICTU’s passivity, and also displaying a new willingness to work with the far left , that to simply reject an alliance with Labour – an alliance that has an ever receding likelihood of actually happening – is counterproductive. It is not just “left bureaucrats” who contemplate an all-left alliance. In the above mentioned Donegal analysis Paddy Healy says, “A Labour/Sinn Fein/Left majority may yet be possible on the numbers.”[34] This is put as an implication not a prescription.

However Seamus Healy has spoken in the past of such an alliance as an aim, even during the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group’s participation in the Campaign for an Independent Left. For sure, time and a tide since then have floated Labour way outside the 12-mile limit, as discussed below.

Whatever the experience of social democracy elsewhere we have not had a right social-democratic or social-liberal government here. The issue of coalition is still one of coalition with an avowedly conservative party. In France, for instance, the coalition debate on the left has been about alliance and government with the Socialist Party and not Chirac or Sarkozy. It seems to me that a similar debate here, about participation in a Labour-led, all-left alliance, can be expressed through our traditional debate on coalition with Fine Gael (or Fianna Fáil) and, now, on support for austerity. Rather than saying a curt “no” to the notion of an all-left alliance, we could say “OK, if Labour (and Sinn Féin) give a pledge that they will not go into coalition with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil and oppose the cuts, the bailouts, the privatisations, etc., they will thereby have a place in a left alliance and be colleagues in a basic resistance program.” There is not a chance they (Labour anyway) would give such a pledge. But that raises a question for leftwingers in the Labour Party (and Sinn Féin too) who are critical of the ICTU for not fighting austerity but are members of a political party that will administer austerity.

Labour Party austerity

Of course people will live with all kinds of political contradictions if it suits them. And Labour is looking at times like the alternative, even challenging Fine Gael, and the only show in town to be part of. Time moves on though. As the crisis deepens and the state is sown into the IMF/EU “deal'” the Labour Party throws off with stunning candour any pretence of being an alternative. On November 27, the day the ICTU rallied thousands to its slogan (the weakest of the day), “There is a Better, Fairer Way”, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore addressed a pre-budget seminar of Labour Party activists. He told them, “If Labour comes into government in the spring we will not be able to press a button and rewind the 2011 budget. No more than we can reverse any of the past 13 Fianna Fáil budgets or the blanket bank guarantee or Nama.” He said Labour had opposed such government decisions “not only because they were wrong, but also because they were irreversible” (my emphasis).

“The politics of promises is over”, he said, and Labour would set out its budget proposals the following week based on an adjustment of €4.5 billion. “We know that there will be decisions that we have to take that will be deeply unpalatable.” Labour’s finance spokesperson Joan Burton told the forum her party had never advocated “burning bondholders” or “sovereign default”[35]. In the following week Labour sought to move away from this consensus and into a clash of rival budgets with Fine Gael: a clash of “adjustments” of €4.5 billion versus €6 billion!

The pro-austerity Green Party’s John Gormley’s Dáil angst[36] about sleepless nights may have brought a bucket of ridicule on his head but I wonder how much of the laughter was a nervous response to the grim truth within his remarks. If Eamon Gilmore didn’t feel a chill from Gormley’s perfectly plausible lament for the straitjacket in which all those who accept the 3%-€15 billion IMF-EU-market parameters (including Gilmore’s Labour Party) find themselves, he must have been wearing an extra woolly jumper to keep out the meteorologically cold spell.

So the shift to Labour and the squeeze which that promises on left candidates, with local Labour newsletters already presenting former left independent activists as trophy recruits, crashes against this candid shift to the right by Labour, so visible to anyone who reads newspapers or looks at television news programs. Between Paddy Healy’s “enough votes to go around” collapse of Fianna Fáil and Labour making space by rushing to the starboard side, the ULA could have as fair a chance electorally as it does organisationally and agitationally.

Sinn Féin

To my knowledge, the words “Sinn Féin” weren't uttered once, from platform or floor, at the November 29 rally to launch the ULA. This could be because Sinn Féin is not easy to pin down at the moment. The radical left customarily speaks about a new left alternative to the left of Labour and Sinn Féin.

Let us put aside for a minute whether Sinn Féin would be interested in being in an alliance with what it would regard (for the time being) as much smaller forces, the “national question” and the difficulties that Sinn Féin's organisational culture might present (what about the organisational culture of the present participants, I hear you say). Sinn Féin is taking a far more combative oppositional stand than Labour, distancing itself from the cartel parties in the arc of austerity. Sinn Féin has made rebuffed calls for an alliance with Labour[37] and some members also see their natural allies on the far left .

It looks though that at this time the party wants to present Sinn Féin as the alternative or at least get back to when it could do so. The strange move of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams [from the six counties] to Louth can be interpreted (as it is actually presented) as a dramatic and audacious bid to capture the leadership of, or a leadership position in, the opposition to austerity. Again people can carry contradictions around with them all the time but it must begin to become apparent that this noble offer is too contradictory from someone who is transferring from actually (not aspirationally, as in Labour's case) administering austerity in Stormont [Belfast]. On the other hand Stormont is these days one of those faraway places for the Southern electorate and the prospect of a coalition this time with Fianna Fail is rather theoretical. Nevertheless it is all practical enough for the ULA to keep Sinn Féin at arm’s length and for Sinn Féin to disregard the ULA as in any way necessary.

Most of those voters opting for a left alternative in the coming election will not grasp the ULA’s criticism of Sinn Féin, and both will be straight rivals for votes on the same end of the field.

The December 2 Red C opinion poll could indicate something other than a solo run by Gerry Adams. Despite previous complaints that he is a liability down South and in RTE debates, he could be positioned to lead a Sinn Féin resurgence as it emerges after all as a left alternative to Labour separate to the ULA and other left candidates. With Sinn Féin rising to 16% in the Red C opinion poll, up from 7% in the 2007 general election, the Donegal South West by-election result (a massive 40%), while not repeatable nationally in scale is not merely a local aberration either. Support for Sinn Féin jumped by five points to 16% since the previous poll two weeks before and made Sinn Féin, for Red C, the third-largest party! Labour’s support dropped from 27% in the Red C poll carried out on November 21, to 24%.[38]Was Labour’s support reduced by its public and repeated tack to starboard during those 10 days? It’s still early and Labour may lose support to its left by its (even if less brazen) “no change” assurances[39]. Anyway “Independents/Others”, that’s ULA territory, saw a rise in support of three points since November 21, to 11%. This category got 9% in the 2007 general election. So a new united face on November 29 did no harm.

Benefits of unity

The November 29 rally to launch the ULA was a short interlude for celebration. The room stood to give Joe Higgins MEP an ovation. That evening Joe embodied what had been accomplished and the spirit to give it a real go.[40] Already we saw from the attendance in the Gresham ballroom what a prize is there once the left got (or began to get) together: that many people who would not join, or even work closely with, any one of the groups alone, will flock to a common front that sinks differences, pools resources, respects disagreement, cooperates and facilitates real participation.

Eddie Conlon, speaking as a member of CIL, as an independent supporter of the PBPA, said he viewed the ULA as about more than the main organised groups in it. He regarded the rally as a highlight of over 30 year’s political activity. He said he could testify as an independent that the two main groups had made a real effort to find agreement and set the alliance in motion. He spoke of the need to build the ULA as a real project; to develop structures.

All this can be lost, of course, but need not be. It is as sure as night follows day that disagreements, misunderstandings, strokes and irritations will come, and soon enough. But we must – unless they are about absolute essentials – swallow hard, get through them, keep our cool, accept losses and lost internal votes along the way.

This alliance must grow too, and deal with others fairly and squarely. It must be open and proactive about inviting other forces in. It must have structures and regular meetings that allow supporters to participate and it must have clear lines of communication and information to all supporters. If individual supporters, not members of a constituent group, cannot have a structured and influential role in the ULA, with meetings to attend where reports are given and their voice is heard, and if they are only offered auxiliary leafleting, postering and canvassing tasks, the project will ultimately fail.

Ann Marie Hourihane, writing whimsically in The Irish Times on December 6 about bad omens, remarked, “Irish history is rich in sunderings as well – look at republicanism, or left-wing movements, or Ronan and Yvonne [Keating].” That’s hard to deny! Why should it be different this time (he says, glancing guiltily back at the SLP*)? Well, maybe the seriousness of the situation will instil sufficient seriousness to keep the split off the agenda for a while. Sure, didn’t Ronan and Yvonne get back together again?

*The Socialist Labour Party was a most interesting formation in Ireland in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It predated the broad pluralistic left parties of today. A breakaway from the Labour Party, it invited the revolutionary left to come in as tendencies, which they did, including the SWM.

[Des Derwin is a long-time socialist and trade union lay activist (in the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU) in Ireland. He was president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions in 2007-09. He is an independent supporter of the People Before Profit Alliance, one of the components of the newly formed United Left Alliance. This article first appeared in the Irish Left Review.It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]

Appendix

A selected bibliography from the international debate and discussion on the Marxist left around unity, left regroupment, a new left, left alliances and organisation (in particular “broad parties” versus “revolutionary organisation”.

Website page: Socialist Perspectives (part of the Marxsite website), http://marxsite.com/leninismdebates.htm.

Pamphlet: Alex Callinicos, The Anti-Capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left (SWP, March 2001) http://www.marxists.de/intsoctend/callinicos/isodoc.htm.

Journal: Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal (Australia, no. 23, January-April 2003), http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/8. Contains a compilation of then recent articles debating left unity.

Journal: International Socialism (issue 97, December 2002). Contains some of the articles in Links 23 above, http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj97/contents.htm.

Journal: International Socialism (issue 100, September 2003), http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=5&issue=100. Includes the full article “The broad party, the revolutionary party and the united front: a reply to John Rees”, by Murray Smith.

Journal: Murray Smith, “Some remarks on democracy and debate in the Bolshevik Party”, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal (no.26, Australia, July 2004) http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/6.

Blog posting: “Phalanxes Are Bad”, by Phil Hearse (November 2007), http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/phalanxes-are-bad/.

Blog posting: Murray Smith, “The Radical Left in Europe”, Socialist Unity blog http://socialistunity.blogspot.com/, April 27, 2007.

Blog posting: Alan Thornet, “What Kind of New Organisation Do We Need?” A contribution to the discussion on organisation between former members of the SWP, Socialist Resistance and others who were involved in a process of regroupment after the Respect split, http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/2008/12/18/what-kind-of-new-organisation-do-we-need/, December 18, 2008.

Blog posting: Louis Proyect ,“Putting the ‘Russian questions’ on the back burner”, The Unrepentant Marxist blog, http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/, November 21, 2009.

Journal and internet article: David Packer, “Revolutionary organisation and its relationship to building a broad left party” International Viewpoint, January 2008, http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1416&var_recherche=David%20packer. An example of the case from the other side would be the following piece from Louis Proyect: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/from-the-lcr-to-the-npa/.

Journal debate: International Socialism, no. 120, October 2008, Alex Callinicos, “Where is the radical left going?” http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=484&issue=1202. International Socialism, no. 121, January 2009, François Sabado,Building the New Anti-capitalist Party”, http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=512&issue=121. Alternative versions of these two articles can be found in International Viewpoint, November 2008, http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1560&var_recherche=Alex%20Callinicos.

Article: Daniel Bensaid, “Notes on recent developments in the European radical left”, International Viewpoint, December 2009, http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1785.

Journal and internet article: Paul Kellogg, “Leninism: It’s not what you think”, Socialist Studies, 5(2), Fall 2009 and the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, http://links.org.au/node/1407.

Article: One of Chris Harman's last short pieces, on the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France: http://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/2009/09/npa.htm.

Document: “Building left unity out of the wreckage, January 10, 2010, a document from Socialist Resistance on the left after the various attempts to found a new left in Britain, http://socialistresistance.org/?p=801.

In Britain, following on from the No2EU alliance a new electoral alliance called the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was established which stood candidates in the British general election, http://www.tusc.org.uk/. Largely a Socialist Party initiative, Bob Crowe is a supporter, but no trade unions as such are involved. The SWP has joined.

References

[2] Contat, M. & Rybalka, M.A., The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, Northwestern University Press, 1974.

[3] Kelly, M., “If you thought the bank bailout was bad, wait until the mortgage defaults hit home”, Irish Times, November 8, 2010, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/1108/1224282865400.html.

For example he says,

“September marked Ireland’s point of no return in the banking crisis. During that month, €55 billion of bank bonds (held mainly by UK, German, and French banks) matured and were repaid, mostly by borrowing from the European Central Bank.

Until September, Ireland had the legal option of terminating the bank guarantee on the grounds that three of the guaranteed banks had withheld material information about their solvency, in direct breach of the 1971 Central Bank Act. The way would then have been open to pass legislation along the lines of the UK’s Bank Resolution Regime, to turn the roughly €75 billion of outstanding bank debt into shares in those banks, and so end the banking crisis at a stroke.

With the €55 billion repaid, the possibility of resolving the bank crisis by sharing costs with the bondholders is now water under the bridge. Instead of the unpleasant showdown with the European Central Bank that a bank resolution would have entailed, everyone is a winner. Or everyone who matters, at least.”

If this is not quite Marxism it is knowledgeable and radical analysis.

[5] PBP Newsletter, October 27, 2010, http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.ie/node/433

[6] Hey, this is a reference to peace, not a dig at the SP's hostility to republicanism!

[10] http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.ie/node/459; There’s also a report of Richard Boyd Barrett’s outline of the ULA after the launch on RTE television’s Frontline program at http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.ie/node/460; also on Indymedia Diarmuid Breatnach has posted a personal account of the meeting and which has begun a discussion thread: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/98371&comment_limit=0&condense_comments=false#comment275958

[11] Irish Times, Thursday, November 18, 2010.

[12] Irish Times, Thursday, November 25, 2010: minimum wage cut by €1; social welfare cuts of €2.8 billion over four years; 25,000 less in the public service by 2014; tax net begins at pay €3,000 lower; 10% cut in public service starting pay; water charges by 2014.

[13] Irish Times, Thursday, November 29, 2010: 5.8% interest charge on the bailout; €17.5 billion of the €485 billion to come from Irish funds, €10 billion of which is to go to the banks; no change in 12.5% corporation tax; revenues from sale of state companies must go to pay debt; EU involvement in review of registered employment agreements.

[14] Irish Times, Thursday, December 2, 2010: further cuts over €15 billion if targets not met; a total of €6 billion in social welfare and public sector cuts, including pensions, required; a Bill to increase the retirement age; detailed monthly, quarterly, and weekly financial, banking and fiscal reports and data be provided to the commission, the ECB and the IMF; targets for privatisation of ESB and Bórd Gáis.

[15] Irish Times, Wednesday, December 8, 2010: the lowest paid into the tax net; tax hikes for low-middle earners; €1 an hour off the minimum wage; €8 cut in weekly unemployment benefit; similar cuts in carer's and disability allowances; €10 cut in child benefit for first and second child; third level registration up to €2000; the health budget cut by a further €700 million; low-middle public sector pensions cut; €50 transport fee for primary pupils; total estimated ‘fiscal adjustment’ for 2008-2014 of €30.4 billion.

[18] The editor of the Left Bloc newspaper, Mariana Carneiro, is speaking at a PBPA public meeting on the IMF,

Europe and the economic crisis on December 15 in the Unite Hall, Abbey Street, Dublin.

[19] Cf. Rory Hearne, “Why should we be paying for the mistakes of bankers, developers and politicians for the next 25 years?”, Irish Times, Tuesday, October 12, 2010.

[21] Joe Higgins, ULA press launch, November 25; Irish Times, November 26, 2010.

[22] Deaglán de Bréadún, “United Left Alliance to run in 14 constituencies”, Irish Times,Tuesday, December 7, 2010, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/1207/1224284926765.html.The ULA also said it strongly supported the call by the trade union Unite for a one-day general strike against the government’s austerity policy.

[23] Dublin West; Clare Daly (Dublin North), a councillor; Séamus Healy (Tipperary South), a councillor; Gino Kenny (Dublin Mid West), a councillor; Séamus O’Brien (Wexford); Mike Murphy (Dublin South West); Cian Prendiville (Limerick City); John Lyons (Dublin North Central); Annette Mooney (Dublin South East); Conor Mac Liam, husband of health services campaigner the late Susie Long (Carlow-Kilkenny), and Brian Greene (Dublin North-East).

[25] “Despite the collapse, those who brought it about ... are busily exploiting this devastating catastrophe to re-engineer our economy and society according to an even crueller blue print which more effectively reflects their interests”, Jack O'Connor SIPTU president, November 24, 2010, http://www.siptu.ie/PressRoom/NewsReleases/2010/Name,11990,en.html; “There is no map to the future only a set of staging posts on the road to perdition. They will continue to extract ever increasing levels of interest on Irish Government Bonds as long as the current cycle of terror continues”, Jack O'Connor, September 29, 2010, http://www.siptu.ie/PressRoom/NewsReleases/2010/Name,11960,en.html.

[26] Their follow-up to November 27, of a lobby of TDs (are they kidding?!!) on one issue, the minimum wage, is a classic ICTUside-tracking and demobilising tactic worthy of the petition that replaced and retired the tax marches and of the program of local and sectionalised non-cooperation (and lobbying of backbenchers!) that substituted last January for the resumption of the public sector strikes when ICTU's "unpaid leave" deal was rejected.

[27] This sorry state is set to continue it seems with two "broad anti-cuts campaigns, the Right to Work Campaign and the “rest of the left” christening their campaign ‘noto6billioncuts’. A third campaign, the 1% Network, overlaps with the latter. The algebra of left jostling would confuse anyone, and sometimes that confusion is not unintentional. It confuses even the paper of record, as you can see from this report: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/1206/1224284847867.html. Each of the three mentioned left collections had semi-separate convergences on the Dáil on budget evening. The “rest of the left” rally (noto6billioncuts) has morphed through the wonders of modern technology into a United Left Alliance rally (it wasn't) in this film of it on Dailymotion: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xg0fr9_united-left-alliance-rally-dublin-budget-day-protest_news.

I may be confused myself at this stage, but as I understand it the left managed to have an all-left rally at the O'Connell Monument after the ICTU march on November 27. This was not the ULA but a wider collection which had been meeting to organise for the ICTU and the budget day events. This collection, which I think is now being styled the “noto6billioncuts” campaign organised the budget night Dáil rally at 6 o'clock minus the Right to Work Campaign, which had its own march from Parnell Square to the Dáil at 7 o'clock. The 1% Network marched to the Dáil from their spot at the Wolfe Tone monument but to join the 6 o'clock “noto6billioncuts” rally which they helped organise. (How is the head? I am probably confusing you more at this stage and myself too maybe). It is not all black and in bits: though the 6 o'clock rally was formally wound up by the cathaoirleach, Joe Higgins, before the 7 o'clock march attained the Dáil, the march did share the same platform lorry and sound system and some overlap of speakers and speeches. Different cathaoirleach. This material base of cooperation was matched by the eventual mood of camaraderie in the cold as the regiments got all mixed together on the field of action.

[33] Alliance with the ULA is far from the mind of this Labour councillor, as is any notion of socialism: http://richardhumphreys.blogspot.com/2010/11/united-left-alliance-would-wreck.html.

[34] http://paddyhealy.wordpress.com/ and Paddy says on The Cedar Lounge (December 2):

“Clearly, my earlier prediction that Labour +Sinn Fein +lefts could have a numerical majority is being borne out. And this is before the budget! After Jan 1, there will be reductions in the pay cheque, the welfare cheque and the occupational pension cheque. We haven’t seen the bottom of the Fianna Fail collapse yet.” http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/the-polls-volatile%E2%80%A6-too-volatile/#comments

See also Helena Sheehan, http://www.facebook.com/hsheehan.

In an extrapolation of the Red C poll, Political Reform said on December 2, 2010:

“These figures would also raise the possibility of a left-leaning coalition government especially as ten of the seats in the Independents and Others category would be assigned to left wing candidates such as Seamus Healy, Catherine Murphy, Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett.”

http://politicalreform.ie/2010/12/02/december-3-red-cirish-sun-poll-fianna-fail-facing-annihilation/#more-1539.

The prospect of a “left” government had reached the Sunday Independent by December 5, as a portent of ruin of course:

“The spectre of a Labour and Sinn Fein-led government, with the support of independent socialist TDs, is now uncomfortably close to reality, according to the latest analysis of voting intentions...Now, detailed analysis of an opinion poll published during the week, and seen by the Sunday Independent, has highlighted the distinct possibility that Labour and Sinn Fein could form a new government with the support of a majority -- but not necessarily all -- of up to 15 independent TDs.”

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/sf-swing-can-make-gilmore-taoiseach-2448838.htm.

[35] “Gilmore says ‘the politics of promises is over’”, Irish Times, Monday, November 29, 2010, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/1129/1224284370968.html.

[36] John Gormley, Dáil Eireann, November 30, 2010:

“It has been stated by Deputies on the other side that the Opposition has been placed in a straightjacket. That is an apt analogy in more ways than one... I have no doubt Deputy Gilmore will sit in my place next year, looking up at the Sinn Féin Deputies who will be criticising him non-stop. All Deputy Gilmore will be able to say in reply, just as we have said, is that he has no choice but to act...Deputy Gilmore will be faced with that lack of choice which will eat him up inside. I wish him well but there is much awaiting him.” http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2010/11/30/00019.asp#N96

[39] Vincent allows for this too (Irish Times, December 8, 2008):

“The diving and ducking over policy decisions, the frenetic determination to say nothing at all that will alienate any segment of voters, the driving opportunism, the cynicism of it all. It could do them damage, bring them back to about 15 per cent of the vote and reduce their seats to 30 or less, with Sinn Féin and the Left Alliance gaining at their expense.” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/1208/1224285024338.html

[40] Dermot Connolly was unable to attend the launch. He would have been gratified. His contacting, convening and conversation have been central at certain points along this path to coalescence.

Comments

Program of the United Left Alliance (Ireland)

From http://www.unitedleftalliance.org/programme-of-the-united-left-alliance-building-a-real-political-alternative/

November 18, 2010 -- The economic crisis is resulting in an unprecedented onslaught on living standards, spiralling mass unemployment and a dramatic rise in poverty. Meanwhile billions is being taken from working people and given to bankers, builders and international speculators.

The newly formed United Left Alliance (ULA) is opposed to the governments’ bailouts and the slash and burn policies which are only making the crisis worse. In the general election we aim to provide a real alternative to the establishment parties as well as Labour and Sinn Fein, who also accept the capitalist market and refuse to rule out coalition with right wing parties. The approach of a Fine Gael / Labour government in power would not be fundamentally different than this government.

The ULA will be standing candidates throughout the country and we are inviting all people, campaigns and groups that want to fight for real change and who agree with our demands to become part of the Alliance.

The ULA:

  1. Rejects so-called solutions to the economic crises based on slashing public expenditure, welfare payments and workers’ pay. There can be no just or sustainable solution to the crisis based on the capitalist market. Instead we favour democratic and public control over resources so that social need is prioritised over profit.
  2. Those elected as part of the alliance will not do any deals or support any coalition with any of the right wing parties particularly Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. We are committed to building a mass left alternative to unite working people, whether public or private sector, Irish or migrant, with the unemployed, welfare recipients, pensioners and students in the struggle to change society.

The ULA has agreed the following key demands:

1. End the bailout of banks and developers.

The ULA says scrap NAMA and end the bailout of the banks and developers. Take the banks, finance houses, major construction companies and development land into democratic public ownership and use them for the benefit of people, not the profit of the few. Democratic public ownership of the banks would guarantee the savings of ordinary bank account holders but would give no commitment to pay the bondholders and financial speculators who helped cause the global crisis.

We want to use resources, including the huge numbers of vacant properties, to provide facilities and social and affordable homes for all, to buy or rent.

Reduce total mortgages and repayments to affordable levels to reflect the real cost of the property and outlaw repossessions/evictions of families from their homes on the basis of inability to pay.

2. Tax the greedy not the needy

Ireland is not a poor country. Massive amounts of wealth were generated during the boom. The problem is that such wealth is in the hands of a tiny superrich minority. We completely reject the notion that all this wealth has suddenly disappeared. It is also the case that many companies, especially multinationals, remain profitable.

The ULA stands for a progressive taxation system where corporation tax on the massive profits made in Ireland would be increased, which together with a steeply progressive income tax would shift the tax burden from working people to big business and the rich.

We also demand a wealth tax on the assets of the rich, increases in capital gains tax and an end to all tax loopholes for the rich.

We oppose all stealth and double taxes including bin charges and plans to introduce water charges, a property tax, or a “household tax”. We oppose the inclusion of the low paid in the tax net.

3. End the jobs crisis

The ULA condemns the complete failure of the government and the private sector to preserve or create jobs. Their policies are deflationary and are making the jobs crisis worse.

We call for a real social development programme that could create hundreds of thousands of jobs building necessary infrastructure like public transport, green energy projects, broadband, child care, schools, hospitals, health centres and other community facilities.

We oppose plans to sell off state companies. Instead these companies should be used as the vehicle for job creation.
End the reliance on the private sector, use democratic public ownership of wealth and natural resources and the banks to provide jobs by the launching a state programme of industrial development and innovation to build the productive capacity of the economy. Take the Corrib Gas Field into public ownership.

Reduce the working week without loss of pay and create tens of thousands of jobs by sharing out the work.
No to compulsory work for dole schemes or fake jobs. We demand real jobs and a reversal of all the cuts in social welfare and benefit payments.

4. Reverse the cuts – Defend public services

The ULA says end the profiteering in health care. We stand for a properly funded and resourced public health system, free at the point of access and paid for through a progressive tax system. No privatisation of health services and end all subsidies to private care. No co-location of private hospitals on public hospital lands.

We demand proper state funding for a democratically run and secular education system, free for all from early childhood to university. For more teachers to reduce class sizes and special needs and language support so the needs of all children are met. End all subsidies for private schools. No re-introduction of third level fees, pay students a living grant instead.

No to the cuts in social welfare payments or pensions and no to the cutting, taxing or means testing of child benefit.
For a mass campaign by the trade union movement and the communities to reverse the cuts in public services.
We want real reform of our public services. Its time to stop copying failed private sector practices. We want an end to inflated salaries, bonuses and expenses for top public servants and politicians. We want a cap on salaries and full public scrutiny of public spending. Public services should be run democratically with the full involvement of the workers, the service users and the wider community.

5. Equality for all

The ULA supports equality for all and the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age.

We support a campaign by the trade unions to unionise all workers and for the legal right to trade union recognition.

End all anti-asylum seeker and anti-immigrant laws and bias by the state.Give asylum seekers the right to work and give both asylum seekers and

migrant workers the same rights as all other workers, to help fight “the race to the bottom” in pay and conditions.
We support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including the right to marry for same sex couples.

6. Protect the environment

Despite the rhetoric, environmental destruction is continuing apace. We call for major state investment in developing renewable energy. Through public ownership and democratic planning, the economy can be redirected onto a sustainable path.

We need real reform of our planning system, so that people’s needs and environmental protection come before the profits of developers. We call for major investment in community facilities, waste management, recycling facilities and public transport.

We are opposed to incinerators as a solution to the waste problem because they pose serious health risks. We call for a proper integrated waste management plan, including a drastic reduction of packaging combined with a serious approach to recycling and composting.

7. Build a real left alternative in Ireland and Europe

The formation of the ULA is part of a process across Europe and internationally of the development of movements and organisations to fight the attacks on workers, the unemployed and the poor and to fight for a new vision for society.

We are opposed to the dictates of the EU and its neo liberal policies of curbing public spending and promoting austerity. The policy of driving down public spending to meet EU imposed targets will destroy jobs and lead to misery for workers, the unemployed and the poor. Workers did not create the debt and should not have to pay for it.

We are committed to building solidarity with workers across Europe to forge a new direction which puts the needs of workers and the unemployed before the greed of speculators and profiteers.

An important part of this is the urgent need to reclaim and rebuild the trade unions and to mobilise the power of workers though mass action. The approach of Social Partnership has left workers defenceless and has led to a massive transfer of wealth from workers to employers and must be scrapped.

Our elected TDs will give full support to those unions and workers who oppose the Croke Park deal and will use the Dail to raise the real issues that affect ordinary working people.

ULA candidates are also required to sign our candidate pledge.

IRSP Position On United Left Alliance

http://irsm.org/news/?p=248

Posted by IRSP at 21 January , 2011

In the context of an onslaught on working class people involving a consensus for cuts among the establishment parties in a failing attempt to deal with capitalism’s latest collapse, a health service in crisis, continued unemployment and mass emigration particularly among young people, elements of the Irish left came together to form the ‘United Left Alliance’. The Irish Republican Socialist Party wishes to now put on record it’s position on the ULA. A core tenet of IRSP policy since our foundation, in the pursuit of our objective of a 32 County Democratic Socialist Republic, has been the formation of a Broad Front to combat the malign influences of imperialism and capitalism in Ireland as effectively as possible. The creation of such a front would in effect see the development of a unified struggle against all the baneful manifestations of capitalism and would begin the process of creating a mass revolutionary party (consistent calls for such a party have been made from some quarters of the Irish left, these are calls we would like to echo) capable of offering leadership and mobilising as many people as possible towards our goals. Unity and co-operation amongst the left has consistently been a facet of IRSP policy.

Two questions arise for the IRSP out of the formation of the ULA, the ideological question and the tactical question. Ideologically speaking, while the IRSP is not in full agreement with the programme of the ULA, we view it as also containing ideas of substantial merit. However, a major failing is that the programme itself, while mentioning several components of a socialist system, fails to explicitly state that it is the programme of an organisation which seeks to establish a revolutionary socialist state in Ireland. One can only speculate as to the reason for this, most probably fears about alienation of the mass of working people and potential constituent members, but this is something we fundamentally disagree with. There must be no ambiguity among socialists about what we stand for and this point leads us on to the tactical question which will be developed below. Also notable by it’s absence is any mention of the national aspect to the revolutionary socialist struggle in this country. It is the duty of Irish socialists to combat the undemocratic imposition of cutbacks in the North, challenge the overt sectarianism which has been entrenched in the very structures of the Northern state and work towards the ending of partition.

This latest crisis must not be met with a strategy based around electoral gains, such a strategy is akin to inviting failure to our doorstep. The biggest flaw with the ULA is that such a coalition is aimed at winning elections, not building the working class mass fightback or pointing the way towards workers’ power. This is one of the most fundamental issues that divides revolutionary socialists from reformist social democrats. It is the capacity of the working class for action that is most vital in changing society, not winning votes.

The IRSP’s position on electoralism is clear. We do not believe there is a parliamentary road to socialism and thus any electoral intervention must not be characterised by a refusal to put right-wing parties in power or the demand for what can realistically be judged as a more progressive policy platform than a conservative administration, but by the clear pursuit of revolutionary aims. Central to our revolutionary aims is the building of working class power, which will not be built by uniting a couple of sects espousing reformist rhetoric and reformist demands. The current system of political administration in Ireland, a reflection of our economic system, is fundamentally undemocratic and cannot possibly cater for the needs of the Irish people. Any electoral success must be used to spread revolutionary socialist ideas and to expose the stark limitations of the current system. Most especially this must be channeled towards mobilising working people to the streets, not demobilising them, or putting them under the influence of trade union bureaucrat mis-leaders. As Ta Power said, “There is no easy way to the Socialist Republic, no shortcuts”, and yet some far left parties have a foolish history of ditching much of their core political principles for short-term electoral gains.

During the crisis, all efforts must be made to correctly identify and articulate the true causes of the economic collapse, namely, the inherent contradictions at the heart of the capitalist system. Populism around individuals and popular media scapegoats may be useful in garnering some minor electoral support, but does little to properly educate or radicalise working people. Concentrating on the symptoms of Ireland’s economic forms rather than widening the confines of political discourse in Ireland and directly outlining the inherent flaws in capitalism and that we see socialism as the solution, is a road to nowhere. Leading on from the ideological decision to neglect to mention socialism in their programme, the strategy of the ULA will naturally also mirror this tepidness.

We recognise this is a minimum programme and each constituent member may pursue their own strategy, but that calls into question the whole premise of the ULA. Should socialists sign up to something that in practice would be reformist and firmly in the realms of social democracy? The answer should be an unequivocal ‘no’. This returns usto the issue of how this alliance is being built: not by the broader layers of working masses, but by two main sects out to enlarge their vote.

Having said this, if the intention behind this formation is to simply begin negotiations and set in place the foundations for what would be a mass revolutionary party which is unambiguous about it’s socialist revolutionary credentials, then it must be wholeheartedly welcomed. Integral to this must be broad-based talks that include all organizations of the revolutionary left, including those who recognise the importance of the national question.

The position of the IRSP at this juncture is that while the formation of the ULA is progressive in our view, with many outstanding local activists involved, the IRSP’s revolutionary outlook in relation to the subject of electoralism and the struggle for Irish sovereignty do not run parallel to the views of the ULA. In a personal capacity members of the IRSP may aid ULA campaigns in their locality but we hope at some point in the near future to take part in the building of a mass revolutionary party that unashamedly stands in the tradition of James Connolly and socialist republicanism and which will work towards the ending of exploitation, capitalism and imperialist occupation. The interests of individual sects must be put aside in the interests of working people and to this end we envisage the establishment of a mass revolutionary organisation as the only vehicle through which our goals can be achieved.

Ends.

Sinn Féin’s electoral advance

http://www.socialistaction.net/Sinn-Feins-electoral-advance.html

Thursday, 09 December 2010
E-mail Print

By Frances Davis

Sinn Féin’s stunning victory in the Donegal South West parliamentary by-election on 25 November represents a huge advance in what was the first electoral test for the Dublin government since the sharp deepening of the state’s economic crisis. Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty saw his party’s vote soar from 21 per cent at the last general election in 2007 to 40 per cent of first preference votes. In a reversal of previous showings, Sinn Féin also won an increasing share of the transfers from the eliminated candidates.

This is now further reflected in a recent poll showing Sinn Féin doubling their support from the last Dail election to some 16 per cent, and overtaking the ruling coalition party Fianna Fail at 13 per cent.

This follows on the heels of a mass demonstration on 27 November, called by ICTU, reliably estimated at 100,000 in Dublin, in opposition to yet more swingeing austerity cuts the government is attempting to impose to pay for the latest bail out of the banks. This number, given the size of the population of the southern Irish state, is the equivalent to over a million people marching in London. It is the biggest mobilisation since the mass protest against the pensions attack two years ago, and reflects the anger of the electorate with the Fianna Fail government’s approach — one which is virtually identical to the assault the Conservative-led coalition has planned in Britain.

At its root is a strategy to inflict massive attacks on the working class in order to drive down wages and defend profits. In Britain a colonialist argument is being expressed that somehow the southern Irish state is not able to manage itself, and that this so-called `bail-out’ is necessary due to Irish incompetence. Of course this is false on many levels, and ignores the impact and legacy of colonialism on the Irish economy.

Moreover, far from being a poor neighbour, per capita output in the 26 counties is in fact higher than in Britain and around a third higher than that of the six counties. At the time of partition it was half that.

In relation to the current attacks, Ireland’s increased indebtedness is not due to incompetence but arises from a political agenda — the same one David Cameron is imposing in Britain. The Fianna Fail-led government chose to throw billions of euros into the banks, to shore up shareholders. The price for that has been successive austerity measures and 14.6 billion euros worth of cuts and tax increases over four emergency budgets. Mass unemployment, the spectre of new emigration with tens of thousands leaving the country again, wage cuts and slashing further public services are the price being paid to ensure that capital does not pay for the crisis it created. The latest `solution’ will not resolve the problem but is the latest expression of what will be a continuing crisis, unless the policy changes. It is a lesson for what will happen here in Britain under the Tory coalition plans.

Sinn Féin’s victory is so significant because of all the parties in Ireland, it alone understands the two decisive issues and what is necessary to address them. Unlike in Britain, where all the main political parties have the wrong economic policy of accepting the need for cuts, Sinn Féin — which is a mass party now on 16 per cent in the polls in the south, and the largest party in the north — is putting forward a clear and correct economic alternative. Sinn Féin argues for government investment, not swingeing cuts, in order to stimulate the economy and raise the growth rate. Moreover, its progressive, left character means that at the heart of its position is the commitment to social and economic equality, defending welfare, jobs and living conditions. Crucially Sinn Féin is the only party which actually fights for Irish unity — and without that the Irish nation will be unable to develop a sustainable or thriving economy, free from the distortions and constraints at all levels of society inflicted by colonialism. Indeed, Sinn Féin makes this case coherently, most recently in an article by Mitchel McLaughlin, the party’s economy spokesperson in the Assembly, in an article in the Belfast Telegraph on 8 December.

This week’s latest emergency budget will see a further €6bn of cuts imposed — the equivalent of some € 6,000 per person in the state over the six-year period for which it is planned.

The test for all the political parties will be what alternative they put forward. Whilst Fine Gael and Labour have opposed the budget, neither break from the principle of cuts, but differ on how they should be applied. Labour has previously indicated a willingness to go into coalition with Fine Gael which will represent no break with the current policies. In addition, Labour’s own submission argues for €4.5bn in cuts and tax increases, rather than the government proposals of €6bn. Only Sinn Féin puts forward a clear progressive alternative, based on investment as opposed to cuts, and have long argued for a new realignment in Irish politics, based on a real left alternative to the status quo which defends the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population and resists the renewed subjugation of the nation. Indeed, Sinn Féin’s newest TD Pearse Doherty laid out that clear alternative in his Dail speech opposing the budget.

With Gerry Adam’s selection to stand for Sinn Féin in the Louth constituency in what looks a likely general election in early February, Sinn Féin are in a strong position running into the next election and, alongside the ongoing protests against the capitalist offensive, should be supported by socialists here in Britain, who can learn a huge amount from the struggle taking place in Ireland.

Ireland: Left will meet on January 31, 2011

Major Left Parties and Minds will Meet in Conference

A Conference entilted 'New Political Possibilities in Ireland for all Left-Wing Parties in Partnership with Civil Society' will be held on Monday January 31st in the Davenport Hotel, Dublin. The conference will give TDs and public representatives from Labour, Sinn Fein and the Left Alliance an opportunity to showcase their economic and social policies in advance of the general election. Arguments will also be presented on the possibilities for a grand coalition of the left as a new potential Irish government.

The conference will also explore how real democracy might be put in to place in Ireland through establishing real networks and working arrangements between civil society and these political parties alongside the trade union sector and progressive academics. This will be augmented by an outline of progressive, fairer and more sustainable economic and social policies by representatives from civil society, unions and leading progressive academics.

Policy issues covered: alternative solutions to the banking crisis; new policies to reduce unemployment; a fairer taxation system; a new budgetary framework; negotiating with the EU and IMF; housing waiting lists and mortgage arrears; social welfare cutbacks; re-vitalising communities; public services; political leadership; More efficient and fairer health and social care policies.
The line up is as follows but more may be added later.

Tommy Broughan TD- The Labour Party
Ciaran Lynch TD- The Labour Party
Joe Higgins MEP- Left Alliance.
Cllr.Richard Boyd-Barrett-Left Alliance
TDs from Sinn Fein (names to be confirmed)
Michael Taft- Unite and TASC Economists' Network
Anne Costello- Community Platform
Dr.Mary Murphy- NUI Maynooth, academic, activist and former Policy Officer with Vincent de Paul
Prof. Kathleen Lynch- UCD, academic and activist.
Tom O'Connor-Economist CIT
Awaiting confirmation: Jack O'Connor, President SIPTU.
Michael Burke- TASC Economists' Network and formerly senior trader at Citibank.
Other speakers to be confirmed.

The Conference will run from 9am to 6pm. Admission is 10 euros. Booking in advance is essential. Booking info: tom.oconnor@cit.ie and deirdreob@eircom.net

A full conference programme will be published later and sent out to all participants. Further details, discussion and news of new speakers will be posted on the Irishleftreview website.

Tom O'Connor
College Lecturer in Economics and Public Policy
Cork Institute of Technology
Tel: 086-2462176

Building the ULA: reflections on the past and proposals

http://tomasoflatharta.com/2011/01/07/building-the-ula-reflections-on-th...

Building the ULA: reflections on the past and proposals for the future.

Brendan Young. PBP and CIL.

It is just over a month since the ULA was launched and the paucity of organised resistance to the deepening economic crisis has made the alternative offered by the ULA all the more urgent. So the formation of the ULA is very welcome. Also welcome is the public commitment to the ULA by PBP, the SP, the SWP and the Tipperary UWAG. Such co-operation amongst the Irish left is a very big step forward and every effort should be made to ensure that it is a success, up to and after the coming election.

At present the ULA is an electoral alliance – based upon a limited program of resistance to the EU-IMF austerity / deflation / mass unemployment program of the FF-Green government (which a FG-Labour coalition will also implement). The formation of this electoral alliance is, in itself, very positive. But the success of the ULA launch, the recognition across the Irish Left of the political significance of agreement amongst socialists on an electoral slate / platform, and the desire amongst the many who will not join the SP or SWP but who want to be part of a serious alternative to Labour and SF, mean that discussion on what the ULA could become is also urgent.

This paper is a contribution to the discussion on how the ULA can evolve, and looks at three issues:

* can the ULA be the beginnings of something new;
* can it evolve into something more than an electoral alliance;
* and can those who support and campaign for ULA candidates, but who are not in the organisations mentioned above, join the ULA and have a role in its decision-making?

Historical opportunity

The decline of working class support for FF combined with the explicit pro-capitalist commitments of Labour, in a context of the deepest economic crisis in living memory, present Irish socialists with an historical opportunity. A new political space is opening to the left of Labour. We should however, adopt a comradely attitude to Labour supporters, many of whom will become disillusioned with Labour in coalition with FG. The possibility of six ULA-sponsored TDs being elected, and acting as a pole of attraction for those who oppose the austerity drive, will create the conditions for a new political formation: a new workers party with a small mass base (by this I mean a party with over a thousand active members and the ability to mobilise three to four times that number.)

To realise this historic potential, those involved in the ULA and the other socialist / activists interested in a new formation must make a commitment to building it. And we must try to avoid the errors of the past. There is much politically on which the Left agrees. But there have also been hostilities in the past, flowing from a desire to recruit based on points of difference. The ULA is the beginning of a break from that past. If we are to move forward, we must try to work together as much as possible; to seek consensus as much as possible; and to be open to debate and be able to disagree without hostility – while continuing to work together.

At this stage an evolving political formation should be based on a program of struggle and resistance – which is what the current electoral platform of the ULA represents. More broadly, a future workers party should take the side of the working class and the oppressed in any conflict with the bosses and the state. The logic of such an approach is a challenge to capitalism, but we cannot simply drop a revolutionary (eco) socialist program onto a new formation: that is a recipe for recruitment to the existing revolutionary socialist groups and little more.

Thus a new workers party would accumulate its political program out of real debate and struggles, rather than adopting a ready-made program with little depth of understanding. The role of experienced socialists would be to help develop transitional demands which raise the level of struggle to challenge the foundations of capitalism and bourgeois rule. (The alternative is to accept the logic of capitalism – an acceptance that has brought the Labour Party to its current sorry state). This transitional approach is necessary due to the existing level of consciousness and the dominance of reformist ideas in the social / workers movement: that capitalism / private property is an acceptable socio-economic system – if only we could have a ‘fairer’ version not subject to crises.

Alliance – or organisation?

The ULA platform – although weak on feminist, eco and other demands – is adequate as the political basis for an evolving political formation. What is still unclear however, (though probably being discussed informally) is how the ULA might develop. Is it to remain as an alliance (electoral or otherwise) of existing socialist groups? Or is it to be built as an organisation in its own right – potentially a new workers party? The signals so far are that the SP is committed to building a new workers party out of the ULA; but as far as I am aware, no such commitment has yet come from the other groups.

A brief account of the difficulties in building PBP will illustrate what I think are problems with the ‘alliance of groups’ approach. I raise these not to denigrate PBP or the people working and campaigning with PBP, but to address issues which I think have undermined its potential to grow, and which would likewise undermine the potential development of the ULA.

After an auspicious launch, people were urged to ‘join’ PBP. Local groups formed, but it is mainly those which existed before the launch that have developed in any real way. One objective reason for this is the lack of an upsurge in the general level of struggle – so there was no new wave of people who might have been interested in PBP.

There have also been subjective problems, however. Due to the election of councillors on a PBP platform, the model for building PBP groups focused on local struggles – with a view to using the support gained from participation in these to build an electoral base for PBP candidates. Elected reps would then campaign to build local (and other) struggles. But it is not possible to build a group around local issues alone. Unemployment and job losses, the cute, or the crisis in the health service cannot be addressed at a local level: they are national issues and require national (and international) solutions. Indeed the formation of state-wide campaign groups to fight unemployment is a recognition of this – and also served to relegate PBP to local-electoral issues. Only in rare instances and over a long period can local groups be built around local issues, and this approach undermined the building of PBP groups.

A question of strategy

Another obstacle to building PBP was the ‘alliance of groups’ strategy – rather than building PBP as a new formation in which existing groups worked, but which existed in its own right as a pluralist political organisation. In an ‘alliance of groups’ strategy, the sum is indeed greater than the component parts acting alone. But the only means whereby an ‘alliance’ can grow as a national force and pole of attraction is for people to join the state-wide groups involved in the alliance – and there are many who don’t want to do that. While people were urged to ‘get involved’ in PBP their involvement was restricted to participation in localist groups that were not integrated into a wider project, and with little say on the overall direction of PBP. The ‘alliance’ approach fed the ‘localist’ approach and similarly undermined the project.

The reluctance to build PBP as an organisation in its own right also contributed to shortcomings of communication: things that would involve people in the life of an organisation have fallen by the wayside because PBP was not conceived of as an organisation of participating members.

In practice, the role of the ‘members’ is to turn up on demos, distribute election leaflets, and contribute money. This might be OK if all you want is to get a few socialists elected. But it does not build a social base from which elected representatives can mobilise: eloquent socialist speeches in the Dáil or Council Chamber count for little unless significant numbers can be mobilised in pursuit of socialist solutions. Nor does passive support for an alliance or organisation, rather than active participation in it, provide the debate and political education its members need to develop as leaders in their own right – able to call existing leaders / elected reps to account.

With regard to the relationship between having TDs and being able to mobilise, Joe Higgins did an excellent job arguing the cause of working people using the platform of the Dáil (and likewise as an MEP). While this increased the SP’s profile and got a few councillors elected, the party’s inability to mobilise more than a few hundred people indicates the inadequacy of a strategy that prioritises the building of a revolutionary socialist organisation (in the current political conditions) and uses its elected reps to that end. The SP has, in my opinion, drawn a positive lesson from that experience: it is currently committed (as far as I am aware) to building a broad, class struggle organisation – which is politically plural and includes other revolutionary socialists and non-socialists alike – and is therefore able to develop significant social weight.

In my view, it should be clear that repeating the ‘alliance of groups’ approach in the ULA would be to waste the opportunity now presented to us. The immediate task facing the ULA is the election of a number of TDs. But what do we do after the election? Go back to building our individual organisations? Surely we want to ensure that all who campaign for the ULA can participate in it – up to and after the election? And surely we want to ensure that people who are drawn to the ULA after the election can participate in a national formation that grows out of the ULA – as a campaigning organisation that is democratic and open in the way it functions?

Proposals for how the ULA might function as an evolving political formation:

Within the ULA there should be an emphasis on finding agreement and on working together. The spirit of debate should be one of honest engagement and attempting to decide by consensus, establishing as much agreement as possible, rather than hostility or lining people up. Where disagreements exist we should not hide them – people need to see that it is possible to disagree but remain united on a broad range of issues. Any organisation of significant size / numbers will have many internal debates and disagreements – so we must accept that we will not always have complete agreement or get ‘our’ way, but remain committed to working together. Leadership must be earned through open political debate and persuasion, rather than by private agreements or the packing of meetings.

With this in mind, we should consider how activists who support the ULA can participate in its decision-making in the run-up to the election. Monthly national meetings involving ULA candidates, elected reps and open to all ULA supporters could serve this purpose. These meetings could decide policy and proposals for action (within the framework of the agreed ULA platform, but able to amend it if there was consensus). Proposals should be circulated ahead of meetings. In the longer term (if the ULA continues / grows after the election), a delegate structure may be more appropriate – based on the constituent organisations and on new branch / local bodies of the ULA.

Likewise, a steering group that meets between national meetings could be set up, involving ULA candidates and elected reps, representatives of the groups participating in the ULA and activists not in those groups. If local ULA activist groups are formed, they could also have representation. This steering group should develop a practice of taking written proposals and circulating them to supporters as part of the minutes of meetings. In this way our supporters can be informed of what is going in the alliance.

The alliance could produce a fortnightly e-bulletin for supporters, providing political analysis, news and argument. An editorial board could be set up to produce this bulletin.

The ULA could examine the possibility of producing a printed publication for supporters to use in the run-up to the election.

2011 General Election – the United Left Alliance Prepares

From http://tomasoflatharta.com/2011/01/11/2011-general-election-the-united-l...

Looking at Things from the Left
2011 General Election – the United Left Alliance Prepares

The United Left Alliance held a supporters’ meeting on Monday January 10 at 7pm in Wynn’s Hotel, Abbey Street.

Tomás Ó Flathartha reports.

Arriving on time – for a change – this reporter came across a few grumblers wondering why there was such an early start – these events in Dublin usually start about 8pm.

As usual most punters arrived late, but the room filled up quickly – maybe 110 – 130 people attended, though many left before the official end shortly after 9pm – by that time there were around 60-65 in the room.

It seemed many people had read Brendan Young’s Paper

Building the ULA:

reflections on the past and proposals for the future

(published on this blog and the Irish Left Review) and support for the practical proposals was widespread.

The Chairperson was Sinéad Kennedy (People Before Profit and Socialist Workers’ Party) – an active supporter of the pro-choice movement. She moved things briskly along, encouraged as many people as possible to contribute from the audience, and kept the introductory speakers within a short time-limit – impressive.

The meeting was broken up into two sections – the first part concentrated on general questions, and the second dealt with practical actions plans.

Kieran Allen (PBP and SWP) encouraged people to look at Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” – he said that 48 per cent of workers living in the Irish State had suffered pay cuts in the last year, while the European Average was 15 per cent.

On foot of the Government reduction of the minimum wage by 1 euro to €7.65 – a measure which affects about 5% of the workforce – employers’ organisations are now targeting workers covered by Joint Labour Committee agreements and Registered Employment Agreements :

details at this link :

http://www.chambers.ie/index.php?id=916

This bosses’ organisation is so cocky it advises :

“If you are looking to reduce the minimum wage of your employees or considering hiring new employees at the minimum wage rates please consult the Chamber Advice Service on 1890 252 923 where one of our experienced advisors can advise you and your business on how to negotiate this matter.”

Minister for Social Protection Éamonn Ó Cuív (he runs the Department of Social Welfare, but now it is restyled in a “newspeak” way that George Orwell satirised in his nightmare novel 1984) has brought in a new scheme cynically called “Tuas” (Start), conscripting 5000 unemployed people to work for a fee €20 above the dole payment (now called the “Jobseeker’s Allowance”), and that includes compulsory weekend work.

Kieran took up the popular mass media question “Why are the Irish Not Protesting”? - he argued voters are “waiting in the long grass” for Fianna Fáil

Link :

http://politicalreform.ie/2011/01/07/redcpaddypowerpoll7jan2011/

and that the leaders of the Trade Unions and Labour Leader Éamlonn Gilmore are trying to damp down the expectations of an angry people.

A series of opinion polls have shown that a left force which will not sell out could win 5 to 7 TD’s (Teachtaí Dála) in the General Election likely to be held in march 2011. The ULA needs to make this step forward, and then proceed towards forming a new working class party, that includes a number of tendencies or platforms.

It has to be based on community struggles alongside electoral campaigns.

The ULA proposes holding a conference of trade union supporters on February 19 next.

A different style of debate is needed on the left.

Paul Murphy then spoke for the Socialist Party.

He argued that the most significant part of the most recent opinion poll was the answer the question “We should have defaulted on loans rather than bring in the IMF and EU”?
45 per cent say Yes, 28 per cent say No and 27 per cent Don’t Know. A huge disconnect exists here between the clear majority view and the official positions of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The ULA and Sinn Féin are in tune with the majority of the population, just like the first Lisbon Treaty referendum.
Link :
http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1489
Sinn Féin’s problem is that the party is in a right wing coalition in Northern Ireland, and helps implement a harsh austerity programme :
Link :
http://www.joehiggins.eu/2010/12/poll-show-labours-commitment-to-impleme...
The new government is almost pre-determined – it will be a Fine Gael / Labour Coalition.
But who will lead the opposition?
Contributions then came from the audience :
Some points raised :
Kevin Morley asked if there were any plans to extend the ULA into the 6 Counties – Kieran Alllen later replied saying this would be considered after the 26 County General Election – personally he favoured an all-Ireland organisation.
Kevin Keating (Socialist Democracy) argued that Kieran Allen “underestimated” the “quisling” role of the trade union leaders.
Andrew Keegan talked about the activities of an independent workers’ group based in Ballymun.
James O’Toole (SWP) criticised people who claimed there was no alternative – and looked forward next year to being a member of a new united left party.
Thereese Caherty (Campaign for an Independent Left, PBP, Feminist Forum) pointed out the ULA founding statement did not mention Abortion, and that the Labour Party has a policy favouring legislation to implement the Supreme Court judgment in the notorious X Case of 1992 – something the Irish Government must do to comply with a recent European Court of Human Rights Judgment -
Links :
http://www.choiceireland.org/
http://feministopenforum.wordpress.com/
http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/the-statement-ag...
John Meehan (CIL, PBP) supported Therese, pointing out that since 1992 the pro-choice side had won 4 abortion referendums. Yet the establishment parties had done nothing for 18 years. The ULA should take positive line on this issue.
The depth of the economic crisis means the far left is growing, but a danger also exists that the far right may also mobilise. However, historically, far right growth was promoted by the institutions of the Catholic Church – but these foundation stones of partition have been severely weakened in the last 3 decades, especially because of the child abuse scandals.
We may lose a generation of people in their 20′s and 30′s as the recession gets worse, so for that reason also, we need to take action now.
Kieran Allen said there could be no changes to the basic ULA policy till after the general election. However all the constituent organisations have a pro-choice policy.
On the other hand a proposal for the ULA to help organise a feminist festival in March to coincide with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Dat was greeted with much enthusiasm.
It appears to this writer that the ULA can not credibly help organise such an event without having an explicit policy on the abortion issue!
Des Derwin (CIL, PBP) highlighted the need for an activists’ bulletin, a website open to supporters, and strategy to invite people to join the ULA, without having to be members of affiliated organisations. We should concentrate energies in constituencies where we had a realistic chance of winning a seat, and avoid spreading our resources too thinly.
Pat Dunne (Dublin South-Central PBP) argued we were facing situation similar to the 1918 meltdown of the Home Rule Party – a similar shrinking awaits Fianna Fáil.
Joe Kelly (CIL, PBP) welcomed the call for a new style on the left, which had a history of cannibalism. The key weakness was poor structures. At future meetings we needed an agenda, and the taking of minutes, so people could have quick access to key decisions.
Anne Conway (SD) argued that the working class is being crushed. her 40 work colleagues are more interested in the X factor than politics. It was premature to start talking about a party, when we need a movement.
Brendan Young (CIL, PBP) welcomed Kieran Allen’s comments; concerning the discussion about a possible “left government” we should call on Labour supporters to break with Fine Gael and support calls for repudiation of the IMF / EU bankers’ debt.
Ciarán Murphy suggesteed that the ULA organise cultural events, so that we did not always have tgo experience tedious public meetings.
Joe Higgins (SP Member of the European Parliament) argued that the electoral advances of left candidates who will not sell out wer based on campaigns around issues such as the water tax and the bin tax. Elections should not be counterposed to the building of a movement. A strong election for the left will stimulate trade union activists.
If the ULA can stand candidates in 20-21 constituencies it will be stronger.
Nevertheless we should make a wise use of resources.
People were right to criticise “long winded” speeches – if they thought that was a problem at Irish left wing meetings, this was nothing compared with events in the European Parliament! – and we should not underestimate the critical influence of personal conversations. We need people capable of mass work in the electoral campaign.
Eddie Conlon kicked off the second part of the meeting, pointing out that the media launch of the United Left Alliance had, for a change, attracted positive and mainly fair coverage in the mass media.
He read out a list of several constituency rallies :
I am trusting details will be published here :
http://www.unitedleftalliance.org/
A group of ex-Labour members in Offaly have reportedly left Gilmore’s party because of the intended coalition with Fine Gael, and are holding discussions with the ULA.
The Sunday Times has reported that in Wicklow the former general election candidate Nicky Kelly has resigned from the Labour Party.
The ULA will see if common ground can be established with activists who reject coalition with the right.
Candidates John Lyons and Annette Mooney introduced themselves to the meeting.
Dermot Connolly (CIL, PBP) argued that the ULA had a chance to become a serious force taking up the mantle of Connolly and Larkin. We should aim for a party “dominated by working people”, not “intellectuals”
In Dublin South-Central there are 4 PBP Branches which have surpassed the Labour Party at the organisational level, and competes with Sinn Féoin.
This language was questioned by Ciarán Murray. A lot of us were doing “precarious labour” and we need more working people to be “intellectuals”.
Richard Boyd-Barrett (PBP Councillor, Dún Laoghaire), reported that at a council meeting held earlier, a PBP motion to stop junkets funded by expenses was defeated by all other parties on the Council, Fine Gael, Labour, and Fianna Fáil.
They were concerned about a fog-horn no longer blowing at the harbour – but said nothing about 5 workers losing their jobs!
After the election, even if the ULA does well, big battles will break out immediately.
Joe Higgins stressed the need to carefully prepare the local constituency launches/
Barry Finnegan raised the issue of disenfranchising emigrants – Ireland is the only European country which does this.
Summing up Eddie Conlon said we have no policy on how people should use their second preferences – beyond the obvious point that no votes should go to the right.
It is accepted that more work needs to be done on improving political discussion and two way communications within the ULA.
Tom O’Connor asked how many women candidates were running for the ULA – 5 out of 17 – and argued that if any more people agree to run, they should all be female.

Adams sets sights on government

IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS -- http://republican-news.org -- Wednesday-Saturday, 5-8 January, 2011 -- Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said the party is open to forming a coalition with Labour if it secures enough votes in the forthcoming election.

Mr Adams comments come the day after Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore appeared to rule out forming a government with Sinn Fein.

Speaking this morning Mr Adams said his party "wants to be in government" and was capable of compromising with other parties.

"We are in government in the North (and) any party that is about the type of political changes that we're about, and which we have the vision and the imagination for, needs to have the hands on the levers of political power," he said in an interview broadcast on RTE radio.

"We're involved in a historic compromise in the North which is actually functioning so we know about the art of politics and the art of compromise," Mr Adams added.

The Sinn Fein president rejected Mr Gilmore's claims the general election would be primarily between the Labour Party and Fine Gael.

"The only parties which are going to form a government, and it's obvious there is going to be a coalition government of some sorts, are those who have a mandate. No party at this point has a mandate so what's the election going to be about?

"Eamon Gilmore talks on about it being almost a done deal, that it is going to be a beauty contest between himself and Enda Kenny but there needs to be much more than that though," he said.

"The difference between us and the Labour leadership and the leadership of other parties is that they are a mix of the same old, same old," Mr Adams added.

He repeated his call for root and branch reform of the political system in order to produce "a genuinely open and accountable form of government".

Mr Adams said Sinn Fein offered a "real political alternative and proposes reducing the exchequer deficit in a fair and balanced way, stimulating the economy, reforming the tax system and protecting those on low and average income".

The Sinn Fein president, who is to quit his West belfast seat at Westminster to contest the Louth constituency in the forthcoming election to the Dail, said both Fine Gael and Labour "missed the point completely" when they talked of renegotiating the EU-IMF bailout deal if elected to government.

He admitted there was a "huge" gap between Sinn Fein and Labour over the bailout deal, stressing that it was only his party which was prepared to "break the link between the private banking debt and the sovereign debt."

"We do believe that sovereign debt has to be dealt with and that there is a responsibility to deal with that. But there is no responsibility on Irish citizens to pay for the debt which has been incurred by private banks."

Nonetheless, Mr Adams said he believed a deal could be done with Labour to establish a left-leaning coalition.

"When you can do business with Ian Paisley, you can do business with anyone...but it has to be on the basis of a programme for Government
(which) has to be vested with citizens rights, and vested in a genuine programme of reform," he said.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Gilmore said this year's election would provide the first opportunity in the history of the State to choose a government that was not led by either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. However, he ruled out entering a coalition with Sinn Fein, saying the numbers did not add up.

Which government in sights: further clarification from SF?

In recent days Gerry Adams, though he was specifically addressing the SF proposal for a pact with Labour (firmly rejected by Irish Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore), seemed to imply that he was open for business with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, saying SF was ready for government and stating that if they could deal with Ian Paisley they could deal with anyone (a statement true in ways he may not have intended!). Now he seems to be clarifying or rolling back to rule out coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Last week I heard Gerry Adams say on Radio Newstalk 106 what is confirmed below:

An Phoblacht on line for 6th January ( http://aprnonline.com/?p=81156-- ) says:

"Eamon Gilmore had earlier claimed that Sinn Féin would be open to government with Fianna Fáil, a suggestion firmly rejected by Gerry Adams who said Sinn Féin has no intention of putting either of the two big conservative parties – Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael – into power:

'Eamon Gilmore’s claim that he interprets my remarks this morning on RTÉ about Sinn Féin’s ability to do a deal with Ian Paisley – in response to a question about Sinn Féin’s ability to do a deal with Mr Gilmore – as some sort of overture to Fianna Fáil is a flimsy attempt to distract attention from his intention of putting Fine Gael into government.'"

The latter para is a direct quote from Adams.

I reckon this is significant. SF may be open to coalition with the centre right parties (particularly Fianns Fáil) in the long term. And of course in the North SF is already in coalition with one of Europe's most right wing parties (the DUP), and administering a 2011 budget public spending cut of £4 billion sterling, compared to the Southern 2011 budget 'adjustment' of €6 billion which was made up of tax rises as well as cuts. But for the upcoming Southern election they can afford to make a stand to the left of Labour and an anti-coalition stand too (even if not principled). This places SF firmly in the 'all-left alliance' proposal.

Incidentally Gerry Adams is wrong when he says that it was only his party which was prepared to "break the link between the private banking debt and the sovereign debt." A look at the Programme of the United Left Alliance above will show otherwise, and there are other small parties in Ireland who have similar policies on the banks.

Unite union call to reject Fine Gael coalition

Call to reject Fine Gael coalition

One of the country's biggest trade unions has urged the Labour Party to reject a coalition with Fine Gael in favour of a left-wing government.

Unite, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, called on its 60,000 members to vote for and transfer to leftist parties in the forthcoming general election.

Jimmy Kelly, the union's regional secretary, suggested Labour and Sinn Fein could form the State's first left-wing government along with support from independents.

"Recent polls put the combined strength of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein at 40%," he said.

"This is substantially higher than either of the right-wing parties.

"With the support of other left parties and progressive independents, a left government is now distinct possibility."

Last week, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore rejected advances from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on an alliance.

But Mr Kelly said although there would be competition between left-wing parties for votes, they had more in common with each other than they had with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

The union leader said both larger parties had similar policies, supporting privatisation, more job losses and massive cuts to public services and social welfare. He said: "For the first time we have an opportunity to move away from out of touch and outdated politics based on history rather than ideology."

The latest Red C opinion poll showed Fine Gael as the largest party in the State, on 35%, with Labour on 21% and Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein tied on 14%.

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