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Ireland: A new party called hope -- Right2Water unions begin new left process (with videos)

Irish protest against water charges at the GPO in January.

By Rory Hearne

May 8, 2015 -- Broadsheet.ie, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Hope has been in short supply in Ireland in recent years but, thankfully, it has emerged in recent months. But this hope has not come in the so-called "recovery", which is deeply uneven across the country and from which the majority of people remain excluded.

No, the real hope emerged, first in the mass protests against water charges, and now in the possibility of a new political movement built from the grassroots of these unprecedented protests.

Since Ireland's independence in 1921 the overwhelming majority of Irish governments have been composed of the tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum parties of Fine Gael/Fianna Fail/Labour Party. What have they achieved for ordinary people? Corruption, inequality and austerity are now the hallmarks of the Irish Republic, a centenary after its founders aimed for a Republic of equality.

But an alternative is rising. The first steps have been taken with the launch of a set of "policy principles for an alternative democratic and progressive government" [also see below] by the trade unions involved in the Right2Water campaign.

Their proposals for a new government are broad ranging and visionary. They include holding a referendum to enshrine in the constitution that water remains in public ownership and management, introducing the right to gainful employment and a living wage through a Decent Work Act, enshrining the right to housing in the constitution, rent control and a state-led national home building program.

Other proposals include the creation of a universal healthcare system free at the point of entry, a European Debt Conference to restructure sovereign debt throughout the Eurozone; the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax in order to repay states for the private bank debt they assimilated; and a state led and democratically accountable programme of restructuring and writing down of mortgage debt.

Outlining the need for “real and meaningful reform of our local and national democratic processes which would put citizens at the heart of decision making” they propose that citizens should have the capacity to recall elected members of parliament before the end of term and the ability to propose changes to the constitution or call a referendum in relation to legislation introduced by the Oireachtas.

It is clear to many people that a real change is needed and, what is most significant about the current time, is that increasing numbers are now seeking alternatives to the traditional, establishment, political parties.

The most recent opinion polls show that the traditional establishment parties could only achieve a combined core vote of 40% (Fine Gae 20%, Fianna Fail 14%, Labour Party 6%) with Sinn Fein at 20%, independents 18%, with 20% undecided. Recent polls have also shown that almost half of voters want a new party to be formed and two thirds do not trust the current party political system.

My own research into the views of those who have protested against water shows that an overwhelming majority believe that there is a need for a new political movement/party in Ireland.

This is radically challenging the conventional conservative assumptions and analysis of Irish politics and citizen engagement. There is a clear opportunity for a new political party to emerge.

However, the question to be answered is whether or not this current wave of anti-establishment sentiment can be converted into a process of political change. That depends ultimately on what type of new political party/movement emerges and whether it can be done in time to have an impact on the coming general election.

Key to the success of such a new party will be achieving the support of the people in the currently "undecided" and "independent" category. How could this be done? We can look to the example of the new Podemos (Yes We Can) party that has spectacularly emerged in Spain.

They have created a new party that is winning large support through a platform of broad anti-corruption and-austerity policies, declaring that it is neither left nor right but for the ordinary people against the elite in Spain, Europe and the financial markets.

They have involved people who do not normally engage in traditional politics through local community meetings and online processes of voting on party policy. This is important as it is clear that people want new ways of doing politics that is inclusive and democratic.

The Right2Water unions’ policy proposals are hopeful in this regard. They are clearly aiming at a broad audience and want to try achieve unity among a diverse coalition of left parties, independents and community groups.

Right2Water unions have even developed their policy principles, not as a completed election manifesto as is traditionally the case, but are currently looking for submissions from the general public on the proposals to feed into a conference they are organising on June 13. This is a real opportunity for ordinary citizens to contribute to a process that could dramatically change this country.

While the government and media are claiming the growth figures (at least half of which are based on multinational activity that has no relation to the real Irish economy) point to a "recovery" the reality for most people is on-going suffering from debt, a housing crisis that has become an emergency (from overburdening rent, mortgage, homelessness repossessions), low pay, casualisation and zero-hours contracts, major problems accessing health services, worsening long term unemployment, rural decline, and the continued poor housing and community facilities for people living in disadvantaged areas.

Meanwhile the Siteserv controversy has just confirmed what many people are feeling – that there is little difference between the Fine Gael/Labour administration and the cronyism and corruption of the Fianna Fail years.

Podemos in Spain has developed a new language and approach to politics that has tapped into, and mobilised, widespread citizen disgust and opposition to the establishment elite.

Much work is required to develop a similar type political alternative in Ireland but the political atmosphere at the grassroots amongst ordinary citizens suggests that the appetite is there for it.

[Dr Rory Hearne is the author of Public Private Partnerships in Ireland: Failed Experiment or Way Forward for the State? (Manchester University Press) and is a lecturer at Maynooth University.]


Sinn Féin backs Right2Water unions' initiative

May 4, 2015 -- An Phoblacht, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The special "May Day Conference" on May 1 and May 2 convened by the five trade unions affiliated to the Right2Water campaign to discuss a set of core principles which will underpin a "Platform for Renewal" in advance of the next general election is being supported by Sinn Féin.

Daithí Doolan, addresses the huge Right2Water rally in December 2014.

Sinn Féin’s representative on the Right2Water campaign, councillor Daithí Doolan said:

This is an exciting initiative. Sinn Féin have been working with unions to help build a broad, inclusive Left platform that would promote anti-austerity policies and a fair recovery. We want to work with unions, parties and our communities to lay the foundation for an anti-austerity government. The May Day conference could well be the first step to making that happen.

The unions involved (the Civil and Public Services Union, the Communication Workers’ Union, Mandate, OPATSI and Unite) say that trade unions, individuals, political parties and independents, NGOs, academics, representatives of the not-for-profit sector and community activists will all be invited to input into this Platform for Renewal.

They say Right2Water has been one of the greatest popular mobilisations Ireland has witnessed – a grassroots movement which in reality has been about so much more than water charges.

Workers’ living standards continue to be squeezed by policies which favour the interests of business over the interests of people.

Since the start of the crisis, the numbers living in deprivation have doubled

“The people have paid for a crisis not of their making. We are determined that they will not be forced to pay for the recovery.

In the interests of our members, and of our society as a whole, the five unions are calling on like-minded citizens to build this Platform for Renewal in a spirit of unity and solidarity.

Daithí Doolan added:

Right2Water has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people right across this state. Sinn Féin has played a central role since the start and we hope that this upsurge will help prevent a government led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. The next general election must break the axis of reaction.

Policy principles for an alternative democratic and progressive government in Ireland

Comments

Reflections on the May 1 conference called by the R2W unions

Facebook post by Brendan Young

May 5

Reflections on the May 1 conference called by the R2W unions.

I welcomed the conference organized by the six R2W unions on May 1, but I was disappointed by it's abstention from what is actually happening in Ireland today. This conference would not have taken place but for the movement against the water charge, which is now at a crucial phase. People are getting bills and deciding what to do. If a significant majority pay, it will be a serious setback. So I think there is a need for public calls by known leaders for non-payment as the way to ensure the defeat of the charge. Yet in four hours of a meeting there was no mention of this actual living struggle – other than reference to the centrality that mass non-payment had in the struggle against water privatization in the North.

There was much talk of new political movements elsewhere. But nobody has been able to explain to me where a new political movement in Ireland will emerge from – or who will initially populate any new movement – other from amongst those who are prepared to fight now. The conference was supposed to be the start of a discussion on a political platform for the coming general election. But there was no indication that candidates would be asked to say they support non-payment – in support of those who are now challenging austerity by refusing to pay. Why would those actually fighting austerity get involved in supporting new candidates who don't champion non-payment? And why should the movement wait passively to vote for a future government to abolish the charge – when such a government might not be elected? Surely part of the purpose in standing for election is to champion the existing mass movement and build out from it – not use it for electoral purposes while abstaining on it's key slogan: don't pay.

Speakers said we need to involve people in a real way – and I agree. To me that means, first of all, giving all those who are active in struggles the opportunity to decide the policies of any new political movement that's supposedly going to fight for their interests. So it's disappointing that there was no mention of proposals I and others have made (http://www.irishleftreview.org) to involve the majority of the participants in the water charge campaign and broader anti-austerity movement in the decision-making of these conferences. The proposal in the Policy Principles document we were given at the very end of the meeting does not promote democratic participation. It invites individual submissions, rather than proposing a big conference where people who are selected as representatives from across the actual movement can participate, hear various points of view and decide on points of principle. (https://www.facebook.com/Right2WaterIreland)

We were told that a committee of four (Kathleen Lynch, John Bissett, Steve Nolan, Michael Taft) will take submissions regarding the Policy Principles document. But it is not clear if these four people will decide upon which submissions should go into the document, or if the meeting on June 13 will decide. Nor is it clear who will be invited to the meeting on June 13 – the 200 present on May 1 or a broader range of representatives, selected by the movement itself; nor whether people will get to see the submissions of others before the meeting on June 13, or have to decide upon them on the day, or be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it document written by these four people and/or un-named others.

Facilitating broad participation in the current circumstances of a fragmented movement is not straightforward: should people be delegated, by what proportions, etc. But it was very disturbing that an attempt by Ruth Coppinger to ask about how we are to promote participation – perhaps the most important issue after we had sat through four hours of presentations but no discussion – was shouted down by some of those present at the conference; and that this behaviour was not challenged by the chair.

Finally, there are many issues that could be included in an election platform. But it is disturbing that the document of Policy Principles we were given, that is intended to be the basis for a public discussion in the water charge movement, does not mention coalition with the parties of the right. Can any progressive, democratic political movement be built upon a willingness to go into coalition with FF or FG? Likewise repeal of the 8th Amendment is not mentioned – a matter of interest to half the population and one that has majority popular support.

The absence of these points may reflect differing views amongst the leaderships of the six unions, SF or whoever from R2W the un-named authors of this Policy Principles document may be. But if a desire amongst them to get a different government includes a willingness to accept a coalition with FF, which SF appear willing to do, this new initiative will go the way of Labour and also help revive FF.

Coalition with FF or FG would be disastrous for any political movement that wants real change: neither party of the right will accept any real encroachment on the interests of the Irish rich or big business, and coalition with them involves capitulation to what our wealthy enemies will accept – as Labour has done.

Calls for electoral unity amongst all involved in R2W – when such calls do not openly declare opposition to coalition with FF, FG or Labour – are calls for a unity that covers over the willingness of some to do deals with these parties and accept the rules that protect the wealth and privilege of the minority. Openly rejecting coalition with FF, FG or Labour is the starting principle in any discussion about a unity that is committed to a real alternative to the politics of austerity and oppression in Ireland today.

 

Create Alternative or Continue to Fail – Time for Dialogue

From the Irish Republic

May 4, 2015

Although there are good reasons for optimism arising out of the protests that centre on water metering and billing at the moment – particularly the politicisation of so many who had been silent, the problem is getting past the widespread and mistaken belief on the part of most citizens that our only demonstrable power resides in our interaction with the ballot-box every four or five years.

Because of that, pressure must be maintained on those parties that are not FF, FG and Labour, and on independents – whether lone voices or representing groups, to atempt to overturn permanent misgovernment by any combination of those three parties and replacing that bad option with the option of a progressive alternative combination.

Let us admit from the off that the progressive alternative that we can construct in the short-term will not be perfect, but let us understand that we are capable of refining that initial model. ‘We’ does not indicate a top-down leadership but a bottom-up movement of politicised and increasingly better-informed autonomous citizens.

The most important result of the presentation to the people of an alternative is not necessarily electoral success this time but rather the process of breaking old bad habits of opting for the ‘safe’ haven of ‘the divil you know’. We have had 93 years to learn the hard lessons of that repeated foolishness, and we didn’t.

But the next time out at the polling stations in the General Election offers the opportunity to allow enough people to imagine, many for the first time, that there may be another better option. And if it worked (and it’s a long shot) and there was a government including SF, SP, SWP, other leftist parties and independents, but which didn’t ultimately measure up to our expectations, then we are not married to them either – a politically better informed and more adventurous electorate would be better positioned to move the pieces around the chessboard and less likely to accept failure.

There are real signs of a hunger for change and a willingness to leap into the unknown on the part of 40%-50% of likely voters. There are real signs of a growing active citizenry determined to have their say, to speak directly to existing power structures, and to make their demands for a place at the negotiating table.

Writing Sinn Féin out of that alternative equation, failing to pressure that party into moving further left, is to effectively run up the white flag and to consign the citizens to another five years of counter-revolutionary tyranny. There is currently no alternative that works without the numbers that Sinn Féin will provide which may well be closer to 30% than 20% by election-time. There are valid criticisms that can be made of that party, just as there are valid criticisms that can be made of the SP, SWP and other left groupings. Those criticisms should not trigger ostracisation but should trigger honest dialogue aimed at genuinely serving the citizens by creating a viable alternative.

There are those who will have to hold their nose so as to get over the potential mix of an alternative, some part of which they don’t like or don’t fully trust or about which they have misgivings. We all have to do that to a greater or lesser extent. The important thing is that we hold our nerve, dispel the idea that there can be a ‘pure’ revolution, and try to achieve an electoral payoff that lays the foundation for future transformational change if we don’t succeed this time – or even if we do. Light a fire in the imagination of citizens, and fan the flames. And then don’t be surprised if they start exercising some real control. Welcome it.

Meanwhile, and in parallel, all on the left should engage with the process of creating a new constitution for the sort of society (I call it the Irish Republic, but that’s my bias) that we think would work far better for all citizens, and for those who live among us, than the existing failed entity. Venezuelans and others have been able to do that, but for some strange reason we either believe it to be unimportant or that we are incapable of pulling it together. Without doing that work all we have to offer the people as we seek their support are broad principles, often fuzzy, rather than a clear outline of what the state that the citizens must own has to offer politically, socially and economically under that new constitutional regime over which the citizens must exercise ultimate authority.

Leaving the gate open for more of the same dreadful failure that we have consistently endured since 1922 is simply not an option for any genuine socialist or republican whose concern must be implementing immediate change to significantly alleviate the severe plight of many of our people, and whose goal must be the creation of a far better country in which to live, and not just exist.

 

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University.

He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 Revolution.

He is the founder and organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, the anniversary of the 1916 Revolution.

Valid Criticisms

"There is currently no alternative that works without the numbers that Sinn Féin will provide which may well be closer to 30% than 20% by election-time. There are valid criticisms that can be made of that party, just as there are valid criticisms that can be made of the SP, SWP and other left groupings."

Would one of those "valid criticisms" of Sinn Féin be that it is a capitalist party and not a working class one? It looks pretty valid to me - and, to anyone who claims to have a class analysis of society, it should be decisive.

Right2Water sets out broad policy platform on social issues

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/right2water-sets-out-broad-policy-platform-on-social-issues-1.2248903

 

‘Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government’ discussed by 300 activists

A show of hands on a vote at  the Right2Water campaign policy conference organised by  trade unions in Dublin on Saturday, June 13th. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A show of hands on a vote at the Right2Water campaign policy conference organised by trade unions in Dublin on Saturday, June 13th. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The right to decent work, an end to the banks’ veto on mortgage resolutions and the abolition of water charges are among the measures in a new policy platform drawn up by Right2Water activists on Saturday, which will be presented at meetings across the State in coming weeks.

The ‘Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government’ was discussed at a conference in Dublin on Saturday, attended by about 300 activists including trade unionists, public representatives and academics.

It was hosted by the Right2Water unions - Mandate, the Civil and Public Service Union, the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU), Unite and the Operative Plasterers and Allied Trades Society of Ireland.

Written over the past six weeks, the document draws from more than 120 submissions from groups across the State and sets out an agenda on such issues as decent work, housing, health, and debt justice.

It comes following an initial meeting on 1st May, also hosted by the Right2Water unions, at which the idea of drawing up a wider policy agenda than one focussed solely on fighting water charges was first discussed.

Engage political activism

Opening the conference, Congress president and general secretary of Mandate John Douglas said the aim was to engage the political activism that had grown during the Right2Water campaign in a push for wider political change.

“The underlying piece is that the Irish political elite does not represent our communities or our families. The social wage is very important – the quality of our communities, our services, in health and education.”

He hoped the new platform would bring disparate groups on the left together. Among those at the conference were members of People Before Profit, the Socialist Party, Sinn Féin and Independent left representatives.

“If we continue to cannibalise our own votes we will always be in a minority,” said Mr Douglas. “We are seeking to create a broad platform and to extend the campaign beyond the right to water.

“The vast majority of people in this country want to see a different type of politics.”

Steve Fitzpatrick, general secretary of the CWU, described the document as a “work in progress”.

“Over the next few months we will bring the documents to every citizen in every corner of the country. It will be like a roadshow where the document and the principles will be presented and local trade unionists, public representatives and community activists will be involved in bringing people together to talk about what kind of country we want.”

‘Very exciting’

Describing the project as “very exciting”, he said nothing like it had ever been done in Irish politics before.

The campaign would not run candidates in the forthcoming general election, but candidates would be asked to endorse its principles.

Mr Fitzpatrick said there would also be “another national event” , such as a national rally or protest, during the summer to “keep momentum going”.

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