Ireland: United Left Alliance confronts big challenges

[For more coverage of the United Left Alliance and its discussions at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, click HERE.]

By Dick Nichols, Dublin

July 16, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- Ireland’s seven-month-old United Left Alliance is the “new kid on the block” of European anti-capitalist parties. Launched on November 27 last year, it emerged from the February Irish national elections—where its name didn’t even appear on the ballot paper—with five TDs (Teachta Dála, members of the Irish parliament, the Dail). To date the ULA has also won 20 positions in local councils and one seat in the European parliament.

In the Dail, the ULA TDs have already had successes, like forcing the government to back off from abolishing the Joint Labour Committees that set wages and conditions in some industries.

However, the party still has a great deal of building ahead of it—in program, party structures and decision-making processes, and in communication with its potential public and its own members.

At present the ULA is led by a committee representing the founding organisations—the Socialist Party (SP), Socialist Workers Party (SWP), People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) and the Tipperary-based Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG)—and decisions there are taken by consensus.

The challenges facing the ULA were discussed at its first national public forum, held on June 25, 2011, in Liberty Hall, Dublin.

The forum, which was not decision making, attracted attendance from well beyond the established Dublin left. At least 320 (the official registration figure) and probably 400 took part, including many young people and activists from the more distant counties—like Cork, Tipperary, Sligo and Donegal—as well as from Northern Ireland.


The electoral success of the ULA has grown straight from the rage in Ireland at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-European Union (EU) “bailout package”, negotiated last year by the former government of Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

That “rescue” has lined up workers, unemployed and young people to pay the gargantuan gambling debts of the cabal of bankers, financial engineers and real estate speculators who ruled the Irish economic roost before the 2008 property and banking crash.

By 2014, total public and private debt of Irish institutions will reach €200 billion, threatening massive business and even state bankruptcy. Under the EU-IMF program the Irish state will fork out €13.6 billion in interest payments alone to the EU, European member states and the IMF.

The potential impact on Irish politics is massive—the definitive break-up of the two-party system that arose out of the independence struggles of the 1920s.

In the February poll, Fianna Fail—the mainstream nationalist party which had been in government for 61 of the last 79 years—lost 58 of its 78 seats. Its traditional rival, Fine Gael, now in government with the Labour Party as junior partner, dutifully implements the IMF-EU package it rubbished while in opposition.

As many speakers at the ULA forum commented, this flip-flop opens the way for Fine Gael to repeat Fianna Fail’s fate.

It is also highly unlikely that economic revival will come to the Fine Gael-Labour government’s rescue. It presides over a depressed, shrunken economy choking on debt. In real terms, Irish income per capita (gross national product) was 14.7% lower in 2010 than in 2007 and personal consumption 8.6% lower. Investment (gross fixed capital formation) was down a massive 51.9%, yet public spending, which would normally have been boosted to offset the capitalists’ aversion to invest, also fell by 7.7%.

Why? The Irish state “couldn’t afford” to fund even a token anti-recession program because it had taken over the debts of the financial desperados and wasn’t going to fill its yawning budget deficit by taxing the rich. As a result, since 2007 official unemployment has climbed from 4.5% to 14.2%, and up to 50,000 families are reckoned to be in danger of losing their homes.

In the medium term, assuming some recovery from depression, the chances of repeating the “Celtic tiger” model of the 1990s and 2000s are evaporating, as multinational operators and a handful of Irish counterparts seek out lower-wage and -tax regimes in Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Orienting to mass outrage

At the forum two plenary sessions confronted the main challenges created by this crisis and the political radicalisation it is creating (also reflected in a sharply increased vote at the February election for Sinn Fein—for years a marginal force in the Irish Republic).

Workshop sessions covered areas of struggle (women’s rights, racism and against proposed water charges and home taxes), alternative policy (education, health, jobs, global warming) and strategic issues (how to relate to the left in Northern Ireland and how to make the retreating Irish union movement stand and fight). Other workshops covered lessons from the experience of new workers’ parties in Europe and the nature of socialism.

In the first plenary, “The left recsponse to the risis”, radical economist Terrence McDonough (National University of Ireland, Galway) outlined a five-point “big bang” strategy to kick-start the economy out of depression. His points, each leading to the next, were: to default on Irish public debt; to regain control over monetary policy by leaving the euro and creating a new Irish currency (punt); to launch a public bank to allow reorganisation of the banking system; to provide a jobs guarantee; and to nationalise the Corrib gas project (off the north-west coast).

People asked: wouldn’t a new Irish punt rapidly devalue against other currencies, simultaneously devaluing workers' savings? Wouldn’t the bondholders and the international financial institutions look to punish Ireland for daring to default?

McDonough answered that once a national currency had been restored the Irish state could pursue polices to inflate the economy, with the likely fall in the value of the punt making it more competitive. As for holders of Irish debt, defaulting would strengthen Ireland’s hand in any subsequent negotiations—would holders of Irish bonds like something back or nothing?

The creation of a public bank would, when combined with a deposit guarantee, allow costly state support for private banks to be withdrawn and deposits to be transferred out of them. Some private banks might well go broke, but people’s savings would be safe. Nationalising Corrib would make Ireland energy self-sufficient and reduce its energy bill. 

McDonough agreed that his proposal was “far from socialism” but insisted that its benefits easily outweighed costs: it would allow the curse of unemployment to be tackled and show that the Irish people were breaking with EU austerity and taking their fate into their own hands.

Socialist program?

McDonough’s presentation opened the lid, perhaps unintentionally, on the dominant debate of the forum—what program should the ULA have? Should it be explicitly socialist? Driven by the different perspectives of the SWP and SP, this discussion ran through the whole day, even surfacing in workshop sessions on other topics.

For SP leader Kevin McLoughlin, who analysed the “backward and incapable” state of the Irish capitalism and its failure to develop an indigenous manufacturing sector, the ULA had to propose public ownership as the alternative. Its program should have workers' control of the economy at its centre and be explicitly socialist.

Kieran Allen (SWP) analysed the “investment strike” of Irish capitalism, placed the possibilities for resistance in the context of the Arab revolutions and the mass anti-austerity protests in southern Europe, and ended by saying that the ULA had to look to anti-capitalism for its program. Its socialism didn’t have to be explicit—it could be explained as the vision behind immediate demands.

In discussion there was some engagement with McDonough’s “big bang” proposal—mainly questioning whether a purely Irish solution to Ireland’s crisis was possible—but many contributions were directed at whether the ULA should present itself as explicitly socialist.

For one SP member “we have to talk about socialism to break people away from commitment to capitalism”. For SWPer Mary Smith, putting “socialism” on the ULA banner meant limiting its potential appeal to those who already identify as socialists. Yet the ULA’s main job is to get people of very different affiliations into action around the concrete issues that affect them.

In his summary Kieran Allen polemicised against “abstract” propaganda for socialism, drawing the comment from Kevin McLoughlin that the SP’s own election campaigns had successfully linked concrete proposals to the need to change society. This approach had been no impediment to getting two TDs elected as part of the ULA election campaign. McLoughlin called retreat from identification with socialism “an unnecessary concession” which “complicates our task”.

What party?

In the afternoon plenary on “What kind of party do we need?” long-standing Sligo councillor Declan Bree, who left the Labour Party in 2007 over its pre-election alliance with Fine Gael, argued that the ULA had a huge opportunity to grow as the party of “industrial, social and community action”. He called for an explicitly socialist party to be created as soon as possible, stressing that “a democratic, participatory structure is vital”.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins stressed that the ULA message to Ireland should be that “capitalism is a diseased system that is wounding economy and society”. He stressed: “Yes to reformist demands, but these demands, to be consistent, must be led into the need for a socialist alternative.”

Higgins also called for clear opposition to entering coalition governments with capitalist parties and for a “rigorous and honest appraisal” of their role—specifically contrasting Sinn Fein’s anti-austerity stance in the Irish Republic to its role in assisting austerity as part of the Northern Ireland government.

In the same vein he critcised the SWP’s call for the ULA to invite Labour Party representatives onto campaign platforms: this should only happen if they have clearly shown they have broken with the government’s attacks.

TD Richard Boyd Barrett (SWP and PBPA) argued for stressing the “90-95% that unites us” rather than differences. He agreed with the aim of the socialist transformation of society but disagreed with using the term “socialism” as part of a “war on jargon” that the ULA needed to undertake.

Barrett’s argument was that the ULA was not big enough and needed to win over people “who are not used to the same tradition and language as we on the left are”. People want to resist and need leadership, but are “starting from a starting point that may not be close to us but they are on a trajectory toward us”.

TD Seamus Healy (WUAG) spoke about the history of the group’s campaigns in defence of working people. He also emphasised the need to create the ULA as a truly national organisation, including the Six Counties of Northern Ireland.

Building the ULA

Declan Bree’s stress on growing the ULA as a campaigning organisation got strong support in discussion. PBPA leader Eddie Conlon called for everyone to move ahead with building branches and for the steering committee to develop a proposal for democratic structures in order to get sympathetic people on board the ULA.

He also posed “the parties” the challenging question as to how much they were prepared to channel energies and resources into building up the ULA. Did they now see their main job as building the ULA?

Dermot Connolly (PBPA) stressed the need to build a ULA culture and trust between organisations. This could only develop on the basis of agreed campaign priorities, one of which had to be the next local elections.

Connolly’s goals for the ULA were to double the number of councillors, build 40-50 branches, establish a communications network, hold regular forums and establish rank-and-file control. He talked enthusiastically of 15 people present at the ULA launch in Mullingar (West Meath): “That’s a branch somewhere the left outside the Labour Party has never truly been active.”

In their summaries all speakers agreed on the need to build the ULA’s structures of leadership and accountability. Barrett spoke in favour of a leadership body made up of branch delegates, while Higgins suggested that non-aligned members be given representation on the steering committee.

The forum ended on a note of optimism. Many differences abide (attitude to Labour, whether to expand the ULA into Northern Ireland) and some entrenched competition between the SWP and SP will not be overcome overnight.

The hope must be that a growing ULA and some successful joint campaigning in the struggle against austerity will put such differences in a new perspective; that the vital discussion over whether and how to pose a socialist objective for the ULA takes place among a growing activist membership; and that this and other issues are decided at a representative founding conference.

A successful and growing ULA would be an important boost for the anti-capitalist struggle across all Europe.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal's correspondent in Europe.]


SWP: After the United Left Alliance forum

The United Left Alliance held a successful national forum on Saturday with about 350 people in attendance . The mood at the daylong conference was very upbeat and confident. It is clear that a new left wing force is emerging with branches in most major towns in Ireland. Reports at the conference indicate that the ULA is already having a strong impact.

Paddy Healy, from the Workers and Unemployed Action Group, stated that a recent ULA bill on the JLCs in the Dail had severely rattled the Labour Party.

‘The United Left Alliance recently moved a bill in Dail Eireann to protect JLC rates and Sunday premium pay. The venom of Labour’s attack showed their nervousness. But since the bill was introduced, we have also learnt that Bruton’s bill to scrap the JLC has been postponed. Labour is under pressure from the left.’

Michael O Brien from the Socialist Party said that ‘Sinn Fein moved a good resolution opposing water charges. But the ULA had to put down an amendment calling for a mass campaign of non-payment. It showed that the ULA is a stronger, more genuine left.’.

The conference kicked off with a large plenary session on the left’s response to the economic crisis.
Terry McDonogh ,a professor of economics in NUIG, outlined a five point economic programme that should form the core of the left’s response. There should be a default of Ireland’s debt; we should exit the euro to gain control over currency; the state should provide a guarantee of the right to work; Ireland’s natural resources should be taken into public ownership.

Kieran Allen from the Socialist Workers Party claimed that conventional economists cloaked their political choices in favour of the upper class in a technical language. Replying to a debate about more boldly asserting socialism, he said:

‘It is not about how many times you mention the word socialism. It is whether you are capable of spelling out in concrete ways what it means and how you will get there.’
He went on to argue that a ‘not for profit’, socialist society would base itself on public ownership of the major economic units of the economy. These needed to be organised through ‘self management’ and be part of a democratically planned economy’.

Throughout the day participants broke up into groups and attended 12 workshops. These were conducted in a democratic fashion and produced a lively debate between the different sections of the left.

Summing up the conference Brid Smith, a People Before Profit councillor and member of Socialist Workers Party said:

‘There should be no long summer rest. The IMF are coming to town in July and all the supporters of the United Left Alliance should be building for a massive display of opposition. The Enough! Campaign has called a mass demo on Saturday 16th and we should all get to it’.


A number of debates occurred at the United Left Alliance conference but these were conducted in a new spirit of comradeship between the different elements of the left. Far from weakening the alliance, the openness and diversity of views strengthened it. There were four key topics of debate.


This debate kicked off in the first session when the Socialist Party’s National Secretary, Kevin McLoughlin, stated that they would be fighting to get the ULA to adopt a socialist programme.
However, it soon became clear that were a number of ambiguities on this issue.

Neither the SP nor the SWP have any difficulty with using the word ‘socialist’ as it is included in the titles of their organisation. The question, however, is what type of socialist programme? It could be a revolutionary socialist programme which stated clearly that an uprising rather than parliamentary change was required to bring about socialism. Or it could be a more general set of socialist demands and not spell out the exact steps required in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

If it is the former then the programme would differ little from that of the SWP – or the SP. Yet the ULA is being constructed as a broad movement where those who are not yet fully convinced of the need for revolution can join and participate.

Some within the ULA see such a broad, plural party as the end point of the process. As one speaker from the Campaign for an Independent Left put it ‘the material roots of reformism’ have been removed and a right wing tendency will not emerge within the ULA.

This, however, ignores how other radical left formations in Europe such as the Refundatzione Communists in Italy were also pulled back into reformism when they supported a left of centre government.

A dual strategy is required to resolve these issues. It is necessary to construct the ULA on the broadest possible basis, creating a space for those who still have reformist beliefs but who want to fight. But it is also important that revolutionary socialist forces organise within the ULA on an open and democratic basis to win the majority to the need for an overthrow of capitalism.

Moreover, the purity of a programme is no guarantee that a party remains set on the course of revolution. Reformism does not arise simply from the betrayals of a leadership but has deeper roots in the experiences of the working class during periods of ‘normal’ capitalism when it does not enter a crisis.

One can find many examples in history of parties with pure programmes who fail to develop a revolutionary practice.

The major parties of the Second International – the socialist movement between 1870 and 1914 – all had ‘socialist programmes’ but then capitulated before national chauvinism. Even the Russian revolutionary Lenin, thought that they were committed to the overthrow of capitalism until he witnessed with horror their support for the war.

The ULA must, therefore , be seen as a development towards explicit revolutionary methods. Many of these can be learnt from the experience in struggle. Others can develop through ideological argument. But all of this will progress better if the ULA is a large broad force that mobilises thousands of new left wing activists.


Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD argued that the ULA should always oppose Labour Party TDs being on the platform of any campaign. Given the hostility to Labour, this view was understandable but there is a deeper debate about whether or not the ULA should position it to work with others on the left in broader campaigns.

Mass movements are normally not set into motion by the decisions of a Steering Committee of a political party. Typically, they involve broad diverse forces which initially galvanise large numbers of protestors and then divide on how best to pursue the movement.

The Egyptian revolution against the Mubarak dictatorship was initiated by protests organised by different sections of the left and liberals who wanted democracy. The Spanish protests had even a distinct anti-political party tone to them.

Even short of full scale mobilisation, smaller campaigns often involve diverse forces. Over the past month, for example, hundreds have come to bus protest meetings in Dublin precisely because they have not been ‘branded’ as belonging to one political formation. At those meetings, socialists make known their political affiliation and proposals for action in an open and clear way.

Instead of simply ULA ‘branded’ campaigns it is necessary to initiate movement where we work with broader forces. If there are large scale mobilisations or campaigns, debates on tactics that invariably arise between reformist and revolutionaries, can be conducted in front of many people. Closing off this possibility by insisting that only pure left wing forces are involved is a recipe for a retreat into propagandism.

Undermining the Labour Party requires a sharp tactical sense. Its leadership are totally wedded to the system and the IMF programme. But the aprty won a base in working class areas because it promised reform.

In many real popular struggles, workers will request what is the position of Labour representative on issues. If unions are involved, they will also push for Labour party speakers. The key issue for the ULA is to argue for real popular struggles that involve all who want to fight and within that to explain that the words of Labour party representatives are utterly useless unless they break from the IMF programme by actually voting for left resolutions.


The SWP, People Before Profit and the Workers and Unemployed Action Groups think it should. The SP think not.

Since the time of James Connolly socialists have opposed partition and promoted the idea of a 32 county socialist Ireland. This will involve a challenge to both Irish states who were born, amidst what Connolly called, ‘a carnival of reaction’.

The SP argue, however , that the ‘timing is not right’ to form the ULA as a thirty two county organisation. They also argue that there are considerable differences between socialists on the national question.

However, the joint government of Sinn Fein and the DUP is about to implement a major cuts programme that will attack the living standards of both Catholic and Protestant workers.

Even before these attacks have begun, two People Before Profit candidates and SWP members, Eamonn McCann and Gerry Carroll achieved 8 percent of the vote in recent elections. This indicates a respectable base to start building a broader left.

There are important differences between the left on the national question. But it would be deeply ironic if the right wing parties can unite in government in the Northern Assembly, but the left cannot create a united space where they can work together – and allow each other to go their own way when there are differences.


Everyone is agreed that the next budget will unleash a new wave of attacks on workers. The United Left Alliance will initiate campaigns in local areas against water charges and the home tax. Even before this, the ULA TD Joan Colllins is calling a major meeting on July 2nd against housing repossession and the problem of negative equity.

But beyond these immediate economic issues, one over-arching focal point of protest is the role of the IMF and the EU in dictating economic policy.

The SWP argued for a strong focus on Enough! Demonstration on July 16th that will protest against the IMF. Joe Higgins, however, suggested that activists take a summer holiday to prepare for the big battles from September.

However, anger against the IMF is huge. The IMF turn up every three months to insists that every line and detail of their memorandum is adhered to. They are like absentee landlords who come to inspect their property. Their role exposes the hollowness of democracy and it is therefore perfectly valid to call for a referendum against them.

It would be a mistake for the ULA to ignore these broader political conflicts in favour of a more mechanical focus only on immediate economic issues. Relating to broad social movements against the IMF is also a way for the alliance to sink deeper roots and will assist it in opposing water charges, home taxes and house repossession.


The left should not shy away from these debates as they are pointers to the long term direction and shape of the ULA.

The crucial point is that they are conducted in a way that is open, honest and respectful of the views of others.

Whatever the differences in the ULA ,there is a huge commitment to work together and advance strong left wing policies.

The national forum showed that the ULA will emerge as the centre where all activists who want to fight capitalism should gravitate to.

SP: What Program for the United Left Alliance? — After the ULA Forum: Which Way Forward?

Jul 14, 2011
By Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) 

The United Left Alliance (ULA) held its first National Forum of June 25th in Liberty Hall, Dublin. For the Socialist Party’s assessment of the Forum and the tasks facing the ULA see the article on the Socialist Party's site entitled "ULA Forum – Building the alternative.”

This article is a response to the review of the Forum posted on the Socialist Workers Party website on the June 27th entitled "After the United Left Alliance forum."

Unfortunately that article by the SWP mis-informs and distorts a number of political issues that are under debate. There are three main issues, dealt with in the SWP article, that we need to comment on: 1) The ULA and a socialist programme; 2) How to build campaigns, including relations with Labour politicians and 3) The ULA and the North.

The ULA and a Socialist Program
Reviewing the discussion on “The left alternative to the crisis,” the Socialist Worker article quotes Kieran Allen’s speech at the event: "It is not about how many times you mention the word socialism. It is whether you are capable of spelling out in concrete ways, what it means and how you will get there.”

We agree with this as a general statement but in the actual debate that is going on in the ULA on how to deal with the economic crisis, this statement sheds little light and seems designed to dodge the key questions and cloak a political retreat by the SWP.

These comments were a response to the points made by Kevin McLoughlin from the Socialist Party that the PBPA did not want to mention socialist policies or socialism as the goal when the ULA programme was being formulated. He also disagreed with those on the left who focused on increasing taxation but didn’t advocate the need for the nationalisation or democratic public ownership of the economy generally.

At the first plenary session some members of the SWP justified their conscious omission of socialist policies and the mentioning of socialism on the grounds that it is not enough to just keep repeating the need for socialism and that to do so can put off working class people. That what is needed is to concentrate on the concrete issues affecting the working class.

The point had also been made that "people before profit" is the same as socialism but should be preferred as it is more understandable. Later, in other sessions in a slight amendment, some SWP speakers said that socialist policies and socialism should be advocated but stressed that this should be done in a skillful way.

The Socialist Worker article also attempted to distort the arguments of the Socialist Party when it said the debate was about whether its correct put forward a detailed outline of how a revolution should be organised or instead, as they argued for, put forward “a more general set of socialist demands.”

What is This Debate Really About?

This is not a debate about the need to be concrete with the working class; nor is it about a genuine attempt to find better language so the working class can understand better the real meaning of socialist policies.

This is a debate over whether socialist policies are actually necessary to overcome this capitalist crisis or whether they should be dropped by the left in the hope of finding some "easier solutions" or because the working class supposedly isn’t ready to hear such an alternative.

This is a debate about whether the ULA and socialists should advocate the essential policies necessary to defeat the capitalist market and overcome the crisis. In particular whether socialists stand for the expropriation of the assets of big business and capitalists by calling for the democratic public ownership of the overall economy, and if they do this where it matters most, in its mass material and in the mass media.

Does the SWP Spell Out in Concrete Terms What Socialism Means?

The ULA program agreed last autumn says: "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 program of industrial development and innovation to build the productive capacity of the economy.”

This text was inserted by the Socialist Party not because we have a dogmatic attachment to nationalization, but because the nationalization of the economy under democratic public control and management, is the only way that the working class can plan the development of the economy and resolve problems like the housing crisis and unemployment.

We had to insert it because in the initial text for the ULA programme written by the People Before Profit Alliance of which the SWP is the biggest part, incredibly there was no such mention of general nationalisation or no socialist clause despite the profound nature of the capitalist crisis that exists in Ireland.

So the SWP not only opposed the mention of socialist or socialism in the programme of the ULA, they also avoid advocating the democratic public ownership of the economy in its mass material and mass communications.

General Election Material

The general election material of Richard Boyd Barrett illustrates this problem further. It demanded a public bank, public ownership of the banks and the need for public ownership of natural resources, but left it at that.

We agree with these but on their own they wouldn’t in any fundamental way infringe let alone break the ownership, power and influence of the capitalist class. The working class or a government representing the working class would not have enough economic power to overcome the capitalist market and therefore it would be impossible to fulfil the goal of putting people before profit.

So instead of "spelling out in concrete ways what it (socialism) means and how you will get there," the approach advocated by the SWP would leave capitalism in control of society. This approach is similar to the failed “mixed economy” or “social market” policies previously advocated by social democracy.

Capitalism can’t be part abolished and the disaster of such a reformist proposal was graphically shown by its collapse into counter reforms and sell-out by the French Socialist Party in 1981 and PSOE in Spain in 1982.

In the same vein, RBB’s leaflets identified models that should be followed. "There are alternative economic models in Europe based on progressive taxation policies." And again, "We support the Norwegian model and will take our natural resources...into public ownership."

Using examples to illustrate points is necessary, but advocating that some of the capitalist countries in Europe are models for the working class here to get out of this crisis, including models for the type of nationalisation that is necessary, is wrong.

Clearly this isn’t just a case of language but is a programmatic retreat by the SWP which they in turn are advocating that the ULA should adopt as well - ironically just when the need and basis for democratic nationalisation and socialist policies is growing.

Talking radical or espousing revolutionary socialism at party meetings or conferences does not excuse or in any way compensate for not advocating the need to break the capitalist ownership of the economy in front of the working class.

The General Election – a Basic Socialist Program

In the general election, the Socialist Party put forward a whole series of very concrete demands on a whole range of issues, but that didn’t in any way stop us from also advocating in straight forward language socialist change and the key measures necessary to bring that about.

Amongst other text and demands on cuts, jobs, pay, the banks, the deficit, the bail-out, and taxation, the Socialist Party manifesto said: "That will only happen if the major economic resources, including the gas and oil resources off the west coast are taken into democratic public ownership and management and used in a planned way for people’s needs not short term profits."

"End the abuse of wealth by the capitalist establishment. Take the economy and natural resources into democratic public ownership and plan the development of a real manufacturing base, sustainable jobs and a secure future for all.”

“Establish a new party for working class people." "None of the Dail parties represent working class people, (workers, the unemployed, pensioners and the young). Labour accepts the market. Sinn Fein is implementing huge cutbacks in the North. Vote United Left Alliance and help found a powerful new party to represent working class people."

“For a government based on working class people that implements socialist policies and puts people before profit.”

In our four page manifesto the Socialist Party was very concrete but was also able link the immediate crisis with the need to break with capitalism and outline a basic socialist alternative and the tasks facing the working class movement.

We are not saying that the bulk of people voted for the Socialist Party because of the socialist clauses in our programme. However, we are saying that the votes for the party in the general election and the Euro elections of 2009 are proof that socialist policies have not been a barrier, and increasingly will not be a barrier, to the development of the ULA or a new workers party.

Working class people will join the ULA and a new party if it fights on the key issues, offers an opportunity to get organised and a democratic forum to discuss and debate issues and politics.

The idea that by being socialist the ULA would be cut off from key sections of the population or a majority in the years ahead, understates the huge change in consciousness that this crisis is causing and illustrates that some on the left have a conservative and fixed view regarding people’s consciousness, and the depth of support for reformism that exists amongst working class people.

The more the ULA and its representatives are explicit about why the capitalist market has no solutions and why socialist policies are necessary, the better. The more the ULA helps popularise the socialist alternative, which is an essential task if society is to be changed, the sooner such change may become a possibility.

To try to build the ULA on the basis that it doesn’t outline the socialist clauses and measures necessary to break capitalist control and really change society will inevitably result in a failure that the working class can’t afford.

Organizing the Working Class or Propping Up Labour Politicians!

The Socialist Worker article says: “insisting that only pure left wing forces are involved (in campaigns) is a recipe for a retreat into propagandism.”

Again as a general statement it is hard to disagree with and it would be correct to make this point if there was anyone in the ULA who was actually advocating such an approach.

But as this isn’t the case, it seems again the SWP is unfortunately only throwing this in to confuse important issues, particularly their own orientation towards Labour politicians who are now putting the boot into working class communities.

An attempt was made at the Forum to say that the SWP’s approach is to invite Labour politicians to certain public meetings to force them to account for the policies they have implemented, and using such meetings to put them under pressure on an issue.

The Socialist Party doesn’t have a problem with such an approach and has done similar on many occasions on many issues. Once the reps from the establishment parties are held in check, aren’t allowed to dominate the meeting, then they can be successfully undermined.

But again that contribution at the Forum doesn’t reflect the real nature or content of the orientation that the SWP is advocating towards the Labour Party and Labour politicians.

The recent SWP leaflet “United Left Alliance – What kind of party?” stated: “Where sections of Labour start to break with their party leaders, for example, they should be welcomed onto platform if it will widen the base of support for campaign or struggle. But they should also be told to break with the Labour Party leadership and embrace radical tactics such as non-payment on water charges.”

It’s important we are clear what this approach actually means. It means that a Labour politician, who may have indicated their discomfort at the impact that government policies is having on his or her base, could or should be invited into campaigns and platforms. He or she would be given that privilege even though he or she may not have voted against any of the government cuts but be invited on the basis that they may do so sometime in the future.

For the ULA to orientate to current Labour politicians and members would be a significant mistake and would inevitably undermine its potential.

Ordinary members of Labour breaking away and genuinely coming over to the ULA is fair enough, but the SWP is open to Labour TDs speaking on ULA platforms while they could still be part of a government that is imposing the worst austerity in the history of the state.

This is similar to the approach the SWP adopted in Britain where they invited Labour councillors onto anti cuts platforms who have then justified their voting and support for major cuts in council services.

Will Many Labour Politicians Genuinely Fight the Cuts?

The SWP justify this approach saying that inviting potential Labour dissidents is a way to broaden out campaigns against the cuts. They say that “Labour won a mass base because it promised reforms” implying that Labour has deep authority in the working class communities.

The SWP are again significantly overstating the depth of support that exists in the working class for Labour. It is true that layers moved towards Labour during the election hoping that they would cut across the excesses of Fine Gael. But this wasn’t a deep sentiment or illusion in Labour, more a hoping against hope.

Those on the left that took Labour up in a sharp and principled way were best able to successfully resist the trend towards Labour. If the credibility of Labour and Labour politicians had its limits before an election, it is now being decisively undermined by the policies that they are imposing, hammering any justification for an orientation to Labour politicians.

The position of the SWP re Labour seems to ignore the fact that they are a key force in a rotten capitalist government.

The orientation to potential dissident Labour politicians is unnecessary and inappropriate and far from helping to fight austerity or help in building a new left. It would, in fact, do the opposite.

The idea that the ULA would organise public meetings and campaigns against the austerity cuts and invite Labour TDs to participate would disgust the best workers and young people, whose lives are being destroyed by the cuts that Labour is imposing.

Associating with Labour Politicians Damages the ULA

Such an approach would weaken, not strengthen, a campaign and would also undermine the support for the ULA by its potential association with opportunist politicians who would be seen to have sold-out.

An orientation and political softness towards Labour politicians could lead to the incorporation of the same old and failed reformists and reformist policies into the ULA, the very thing the ULA is trying to overcome.

On the other hand the ULA should orientate to the combative and politically conscious workers and young activists who will inevitably emerge from this crisis. That is the best way to ensure that a new party is really built on solid foundations and the two contradict each other.

Fighting on Issues - Building Genuine and Democratic Campaigns

The Socialist Worker article states: “hundreds have come to protest meetings in Dublin precisely because they have not been “branded” as belonging to one political formation.

This is overly negative assessment of the motives of working class people and understates the openings for genuine left groups. Hundreds of people came to meetings first and foremost because they were concerned about the issues that were being dealt with, whether that be on bus services, SNAs, Pyrite or housing.

Of course when meetings are called under a specific banner or by a specific campaign designed to deal with a particular issue, all things being equal, it will get a bigger attendance than if it is convened by a political group alone. Where campaigns are being established that clearly is the best way of approaching it.

Political groups or individuals should have the right to participate in such campaigns but it is vital that campaigns are based primarily on the participation of ordinary working class people.

This approach has long been established and the Socialist Party, along with others, has often argued for such an approach, often in the face of opposition from the SWP. The issue of broad campaigns was raised in the Socialist Worker article as a way of justifying the SWP orientation to Labour, but in our view the arguments advanced don’t add up.

If it is generally best, from the point of view of involving greater numbers of ordinary people and in building pressure on an issue, to establish a campaign and protests on that specific issue, why has it been the approach of the SWP to tell people affected by SNA cuts or facing repossession that the key thing for them is to get involved in “Enough” and fight for a referendum on the bail-out?

Obviously anyone on the left should encourage people to get politically involved and fight the IMF, but we must also help people fight on the issue that concerns them in the best way possible. To do otherwise would indeed be abstract.

The ULA and the North

The Socialist Worker article states that the Socialist Party says that the timing is not right for the ULA to be established on a 32 county basis.

It is clearly implied in the SWP article that the Socialist Party is again slow to move on the issues that affect working class people, even that we are negligent in our responsibilities given the huge attacks and cuts that the parties in the north are preparing to impose.

Actually we are opposed to the approach of the SWP and some others in the ULA regarding the ULA and the North precisely because we are very focused on the needs of the working class in the North, both Protestant and Catholic.

The SWP may reduce the building of new workers parties everywhere to the need for a lead, a spark, an initiative and then it will all come together. But that approach dismisses important objective factors and political considerations.

This same approach led to the SWP’s disastrous failure with RESPECT in Britain which has set back the struggle to build a new workers party there. The danger of not having a principled approach to political issues and programme in RESPECT was illustrated by the fact that elected RESPECT councillors relatively quickly defected to Labour, but incredibly also to the LibDems and the Tories.

That mess is nothing like what would be created if the unprincipled approach of the SWP on the issue of sectarianism became a significant part of the campaign to build a new workers party in the North.

The opposition of the Socialist Party to the extension of the ULA into North has nothing to do with being slow to move on the issues that affect the working class, but is based on having a principled and sensitive approach to the conflict of national aspirations that exists in the North.

We are opposed to the extension or imposition of a broad left organisation based in the South into the North or for that matter, a British based broad left organisation into the North. Either option would be treated with suspicion by one side of the community and would not be a basis to move forward.

The Poison of Sectarianism

We believe that a new workers party in the North, even more so than elsewhere, must be based on the emergence of a layer of working class activists from struggles. It is vital that a new formation is rooted in the understanding of the need to oppose both loyalist and republican sectarianism, and for workers unity against sectarianism and capitalism.

While sometimes over the last years, the SWP have argued for workers unity, that does not mean that they have overcome their one sided view of the national question which has been a hallmark of their position.

The SWP approach has been infected with the view that republicanism as it emerged during the Troubles is progressive, and that includes an approach that tends to excuse Catholic sectarianism while highlighting and condemning loyalist sectarianism.

They also demonstrate a dismissive attitude to Protestant working class people. For instance in our view, the SWP has a sectarian and dangerous position on the issue of parades that would lead to a deepening of sectarian division, the opposite of workers unity.

The reality is that if the ULA was extended to the North, it would only take one serious sectarian incident and there would most likely be a fundamental division in the ULA on issues related to the national question and the conflict that exists.

If a new formation in the North took a left republican position, that would make it impossible for it to win a significant section of Protestant working class people to its banner.

Without the ability to seriously organise in both communities, a new left party would be doomed to failure and the potential to build workers unity and develop a socialist solution to sectarianism and the national question would be lost, potentially at a huge cost.

More Debate and Discussion in the ULA Essential

It was necessary to write this article because of the amount of mis-information in the Socialist Worker review of the ULA Forum regarding both its own position and those of the Socialist Party.

We will soon post separate and more developed articles on the left alternative to the crisis and on the Socialist Party’s approach to building a new workers party in the North.

Published by

Can the United Left Alliance become a party of the working class?

3 August 2011

The emergence of the United Left Alliance and its recent June convention have led to a great deal of discussion within Socialist Democracy. A general report was followed by some discussions of the problems involved by Joe Carter. Now John McAnulty adds a further view to the discussion. We would welcome further comments on what is obviously an important issue.(ed)

For many people Socialist Democracy’s decision to join and support the United Left Alliance (ULA) in the run-up to the recent elections was something of a surprise. There had been a decade of "socialist unity" projects where we, although willing to join in many of the initiatives, had expressed scepticism about the strong elements of political sectarianism, reformism and electoralism that had informed the projects and we had counterpoised the need for joint action, for a working class party and, above all, a working class programme.

In the Irish general election these different positions became conflated. The immediate need was to register working class opposition to the austerity. The left, under pressure of the crisis, came together in the ULA and adopted a platform calling for a repudiation of the debt. Many young people joined in the election campaign. In the election the alliance won five seats and just under 10% of the vote in Dublin.

A major opportunity therefore exists for building a working class party, amplified by groups and individuals across the country moving to formally affiliate to the ULA.

The immediate problem is that that project of building a party appears unlikely to proceed and in fact has to some extent moved backwards. At the national convention the question was not on the agenda. The most that was suggested was that some way be found to represent non-affiliated individuals and branches on the steering committee. A number of political groups have sought affiliation, but this appears to be on the long finger. Acceptance of the political programme of the movement does not appear to guarantee membership. The fact that there was a ten-euro charge for admission to a trade union venue when the alliance has access to the state funding attracted by five TDs shows a certain lack of enthusiasm for drawing in working class members.

The mechanism operating in the rally was the mechanism of diplomatic discussion between the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. One wanted a campaigning organization that included a call for socialism. The other a campaigning organization that did not make such a call. This formal debate around what is in practice a very narrow difference between the two organizations created a very sharp democratic deficit.

The main discussions operated a ticket system. Speakers applied by ticket to speak and were then vetted by the chair. The fact of this vetting was to create a two-tier delegate structure, with preference given to SP and SWP members. Workshops were a great deal more open, but in the absence of any structures independent of the SP/SWP alliance they were simply a way of lobbying the groups.

This lack of structure, of democratic debate, was present both in what was discussed and what was not discussed. There is an attempt to build a rank and file trade union group, but it is not being organised by the ULA. There has more recently been an attempt to organise against water metering. The meeting involved the component groups of the ULA, but not the ULA itself. A number of demonstrations have been held, but they are organised by the SWP front organization "Enough" rather than by the ULA.

A worrying aspect of the convention was the absence of any discussion of the role of the TDs. This after all is the basis of any claim for a breakthrough for the socialist movement. It appears that there is no structure for directing the work of the TDs outside their own organizations.

This situation contains great dangers. The TDs will come under great pressure from the capitalists. For administrative reasons they are part of a Dail technical group that includes a dolly mixtures group of non-socialist independents. The larger group in the Dail is Sinn Fein, wrapping themselves in a left mantle that is accepted by at least one TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, in the ULA group.

It is also important to take into consideration the timing of the ULA rally. It followed on from the election success, but was not so close that there was not time for reflection. That means that the major groups in the ULA have decided against advancing the project of a new party and, as the election recedes, are presenting a project of a loose alliance of left groups. This will become less and less credible to the working class, throwing the whole project into question and tending to discredit both the ULA and its constituent parts.

It is also necessary to consider why organizations like the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party would oppose a new party, as both have experience of groups in Britain which had a party structure but where they have been able to maintain their own party structures - the Scottish Socialist Party and its structure of platforms is the classic example.

The point here is that both the SP and SWP believe that their organizations are the nascent revolutionary parties. The success of broader organizations is judged by the level of recruitment to themselves. Their experience of unity projects in Britain has been that they have not recruited and have in fact been subject to intense internal division as a result of their involvement.

The reason for this negative experience is a Marxist concept called praxis. Militants use theory to plan and carry out actions. The result is debate, a re-examination of theory, and further action. In contrast both the SWP and SP are top-down organizations, with the leaderships deciding on interventions and interpreting results. In broader organizations the membership of the groups find themselves in broader debates, causing unwelcome dissention in their ranks.

The issue of a new party is not resolved. The SP and SWP are not in agreement. The TDs outside their ranks, Joan Collins and Paddy Healy, are more anxious to see a new party formed. Other political organizations, including Socialist Democracy, have applied to join. Individuals have joined the ULA, branches have formed. They are seeking a democratic structure and are unlikely to stay as voiceless footsoldiers.

A specific contradiction exists around the issue of the North. The SP violently oppose a 32-county party. The SWP are happy to ignore the issue and to stand their front organization, People before Profit, against the SP in the assembly elections. In any case they are presenting themselves as a left seeking to put forward reforms in the Assembly and seem unwilling to acknowledge the totally reactionary nature of the Stormont structure. However there are militants in the North who wish to join the ULA and if a united structure grew in the North there would be great difficulty in formally adopting a partitionist policy as opposed to simply dodging the issue.

The debate around the formation of a new party remains unfinished. It is the issue that draws the attention of many militants and we wish to participate in it. However, both unity and democracy require an object. Our intervention must address the issue of a program for the new party and for the working class.

The glaring weakness of the ULA convention was that only the Socialist Party put forward a call for a working class transformation of society - and it was quite clear from the context that this was a long-term aspiration rather than a guide to immediate action. Overall the discussion at the convention was about persuading or forcing the existing capitalist state to act in the interests of the workers.

The working class have suffered staggering defeats over decades. The majority of the socialist movement automatically discount independent action by the working class and look to other social forces to substitute for it.

The SP and SWP differences should be seen in this light. The SWP, along with the majority of our own movement, the Fourth International, support popular "anti-capitalist" movements that tend to attract middle-class radicals and advance a rather vague reformism. The Socialist Party reserve Marxism for their publications. Their policy is a united front with Social Democracy, specifically with "left" trade unionists around the social democratic demands that they will agree to.

The limitations of these approaches can be seen in the recent sell-out of British Airways cabin staff by "left" bureaucrat Len McCluskey of UNITE. This initially led to criticism by the SWP, followed by a swift retreat when the SP and Communist Party attacked them. Now the trade union left are united behind McCluskey, who is heading a European Resistance conference against the cuts, with Sinn Fein, itself posing as a left organization, providing one of the speakers. The relative weakness of the Irish movement is shown by the fact that a similar sell-out of Aer Lingus cabin staff passed almost without comment, let alone criticism.

Because of the relative inactivity of the working class and the fact that the socialist movement is not immediately advancing a program of socialism or a method of working class self-organization and action, the proposals tend towards "better" capitalist policies to be achieved by greater democracy.

So the banks should be nationalised under democratic control - but that is effectively what Fianna Fail did in the Bank bailout.

There should be a better fairer way to invest more and save jobs - that argument put the trade union leadership inside the tent with the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The movement took a step forward before the elections with calls to repudiate the debt, but in the absence of a perspective that includes working class action that led to the presentation at the ULA convention by Terrace McDonough arguing for a return of the Punt - a policy that would totally impoverish Irish workers.

In the interim Germany and France have imposed a partial debt repudiation that doubles the period of debt and is carefully calculated to extract the absolute maximum that can practically be extracted from Irish workers.

All the proposals that the left put forward turn to dust. There are no reformist solutions on offer from capitalism. The traditional organizations of the working class - labour parties and trade unions - move more firmly and decisively to the side of capital.

Even the most basic forms of defence, the most basic reforms, can only be achieved by the actions of the workers themselves, yet the socialists hesitate to make such calls because of the inactivity of the workers and the absence of class consciousness make such calls appear a form of implausible ultraleftism, running against the current understanding of the workers and cutting off the possibility of alliance with the left of the trade union bureaucracy.

The tensions in the ULA are between the SWP and SP, between Joan Collins and Paddy Healy and these groups, with other socialist groups who have applied to join the alliance and with individual members and branches composed of these independents. However, while there is a great deal of agreement about the need for a new party and for democratic structures, there is a great deal of confusion about the potential to advance reformist demands, to work with the trade union bureaucracy and about the need to put forward a policy specifically in the interests of the workers and based on the independent self-organisation of the workers. Socialist Democracy wants to be part of a democratic debate, to be part of a new party, but to do so by setting out and debating the programme of a working class party. The forces in the ULA at the moment are either unwilling to or insufficient for the building of such a party, so we have to turn our attention to the organisation of the working class, to nascent forms of struggle such as the rank and file trade union organisations and prepare for the inevitable confrontations between workers and capital that lie ahead.

The centre of any working class programme must continue to be the utter repudiation of the debt and of all the elements of the offensive arising from the debt. Workers did not cause the debt and shouldn't pay a cent. We should resist at every level, fighting the redundancies, wage cuts and withdrawal of services at every level.

We should stand for the expropriation of bankrupt speculative property, for the closure of the banks and the building of a workers bank. Major resources such as the Corrib gas field should be controlled by the workers. The subsidies to transnational companies through low rates of corporation tax must end.

The trail of speculation and corruption reaches into every town and village and can be linked to every restriction and closure of local services. Services must be directly under the control of popular committees. Private companies must be prevented from sucking our blood through the control of public services.

We should call for and implement all forms of financial disclosure at every level. Who are the criminals? What resources do they hold and where are they? What are the links between the politicians, the speculators and the bankers. Where does the money supposed to bail out Ireland end up?

Ireland is a country lacking any vestige of self-determination. We oppose the control of the European Central Bank and of the IMF. We oppose the Good Friday agreement and the legitimation of British rule in the North.

We counterpose to the existing chaos an Irish workers republic in alliance with the European working class to build a united socialist states of Europe.

A central element of any program is the absence of a working class movement to implement it. The traditional organizations of the Labour Party and trade unions have collapsed completely and act directly as agents of capital. This issue has been decisively decided by the inclusion of Labour in the current Fine Gael coalition and of the trade unions in the memorandum of understanding being implemented by the ECB and IMF.

The fact is that the trade union betrayal was accomplished without any sizable opposition emerging. The lack of opposition extends into the socialist movement, with the left plumping for unity with the bureaucracy.

The working class is much stronger in many parts of Europe, but the pattern there is not dissimilar. The building of a workers party is going to take a long time and the socialists will be confined to propaganda and exemplary actions where the class struggle allows it.

The issue of the United Left Alliance is the issue of the extent to which the existing socialist movement, or part of it, can unite around a programme of action and advance the building of a workers party.

Given the pressures of the capitalist crisis, the answer should not be long in coming.…


Mon, Jun 27, 2011

A CRITICAL need for a new mass party of the left is evident but now is not the time to launch such a movement, delegates at the inaugural United Left Alliance forum were told at the weekend.

Dublin West TD Joe Higgins, whose Socialist Party is part of the alliance, said merely amalgamating members of the alliance’s groups would not be “optimum”.

More than 400 people attended the convention in Liberty Hall Dublin on Saturday. The forum’s objective was to produce ideas on how to move the alliance into a position where it could become a political party in its own right. It has five TDs, one MEP and 20 councillors.

Mr Higgins said a new party would have to have purpose and potential to develop and grow. It was not possible to be precise about a date for setting up a new party, but they should have an understanding of the context in which the venture would start.

The “hatred and vitriolic contempt” working-class people had for the former government would develop against this one into the autumn and during the formulation of the budget, he said. “Against that background there will be a real openness for the ideals of a left alternative.”

Richard Boyd Barrett TD, from Dún Laoghaire, said the convention was a tremendous advance for the left. They needed to acknowledge diversity within their ranks, while debating issues in a fraternal way. The majority of the public were furious with the EU-IMF deal and wanted an alternative. “Our project has to be to win over that majority of working-class people.”

The first and most important task was to build the alliance as fast as possible so that it could “lead the struggles that need to be fought”, including fighting against cuts in services such as special needs assistants. The alliance needed to stand beside ordinary people who did not necessarily come from its particular standpoint but who wanted to protect services and jobs, he said.

Tipperary TD Séamus Healy told delegates they had to prioritise building the alliance nationwide. “We believe we can build 40 branches.”

Sligo councillor Declan Bree said he believed “the alienation of the Labour Party because of its collaboration with Fine Gael” would lead to support. The Government was unlikely to stay in power for more than a couple of years, he said. “Despite the recession, despite the impact of the ruling class . . . the months ahead will provide the left with a golden opportunity to build towards the establishment of a new party.”

© 2011 The Irish Times


In advance of and at the ULA Forum on 25th June the statement below, 'Build the ULA', was circulated by Joan Collins TD, Eddie Conlon, Steering Committee Member ULA and PBPA(People Before Profit Alliance), and Dermot Connolly, Steering Committee Member PBPA. They are non-SWP members of the PBPA and associate with the tiny, loose and irregular grouping CIL (Campaign for an Indendent Left).

Incidentally the SWP are not affiliated as such to the ULA, but through the the PBPA. Declan Bree's independent socialst group in Sligo, the very small Socialist Democracy and now the Irish Socialist Network should be included in the accont of organised participation in the ULA. Perhaps the single supporters each of the International Bolshevik Tendency and the CPGB might want to be in the reckonng of political support too! The structures have not developed to the state of receiving formal affiliations as far as I know, but there has been a standing offer of a place on the steering group to groups who come on board. DD


The Main Job Now is to Build the ULA

The ULA has been a success. It has brought together a variety of left and socialist forces and provided a framework whereby they can work together. It has led to a focus on what the left agrees on rather than what divides us. It has shown that by working together we can have success and develop genuine and radical political representation for working people. With the election of 5 TDs the ULA has established a national profile and provided a pole of attraction for those who want to resist the attacks on workers, the unemployed and oppressed.

The key issue now is how we develop the ULA beyond being an alliance into a political force which can draw in new layers of activists and build commitment to a radical reorganisation of society. The shift from an alliance to a new political formation will take time and cannot be rushed. But if the ULA is not seen to be moving beyond its current configuration, essentially an alliance of the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group, its growth could be stifled. Those attracted to it may only see at as a tool of the constituent groups. They will feel they cannot have a real say in what happens without joining one of the groups.

The real issue then is not when you declare a new party but that the thrust of our activity and debate should build a growing momentum towards a new party.

It is now vital that all members of the ULA commit to building it as a real vibrant formation and take responsibility for its organisational and political development. The revolutionary organisations within it should not see it solely as a means of building their own organisations. We should agree that the task of building a real challenge to the capitalism is better advanced through the development of a genuinely open, broad and pluralist party rather than through the growth of particular tendencies within it. Joining the ULA does not require members to sign up to a tendency and nor should it. Those who join should be free to commit to the ULA alone rather than feeling that their membership makes them fair game to be recruited to the different revolutionary forces within it.

The ULA must seek to be become the dominant oppositional voice in the country and in the Dail. It should seek to draw towards it all those disillusioned with Labour (and Sinn Fein). There should be no illusions about a left split from either of these organisations. But there should be a genuine effort to expose them and appeal to their supporters. On particular issues it should be possible for the ULA to work with broader forces when we agree. To seek to be the dominant oppositional voice the ULA will need to be:

1. Anti-capitalist

The ULA must be clearly anti-capitalist. As the founding programme says we must insist that “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”. This profoundly socialist aspiration should guide our policy and allow us to argue for reforms without being reformist. We must fight cuts and for change without sowing illusions that the current crises can be solved in capitalist terms. This guiding principle strengthens our commitment to do no deals or coalesce with the right. You can’t do deals with those committed to the current system.

The programme of the ULA is a good basis for developing the project of a new party. While the programme needs to be fleshed out it is not the case that the ULA can solve the real challenges it faces by simply adopting a set of revolutionary or socialist demands. The programme will need to be built on but this must be through debate and drawing the lessons from concrete struggles. It must be a bottom up process, the National Forum is a good start, which draws on the vast experience of the activists within the ULA, and its periphery, and addresses the concrete challenges that face us.

But the programme should not be seen as a disposable commodity which can be diluted to facilitate the entry of those who really don’t agree with us. A weak programme will lead to political domination by the organised revolutionary forces within the ULA as they will be the ones with all the political answers. The ULA needs to develop a culture of political debate and education aimed at developing the layers of activists who will be drawn to us.

2. An organisation of struggle and unity

The ULA must be to the forefront in fighting for the rights of working people and the oppressed and standing beside those who enter into struggles. If the ULA cannot draw into membership the best fighters in the communities and unions it will not grow as a mass political force. While current levels of struggle are low there is no doubt that this will change in the face of further and sustained onslaughts on the living standards of working people.

When this passivity turns to activity the ULA must be in a position to support, develop and lead the struggles that emerge. This must be done in a united fashion and in a way that shows that the ULA has a united approach to supporting and building campaigns.

The ULA should not passively wait for struggles to emerge but must actively work to develop united work around agreed campaigns. The constituent groups must agree on priorities and agree to focus on these priorities. To date this approach has not been taken with a fair degree of latitude being provided for constituent groups to do their own thing. Campaigns aimed at building individual constituent groups have even cut across the efforts of the ULA to do work on particular issues. For example, the Enough Campaign is now calling meetings on the issue of the EROs and JLCs while the ULA has also prioritised this as a key campaign issue.

United campaigns are a vital ingredient in uniting the ULA on the ground. Through working together traditional suspicions can be undermined and a genuine spirit for unity can be developed. They will also provide a national focus for branches.

3. Democratic, participatory and open

To date the ULA has been run by a small steering group. This group needs to be expanded. While structures will evolve slowly it is still the case that those not affiliated to the constituent groups will find it hard to have a real influence on the development of the project.

It is the case that as an alliance, which wants to develop into a unitary organisation, some degree of experimentation will be necessary to involve new layers and make them feel they have ownership of the project. This may mean that some form of hybrid structure develops which allows representation within ULA structures for the constituent groups but also for those new to the ULA.

The development of ULA membership and branches has been rightly prioritised but the process is slow and uneven. About 40 public meetings have been held since the election and it should be now possible to develop up to 40 branches if the will is there to do so.

In the interim consideration should be given to developing a mechanism to allow non-affiliated people an input into decisions in the ULA. It would provide a clear signal that the ULA is committed to developing participation by those outside the constituent groups.

In time representatives of branches should be able to meet collectively through elected delegates who could elect representatives to the Steering Committee. There would have to be agreement that such delegate meetings would be composed of those not affiliated to the main constituent organisations. In the interim the proposal of the SP for a nonaligned platform within the ULA has merit and should be debated further.

In moving to a new party we have to be clear that party will have to be democratic and pluralist and allow the organised expression of different opinions. This will mean facilitating different political platforms. But this should not lead to a cacophony of voices where differences are accentuated to draw supporters to different tendencies. This will undermine the project. The focus must stay on what is agreed with debate continuing on those issues on which we disagree.

Its important that as we move forward we don’t have false debates. For example none of us have illusions in the Dail but putting thought and effort into Dail work does not amount to parliamentary cretinism. We must derive the most from having five TDs, an MEP and around 20 councillors. This involves putting effort, thought and resources into our public representatives and becoming more skillful at linking their activity with the broader activism of the ULA. The reality is that continued electoral success, or failure, will have an impact on the growth and development of the ULA. Our success has been important in legitimating the project and giving us authority to speak for working people. Therefore the next round of council elections and the next general election are key targets in developing the ULA. We believe that we should seek to double our representation on councils at the next local elections.

As we move forward there are many organisational and political challenges to be met. Information flow must increase and an ebulletin and an improved website must be prioritised. Mechanism for facilitating the exchange of political views must also be developed. As a matter of priority steering group minutes and decisions should be circulated and regular forums should be held where activists can communicate and debate directly with the steering group and the TDs.

We believe the ULA can play a role in developing left unity in the North. The recent successes of PBP candidates in the North shows that there is a thirst for change amongst a minority. Low voter turn out suggest growing alienation form the political system. We believe that a left unity project should grow organically in the North but we believe that the ULA can play a vital role in facilitating movement towards the reorganisation of the Left in the North.


The ULA represents an unprecedented opportunity to build a radical political voice for working people. The confluence of an unprecedented crises in Irish capitalism and the commitment of the left to develop a unity project means there is a real possibility that advances can be made towards the reorganisation of the Irish working class. A key ingredient in realising this possibility is that the constituent organisations prioritise the building of the ULA over all other objectives. This will mean suppressing deeply developed political instincts which favour their own organisational interests. It is now vital that all members of the ULA commit to building it as a real vibrant formation and take responsibility for its organisational and political development. If this is done the real potential of the ULA may be fully realised. Concretely this means:

* Putting the resources and assigning organisers to develop a network of up to 40 branches. Branches should facilitate local campaign work, tie in with national campaigns and facilitate political discussion. Branches should have designated convenors who tie in with the steering committee. This work should provide the platform for doubling our representation on local councils at the next local elections.
* Growing the membership towards 1,000 members registered on a central data base
* United campaigns which generate real opportunities to practice unity in action
* Increasing information flows and accountability and developing structures which allow all members to have a real say.

Joan Collins TD, Eddie Conlon and Dermot Connolly,