Danish Red-Green Alliance congress: organising for climate and social justice
By Dick Nichols
October 28, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — This year’s Annual Meeting (congress) of Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance (RGA), its 30th, took place in Copenhagen on October 5-6 in a political context that contrasted strongly with that of its predecessor, held in April 2018.
Eighteen months ago the 300-plus delegates of the RGA (known in Denmark as the Unity List—the Red-Greens) were preparing for a general election they hoped would lift the RGA into the role of main challenger to the Social Democrats for hegemony over what in Danish politics is called the "red bloc". Composed of the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party (SF), the Social Liberals and the RGA, the red bloc has historically competed against its "blue" rival—the Liberals, Danish People’s Party (DF), Conservatives and Liberal Alliance—for the majority support that decides whether Social Democrats or Liberals will head the Danish government.
The 29th Annual Meeting had looked to build on the RGA’s success at the 2015 Danish general election, where it overtook both the SF and Social Liberals, becoming the second party in the red bloc and the fourth party in parliament. That congress endorsed the pamphlet 100 Days with the RGA, aimed at showing, in the words of RGA spokesperson Pernille Skipper, "that it is possible to have different policies and that there is no need to choose between two different shades of blue".
However, the June 5, 2019 Danish election deflated those hopes: the red-greens lost a seat and were again overtaken by the SF and Social Liberals, who contributed nearly all of the 15-seat gain that recovered government for the Social Democrats.
‘A fair direction for Denmark’
However, despite this setback, the mood of the 30th Annual Meeting was upbeat. While there were some critical comments about the RGA’s election campaign, the congress atmosphere was largely set by the progressive commitments won in the platform for government (“A fair direction for Denmark”) that the Social Democrats had been obliged to sign with the other red bloc parties to gain government.
Without the RGA and its “Climate Plan: 2020”, the incoming administration of prime minister Mette Frederiksen would not have committed Denmark to a greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030 of 70% relative to 1990 levels—the most ambitious in the world.
The government platform also features an “ambitious children’s plan”, a response to waves of parent protest against the degradation of the country’s day care system, and the focus of the SF’s election campaign. Other commitments include improving social welfare, reducing poverty and inequality and having “an immigration and refugee policy that promotes integration”.
The platform is not the usual detailed list of legislation that an incoming government presents, and it is silent on many issues where other red bloc parties disagree with the Social Democrats. Among these is the continuation of the Liberal government’s “ghetto plan”, which involves demolishing public housing in neighbourhoods meeting any two of three criteria: at least 50% of residents are immigrants from non-Western countries; at least 40% are unemployed; and at least 2.7% have criminal records.
The RGA rejects the plan and this congress its annual prize for Denmark’s most effective social movement was shared between a movement against “ghetto” demolitions and a refugee support network.
The party’s position on government policy with which it disagrees was made clear by MP Søren Søndergaard in an interview with Green Left Weekly (see the full interview here):
“We have made clear to the government that they cannot expect our vote for any measure that worsens the situation of working people and people on welfare, or of the environment […] Most importantly, if the RGA judges that a conflict has arisen with the government that puts the objectives of the agreement at serious risk we shall not hesitate to call for the matter to be put to the vote of the people.”
The positive mood at the congress survived some sharp debate, both over whether the RGA should have signed the government agreement (a minority on its outgoing leadership was opposed) and other questions. These included the RGA’s orientation to the European Union (this will be the subject of the annual special resolution to its 2021 congress) and the method of electing its national leadership (discussion was postponed to its 2020 congress).
The positive mood even seemed to outlast a complicated and confusing debate over globalisation, the subject of the special resolution that is taken at each congress. The debate was structured around two documents, a main text from the original drafting committee and an alternative from members concerned that the main text was “insufficiently focussed”.
The main text was pedagogical, outlining in simple language the historical roots, basic structure and impacts of the present phase of internationalisation of capital. Globalisation in a world dominated by imperialist powers is producing: environmental degradation due to increased trade; reactionary movements and authoritarian regimes; increased flows of migrants and refugees; continuing repression of the right to national self-determination; and a weakening of organised labour.
Against these trends the text set the need to strengthen international solidarity and democratic rights, promote local agricultural production, close down tax havens and fight for the right to asylum and for the conditions of migrant workers.
In voting on this draft delegates also had to choose between alternative positions on three immediate policy issues: Danish residency and citizenship rights; the right of asylum for climate refugees, and how to confront business’s permanent push to undermine working conditions with lower-paid migrant workers.
The movers of the alternative resolution objected in their rationale to the debate on refugees, asylum policy and migrant workers being “wrapped up in a debate about globalisation”. The rest of the main document’s proposals were also “slogans, not solutions”. The alternative text narrowed the focus to the recent evolution of the world capitalist economy, with a stress on noxious international trade agreements, speculative finance markets, business’s exploitation of internet technology and the global hunt for resources to feed the production system.
It stressed the need to strengthen the social movements resisting the impacts of globalisation. The important fights were for fair trade agreements, Tobin taxes on speculative capital movements, the dismantling of too-big-to-fail global banks and the establishment of international minimum company tax rates. Denmark should be in the forefront of this struggle for a “just economic world order”.
Both texts were the subject of amendments, the effect of which was to bring them slightly closer together. However, delegate discussion ranged over the gamut of issues related to globalisation, touching on such questions as: whether China and Russia are imperialist powers; what supranational structures the RGA might support; the need for “ethical branding” of products; problems with the demand for production in the proximity when this discriminates against Third World producers; the absence of proposals around peace and nuclear weapons; the need for greater stress on the feminist struggle and the right of nations to self-determination, and a lot, lot more.
Quite a few delegates spoke against the main text’s adopting a position on refugee and migrant rights and how best to protect Danish labour standards: these issues needed a separate discussion. For others the issues were too important to be set aside.
Half-way through the discussion a vote was taken on which text might become the basic document for amendment, but since there was no two-thirds majority for either, discussion continued on both. At this point it was hard not to sympathise with those who were wondering why they were required to vote on theoretical analysis and were also asking, in the words of one frustrated speaker: “How do we use this in conversation with normal people?”
When the final vote was taken between the documents as amended, the alternative text was adopted 187 to 123, with 11 abstentions. This clear majority seemed to reflect the sentiment that the now amended alternative text would be a more useful tool in public political work.
As adopted, the position on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrant workers read:
“We defend the right to asylum for refugees fleeing from war and persecution due to their gender or sexual orientation. Refugees who win asylum should have easier access to permanent residence so that they can start a new life and not risk later deportation. Refugees should have the same rights to work, education, housing and family reunion as other citizens in Denmark. Denmark should be in the forefront of the fight for creating security for climate refugees and work for international solutions to this issue.
“We are categorically against the EU's inhuman type of border control at its external frontier and against the cynical agreements with dictators and authoritarian regimes that seek to keep out refugees. The Dublin Convention should be annulled.
“We work to make Denmark take greater responsibility for refugees: to take more quota refugees and for the possibility of seeking asylum at Danish embassies."
There was to be one more apple of discord before the congress concluded. For the first time since its founding, the RGA this year stood in European parliamentary elections. The People’s Movement against the EU, which the RGA had traditionally supported, agreed to stand in alliance with the RGA.
Part of the reason for that decision was that the RGA had undertaken, in the case that it alone won a seat, to share its European parliament finances and staff resources with the People’s Movement in proportion to the votes obtained by both parties, making “at least one position available to the People’s Movement”.
Since only the RGA candidate was elected, this ambiguous undertaking left the congress with a choice between two budget proposals: to pay the People’s Movement one full-timer’s salary (€63,000) or to pay its proportion of the RGA’s total EU-funded salary entitlement (40%, €150,000).
After a debate in which the need to uphold the apparent commitment of the RGA was set against other demands on its budget—in particular the need to fund new media—the congress voted in favour of the first proposal, provoking the resignation of former People’s Movement MEP Rina Ronja Kari.
These debates made the RGA’s 30th congress a rocky affair, but the positive mood survived them. At bottom that was because, in the words of one congress reporter “this is the first time grass-roots movements have determined a Danish election result”.
The discussion on how to build the movements that have led to a Social Democratic government with progressive commitments dominated the discussion on what the RGA should do next, with the proposal for a national grassroots climate conference strongly supported.
In the words of Søndergaard, “the RGA’s challenge now is to maintain the big mobilisations around climate and social issues so as to make sure that the common governmental platform agreed with the other parties gets implemented. Or, if that battle’s lost, to make sure a broad alternative to the left of the Social Democracy gets built.”
Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent. An earlier version of this article has appeared on its web site. He attended the RGA congress on behalf of the Australian Socialist Alliance.