Ireland: Shock, austerity, Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance
By Des Derwin, Dublin
June 26, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- On May 31, the only country to get a vote on the European Fiscal Treaty – Ireland -- voted for it by 60% to 40%, with a turnout of 50% of eligible voters. Miriam Lord, political colour-writer for the Irish Times (June 2) had a front page article with a headline almost as big as the main news story headline. It proclaimed, “The nation gives one great big sigh of relief”. Certainly, the Irish elite was giving one great big sigh of relief after a hard-fought campaign.
Andy Storey of the broad based Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty (CAAT) summarised the end result:
The outcome of the referendum was largely attributable to the “yes” side’s focus on Ireland’s access to the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the fund to which Ireland would be expected to apply should it require a second loan from non-market sources (a first such loan – from EU, IMF and other sources – was contracted in 2010). The argument was endlessly repeated that a “no” vote would deny Ireland the ability to apply to the ESM, and many people were doubtless convinced that this could be a risky proposition. Thus, the “yes” vote is explained to some extent not by any widespread endorsement of the content of the treaty itself, but rather by an explicit campaign of blackmail waged against potential “no” voters. ..
Further swingeing austerity is to be imposed for years to come, copper-fastened in place by the treaty’s rules. Those who have borne the brunt of the cutbacks to date already understand this – working class communities tended to vote “no” to the treaty, while the “yes” vote was highest in middle- and upper-class constituencies; even one government minister conceded that the vote reflected a “class divide”.
There is no disguising that the referendum result is a disappointment. However, the fact that the “no” vote was 40% is, under the circumstances, a very decent showing, especially given that the three largest political parties (only two of which are in government), all major newspapers, business groups and various civil society elites were unanimous in their calls for a “yes” vote... In other words, almost the entire weight of establishment Ireland could barely manage to persuade 30% of the electorate to back the treaty, and a good number of those did so only through gritted teeth and at effective gunpoint.
The treaty writes austerity into permanent law, outlawing social-democratic Keynesianism with a ceiling of 0.5% of GDP on government deficits and a government “debt brake” of 60% of GDP. According to CAAT, on top of the five austerity budgets since the crash of 2008, the current International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank-European Union “bail-out” deal proposes another €8.6 billion worth of austerity between now and 2015 and on top of all this the targets of the treaty mean extra cuts and tax rises of €5.8 billion from 2015. (The Irish GDP in 2011 was €156 billion).
We are the 1%?
In May, the United Left Alliance (ULA) in Ireland appeared for the first time in a major opinion poll (Irish Independent/Millward Browne Lansdowne, May 18, 2012). Until then it had been frustratingly included in “Independents and Others”. Supporters of the ULA would have been jolted and dismayed by the findings, which registered ULA support at 1%, the same as the Green Party, which was wiped out in the February 2011 elections, returning zero TDs (members of of the Irish parliament, the Dail). In that election the ULA won 59,423 votes (2.7% of the national vote, while standing in half the constituencies) and five seats. There is also a ULA MEP (member of the European parliament) and about 20 elected local authority [municipal] representatives.
The main government party was down 2 points since the general election to 34% and the Labour Party was down 4 points in the same period to 15%. In June 2010, an MRBI poll showed the Labour Party, for the first time in the history of the state, as the most popular party at 32%, ahead of Fine Gael at 28% and Fianna Fáil at 17%. Labour in government is now reaping its austerity award: in May 2012 it had lost one-in-four voters to Sinn Féin (up seven to 17%) and the ‘Independents and Others” (up one point to 18%).
The occasional opinion poll showing of the Socialist Party, the only part of the ULA to figure in previous polls, has been bigger than 1% in itself. So how is the ULA, with its promise of being more than the sum of its parts, by this measure at least, less in the sum than its parts?
Ireland is not Greece
Ireland is not Greece. But there is immiseration nonetheless. And caused directly by austerity imposed by the Irish (Fine Gael-Labour Party) government and the IMF/European Union/European Central Bank “Troika”. When direct reports of poverty reach the normally comfortable letters page of the Irish Times you know things are running down for real. Like this heartrending letter of May 4.
Sir, – In reply to [Labour Minister] Pat Rabbitte’s piece (“Labour Party taking Ireland on slow but sure journey to a fairer place”, Opinion, May 2nd) I’d like to share a little piece of Labour Party policy that I am personally experiencing.
I am a disabled person. Today I was given notice of eviction from my flat by the local community welfare officer. Let me be clear here, it’s the community welfare officer who is evicting me.
In fairness, she was upset, but said her hands were tied and the directive is being given from “above” with no discretionary leeway being given to any person.
This is happening because my landlady refuses to drop rental rates any further. As it stands the price she is asking for is below market rate, but €75 (per month) above the rent allowance cap...
...Rent allowance limits beyond which, according to strict bureaucratic rules, you may not rent have dropped by the largest amount in the country...When I inquire, there is nothing/no one in this area that will either accept rent allowance or a disabled person.... Even if I could get a place to accept me it will cost me circa €2,000 to move, between deposits, rent in advance, vans and helpers.
There is no financial help being offered and the spectre of homelessness looms in three months time.
My elected representatives ignore my e-mails and requests for appointments at clinics. The stress is impacting very negatively on my health. This is happening under a Labour Social Protection Minister...I would ask Mr Rabbitte is this fairness or cruelty?
I would not wish this suffering on anyone, but it would be a lot less if I knew that it was going to help balance the budget in order to get us out of debt as a country and not to pay unsecured bondholders and private debt of dead banks across the EU.
Yours, etc, Eileen O’Sullivan, Bray, Co Wicklow.
There was a letter in response, from Fr. Peter McVerry SJ, a well-known campaigner for homeless young people who said:
The plight of Eileen O’Sullivan is by no means unique. Many people in private rented accommodation, who depend on a rent supplement from the State, now find themselves at risk of homelessness.
They are being told that the accommodation they have been living in, some of them for many years, is too expensive and are being given 13 weeks to find cheaper accommodation, or lose their rent supplement entirely. Some will not be able to find cheaper accommodation, as the demand for rental accommodation is increasing, and will become homeless, obliged to sleep in drug-filled emergency shelters. Those who succeed will find themselves in small, dingy, depressing flats, often unfit for human habitation, offered by unscrupulous landlords who will now be rewarded by the State with a guaranteed monthly income.
The letters page of the Irish Times also provided the following glimpse on May 8 into the state of the Irish public health service, scandalous in the best of times (despite the best efforts of health workers), merciless in the era of cuts:
My daughter was admitted to A & E [Accident and Emergency] in the Mater Hospital [Dublin] last Wednesday, April 25th, with abdominal pain and suspected appendicitis. She had to wait two and a half days – including spending a night sleeping on the floor – before receiving treatment. No bed, no trolley, no pillow, no blanket, just a spot on the floor. Apparently this is how we treat patients in our first world country. The Minister should hang his head in shame.
Yours, etc., Dermot Breen, Newbridge, Co. Kildare.
On April 2, a letter was sent by a Health Service Executive (HSE) administration covering Carlow and Kilkenny directing nursing homes and public health nurses to restrict the use of incontinence pads supplied to elderly patients to three per day for each patient to save money (Irish Times, May 11, 2012). A follow-up letter, dated May 2, told nursing homes the allocation was to be reduced by one pad per patient per day. The letter said, “The deficit to their continence needs must be paid for by the patient.”
In February, the Irish government paid €1.25 billion to unguaranteed bondholders of the zombie Anglo-Irish Bank and in March it postponed but confirmed payment of the first of regular annual promissory notes of €3.1 billion to the same bank. Embarrassment or some vestige of human decency led to the HSE at top level apologising for and withdrawing the letters on May 10.
Following the death of Thomas Walshe in March 2011 in a corridor in Tallaght Hospital, a year-long investigation found, inter alia, that more than 80% of patients who needed admission were kept on a trolley in a corridor next to the emergency department, where they waited a further 14 hours for an inpatient bed (Irish Times, May 18, 2012).
More than 800 patients have been waiting four years or more to be seen by a consultant at a hospital outpatient department, after being referred by their family doctor, according to official figures released this month (Morning Ireland, RTE Radio1, June 7, 2012). More than 158,000 patients nationwide were waiting since January 2011 to be seen at an outpatient department. The total list was 205,000. There is a second waiting list after you see the consultant. The target for this list of nine months maximum for adults has already been breached in the case of 3891 patients. New figures from the Department of Health (Irish Times, June 22, 2012) clocked up a total list of up to 350,000 people waiting for first outpatient appointments at public hospitals. (The population of the Ireland state was 4,581,269 in the April census.) Dr. Martin Connor of the special delivery unit said he had received reports of people waiting four, five and six years to be seen. The health service had already exceeded its allocated budget for the year by over €250 million by the end of May (Irish Times, June 26, 2012, reporting provisional figures).
Lorraine Ryan is a member of DCA Warriors, which was set up to fight cuts in carers' entitlements. She explains (The Socialist, May 2012):
Domiciliary Carers Allowance is paid in recognition of additional care and attention for children with a severe disability in the child’s home… I have a five year old son Maurice who has autism and we have been in receipt of DCA since he was diagnosed three years ago. Then earlier this year a routine renewal application was turned down. Through talking to other parents we discovered that we were not alone… Refusal of DCA also means immediate loss of Respite Care Grant and Carers Allowance.
In late May, MANDATE, the trade union representing retail workers, said its members’ take-home pay had fallen by €109 a week on average over the last year (Irish Times, May 25, 2012). MANDATE said falling wages for retail workers are due mainly to reductions in working hours, and that since the removal of the joint labour committee system for setting wages last year, premium rates paid for Sunday work had in some cases been significantly reduced. There were reports from members that where they would have got time and a third as a Sunday premium previously, they were now being offered as little as €1 extra an hour.
The new cohort of young teachers in September will be starting with 30% less pay than they would have had before the cuts.
A less odious cut is nevertheless another straw in the wind from Greece, “the cradle of democracy”, a wind that seems to be wearing down the basics of civilised organisation. In May it was reported (Irish Times, May 14, 2012) that Dublin City Council had withdrawn almost 200 public litter bins from residential areas. Some of them were “underused”, while others were being “abused” by householders who did not want to pay waste charges, according to the council. A quarter of the bins were being filled with household waste. Bin charges were introduced in the 1990s in the face of a mass non-payment campaign in which three of the current ULA TDs were jailed. The council had installed 5000 public bins throughout the city but decided to review their use because of budget constraints.
The Irish economy has gone from unprecedented boom to unparalleled bust. From immigration to the return of mass emigration. From full employment to unemployment of 14.8% in the first quarter of 2012, a post-crash high (Central Statistics Office household survey, June 7, 2012). There were 340,000 fewer people working in the first quarter of 2012 than at the end of 2007, a drop of 16% in four years. Among 20- to 24-year olds unemployment is 28% and for teenagers seeking work it is 37%.
Real Irish GDP underwent a peak-to-trough decline of 12.7% from the last quarter of 2007 to the last quarter of 2010. A daily mantra from government politicians and some economists is that Ireland is back in growth and on the road to recovery. At the time of writing, this growth amounted to 0.7% for 2011, hardly growth at all. Of this there was growth in first two quarters only and a fall in the last two. “Thus we are technically in recession” (Department of Finance, Monthly Economic Bulletin, May 2012). Real GNP for 2011 decreased by 7.1%. In the first quarter of 2012 employment fell by 0.4%.
From the first quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2011 domestic demand fell by 24.2% (Liberty, Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union [SIPTU] trade union newspaper, April 2012, source: eurostat). The general government deficit is forecast for this year to reach over 8% of GDP, higher than Greece and the highest of the 27 EU countries (Liberty, source: EU DG Economic and Finance affairs, Ameco database). The Irish general government debt level is forecast to peak at 119% of GDP in 2013, second only to Greece (Liberty, same source).
The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) was set up to buy out (i.e. bail out) toxic loans from the banks and take over the collateral involved, making it perhaps the biggest property owner in the West. In May NAMA sold houses at an 80% drop in price from four years previously (Irish Times, May 9, 2012). The CSO index on March 26 showed that in Dublin peak-to-trough house prices had fallen by 48% to 56% and apartment prices by 61%. Davy stockbrokers expected residential property prices to eventually fall 65-70% peak-to-trough (Davy, March 27, 2012, http://www.davy.ie/print.htm?id=3551). The number of home loans in arrears of 90 days or more soared to 77,630 at the end of March – or one in 10 mortgages, compared with 49,609 in March 2011 (Irish Times, June 8, 2012).
The depths of debt
Financial institution debt is massively higher in Ireland than in Greece. Popular Irish economist and writer David McWilliams commented on a January McKinsey report on world debt, which uses figures from the Bank of International Settlements:
“What it tells you is that Ireland is the most indebted country in the world. When compared with Greece, Ireland is carrying more than two-and-a-half times more debt. We are twice as indebted as Portugal ...
... Much is made of the government debt –which remains enormous — but the real problem seems to be the debt held by the banks or the financial institutions and the debts built up by Ireland Inc, as well as the debts which we, the people, incurred in the boom”.
The proportion of Irish debt that is socialised bank debt is unusually high. Speculation that the Spanish bank crisis would be met by bail outs directly to the banks and not, as in Ireland's case, indirectly by debt-increasing loans through the government, fuelled Irish government hopes of this method being applied to Ireland retrospectively. Especially given the “yes” vote to the Fiscal Treaty. But by early June the German government and the European Central Bank had ruled out any direct recapitalisation of the Spanish banks and appear to have ruled out any bank debt relief for Ireland.
In September 2011 a National Debt audit by a Limerick University team, commissioned by Afri and the trade union UNITE, calculated a potential national debt of €371.1 billion (Irish Times, September 16, 2011). The €371.1 billion breaks down into €91.8 billion in direct government debt and €279.3 billion in bank debt backed by the state.The figures contain the caveat that a large part of the €91.8 billion raised by the government was due to the banking crisis. As mentioned, Irish current GDP in 2011 was just under €156.5 billion.
The “What's Left” tracker index published by the Irish League of Credit Unions in April found that up to 47% of Irish adults have less than €100 to spend by the end of the month once bills are paid (Irish Times, April 16, 2012).
A Central Statistics Office survey on income and living conditions in Ireland in March showed the average income of the top 20% of earners was 5.5 times greater than those in the lowest 20% (Irish Times, March 28, 2012). This inequality ratio – up from 4.3 a year earlier – is the highest figure on record since this measurement was first used in 2004. The survey found that average disposable income for Irish households in 2010 was €22,168, a 5% drop from the 2009 figure of €23,326. This is the lowest figure recorded since 2006.
The number of people experiencing consistent poverty rose from 5.5% in 2009 to 6.2 % in 2010. Consistent poverty is an income of less than €10,831 during 2010 and experiencing various forms of enforced deprivation on an ongoing basis.
Being “at risk of poverty” is a disposable income of €10,831 or less, but without indicators of enforced deprivation. The at-risk-of-poverty rate rose from 14.1% in 2009 to 15.8 % in 2010, even though the threshold which is used to define “at risk of poverty” decreased by more than 10% from €12,064 in 2009 to €10,831 in 2010, following a general drop in overall incomes. The figures also showed 22.7 % of all people were in arrears when paying for one or more items or services in 2010, with 7.2 % behind on rent or mortgage payments.
The workers’ movement: shock below, paralysis above
Five austerity budgets resulting in a relative lack of rebellion led to Ireland being compared to Greece in this way too. The stunning roller coaster of underdevelopment to boom to bust left the Irish people reeling. Whereas the Greeks already had a large militant left, the Irish received this shock on top of 30 years of social partnership that had drained the fight from the trade unions. There were three massive trade union marches (not in working time) and a one-day public sector strike after which the unions entered into the Croke Park Agreement (June 2010), a deal cooperating with the shrinkage of the public service. During the first two years of the deal staff numbers fell by 17,300 (Irish Times, June 13, 2012). Attempts by the political and trade union left to get people out on the streets could mobilise only a fraction of the Irish Congress of Trade Union marches.
Yet there was a response. At the local level and on particular issues, such as hospital downgrades, nursing home closures, cuts to disadvantaged schools and community projects, people took to the streets all over the country, often bringing out large portions of small-town populations and often with local trade union participation.
Last year and early this year a new determination built up through the nationwide campaign against new household and water charges, with overflowing public meetings culminating in the an overflow rally of 3000 in the indoor boxing stadium in Dublin and then a much larger march on the Fine Gael party conference. A smaller march brought the campaign to the Labour Party’s conference in Galway a while later. To the desert of industrial action came the sit-in of redundant workers at the Vita Cortex factory in Cork for better redundancy compensation. It ended on May 24 after 161 days, with a relatively good result. Those 161 days saw the biggest workers’ march in the second city for many years and widespread public and celebrity support, including Noam Chomsky.
United Left Alliance
And in February 2011 there was the “riot at the ballot box”. It dealt a near mortal blow to the ruling Fianna Fáil party, which has dominated Irish politics since the 1930s, reducing its seats in the Dáil from 71 to 20. The Labour Party (seen then as an alternative) went from 20 to 37 seats and the Sinn Féin contingent expanded from five to 14 TDs. Five TDs were elected for the United Left Alliance. Each one came from the revolutionary or far left. It is still contested whether they would have been elected anyway or whether the alliance of the Socialist Party (CWI), the People Before Profit Alliance (the Socialist Workers Party, sister party of its British namesake, plus some independents) and the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group, boosted their chances. In any case this new unity arrived not a minute too soon in the economic crisis and attracted many who looked to the ULA with new hope as a vehicle more promising than the individual groups in themselves. Some small groups came in without representation on Steering Committee: Socialist Democracy, the Irish Socialist Network and the on-off but important affiliation of the former Sligo TD Declan Bree, who has a loose local group of supporters. The now small Workers Party and the always small (but not without influence) Communist Party declined to join.
After the election the ULA organised about 40 successful rallies around the country. In June 2011 more than 300 attended the first, and high-spirited, conference of the ULA in Liberty Hall, Dublin. Though not a decision-making event it captured the new solidarity and launched its departure. The media exposure of the ULA TDs, their activity and the new funds from having official representation immediately propelled the profile of the ULA.
Yet the extent of real coalescence was put into doubt almost immediately after the election when the SWP initiated its own campaign to fight the cuts (Enough!). Organisational steps towards a party structure failed to follow and the Socialist Party in particular seemed too anxious to slow the pace. The alliance continued to be run by a Steering Committee of two representatives from each founding organisation, which made all the decisions for the ULA by consensus with each group having a veto. This top-down administration by the three already-existing organisations was not helped by an information deficit from the Steering Committee. As the year wore on non-aligned and non-party members of the ULA were beginning to feel alienated. Those who felt they had joined a new and growing phenomenon, distinct from the long-existent founding groups, and some who placed the ULA in the firmament of the new pluralist left parties across Europe, such as the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Green Left Alliance in Denmark and De Linke in Germany, saw little movement toward the ULA developing a life of its own internally and a distinct presence to the outside world.
The SWP continued to campaign through Enough! and both it and the SP continued to recruit to their own parties. The SP tended to hold back its non-leadership members from the ULA branches and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) in South Tipperary had no visible engagement beyond the Steering Committee. A year of the ULA featured great activity, by the five TDs in the Dáil and in the media, and, by the component groups anyway, outside the Dáil. But there was no great growth of the ULA, a sense of standstill and frustration, of non-communication from above and non-participation from below, that new people had not come in. The non-aligned and individual members were either consigned to insignificance or were leaving. They watched as the founding groups carried on more or less as before, separately and competitively. They saw too little in the way of specifically ULA activity, public meetings, literature and branding.
Things were by no means all negative. The establishment of the ULA led directly to yet another attempt by the far left to get some organised opposition going in the trade unions. In May 2011, not long before the first ULA conference, a well-attended conference of trade union activists launched what was later named the Trade Union Activist Network (TUAN). Some previous attempts had been too associated – for others on the left – with this or that organisation. The new unity of the ULA allowed all associated with the ULA to identify with this effort. A follow-up conference was organised in October but little else was achieved. The hopes aired in May that this wouldn’t be yet another false start for the left in the unions look like they might be in vain again. TUAN has been eclipsed by other priorities and for once there is some objective justification for it: the continuing and frustrating dejection of organised labour.
In autumn 2011, the ULA TDs took an initiative that led to the first attempt at a trade union demonstration since the ICTU march a year previously. They wrote to trade unions and campaigns saying that they hoped the trade union movement would resist austerity and proposed that, instead of waiting, all interest groups and campaigns organise a mobilisation “from below” before the December budget. They called a meeting in Dublin for September 10 and hoped that it might produce a democratic and open coalition open to all who want to fight austerity. The Dublin Council of Trade Unions (DCTU) on receiving this invitation proposed its own march for November 26 and the ULA co-operatively rowed in behind it. Though the DCTU reached out to a coalition of unions, community, campaign and left organisations, it just hadn’t the clout of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions or the bigger unions, and the march attracted no more than 3000, compared to the ICTU’s 50,000 a year earlier, itself a drop in the number of people prepared to march with no visible follow up.
This march marked the point of decline for Occupy Dame Street, the main Irish emulation of Occupy Wall Street. God knows the DCTU is not hot competition for the Occupy movement. Yet it was the rusty old trades council’s attempt to reach out to Occupy Dame Street and ODS’s refusal to participate in the DCTU march that marked a break of many with ODS’s determination not to mix with the unions or the old left and ODS’s decline after that. The Occupy camps in other Irish cities were more open to joint work with other forces.
There had been little ULA response to Occupy but a lot from one component, the SWP. They recognised the importance of this new international movement but appear to have gone to its activists with size-12 boots on. Many of those rallying to Occupy would already have been suspicious of the organised left and the SWP’s nightly debate with ODS at its general assemblies did not endear them to the campers. After little headway in involving ODS with Enough! the SWP took up the cause of the DCTU march and consensus allowed a few ODS diehards to veto co-operation with it.
For the DCTU march the ULA formed the Alliance Against Austerity. Sinn Féin and community organisations did not get involved and the AAA remained a ULA auxiliary to the march organising effort. It had its own general assembly following the march. Even in ULA terms the AAA did not carry on to become the all-ULA campaigning body that Enough! was not.
In October 2011 Socialist Party local authority councillor Ruth Coppinger ran in a by-election in Dublin West. The campaign was only secondarily a ULA one with not much non-SP involvement, but Ruth polled well, coming third with 21% of the vote.
A new mass movement
A €100 initial household charge is not the biggest burden placed on Irish working people since 2008 (though bigger household charges and new water charges are in the, ahem, pipeline). But because people have to register their house and pay the charge themselves, and in the absence of trade union struggle against job cuts, wage cuts and levies, it provided a means for people to take some minor direct action and hit back. As a universal flat rate charge it is also grossly unfair. The far left in general recognised all this and remembered the success of the water charges campaign in the 1990s (and tended to forget the ultimate though noble failure of the bin tax campaign that came after it). The ULA (or more correctly its constituent groups and sometimes with local jostling), and some smaller left groups, began to organise.
The ambitious aim at a September conference (http://tomasoflatharta.com/2011/09/19/proceedings-of-the-campaign-against-household-and-water-tax-national-forum/) was to have a million non-payers by the government’s deadline of March 31, 2012. The campaign dovetailed with a strong rural move against a septic-tank charge (another indirect and regressive tax dressed as an ecological measure). The Campaign Against the Household and Water Tax held packed public meetings up and down the country addressed as often as not by ULA TDs or activists. Local groups were formed and canvassing of houses begun. A mass movement was built. It’s the grey-haired activist who remembers anything parallel to the rally at the National Stadium on Saturday, March 23, when buses, and one bagpiper led march, converged with local banners and angry determination. Old faces appeared again to join in the chant of “No way, we won’t pay” or join the crowd out the back who could not fit into the building.
By the time the campaign marched, with numbers played down by the Garda [police] and the media, on the Fine Gael conference on March 31 the deadline for registration had come and gone. The government tried to muddy the waters with statistics, but the marchers could chant “Fine Gael you got it wrong, here we are and a million strong”, with justification.
Socialist Party TD Clare Daly stated on June 5 that there had been negligible registrations since that time and that “questions put to Minister Hogan reveal that around one tenth of 940,000 [registered] properties (representing half of the true government target figure of 1.85 million not 1.6 million as is falsely claimed by government and media elements) were multiple registrations which suggests that a decisive majority of liable individuals remain in the non-payment camp.” This is an extraordinary level of dissidence, even by the standard of resistance to PM Margaret Thatcher’s British poll tax. It was noticed by the Troika, which counselled fairer “reforms” lest public support “might wane” (Irish Times, June 13, 2012).
The campaign next visited the Labour Party conference in Galway, where a part of the crowd broke through the Garda lines and besieged the conference centre for a while. Interestingly the SWP and SP took different sides on this in the aftermath. The SWP were strongly for it and the SP disapproved.
Galway ULA, which has a high proportion of non-aligned members, ran a counter conference on April 13-14to coincide with the Labour Party conference. An interesting agenda (http://ulagalway.org/2012/04/07/counter-conference/) attracted less numbers than it might have because activists concentrated on getting the highest numbers to protest at the Labour conference.
The Irish left was blessed (used ironically because of the doubled energy and expense needed) with two major issues at the same time, with barely time to draw breath between the household tax registration date and the calling of the referendum on the eurozone Fiscal Stability Treaty. The left unity that has, with occasional feuding, backed the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes was not repeated for the campaign for a “no” vote in the referendum of May 31. There were five referendum campaigns associated with the components of the ULA alone, plus others by other left organisations. The Socialist Party, the SWP, the PBPA -- and the ULA itself -- all had their own campaigns of one size or another. In Tipperary, WUAG distributed its own lively leaflet on the treaty without mentioning the ULA on it. In addition the SP, the SWP and the PBPA had long been part of the broad anti-treaty campaign, the Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty (CAAT, http://www.campaignforasocialeurope.org), which includes Sinn Féin and others. The joint left campaign (CAAT) was left to a few independents this time, while the left groups ran too many public meetings for anyone to attend. The result was some potentially large meetings, such as those organised for a group of visiting “no” MEPs, and for a Greek MP from Syriza, were poorly attended. You can get an impression of some of the array of leaflets here: http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/index-of-referendums-other-campaigns/european-referendums-past/.
So severe is the “Austerity Treaty” that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) was unable to support one side or the other despite the personal “yes” position of its general secretary. The biggest member union, SIPTU, whose leadership is close to the Labour Party leadership, decided it would recommend the treaty if the government commits to an off balance sheet stimulus plan to create “tens of thousands of jobs” (http://www.siptu.ie/media/pressreleases2012/fullstory,15786,en.html). Of course in theory the proviso could have been acted upon by the government, but wasn’t, right up until the polling stations opened. Hence SIPTU could dodge even advising a “no” vote. On the other hand four major unions strongly opposed the treaty and one, MANDATE, on the other side of Dublin’s Parnell Square from the ICTU, covered its entire building with an enormous anti-treaty banner.
As well as the strengths of Sinn Féin in relation to the ULA, going into the referendum Sinn Féin’s leading place in the “no” side raised it further as the main perceived alternative to austerity and to the establishment. This was partly a fair consequence of being the largest party opposed to the treaty and partly a less fair attention from the mainstream media. It suited elements of the “yes” side, in endeavouring to shape the discourse, to identify the “no” side with what they thought might be seen as discredited players, and also, for some, to avoid a complete identification of opposition to the treaty with the socialist left. This would not have suited the Labour Party or the “yes”-leaning trade union leaders. The strange neoliberal, eurosceptic millionaire Declan Ganley had no sooner entered the fray against the treaty than he was invited onto RTE radio with many more radio panels to grace before May 31.
But Sinn Fein had the resources to make a splash and the military discipline to push the same repeated message. They also had good performers in Marylou McDonald, Pearse Doherty and Eoin Ó Broin.
Not only could the ULA not match this machine, it was lining up beside a factory with a scattering of small workshops. Only the Socialist Party’s campaign based on Paul Murphy’s resources as an MEP made a comparable impact in Dublin and in the poster battle -- and it was a Socialist Party campaign. Murphy was also, according to Irish Times journalist Deaglan de Bréadún (June 2) “probably the most articulate advocate on the No side”.
While Sinn Féin sang from the same “we can borrow without the treaty” and “jobs and growth” hymn sheet, the left offered varying and radical arguments around repudiating the debt and taxing the rich that were harder to concretise and more susceptible to journalists’ interrogation – reserved for the left only – of “where will the money come from?”
Nevertheless, the ULA will have had its boat lifted by the referendum campaign. The media impact was maintained and extended with valuable polemics and research from the SWP’s Kieran Allen and radio and TV appearances from TDs Joe Higgins (SP), Richard Boyd Barrett (PBPA and SWP) and Joan Collins (PBPA). Clare Daly TD (SP) was particularly strong in debate and she came with the kudos from heading up the “X case” bill with Joan Collins. Both the SWP and SP produced well-researched pamphlets from Kieran Allen and Paul Murphy, respectively. All elements of the ULA put in an exhausting effort on the streets and in the housing estates, and not only for their own groups’ campaigns, and contributed to the “no” vote attained and its concentration in the manual working class. The ULA had its own campaign too of course, good in the circumstances, though it had to compete for time with the groups’ own efforts. Non-aligned ULA members were at the cornerstone of the broad “no” campaign (CAAAT) to which all the left groups and Sinn Féin were nominally affiliated but which they effectively abandoned.
And the left groups outside the ULA also had their own campaigns too (with the exception of the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement, which considered the referendum a pointless exercise and a diversion from the household tax campaign (http://www.wsm.ie/c/press-statement-ignore-our-vote-workers-solidarity-movement).
There is some advantage in a rich diversity asking for the same “no” vote but it does dissipate the movement. The “yes” side had its own plethora of pleas but from a smaller range and it managed to present the impression of a united front. The first name in a full-page newspaper advertisement from business leaders, academics and other worthies was Billy Attley, the former leader of SIPTU. And the “yes” side had only one “argument” to make: the threat that without the treaty the country could not borrow from the European Stability Mechanism, a clause the government had agreed to insert in the first place.
So, while the result is set back for the left – though some will insist not – and a temporary boost for the hawks of austerity, the ULA is a bit better known at the end of it and Paul Murphy is better placed for the next European election by his face adorning myriads of SP “no” posters.
A “yes” blogger made some interesting remarks (http://europedebate.ie/fear-anger-and-resignation-its-nearly-referendum-day/):
Before the conventional wisdom sets in stone, a few thoughts on the referendum campaign. First, win or lose, this looks to have been a good campaign for the left of the “no” side. The profile of key Sinn Fein and ULA spokespeople will have been raised significantly as will their political credibility in key sectors of the electorate... On an impressionistic level, it has been the left that has overwhelmingly dominated the airwaves and the street canvass, in contrast to most of the Nice and Lisbon campaigns.
It is probably unavoidable that after passing through a short period of surge to, and then disillusion with, the Labour Party in government, another stage is necessary for the same tidal flow to and from Sinn Féin. The ULA cannot hope to immediately draw away most of the support Sinn Féin will have gleaned from its opposition to austerity. One of the consequences of the solidification of partition is a lack of real political knowledge of cross-border politics. Despite Sinn Féin being a 32-county party with mass support on both sides of the border, Southern electors are not conscious of Sinn Féin’s administration in the North of the austerity it opposes in the South. It will probably take more compromises and a period in government by Sinn Féin for its support to transfer to a left alternative.
The ULA (and/or its components!) became the main political force in the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) not just because it provided much of the activist motor there; not just because there was a broad united campaign that focused a fractious ULA in a way that the 57 varieties of anti-treaty campaigns could not: but also because the ULA, its components and others on the left laid down the CAHWT on the strict basis of refusal to pay the household and water charges.
Sinn Féin in another intimation of compromise, while opposing the charges, refused to endorse non-payment and automatically excluded itself from a new genuine mass movement. However some SF TDs declared they weren’t paying and Sinn Féin joined in the general rebellion, but without having a place in the organised campaign. There was no such impediment to Sinn Féin in the referendum drive and it went at it, and with the means to project a campaign larger than anything the ULA – divided up in any case – could hope to fashion.
A bigger net
The Socialist Party is traditionally dismissive of Sinn Féin as being a purely nationalist party. It does not regard Sinn Féin as part of the left. It is practically hostile to any talk of relating to dissident members of the Labour Party. There are few of the latter and a lot of justification for the hostility. Nevertheless, to expand the ULA needs to have some orientation to other forces on the left as well as to the recruitment of new activists and the famous “ordinary workers”. To maintain an appealing openness for even individual recruits the ULA should be seen to be reaching out to others on the organised left.
A small bit of distress has developed on the very edge of the Labour Party, with the loss of its whip for principled insubordination by two TDs and meetings of a Labour Party Forum that brings together oppositional members (without issuing any visible challenge to the leadership). The SWP has talked about the need to relate to both Labour and Sinn Féin members but with no proposals for particular initiatives in their direction. There is not much volume to the message coming out of the ULA that it is a broad formation of revolutionaries, radical activists and left social democrats. It is not clear how many see it this way and the verbal agitation is more often for pushing the ULA as a whole to the left. While some of the non-aligned identify with the new broad parties of the left across Europe the SWP and the SP are categorically on the “revolutionary organisation” side of the debate and highly critical of all the pluralist parties. Recent experience has indeed presented real problems with one after another of these new parties (crises in the New Anticapitalist Party in France and Die Linke in Germany to name the latest) which only puts the proponents of a new left on the defensive.
Yet there are some pickings to be had and one potential herself pointed out a problem for the ULA. In November 2011, a prominent activist and intellectual who had recently left the Labour Party, Helena Sheehan, and a left Labour economist Michael Taft, addressed the SWP’s “Marxism” conference in Dublin. They were asked what the ULA could do to be more attractive to them. Michael Taft said “nothing”, as he came from a different tradition and was a social democrat. Fair enough. Helena Sheehan said the ULA needed to include broader and newer political forces. She was not a Trotskyist, which the ULA is perceived as. On the other hand, she was open to the possibility of joining, she said. (And certainly the three founding elements of the alliance and many of the non-aligned in it, have their roots in, or are still in, one of international tendencies of Trotskyism).
Where is the ULA?
The frustrations and disappointments within the ULA were not unnoticed at Steering Committee level. In the autumn of 2011 the Socialist Party presented a document to the Steering Committee that contained proposals for the development of the ULA that really should have received a wider circulation. Though not pressing on towards a party, it proposed a series of positive practical steps, some of which were reforms that addressed the concerns of the newly emerging non-aligned. Some of these steps have been acted upon and some should have been acted upon more thoroughly. The preamble proposed the members and constituent groups agree to a concerted approach “to raise the profile of, and achieve a clear public identity for, the ULA as a political force which stands out as a clear alternative to the establishment political parties and their failed policies of bail out and austerity.” Mais, oui! The founding organisations of the ULA keep saying, to varying degrees, the right things about raising the profile of the ULA and developing it as an organisation and a political force, but then they each go off and do their own separate thing.
The document proposed employing two staff with the specific task of developing and building the ULA (the new TDs’ money had up to now employed a team of workers for the constituent groups); the election by the non-aligned of two of their number to the Steering Committee; the better organisation of press work and Dáil intervention; the proper registration of members, a possible target of 1000 members by year end (never attained) and monthly branch meetings; a fortnightly ebulletin for members and supporters (partly fulfilled) and a printed monthly newsletter suitable for public distribution (unfulfilled); monthly activist meetings (unfulfilled) and social activity (only now being initiated).
There was a well-planned and well-intentioned perspective for involving the ULA in the forthcoming by-election in the Socialist Party stronghold of Dublin West, but if anything the campaign revealed the absence of a local ULA presence and a less than generous commitment to the campaign from other elements of the ULA.
The proposal to elect two non-aligned members to the Steering Committee led to a protracted and sometimes fierce disagreement in both the ULA and the PBPA steering committees. All unreported to the members of course (except in the February paper from Eddie Conlon and Brendan Young, see below). The SWP, for all its soon-to-be-heard calls for democracy in the ULA, insisted that all ULA members, that is, including the aligned, should elect the non-aligned representatives. The original proposition was supported by the rest of the ULA Steering Committee and Eddie Conlon of the PBPA. Eventually agreement was reached and the election carried out from the non-aligned only.
One of the most active branches, Dublin 12/6W or Crumlin, with a concentration of non-SWP People Before Profit members around Joan Collins TD, sent a long motion in November to the ULA Steering Committee. It referred to the formation of the ULA and its election success as a “historic development for the serious left in Ireland”. It spoke of the “shock and resignation at the scale of the crisis” and “the betrayal of the Labour Party and the union leaders”. There were local campaigns and “the ULA must be to the fore” in them. It continued:
However, since the general election the ULA has operated as a very loose alliance, and this has been a major obstacle in building the ULA and realising its potential. Despite organising some 40 odd very successful rallies around the state after the elections there has been no follow up to turn this into active membership and branches. There have been no ULA campaign initiatives. If this situation is allowed to continue a real question mark will be placed over the ULA’s future.
It welcomed the ULA initiative which indirectly led to the DCTU march and proposed that the Alliance Against Austerity hold rallies around the country. (The initial post-budget rally did take place in Dublin, as a ULA event, but the bigger perspective did not materialise and the AAA petered out with one follow-up gathering.)
Crumlin welcomed the two new ULA staff and urged a minimum target of about 20 functioning branches and an additional 500 signed-up members. Branches should be defined and active (a common call elsewhere too to overcome any casual interchangability of ULA structures and members with those of the founding groups). It called for a proper database of members to facilitate communication and claimed that almost none of the 20 members in the branch were receiving any regular communication from the Steering Committee. It called for a regular fortnightly newsletter reporting on the activities of the branches, the TDs and the Steering Committee. Updating of the economic policy was needed (and, though this remains a ULA weakness, a well-received pre-budget submission, detailing financial alternatives to austerity, was prepared, albeit not in a format for wide circulation).
The motion described “the ad hoc arrangement in which the steering committee has operated” as no longer acceptable. It proposed a Steering Committee made up of one each from the SP, the SWP and WUAG, with five other elected from the membership. Consensus should continue but “no group should consider itself to have a veto”. Finally, it called for a ULA conference in January 2012 with the election of an Steering Committee “on the basis of recognised branch delegates”.
A post-budget ULA rally in Dublin on December 13heard the first airing, outside the blogosphere, of the frustrations and the differing responses to them. (The main speeches can be viewed at http://tomasoflatharta.com/2012/01/18/ula-post-budget-rally-wynns-hotel-dublin-13th-december/)
Bríd Smith of the SWP spoke of the radicalising situation and the need for the left to get its act together; that the ULA had punched way below its weight and Sinn Fein was putting itself on the map much more strongly; a year earlier the ULA had filled bigger venues; it needed to examine how it could build a new movement organisationally and organically, to be non-sectarian and open up to the possibilities of a new left, to be willing to work with those beginning to break from the Labour Party; to be very democratic and bottom up and to look at its structures in this light; to relate to every struggle, to present clearly a vision of socialism; to organise in the whole island of Ireland (the Socialist Party is strongly opposed to establishing the ULA in the North). Later, John Molyneux and other SWP speakers from the floor asked when were ULA members going to be able to make democratic decisions?
Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party concentrated on the need for activity in the household charge campaign and opposition to the coming European austerity treaty, especially the former. The ULA needed to be “in the cockpit of the leadership of” the burgeoning household tax movement. [This did materialise, but as the component parts of the ULA, not as the ULA as such.] Though the SP is most dismissive of Sinn Féin as even having a place in the left, it was more reasoned about alarmist responses to Sinn Féin’s challenge. It was frustrating, said Joe Higgins, but we should understand that Sinn Fein has 14 TDs, is registered as a group in the Dáil and has €1 million a year in funding. “If we had recognition as a group we’d be more effective” (registration is something the SP is not in favour of at present). We need to put the left alternative out there and build a real left alternative in the period ahead, he said.
Responding to both parties the third speaker, Eddie Conlon, a non-party member of the PBPA and ULA Steering Committees, gave first vent to a paradoxical response by many non-aligned ULA activists – seen by them as unavoidable – to the SWP’s new championing of ULA democracy and party-like structures. The non-aligned, especially those associated with Eddie in the PBPA, had been most in favour of pushing an alliance towards a party. Traditionally, the SWP had been against that for the PBPA.
Similarly, the SWP.ie's sister organisation in Britain opposed that in relation to Respect. The “broad party” advocates there had urged that Respect intervene in campaigns as a party, and build that way, while the SWP considered Respect as itself a “united front of a special type”. But now Eddie Conlon urged that developments not be forced on the alliance, which parts of the alliance would find totally unacceptable at this stage. There was a need for restraint and patience to preserve the achievement of the ULA. But progress in democracy and towards party structures were nevertheless very possible and should be pursued.
Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo --St. Augustine of Hippo
A clearer Socialist Party response came in a January 17 article from its Southern secretary Kevin McLoughlin (http://www.socialistparty.net/comment/854-what-next-for-the-united-left-alliance). He said,
There is huge anger but there is also a mood of resignation. A party with a base in society could explain how resources could be used to satisfy needs, rather than private greed. A party could be a catalyst to popularise these ideas and could show how if working class people unite, they have enormous power and capabilities to fight for change. The best way to mark the founding of Labour [in 1912] by Connolly and Larkin is to strive to build a new party to represent working class people today.
The United Left Alliance was established a year ago to help fight for such a party. The groups that formed the ULA got five TDs elected last February but since then, because of a marked dip in the mood, the ULA itself has not recruited a lot of working class people. People’s frustration at this lack of development in the ULA is understandable but when trying to build anything – a campaign, an alliance, a struggle or a party, the mood and involvement of working people are essential factors.
Moving to establish a party without the actual involvement of significant numbers of ordinary working class people, would lead it to becoming an irrelevant political sect. The ULA is not the new party, nor is it likely to just become the new party at some future date.
The ULA is an alliance that fights on issues, outlines a left and socialist alternative and crucially popularises the idea of a new party. A new party will most likely come from the likes of the ULA combining with community and workers campaigns and struggles.
The Household Tax campaign can involve thousands of people in political activity up and down the country, creating the potential basis for a new party. ULA members should get fully involved in this struggle. The [workplace] occupations on redundancies at Vita Cortex and La Senza may be the start of a broader struggle on redundancies and jobs. Again ULA members must be fully supportive and try to give these struggles a political character. That is the way the ULA can be built and how the basis for a new party can be established.
There aren’t any green shoots of economic recovery but there are signs of recovery in mood and fighting spirit and it is very important that the ULA positively launches itself into this changing situation.
So that’s that then. This insistence that the ULA is an alliance and is not “likely to just become the new party at some future date” is reminiscent of the British SWP’s formula of a united front of a special type and how it stood as a theoretical construct in the way of “a new party to represent working class people today”. And if “moving to establish a party without the actual involvement of significant numbers of ordinary working-class people, would lead it to becoming an irrelevant political sect”, what does that make the Socialist Party, with two TDs, an MEP and a rake of local councillors? The article had tagged on to the bottom: “Do you agree? Support the Socialist Party?” and then a clickable link, “Join us”!
The “objective situation” that held the SP back for so long from taking the plunge into the ULA was now, it was being said, to freeze the ULA. But, as we shall see, “this changing situation” was to make a difference, in the formal position of the SP at least.
Eddie Conlon elaborated on his response at the December rally in a February paper with fellow non-party member Brendan Young, “Where to now for the ULA?” (http://tomasoflatharta.com/2012/02/03/where-to-now-for-the-ula-eddie-conlon-brendan-young/). They said:
The establishment of the ULA was a big step forward for the left particularly for those of us who have promoted the idea of left unity as the basis for the establishment of a new mass workers party. The ULA must be nurtured and developed and allowed to grow at a pace that maintains the unity that has been established while at the same time creating a forward momentum based on united work, real and respectful internal debate and discussion and an acknowledgement that it will take time for the ULA to move beyond being an alliance to some kind of unitary formation that will form the nucleus of a new party.
There is much frustration at the slow pace of development. It is the case that it could be a little easier but there are reasons why it is not: the ULA is an alliance (maybe even a federation) of founding groups with [ULA] members who are not members of these groups; levels of struggles have not been as high as we would like them to be and the presence in the Dáil has created a set of problems that we have not had to face before. As a result, as an experienced activist said recently, the ULA lacks bite.
The tasks facing the ULA are to build a national profile whereby the public see us as the real opposition with a real political alternative and the best organisers; build an active branch structure in all areas where the constituent groups have a presence and beyond; improve communications and internal debate (internal bulletin, better website and newsletter) creating a real internal life for the ULA. But the real challenge, in our opinion, is the lack of commitment to politically prioritising the ULA; little real joint work; and the existence of a number of campaigns (such as Enough!) that are doing what should be done through the ULA.
Until the ULA becomes the main priority for all constituents it will not be built in a serious way. A stark opposition has emerged between the Socialist Party’s cautious approach based on an assessment that objective conditions are not conducive to significant growth of the ULA and the SWP’s voluntarism which suggest that anything is possible. The latter leads to a constant demand for mobilisation leading to poorly prepared and poorly attended protests. The former is in danger of demoralising people by suggesting that there’s not much that can be done. There is evidence though the SP position is evolving in light of the growth of the household tax campaign.
It should not be assumed that the HH Tax campaign will automatically lead to the growth of the ULA unless it contributes to the campaign in a cohesive fashion and seeks to draw the best activists to the ULA rather than to the constituent groups.
While arguing that “vetoes should only be used after a period of discussion” they opposed those, particularly the SWP, arguing for a delegate conference with full decision-making powers. “The ULA is not ready for such a development.” They concluded: “We need to work with what we have while building in structures that allow for non-aligned people to organise and have representation within the ULA”, and recommended the series of organisational proposals recently adopted by the Steering Committee.
The paper also contained news (which is not always speedily transmitted in the ULA) of some recent significant decisions by the Steering Committee. Among these were: a conference in April; the non-aligned should meet separately during the conference and elect members to represent them on the Steering Committee; the establishment of a subcommittee – to include some non-aligned members – which would recommend arrangements for the representation of unaligned members on the Steering Committee, discuss future development of ULA including the development of participative structures, consult all members on the above issues, and report to the Steering Committee and to the conference.
They remarked that hopefully these decisions,
will provide the basis for a more structured debate on where the ULA is going.... will encourage more people to join by sending out a message that there is a space in the ULA for those not aligned to the constituent groups. After all the very rationale for the ULA was to provide a mechanism for reaching out beyond the current membership and supporters of the constituents to a new layer of people who want to engage with radical and socialist politics.
Produced just four days after Conlon and Young’s paper was published, an internal bulletin for SWP members (http://tomasoflatharta.com/2012/02/09/kubla-heard-from-far-the-problem-with-the-ula-is-everbody-else/) caused a minor sensation when it was leaked. The section on the ULA ended with a reference to “the collapse of the ULA”. It began with a resounding denunciation of the other allies in the alliance.
The space that the ULA should occupy is now the realm of Sinn Féin spokespeople. The weakness of the ULA is the product of the sectarianism of the SP and the conservatism of Joan Collins [the TD who is part of the older alliance, the PBPA, through which the SWP is affiliated to the ULA] and the Healy group [the Tipperary based Workers and Unemployed Action Group around Seamus Healy TD].
After some more provocative language it declared that, “We are going into the open with our critique of the state of the ULA.” The Steering Committee proposal of adding “independents” to the committee was termed “a sop to democracy” and “insane”. This was “instead of one member one vote and a delegate based leadership structure”, it said. The separate meeting for “independents” at the conference should report back to the main conference where any proposal would be voted upon.
The SWP would be putting down motions, it said, “to support the Right To Work Demo on April the 14th”. (The Right To Work Campaign had just been revived by the SWP to demonstrate at the Labour Party conference. In the event the demonstration was a Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes march. Before April 14 another body, Unite the Resistance, was founded by the SWP to umbrella the various components hoped for on April 14. This (along with Enough!) brought to three the number of SWP-sponsored anti-austerity campaigns on the go.
The promised SWP document on the ULA wasn’t published (or was incorporated into the calmer context of their new journal, the Irish Marxist Review) and this seems of a piece with the general response to the internal bulletin. After some gasps and comments on blogs, in which the SP bloggers took a strangely unflapped approach, there was silence from the other organised components of the ULA and the matter was never referred to at any ULA gathering afterwards. The ULA, or parts of it, was more mature than expected, or else a very Irish silence descended on the issue. Either way we were evidently not yet at the point of “the collapse of the ULA”. It did get an internal response from Joan Collins and the Dublin 12 members. A motion, this time to the PBPA steering committee, objected to how she was characterised in the bulletin and raised other complaints about accountability and lack of support for her from SWP members in her Dublin South Central constituency.
ULA activists awaited the promised conference to follow up the one in June 2011, which had been a celebratory and promissory but not a decision-making convocation. The ULA leadership appeared to have some difficulty in organising this. It was mooted for January, then for February, then for March, then for two dates in April. It was to be a delegate conference but this changed to another non-decision-making conference open to all registered members.
A step up in the practical existence of the ULA came with the appointment of two full-time workers for the alliance itself. The advent of TDs’ salaries and allowances had already led to a plethora of new paid organisers for the constituent groups. In keeping with the “balance and control” features of everything else in the ULA ,the new ULA organisers came one each from the SWP and the SP. Nevertheless, these hard-working functionaries made an appreciable difference and were generally seen to work for all in the ULA.
Among their first duties was to firm up the membership database. This was against a background of woeful record keeping and general “ad hocery” about registering members and branches. It was established that among about 400 members, the SWP and the SP had 27% each – an amazing symmetry reflecting the main division of the Irish far left into two organisations of similar weight – with 7% of the PBPA members being non- SWP.
So where were the WUAG members? WUAG supporters had never joined the ULA as individual members and their presence on the Steering Committee, along with their veto, gave them as much organisational significance as the other founding groups in the federal structure of the alliance. So about 40% of ULA members could be said to be non-aligned.
In March 2012 the ULA office provided a list of 22 ULA branches for the purposes of canvassing for the non-aligned elections. Many of these seem to be restatements of areas where there are SWP or SP branches and in some of these there has been little sign of specific ULA activities. The list included no ULA branches in Tipperary or Sligo.
Also in March the ULA subcommittee on structures was formed. Its terms of reference were as reported in the Conlon-Young paper above. Two non-aligned members would be elected to the subcommittee.
A note on ULA structure might be helpful here. Most non-aligned members of the ULA have similar general politics and a primary attachment to the ULA itself. But it is firstly a technical category of all those who are not members of the PBPA, the SP or WUAG. The SWP is not itself affiliated to the ULA, but through the PBPA which, as an alliance within an alliance, became increasingly redundant except for financial and branding purposes. So non-party members of the PBPA are not non-aligned and some of the non-aligned are members of small groups: Socialist Democracy, the Irish Socialist Network and Declan Bree’s Sligo grouping. (Many of the Sligo independent socialists may not, as in the case of WUAG, have joined the ULA as individuals at all).
Current ULA registered membership figures (June 2012) are basically the same. The 388 ULA members consist of 156 “non-aligned” members (that is, all outside the three founding groups), who variously belong to Socialist Democracy, the ISN and the Sligo group along with those -- far more – who belong to no grouping; 107 Socialist Party members; 117 in the People Before Profit Alliance, mostly Socialist Workers Party members; and eight (not a typo!) Workers and Unemployed Group members.
Up until an apparent change recently, the Socialist Party tended to let its leading members and full-timers represent it in the ULA, holding back its new and rank and file members from ULA involvement. Some SP strongholds had no ULA branches. This could have engendered some concerned reflection on a rather packed-and-ready-to-go presence in the project.
The emergence of the non-aligned
New non-aligned members will eventually form the majority of the ULA or it has no raison d’être. The existing groups would have to suffice, each expanding as best they can and maybe maintaining an alliance. In time to come the non-aligned may join old formations or create new ones, but now the ULA is open for members and all parts of it want new people to join the ULA, as a first step at least. A problem at the heart of the ULA has been its direction by an alliance of organisations that individual and new members are not members of. Quite apart from the political realities of the degrees of investment by the component groups in the new entity, and how the non-aligned are by definition committed to the one organisation they are members of -- the ULA -- there is a structural problem of how to overcome the isolation and sidelining of individual members. A problem codified in a constitution, now modified, by which the alliance is directed solely by a Steering Committee appointed by the three founding groups, each with a veto in a compulsory consensus.
The small Campaign for an Independent Left (CIL) current among non-SWP members of the PBPA, which included Joan Collins TD and Eddie Conlon, had withered away. A planned proposal in December, from some former CIL people, for a meeting of the ULA non-aligned was never floated. Meanwhile five blogs and a “blog of non-aligned blogs” (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Left-Unity-Blogging-Network/230558593642145) began to focus non-aligned attention. Some small gatherings of the non-aligned met in Cork and Galway, and in Dublin on February 4, and it was resolved to meet nationally. Plans for this national meeting kept falling down but a new Google group mailing list set up by the non-aligned attracted the 30 most active and boosted organisation among them.
At the same time the ULA Steering Committee was organising the non-aligned to some extent, as a technical if not a political entity. Two places were now on offer to the non-aligned on the new subcommittee on structures and on the Steering Committee, so registration and elections were necessary. The Steering Committee had some difficulty in arranging the subcommittee election. A postal ballot of the non-aligned was decided but when only 35 applied by the deadline it was decided at the end of February to simply accept the four nominated non-aligned members on to the subcommittee and increase the groups’ representation accordingly.
Non-aligned members put forward propositions to take the non-aligned and the ULA some more practical steps forward. Henry Silke (March 8) proposed the establishment of a Branch Delegate Council: a regular meeting of delegates from the branches to discuss policies and strategies and forward them to the Steering Committee, “a bridging mechanism between the members and the steering committee”. This proposition was included in the report of the ULA subcommittee on structures in the form of an “ULA Council” without the two representatives to the Steering Committee in the original proposal.
Brian Stafford (March 22) made some proposals for the structures and accountability of non-aligned representation, and Henry Silke and Therese Caherty (April 23) proposed a Left Unity Platform for the non-aligned. This was a basic five-point platform (see Appendix 1) for those who wished to build the ULA itself on its present broad program (while being free to hold other views as individuals). The Left Unity Platform was on the agenda of the first national non-aligned meeting at the end of the April 28 conference. The blogs and the Google mailing group facilitated the nomination of candidates and the circulation of election statements.
Not long before the long anticipated ULA conference on April 28, the report of the ULA subcommittee on structures came out. The introduction stated:
the ULA is a developing alliance/organisation and its structure is evolving as it grows. For now it essentially has a hybrid character being an alliance of organisations offering membership to those who are not members of these organisations... the ULA should continue to evolve by seeking affiliations from other left organisations, campaign groups and where possible trade union branches. But it must also seek to grow the individual membership so that significant numbers of new people are brought into the ULA. The structures and actions of the ULA should reflect these goals. The sub-committee was very aware of the need for the ULA to develop an internal life and provide a mechanism to develop a united campaign strategy as a step in the process of moving towards the development of a new party.
It recommended, among other progressive measure: the ULA Council (see above); definition, registration and arrangements for membership and branches; adding two representatives, elected by the non-aligned, to the Steering Committee, which would continue to operate by consensus; the circulation of Steering Committee minutes to branches; more information in the weekly bulletins; working groups to develop policies (the conference decided on a number of areas); establishment of college branches; social events and activities and a left culture around the ULA; a further conference in the autumn.
Timely in the run up to the conference, ULA TDs Clare Dale and Joan Collins gained great credit for the alliance by putting the words of many others into action. It has been 20 years since the attempt to prevent a young girl (the “X" case) from travelling to Britain for an abortion led to big demonstrations, a referendum and a Supreme Court case. The outcome was that abortion in the case of danger to the life of a woman is constitutional. But it required legislation to implement these decisions. No government since has had the concern or the courage to act on this despite promises. Now the ULA broke the taboo and introduced the legislation. The Bill was defeated but got decent support. Only the previous weekend the Labour Party had agreed at its conference to act on the "X" case but now its TDs voted against the Bill.
‘Co-operation not competitive recruitment must be the order of the day’
A few days before the conference Paddy Healy, the representative on the Steering Committee for the Tipperary-based Workers and Unemployed Action Group, circulated the group’s position going into the conference. In itself it was a great fillip to see WUAG engage with the ULA in this way. The statement reiterated the commitment of WUAG to the ULA and also made some interesting observations.
Following the recent rise of Sinn Féin in the polls, the party leader reiterated its willingness to enter coalition with any political party [Paddy did not give a reference for this]. This guarantees that sooner or later that party will go into oblivion sharing the same fate as Clann Na Poblachta and the Workers Party. But much damage could be done before then. The commitment of Sinn Féin to coalition confirms that it is no longer a revolutionary nationalist party.
The political cornerstone of the ULA is its opposition in principle to coalition with capitalist parties. This provides a basis on which the working class can re-establish the 32-county Labour Party first formed at the TUC Congress in Clonmel in 1912.
The time available to make progress is short. It is now widely agreed that Ireland will be unable to borrow on the open market at the conclusion of the EU/IMF programme. This is less than two years away. This means that the EU/IMF will be able to come forward with new economic and political demands as a pre-condition for further lending... As in Greece, the Troika are likely to demand that the opposition sign up to the new austerity programme before any further money is lent. Pressure will probably come not only on Fianna Fáil but also on Sinn Féin to enter government. Our opposition to coalition in principle will be a protection for the ULA.
There will be major opportunities for the ULA in such a situation. We must be well organised and ready and we must have extensive enough support to give us credibility. Unity, agreement and co-operation between the founding components and the unaligned members must be sought at all times. The priority in the next period, therefore, must be to win whole sections of workers to the ULA. This must take priority over recruiting individuals to any of the three founding components. Co-operation not competitive recruitment must be the order of the day.
The Workers and Unemployed Action Group is not a small exclusive political organisation. It is a mass movement of workers confined to a small area. It focuses on breaking thousands of workers from social democracy and from Fianna Fail. Seamus Healy was the only ULA TD who was first elected in the General Election and South Tipperary is the only constituency where the Labour Party comes second to the ULA. This is the process which must be repeated throughout the country.
It might not seem too carping to comment at the end of this admirable argument for the idea of the ULA that it is a pity that this “mass movement of workers confined to a small area” (and I do not doubt it) does not register a few more of its members as members of the ULA.
Conference at last
On their way in to the long-awaited conference on April 28 in Dublin’s Gresham Hotel, ULA members were handed an SWP leaflet. Its language was not that of the internal bulletin and, indeed, much of its argument was in itself faultless. Who could object to “The United Left Alliance: Build It Big and Bold”, “Beyond Electoralism – Become an Organisation of Struggle”, “Break with Sectarianism – for an open broad left”, “Democracy – Membership Participation” and “a 32 county organisation, North and South”? Non-aligned members might well have done a double take looking at such headings and wondered if they had already begun to intervene in print with their own message. But only for a second, for at the bottom of the leaflet was, “If you agree with the contents of this leaflet then text Join to...’’ and it wasn’t the ULA number that was given.
“At local and national level”, the leaflet said, “the ULA needs to organise on the basis of one person-one vote rather than on a bloc structure where each group can veto the other”. The SWP’s points in the leaflet, often impeccably wise and democratic, were unfortunately those points that divided it from others in the alliance, or which endeavoured to set up a point of difference. And in the experience of many in the alliance the points were also “more honoured in the breach than in the observance” by those now preaching them.
The admonition that “the ULA needs to organise itself as a party of struggle” seems inconsistent with a practice of campaigning separately rather than in an all-ULA and ULA-building way. The SWP’s call for one-person, one-vote was made repeatedly at the conference. It is an argument that reflects the concerns of many non-aligned members. Although there were no votes, the rest of the conference seem not to have gone for the argument and to have accepted the counter argument that forcing this democracy on the alliance now could sunder it. The repeated calls raised the eyebrows of those who knew that the People Before Profit Alliance, dominated by the SWP, has itself never had a decision-making national conference since its inception.
The conference intros heard Bríd Smith (PBPA and SWP) ask for more focus on the rank and file of the ULA, from the bottom up. The ULA should build and build quickly, she said. There were two early lifts for the conference with an address by the senior shop steward at the Irish Cement strike and a contribution from Paddy Healy (WUAG) in which he said he was happy with the conference so far.
Kieran Allen (PBPA and SWP) remarked that the country was sweeping to the left and to Sinn Féin, but Sinn Féin was moving in the direction of Fianna Fáil. We need to build a hard left alternative. How? Through a genuine, on the ground campaigning organisation. Through practical and sensible politics not limited to the confines of capitalism: like cancelling the debt. Anne McShane (a supporter of the Communist Party of Great Britain, CPGB) called for the ULA's own newspaper. Then another speaker from the floor spoke to a common refrain: make the ULA profile higher.
James O'Toole of the SWP made the first of several approving references by SWP speakers to the “breakthrough” of the police line at the Labour Party conference in Galway two weeks previously. Perhaps they should have, but no one challenged the “breakthrough”, even though the Socialist Party and others had disapproved of it, preferring instead to sidestep a row. O’Toole also introduced the second theme of many SWP speakers from the floor, saying that people wanted votes at this conference.
Alan Gibson, who advocates a revolutionary program (http://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/) for the ULA and was a candidate for one of the non-aligned Steering Committee positions, said that the ULA program was not socialism but left social democracy.
Ailbhe Smith, convenor of the PBPA and well-known feminist, congratulated the ULA TDs and the ULA on the Dáil Bill to legislate for abortion as permitted by the “X” case referendum and court decision. She also congratulated a leader of SPARK, a single parents’ campaign, who was present. (There are many in the ULA who want it to adopt a strong stand on abortion and even to adopt a right to choose position. This is not as avant garde as it once was and may well become ULA policy. But here again there is not unanimity in the ULA. While some non-ULA independent TDs, nine of the 14 Sinn Fein TDs and one Labour TD voted for the Bill, one ULA TD did not -- Seamus Healy of WUAG.)
The well-known SWP writer, John Molyneux , who now lives in Ireland, spoke on the twin themes of more democratic decision making and confrontations like Galway, which “we shouldn't denounce”.
A speaker from the floor made the silly remark that Sinn Féin didn't have “much intelligence”. He has obviously never heard Eoin Ó Broin on the radio. Political journalist Fionnan Sheahan was present and out of the four paragraphs (Irish Independent, April 30, 2012) he devoted to the conference, chose to highlight this one comment. But it was true that many speakers from the component groups adopted a competitively denunciatory stance on Sinn Féin as if it was necessary to paint them as black as possible, with little recognition of the balance between differentiating the ULA from the Sinn Fein and reaching out to its supporters.
The first afternoon session was on building the ULA, with particular attention on the report of the ULA subcommittee on structures. Declan Bree, a former TD and now a local councillor, spoke from the platform. Bree is a non-aligned member with his own group of supporters in Sligo. As at the first ULA conference, his speech was important because, first, he was there and because of what he said. Bree's continued adherence to the ULA is important because his many years of socialist republican politics, his fraternal connections with the Communist Party of Ireland and his activity based outside of Dublin. He exemplifies a crucial strand in the ULA that comes from outside the Trotskyist tradition. There was nothing lukewarm about either the politics of his speech or his grasp of the essentials of the ULA project. He also closely followed the content of the report.
He welcomed the report and said it was vital the ULA developed as the new force on the Irish left. We should move to a new party of socialism, which would unite activists and unite trade unionists. But the development of the ULA cannot take place overnight, he said. “Some are impatient, some are reticent.” Time is not on our side though. The ULA has yet to develop a national profile and democratic decision-making processes. It should seek affiliation from other organisations; this he would fully support. He mentioned the Communist Party and the Workers Party. (However, these parties have themselves decided to stay away.)
The non-aligned members were very necessary to the ULA, Bree said. They must become equal members of the organisation. The ULA should have branches all over the country, eventually electing a leadership. It should ensure democratic structures. The ULA should move towards being a mass socialist party. It had a huge responsibility to seize the golden opportunity and build the ULA.
Kieran Allen of the PBPA and the SWP referred to the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anticapitalist Party, NPA) in France, which he said was in disarray. He addressed the four points of the SWP leaflet. The ULA was an achievement; it was mainly an electoral and propaganda organisation. It needed to add a campaigning backbone. There had been no coordinating meeting of ULA activists in the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes, and in the unions. (The latter is not quite true, and indeed there might have been more ULA coordination in SIPTU had the SWP not gone off after the previous conference and tried to organise by itself the ULA members of SIPTU.) There are differences in the ULA, Allen said, and we should conduct the arguments in a friendly way. (Those with old wounds should forget the pain and not reject out of hand, this, the sane – DD.) Every elected ULA representative should be subject to the activists, he said. Second, the ULA should plan how to win Labour Party and Sinn Féin members. It should create a space for reformists. (I'm not sure Kieran would mean what I would mean by this, but I don't consider it heresy at all – DD.)
Third, democracy. There should be one person, one vote in the ULA. The SWP would have no problem being outvoted, Allen said. The ULA does not have a position on the corporation tax because it cannot make a majority decision on the issue. (This was a reference to the opposition of WUAG to an increase in Ireland's very low corporation tax of 12.5%. The establishment have succeeded in convincing most people that this tax is a threat to the large multinational section of the economy. WUAG would veto any departure from its populist position.) And fourth, Kieran spoke about organising the ULA across the whole of Ireland, a position strongly supported by WUAG and strongly opposed by the Socialist Party. As with one person, one vote, most non-aligned support it but do not take the bait of pushing it.
Paddy Healy of WUAG spoke next. The Labour Party and the union leaders were in a hole, he said. There was growing ferment, but confusion. Recent marches had not been the biggest. The ULA is an alliance, he said, of three organisations that go back decades. WUAG is not Marxist. It is wide and massive: mass but confined. The founding organisations had decades behind them and two were affiliated to international organisations. They cannot be simply dissolved, he said. So the ULA was trying to evolve. It was asking individuals to join. Any notion of one person, one-vote now would lead to very serious difficulties. There is a need to move big sections into the framework. He referred to the report and the steps outlined there and asked that we not try impossible things.
Conor McGuinness from Galway spoke from the floor. He was speaking as a non-aligned member, he said. There was a need to build the ULA politically, in numbers and in its program, though that was not for that day. To get the ULA “brand” out there. It needs numbers, an internal structure and vibrant democracy. Many non-aligned members had left, he said. The subcommittee report was good, but it didn’t go far enough. He welcomed the “ULA Council” proposal.
The ‘objective situation’ changes
Kevin McLoughlin (Socialist Party and ULA Steering Committee) asked us to consider how a new mass working-class party could be built. Socialism has to be at the heart of the ULA. A socialist program has to be fought for, he said. The Socialist Party felt after the election that the mood of the working class had dipped. So there was a limit to what the ULA could achieve. This was a temporary problem now overcome largely by the household tax campaign. Now there was a real scenario in which the ULA can be built. People were joining the ULA. The household tax campaign was vital, it has transformed the situation.
He was not concerned about “bickering” in the household tax campaign. There were important differences. There had been an underestimation of the importance of the household tax campaign to the building of a new left. Its February day of action saw 40 protests throughout the country. The household tax campaign is going to be massive, the possible basis of a new movement and party, he said.
McLoughlin welcomed the subcommittee report, the ULA Council proposal and that the non-aligned would have some rights. The Socialist Party doesn’t consider the ULA to be the new party, he said. It was part of a process. We can’t get rid of consensus decision making. That would be jumping the gun. It was no use establishing the working-class party without the working class.
Eddie Conlon (non-party PBPA and ULA Steering Committee) was quick to spot the shift in McLoughlin’s speech and pointed it out in his summing up at the end of the session. He spoke next.
Conlon said that the ULA’s founding document is anti-capitalist, or, if you prefer, socialist. What is in it are not minor reforms. He wanted to stress four things about building the ULA. One, register the ULA as a political party. Two, that the ULA be given political priority by the founding organisations. They should make up their minds and build the ULA before other objectives. Three, give the ULA a clear external life, a profile, a united campaign strategy. The “carry on” (unspecified by Conlon) in the household tax campaign was regrettable. If we have a united campaign strategy then we should stick to it. We can’t have different messages in campaigns (and, he might have added, different campaigns in movements). Four, build an internal life for the ULA. Unless the ULA expands beyond the founders it will go nowhere.
Conlon was not for voting or for the creation of a party now. It would lead to competition between the groups. The non-aligned members would be less heard. Yet vetoing cannot carry on indefinitely. It is counterproductive to put maximalist demands. The founding organisations had put in a great effort to form the ULA and they won’t be dragged away from their path. The key issue is not declaring a party, but taking steps towards a party. He hoped the conference would reconvene in November. We were now in a different position; there is an enormous crisis for which we have to shift our framework.
Following a discussion from the floor the panel summed up.
Eddie Conlon counselled against thinking small; the potential for the ULA was enormous. “Something significant has happened here today”, he said. In the past there had been two positions on the development of the ULA. The SWP was for moving swiftly in what he had termed as “voluntarism”. The Socialist Party wanted to hold operations. Now, the Socialist Party has changed its position! Now, he asked, can we hope that a coming together of the dominant factors, in doing what can be done, is possible? The Fiscal Treaty referendum campaign (about to intensify at that time) should be a united campaign.
Kevin McLoughlin said that the Socialist Party recognised that the situation has changed with the building of the household tax campaign. The ULA was still an alliance. This conference is not representative of wide sections of the working class.
Paddy Healy said that at the start of the ULA, consensus was the correct method to adopt. He felt the organisations, with their long existences and affiliations to their internationals, would not be bound by one person, one vote. Don't do what they are doing in France [the NPA], he said, or what we did here in the Socialist Labour Party [a pioneering broad and radical left party in Ireland (1977-82) with similarities to the ULA], tearing each other apart. We in WUAG had wanted to force the groups to agree, he said. Why do the groups exist? Because of political differences. These differences will only be resolved in discussions within the development of the working-class movement. One person, one vote would be a bear garden, completely competitive. Consensus had forced the three founding groups to operate together. He addressed the non-aligned members and suggested that they elect a standing committee for themselves. He urged them to do what WUAG had done, to force the others in the ULA to reach, and work by, agreement. He asked them not to heed “demagogues” calling for one person, one vote.
Kieran Allen said he agreed with Eddie Conlon, on his conclusions not his analysis. The objective conditions have changed. On democracy, if advocating democracy was being a demagogue, he was a demagogue. He wished to offer four refutations of the arguments against one person, one vote. That it is divisive: it won't lead to splits and divisions. That it should wait until we have “ordinary workers” in the ULA: who are ordinary workers? We already have many workers in or around the alliance. That we need to build up an internal political life first: but who teaches the teachers, who will build that, shouldn’t political education come from the bottom up too? That the sinister left is caucusing beforehand, cutting across open democratic decision making in the wider organisation: this is a trade union bureaucracy's argument, caucusing doesn't go against one person, one vote.
Declan Bree said that democracy will come; it cannot be forced. We must build the ULA public profile. Unity must be maintained. All the founding organisations must be maintained in the alliance.
Dónal Mac Fhearraigh, ULA staffer and SWP member, who did a great deal of work for the conference, then reported. He said a recent ULA public meeting in Donegal attracted 70 people. Circa 370 members were registered in the ULA. If multiplied by three that would be 1000 members. For the Fiscal Treaty campaign the ULA was putting up 2000-3000 posters and distributing 30,000 leaflets. (To approximate to the number of leaflets the Socialist Party's campaign distributed add a zero to those – DD).
From the floor, non-aligned member Tom O'Connor spoke in favour of one socialist newspaper rather than one from each group. Conor McGuinness asked for an improved website and at least a free ULA sheet publication. Tina McVeigh, a PBPA and SWP activist who did reasonably well in the last local elections, suggested that one of the new working groups should be a financial and economic group considering the question, Where is the money to come from?
Working groups on policy were agreed to on women and equality, the environment, economic and financial, housing and health. It was agreed to have the first branch delegate ULA Council in a month's time (later scheduled for June 16).
The final session of the conference was for summing up. Seamus Healy TD (WUAG, brother of Paddy) said it was a good conference. There were many positives: in 18 months the ULA had come a long way. It has five TDs and maybe 600 members: 370 registered and 200 to 300 not registered. The household tax campaign had been a tremendous development, he said. The ULA was at the heart of it. [Author’s note: there is a particular significance in WUAG sounding such positive notes. Especially in Dublin, and without reports from Steering Committee meetings, it is not obvious to what extent WUAG really bothers with the ULA and sometimes it seems they barely tolerate the revolutionary parties.] Seamus said he would like to the see the ULA as a national image of the South Tipperary-based WUAG. He described how they built WUAG by campaigning on various issues: the tax campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s (the Clonmel Trades Council had been one of the first to take a lead and WUAG had grown from this); supporting the nine-month occupation of a local factory. The way to build the ULA is through involvement in campaigns and from the bottom up.
Joan Collins TD (non-party PBPA) said the economic crisis is the backdrop. We were now beginning to ask why there is not a revolution in Greece. The ULA needs to methodically gain respect. Joan spoke of a woman with hepatitis C with whom she had been in touch with. There is a new beneficial drug to which she should be entitled. The government has refused this drug because it is not “cost neutral”. The ULA is an anti-capitalist fight back, campaigning on housing, health, welfare, etc. She joined the ULA not to be part of a revolutionary organisation. She was a part of a revolutionary organisation. She had left that to work in the communities.
(Author’s note: Joan Collins was for many years a leading activist in the Socialist Party. There was some head scratching afterwards as to what exactly Joan meant by these remarks. It might be construed, on the face of it, that Joan was dismissing revolutionary politics and opting for community campaigning. But Joan is a revolutionary socialist and so far from eschewing politics as to poll in the constituency of Dublin South Central. Perhaps she meant to contrast the revolutionary organisation model, and the existing groups, with a new approach closer to the ground. Joan reached iconic, or perhaps iconoclastic, status before the 2011 election when she interrupted former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach [prime minister] Bertie Ahern when he was being interviewed outside the Dáil by national broadcaster RTE. RTE left in her interjection of, “You should be ashamed of yourself”, making the purely spontaneous event into a viral video hit.)
Collins finished, at this conference that is, with a word in favour of a ULA newspaper.
Clare Daly TD (Socialist Party) spoke last and, like Collins, her lead in the “X” case Bill ensured her a warm reception. She said that the subcommittee report implied that the ULA was evolving and a hybrid. She highlighted the ULA Council, the new role for the non-aligned members and alluded to the need for ULA publications. In the capitalist crisis, she said, the potential for a new party was immense. She was aware of a case of a former Ulster Bank junior official who was burning furniture for warmth and the family were having meals of breakfast cereal. She invoked James Connolly in relation to the proposed Fiscal Treaty and ended with a reference to the recent Dáil Bill on abortion. As a measure of the changed view and the level of support in the country for change she had received a letter from a Church of Ireland bishop thanking her for the initiative.
The conference accepted the subcommittee report by acclaim.
The non-aligned arrive
Of the 150or so non-aligned members in the ULA, 31 attended the separate non-aligned meeting during the conference lunch break to hear the candidates and elect their two reps to the Steering Committee. Of the three candidates nominated, Alan Gibson (Cork), Joe Loughnane (Galway) and Therese Caherty (Dublin Central), the last two were elected. Already Therese Caherty’s reports from Steering Committee meetings have greatly improved the information available to non-aligned members.
Immediately following the conference the non-aligned had their first national gathering. This second meeting of the day was organised by the non-aligned themselves and 25 were present. Though the first item was the proposal for a Left Unity Platform it was decided to let this meeting be a technical one for all non-aligned members, concerning how the non-aligned should relate to their new representatives on the Steering Committee. We would return at another time to the possible formation of a “political” grouping or groupings for those non-aligned members who wanted to organise around some definite aims. Some thought it pre-emptive to form such a group now. The Left Unity Platform, which was renamed a Left Unity Network so as not to be too narrow or structured, would be a discussion document and would be returned to at the next meeting on June 9.
It was agreed that the non-aligned reps would send reports of the Steering Committee meetings to the non-aligned, that the non-aligned should collectively support their reps and could make proposals to the Steering Committee through their reps. Steering Committee agendas should be available in advance of meetings and the Steering Committee should be asked to accept the third defeated candidate, Alan Gibson, as a substitute when a non-aligned rep was unavailable.
There was no sense of an imminent collapse of the ULA at this conference. Many sighed at the limitations. One group voiced serious complaint and were less than fulsome in their post-mortem. The balance sheet showed some real advances in the subcommittee report, the shift in the SP’s analysis and the advance of the non-aligned. Tipperary and Sligo had made positive responses to the day. A genuine feeling of common purpose and even camaraderie pervaded the day and it ended on that note. We had come in with the kudos of the “X” case Bill and had the last labours of the referendum campaign ahead of us.
Mick Wallace affair
Not long after the ULA conference the Workers and Unemployed Action Group organised a protest outside the town hall in Clonmel, Tipperary, on May 27, 2012 (http://tomasoflatharta.com/page/2/). The Labour Party was celebrating its foundation 100 years previously. WUAG wished to expose the claim that the Labour Party of today has anything in common with the party founded by James Connolly and Jim Larkin in Clonmel. The Labour Party cancelled the ceremony and sneaked into the town hall earlier for a private unveiling.
Members of the ULA and its component parts had barely time to recuperate from the treaty campaign when the alliance was convulsed by a crisis from out of the blue.
Independent TD Mick Wallace is a left-leaning and colourful TD, noted for his pink shirts and long blonde hair in the Dáil chamber. A soccer fanatic (and philanthropist) he is also a purveyor of fine but inexpensive Italian food and wine in his “Italian Quarter” in Dublin. He has become associated with the ULA in the media, in the household tax campaign and he was a sponsor of the ULA-initiated “X” case abortion Bill. On June 7 it was revealed that he, a developer who had gone under in the crash, had under reported valued added tax returns before becoming a TD and could not repay the €2.1 million owed. Though right-wing politicians had done worse it quickly became a major national scandal.
This was a “banana skin” for the ULA, bringing down a generous fighter who had topped the poll in Wexford. Mick Wallace was never a member of the ULA but was, and rightly so, drawn into the orbit of the ULA and of a potential new left. Wallace is a good guy but this tax “cheating” was the behaviour the left has railed against. Government politicians and the media immediately began turning the scandal on the left. Instead of an immediate statement, the ULA remained silent and individual ULA TDs gave different messages, some of them seeming weak on something for which the left would normally call for heads to roll. The media wanted clear calls for Wallace’s resignation. Eventually a special Steering Committee meeting was called for June 9. The SWP had already called for Wallace’s resignation but the PBPA steering committee was divided and the PBPA did not make a statement. The Socialist Party, which had particular ties to Wallace, refused to be “bullied by the media”. It would condemn but not call for Wallace’s resignation. WUAG were strongly for his resignation and said so in a later statement. There was agreement to disagree and the ULA reached no position. This should normally suffice but in this case the accusation of double standards could stick to the ULA.
The non-aligned are here to stay
Thirty attended the follow-up meeting of the non-aligned members on June 9. This included members of the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy, two small groups not on the Steering Committee. Declan Bree and his Sligo grouping were absent. When you take the non-party members of the PBPA (who include a TD and a ULA Steering Committee member, and who were not present because the PBPA is represented on the Steering Committee) into consideration, there were a lot of “independents” beyond the ambit of this meeting.
Two matters predominated, the position of the ULA on Mick Wallace (the special Steering Committee meeting had been that morning) and the initiation of a non-aligned grouping with specific aims, specifically the Left Unity Network.
The discussion on the first issue produced two propositions: that the non-aligned issue its own public call for Wallace’s resignation or that it call on the ULA Steering Committee to make such a call. The former option – felt by some to be divisive – was narrowly rejected by 16 to 14 votes. It was then agreed to call on the Steering Committee to call for his resignation
The other main business was the proposal to establish a Left Unity Network (LUN) on the basis of five broad points. To emphasise that this meeting was for all the non-aligned, and not one convened just to consider a new grouping, the item was moved from the top of the agenda. In a long discussion views were voiced around three broad questions: whether a formal grouping distinct from the non-aligned in general was necessary at all, as the non-aligned were by definition the most committed to the building of the ULA; whether the five points of the proposal went far enough programmatically and whether the LUN should be open to all ULA members (that is, including member of the founding groups which include the well-organised SP and the SWP).
An amendment making the LUN open to all ULA members was passed by 18 votes (with no count of those against taken or necessary). The very broad policy content of the LUN aims did not, surprisingly, become the subject of amendments and votes in the end. The main aim was merely strengthened from the development of the ULA into a fully fledged party (an aim all elements of the ULA could aspirationally claim) to prioritising this development. It was proposed to remove the fifth point that the LUN “will work to overcome all forms of political sectarianism in the ULA” and 15 (a majority) voted to keep it in (see Appendix 2 below).
The substantive proposal was then accepted, with four opposing because the LUN would be open to all ULA members. The Left Unity Network was thence established by an official meeting of the non-aligned but, as acknowledged, it is a lobby group not contiguous to the non-aligned because new ULA members would join the ULA and not a particular grouping in it. Whether the four at the meeting who voted against the LUN, as finally established (open to all), are part of LUN is an interesting question.
I was one of those four. To me the “devoutly to be wished”Left Unity Network is now a big contradiction. We were going to the trouble to organise the non-aligned members to respond to a double and connected necessity. That of prioritising the development of the ULA itself, against the priorities of the founding groups to build themselves; and that of counterbalancing the hitherto disorganised non-aligned (who are aligned to the idea of the ULA alone) to the organised and dominant groups.
How can a grouping organised to further the priorities of the non-aligned, and of the ULA, over the priorities of the already established groups, include those groups or any sizable number of individuals from them? It might act as a general promoter of ULA development and include some sympathetic individuals from the component groups, but how could it pursue objectives in the ULA, through conference or Steering Committee proposals for example, that are in disagreement with the groups’ objectives?
Since the June 9 meeting the original proposer of the LUN, Henry Silke, has informally suggested the LUN be parked for a while to allow the non-aligned to find their feet in the basic non-aligned structures of the ULA. This seems to have been met with general tacit agreement.
SWP and PBPA differences
The Wallace affair did nothing to ease already-present dissatisfactions. The conference’s hopes for a new coming together of the dominant factors to advance the real and realistic potential of the ULA have yet to bear fruit. SWP restlessness may have run deeper than after-conference appraisals measured. Recent reports indicate a determination to disengage without departure. Relations between the SWP and non-SWP people in the PBPA have reached mutual recognition on the PBPA steering committee that both sections will act independently. The SWP views the ULA as a failure and want to relaunch the PBPA, to address the need for a radical alternative “as an active organisation", while the non-SWP people on the PBPA steering committee, such as Eddie Conlon and Joan Collins, are committed to the ULA.
The SWP will not leave the ULA. However, relaunching the PBPA, which was meant to be gradually segueing into the ULA, would, as an alliance against an alliance, be a higher level of rivalry to the ULA than an SWP-initiated campaign, even one with a wide embrace like Enough! How a PBPA relaunch would be viable is a known unknown: without the cooperation of the independents already in the PBPA (who are opposed to it); after the dissolution of some PBPA branches into the local ULA branches; with one of the three or four active PBPA units within the ULA being the almost entirely non-party branch around Joan Collins TD.
These are some of the anxieties and changeabilites which branch delegates took into the first ULA Council meeting. This first meeting was also expected to deliver on the hopeful promise of a good step forward.
Sixty or so delegates from the ULA branches gathered in the Teachers’ Club, Dublin, on June 16, for the first ULA council meeting. (A fuller account of the meeting can be found here: http://tomasoflatharta.com/2012/06/23/ula-council-proceedings-with-comments-of-the-ula-council-meeting-dublin-16th-june-2012/.)
There was one delegate for every five members. The meeting was advisory to the Steering Committee but, as at the non-aligned meeting on June 9, votes were taken. Though there was nobody from Tipperary, there was a good representation from across the ULA and some less politically experienced rank and file members.
It was immediately obvious what an advance the ULA Council idea is. Here was a regular forum for members, interfacing with the Steering Committee, which dealt with topical matters and allowed an expression of the views of members (especially the non-aligned) and an exchange of views of the component groups. An internal life for the ULA was beginning. Despite the tussles, and the provocations from some quarters, there was no feeling of anyone being on their way out and, rather, a general discussion of perspectives for ULA branches and the ULA in general; a sense of the ULA meeting together.
The organisational and activity reports from the Steering Committee gave the impression of an organisation seriously trying to do things. The atmosphere was good, up to a point. The same stresses built up as at the April 28 ULA conference, mostly from SWP pressure.
Speakers advised preparation for a government offensive on the household tax and a line of new cuts. And right enough government ministers since then have been flying more kites than over Dollymount Strand, on breaking election promises on tax and social welfare rates, on breaking the Croke Park Agreement with the unions on public sector pay increments, allowances and overtime premiums, and on selling the remaining state share of Aer Lingus and the state forests.
The SWP tended to criticise the ULA referendum campaign (not cohesive or sharp enough) and the Socialist Party and Steering Committee tended to defend it (cohesive, resourced and impactful for the ULA), but only myself raised the multiplication of separate campaigns as an issue. The discussion around whether the ULA should have called for the resignation of Mick Wallace TD had the SWP -- and others – in favour, and the SP against. The SWP linked the matter to the veto and then brought up the veto continually throughout the meeting.
There was some new agreement in relation to the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes on the importance of the planned demonstration in Dublin on July 18. It was agreed, with some hesitancy from the Socialist Party, that ULA members would caucus before Steering Committee meetings. Several practical measures of real advance in the cohesion and development of the ULA were agreed.
The report from the ULA office and the Steering Committee announced plans to hold a major public ULA event in July. This has since been fleshed out in a ULA News Update, June 26. It will be a two-day “summer school” on July 20 and 21 in Dublin to discuss political and economic alternatives in the crisis. It will have a wide range of speakers, both Irish and international, including a speaker from SYRIZA in Greece. An open event, members and supporters are encouraged to invite friends along.
It was reported that 150,000 leaflets had been distributed in the ULA referendum campaign (the report to the April conference had said 30,000) and 3000 posters. There were about 400 members and a “new media” report showed an email list of 1350 and a Facebook reach of up to 10,000. The covenors of the new policy groups (economy, mortgages, environment, health and equality) were announced. There will be another national conference in November and another council meeting in September.
The meeting called on the Steering Committee to register the ULA as a political party. The Socialist Party opposed the motion, with a resistant intervention from Joe Higgins TD, and the SWP made support for it conditional on “democracy” and a “culture of looking outwards”. But the motion was easily carried and the two parties seem to have acquiesced, perhaps in the knowledge that it would go to the Steering Committee for final decision anyway. (The Steering Committee had begun to investigate the registration process anyway.)
(Author’s note: registering as a party in Ireland for electoral purposes is not to declare a party in the organisational sense. The PBPA is a registered party and never pretended to be a party. Party registration leads to various state and media recognitions such as naming on the ballot paper and separate categorisation in opinion polls.)
The stubborn immovabilities of the Socialist Party on consensus and the ULA becoming a party are givens that can hopefully change in time. But its reflex caution on small incremental measures in the development of the ULA, such as party registration and the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) caucus is draining, and unnecessary even for its perspectives on the ULA.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was passed by all without contention that, “the Council urges the Steering Committee to begin work on producing a ULA newsletter which would allow members and branches to inform each other of their activities; promote debate and give the alliance a physical presence at meetings/demos”.
Even those among the founding groups who are most for moving towards party-like structures have remained silent on, or opposed outright, the launch of a ULA publication, especially talk of a newspaper. As with registration the competition for the groups is obvious. That this motion only proposed “to begin work” on a “newsletter”, a modest-sounding publication, and that the motion was advisory only, may have eased its passage without opposition. Nevertheless, as with party registration and the CAHWT caucus, to have it passed at all is a measure of the worth of the ULA Council and of the stepped progress that is being made.
One of the motions not on the written agenda was from the Rathmines Branch and proposed, “To let the veto structure of the ULA lapse after a year.” The SWP had pushed the one person, one vote issue continually throughout the meeting, as at the conference. Its contention was that any claim that the majority at the April conference had rejected its call for one person, one vote was untrue and baseless because there was no vote on it or anything else at the conference and that the matter hadn’t been tested at the conference.
The motion had now been determinedly introduced and a vote insisted upon. It was tested before the delegates of the branches. About a third in the room didn’t vote and there were non-aligned members on both sides but the motion was narrowly defeated. The significance of this for the relentless and provocative presentation of this issue should be obvious. It should curb it. However, there was no reference to the motion or its existence in the report of the ULA Council meeting circulated by the ULA office on the following Tuesday. Most of the members may not know of this indication that ending consensus at this time in the ULA is a minority pursuit after all.
The second edition of the SWP’s interesting new journal, Irish Marxist Review (issue 2, June 2012, at http://www.irishmarxistreview.ie) appeared in time for the ULA Council meeting. It contained a detailed critique of the history and politics of the Socialist Party. Educational – to an extent – but not really helpful just now and no doubt it will provoke a response in kind from the Socialist Party. There was also some confirmation in it of reports that the SWP is to relaunch the People Before Profit Alliance, “whose growth and expansion will become an important element in developing a radical left”, while staying in the ULA.
An outward-looking debate
An intelligent, if slightly confused, introduction to the ULA and “the pace of unification” appeared in the news website, thejournal.ie (http://www.thejournal.ie/its-imperative-the-left-unites-how-the-ula-wants-to-become-a-political-party-493832-Jun2012/) on June 24. “Over a year on from the election, and buoyed by the household charge boycott campaign, there is an appetite within the ULA to form a mass political movement of the left, a political party. But there is a difference of opinion as to just how quickly it should happen among members of the alliance itself”, thejournal.ie said. In pitting the PBPA against the Socialist Party thejournal.ie reduced the dramatis personae in the debate for a simple script. It also told only half the tale when it reported that the PBPA “feel that a merging of organisations within the ULA is urgent”. The SWP may be pressing for some party features like majority voting but they are not about to replace its party with another. Actually, the SWP are currently seeking to accentuate rather than merge the PBPA.
On the other hand, Joan Collins TD, from the independent wing of the PBPA, has not been particularly identified with the party imperative. She has placed herself front and centre for a “united political party of the left”, to use thejournal.ie’s phrasing. She says:
It’s imperative that the left unites in Ireland given the current pressures from the Troika. It is difficult with three different organisations but we also have a broader group of independents that are not aligned to any party who are undoubtedly working in the ULA, trying to pull together. It should be sooner rather than later and we should come out publicly and we should register ULA as a political party. That’s my strong feeling.
Paul Murphy MEP of the Socialist Party is firm but not hardline in pitching for the other side. He says:
It’s not something that’s happening overnight. It’s certainly the Socialist Party’s vision that we would want to be part of a broader left party. We wouldn’t give up our existence but would be part of something broad, a broader party, like a political party.
Murphy points to the positives in his position, the incremental steps involved, opening up the alliance to individual membership and the new ULA Council of branch delegates acting in an advisory role to the Steering Committee.
Let’s give the last word in this outward-looking debate (3500 views) to Joan Collins: “It will become more imperative that we do.”
Chronicle of the not-so-chronic at all
It is true that the ULA is fragile. There is a pull between the alliance and the founding groups, and between each of them. Top-down and inter-group decision making is not sustainable indefinitely, while consensus is essential for early nurturing. Time is limited but we must be patient.
The ultimate outcome depends on the recruitment of more non-aligned people to become the overwhelming majority of the ULA and to establish the ULA as a living organisation in its own right. Already 156 out of 388 registered members are non-aligned.
There have been achievements in three areas. First, the founding groups -- the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance including the Socialist Workers Party, and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group in Tipperary -- have shown courage, innovation and flexibility in forming the ULA and sticking with it thus far.
Second, the ULA has entered and acted upon the political stage, with:
· the election of five radical left TDs;
· the TDs’ impact in the Dáil, the media and on the streets;
· a host of public meetings;
· a serious and united, if stalled, attempt to establish an alternative focus in the trade unions;
· an initiative that led to the first attempt at a demonstration by the trade union movement (on November 26, 2011) since the big ICTU marches;
· a vote of 21% in the Dublin West by-election;
· the ULA, mostly through its components, but with a ULA plank to it, making a large part of the framework of the historic Campaign Against the Household and Water Charges;
· a ULA counter-conference to the Labour Party conference in Galway;
· a presence, if a second-class one, in the Austerity Treaty campaign and, in any case, a boost to the ULA profile;
· the impact and the credibility from the integrity of the ULA women TDs who finally put legislation to the Dáil on the “X” case;
· the march of WUAG in Clonmel that claimed the centenary of James Connolly’s proposal for a worker’s party, for the ULA; and
· the ULA Summer School in July.
In other words, the haphazard, inadequate but gradual establishment of the ULA as a real thing in itself through Dáil, media, campaign and street presences and intervention.
Third, within the ULA there has been stepped but definite development, with:
· a staff of two for the ULA itself;
· re-organised and improving membership data and registration (an essential for democracy);
· representation on the Steering Committee, through election, of the non-aligned members;
· all the measures in the subcommittee on structures report, some of which are listed below;
· the creation of the ULA Council, complete with voting;
· the circulation of the Steering Committee minutes
· general agreement on a newsletter, party registration (though this may not have a speedy passage) and caucusing before CAHWT meetings;
· non-aligned meetings, with voting, called through the official lists;
· the formation of the Left Unity Network among the non-aligned members (whether now, or later as some propose);
· a lively non-aligned mailing group;
· several non-aligned websites;
· regular socials in Dublin (or the promise of them – craic not guaranteed);
· two vibrant conferences (and another to follow in November 2012);
· improved communications from the centre;
· Policy groups, open to all; and
· a growing recognition of the need for real gender balance.
We are getting there, there is movement anyway; the groups may be restless or resistant but the ULA is still standing and still with loads of potential.
The potential of the ULA was shown by a public meeting of the Dublin Central branch on April 24, days before the conference. Among those who joined that day were two activists of the highest calibre, one a long-time trade union activist in the construction industry and with the Workers Party, the last left party (leaving Sinn Féin aside) with a base of support comparable to the aspirations of the ULA. The other was a leading activist in one of the teachers’ unions and in the recent, partially successful DEIS campaign against cuts in disadvantaged schools. But the ULA’s problem is maintaining the involvement of such activists through a vibrant organisation and relevant activity.
People are joining the ULA. The ULA needs patient nurturing, it needs the attention of the component groups and it needs united campaigning. The ULA is a credit to the founding organisations and would not exist without them. The experience of left unity, with much the same players, just across the water in Britain is a dismal one. We have avoided the worst of this so far. Besides, those who champion the broad party model, such as the present author, have these days a case to make for its success. With the shrinkage of the NPA and the strife in Die Linke we have a case to make even for its durability.
Nurturing and developing the ULA means not pushing the boat too far and fast beyond what the boards can hold, while developing towards a party. It means not holding back, like St Augustine, virtuous but not just yet. It means not relentlessly haranguing for policies that are above most people’s heads and which will mean little on paper anyway. People who have declined the strong whiskey of the older organisations will go for the real ale of the ULA. But they need a real ale, and need to see the ULA on the streets, in print, on the web, in meeting halls, in internal events and social functions. They need to see the ULA fleet when too often they see separate colours flying from separate ships.
The non-aligned members, joining and belonging to the ULA itself, are well placed to build the ULA. Not as another small group, though they need to organise, but as, actually, the “ULA Tendency”, those most focused on the growth and development of the ULA.
Cool heads and well-thought out activity!
Two very sensible things were written recently, one directly and one indirectly relating to the ULA. Therese Caherty, non-aligned representative on the ULA Steering Committee, wrote (June 23) on the non-aligned email group:
The ULA’s components, including us, are not perfect and the structures are not perfect but without the courage of the parties, there wouldn’t be a ULA and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Des Derwin’s “chronicle” of recent gains [see above -- DD] shows how far we’ve come… But the ULA is fragile and could fracture at any moment. As has been said repeatedly, we’re in this for the long haul and we need to focus on the positives as much as the negatives in order to make progress.
… One way or another, it’s clear that the parties have gone as far as they are willing to go for the time being. That doesn’t mean they won’t go further… But it does mean the veto structure, how ever cancerous or regressive it may be perceived, is serving a useful purpose in keeping everyone at the table until there is sufficient convergence to drop it… If the veto goes, the ULA falters mainly because we haven’t as yet built a structure outside the central constituents to fall back on.
In the Irish Marxist Review (issue 2, June 2012, http://www.irishmarxistreview.ie), James O’Toole wrote:
Decades of low levels of working class struggle can lead to “substitutionism” – the great parliamentarian, the heroic activists, the perfect party programme come to be seen as the substitutes for the self-activity of the working class. The essence of Marxism is working class self-emancipation.
Right now the housing estates and blocks of flats of Dublin, that voted “no” to the Fiscal Treaty, or didn’t vote at all in the referendum, are dressed in green, white and orange bunting. It’s not a new solidity with the government after its treaty victory, or a surge of national resistance to the new rule of the Troika. It is for Ireland’s team in the European soccer championship. The team set a new record in being trounced in its first three matches. When this was followed by a 60-nil defeat of the Irish rugby team in New Zealand, any prospect of a boost in spirits through sport turned into a reflection of the Irish depression. To use terms like base and superstructure for such coincidences might be stretching it. Nevertheless there is a pathetic fallacy in the dispiriting disappointment of the sporting disasters accompanying austerity. It will have dashed any faint hopes among the administration of the games delivering a lift to national morale. After the football festival the struggle will resume.
[Des Derwin is a non-aligned member of the Dublin Central branch of the ULA.]
A Left Unity Platform
As proposed on April 23, 2012
1. The Left Unity Platform is open to members of the ULA who are not already members of the three founding organisations represented on the steering committee. The membership of individuals in already existing smaller organisations (not on the steering committee) will be decided on by the membership of the Left Unity Platform. The final decision of membership of all individuals rests with the membership of the Left Unity Platform.
2. Members of the Left Unity Platform must agree to the minimum program of the ULA. Members are free as individuals (not representing the Left Unity Platform) to hold other views.
3. The aim of the Left Unity Platform is to develop the ULA into a fully fledged party of the working class. All members will work towards this end.
4. The Left Unity Platform will work to develop permanent working participatory democratic structures in the ULA.
5. The Left Unity Platform will work to overcome all forms of political sectarianism within the ULA.
A Left Unity Network
As agreed on June 9, 2012
1. The Left Unity Network is open to all members of the ULA.
2. Members of the LUN must agree to the minimum program of the ULA. Members are free as individuals (not representing the LUN) to hold other views.
3. The aim of the LUN is to prioritise developing the ULA into a fully fledged party of the working class. All members will work towards this end.
4. The LUN will work to develop permanent working participatory democratic structures in the ULA.
5. The Left Unity Platform will work to overcome all forms of political sectarianism within the ULA.