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SP statement on Irish Ferries
worker & community struggles and protests |
Wednesday December 21, 2005 21:57 by SP Member - Socialist Party / CWI
Bosses let off the hook by bad deal
The Irish Ferries dispute ended in the early hours of the 14 December. SIPTU claims that the deal maintains a “threshold of decency”.
The deal brokered by the Labour Relations Commission allows Irish Ferries to outsource its crew to an agency; introduces a two-tier workforce with current staff remaining on the same wages and conditions but all new staff will be only paid the minimum wage and will have different working conditions; Irish Ferries will be “allowed” to re-flag its ships; a three year no strike agreement and all disputes to be settled by binding arbitration.
Under this agreement the company will save €11.5 million a year from wage cuts alone. This is a bad deal and claims that it protects a “threshold of decency” are spurious. This agreement leaves the door open for Irish Ferries management to continue its fight for slave wages and conditions onboard its ships.
At outset of this dispute the leaders of the Seaman’s Union of Ireland (SUI) recommended that their members accept the company’s redundancy offer. Thus the SUI was accepting that outsourcing would take place and this was an immediate setback for the struggle of the Irish Ferries workers. However the action by SIPTU ships officers in occupying one ferry and preventing another from sailing, the refusal by SIPTU members in Rosslare to allow the MV Normandy to use their port and the magnificent show of solidarity by over 100,000 workers who demonstrated on the 9 December, stopped Irish Ferries from implementing its full agenda.
Originally the company had planned to employ migrant workers from Latvia on €3.60 an hour. Industrial action has forced them to increase the pay of the migrant workers to a minimum of €7.65 an hour plus board and lodgings. Senior grades will get higher pay and newly appointed ships officers will have a paid week off for every week they work, and ratings will have one paid week off for every two weeks worked. This will possibly result in them having one months paid leave for every two months worked when originally the company wanted one months leave for every three months worked.
Turlough O’Sullivan director general of IBEC (Irish business and employers federation) said: "Those organising this march have lost sight of the real world…They are right that their members are under threat," O'Sullivan wrote, from "those who are producing similar goods and services in other countries and selling them at a cheaper price", Irish Times 9 December 2005. Turlough O’Sullivan and others justified Irish Ferries plan to pay €3.60 an hour on the basis that big business “needs” to maintain its profitability in the face of “competition” driven by globalisation. The Bank of Ireland was forced to distance itself from comments made in full support of Irish Ferries by its top economist Dan McLaughlin, because some of its customers closed their bank accounts and called on others to do the same.
Prior to the Irish Ferries dispute the Irish capitalist class arrogantly thought that they could introduce their anti-worker agenda unchallenged. They believed that they had the “measure” of the working class, who they felt were no longer prepared to fight to defend their jobs and conditions. The struggle at Irish Ferries has proved them wrong and opened their eyes to the prospect of more resistance and struggle by workers against their neo-liberal agenda. Because of the stand taken by SIPTU members at Irish Ferries, in Rosslare and the working class in general employers will be more cautious in pursuit of this agenda in future.
The courage and fighting spirit of the SIPTU ships officers was however not matched by the unions’ leadership. Five days after the mass demonstrations in support of the Irish Ferries workers SIPTUs’ leaders backed up by the leadership of the ICTU squandered an important opportunity to drive back the attacks by big business on workers’ rights, pay and conditions. Rather than utilising the power of the working class through a 24-hour general strike and maintaining the industrial action at Irish Ferries down in order to defeat the company, the union leaders have done a deal to save “social partnership”. Irish Ferries management can now wage a silent war of attrition against their employees and they will attempt to re-introduce their original agenda. The scale of protest on the 9 December showed that the demand from the Socialist Party for a 24-hour general strike was not only correct but would have been met with huge support from workers if ICTU had issued the call.
The leadership of the Seaman’s’ Union of Ireland (SUI) has played a particularly treacherous role during this dispute having encouraged their members to take the company’s redundancy offer. Then after SIPTU members had stopped all of the company’s ships and even after the national day of protests the SUI leadership publicly stated that its members where not involved in the dispute and they hoped that the industrial action wouldn’t affect their members redundancy payments!
Despite it resulting in a bad deal, the struggle at Irish Ferries has signaled the beginning of a new period of struggle by the Irish working class. The Irish Ferries dispute has been a significant development and has had an important impact on the consciousness of the working class. During the last two months we have gone from a situation were it was taken for granted that the union leaders would enter talks on a new “social partnership” agreement to the leadership of ICTU (being forced by the working class) to organise the biggest trade union demonstrations in 25 years.
Many people understandably had the attitude that these agreements are the norm and that talks and an eventually deal between the union leaders, big business and the government would take place as a matter of course. Yet, what has taken place in the last period shows that this is no longer the case. The Socialist Party has pointed out that there is a beginning of a change in the industrial situation in the South. The Irish Ferries dispute is a confirmation of our perspectives and analysis.
For 18 years the trade union leaders have been involved in an unholy alliance with the government and the employers. “Social partnership” has been consciously used by the employers and their political representatives to increase the amount of wealth going to the capitalists at the expense of the working class. Many union leaders have also consciously collaborated with this agenda in the bankrupt belief that there is no alternative not only to capitalism but also to capitalism’s neo-liberal agenda. These current union leaders are for the time being committed to the idea of partnership in the belief that it is the only way that they can maintain the wages of workers or gain any social reforms. However the Irish Ferries struggle has shown that “social partnership” can be broken and that it will eventually be defeated.
During the Irish Ferries dispute the Socialist Party explained that betrayal by the union leaders was possible. Historically Marxism has explained that betrayal is inherent in reformism, because ultimately reformists are not prepared to challenge the capitalist system and reformism is based on compromise with the ruling class. Despite the nature of the union bureaucracy they were forced to move and take at action to defend the workers at Irish Ferries and the moves by the government and the employers in general to attack workers’ rights because of pressure from the working class. The Irish Ferries dispute once again shows that it is necessary to build campaigns of opposition to the right-wing union leaders in all of the unions in order to replace the current bureaucrats with leaderships that are prepared to defend and fight for workers’ rights.
The primary aim of the National Implementation Body (NIB) is to protect the governments’ and the employers’ agenda as well as “social partnership”. The NIB intervened into the Irish Ferries dispute and orchestrated the conditions for the talks between the company and SIPTU through the Labour Relations Commission. “The NIB has been monitoring closely developments in the dispute at Irish Ferries. It has done so with particular regard to the impact of this dispute on the wider climate of industrial relations and, in particular, on the capacity of employers and trade unions to promote industrial harmony as a critical element in maintaining confidence and stability in the economy, as provided for in Sustaining Progress” NIB statement 4 December 2005.
It is also clear from the NIB statement that the government believed that the Irish Ferries dispute and the issue of the erosion of workers’ rights seriously jeopardised the future of partnership: “In particular, the NIB wishes to convey its concern that the situation which has now evolved has the potential to damage significantly the climate of trust and stability which has developed over the years in the context of social partnership”. The NIB’s “concern” is a further confirmation of the Socialist Party’s analysis that there are important political and industrial changes currently taking place in the South.
The NIB as well as intervening to directly end the dispute at Irish Ferries was also simultaneously trying to create the conditions under which the union leaders can credibly enter talks on a new “social partnership” deal. Informal talks had been taking place behind the scenes between ICTU, IBEC and the government despite the decision by the special ICTU conference not to enter talks.
According to the Industrial Relations News (IRN) 1 December 2005: “IRN can confirm that high level talks on the issue of employment standards have been taking place between Government officials, Congress and IBEC representatives. One senior Congress leader said that these talks have been “going well”. In effect, these are also ‘talks about talks’ in that the aim is to secure agreement on a basis for official national-level talks. They have focussed on the letter on employment standards sent to Congress in October by Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. The fact that informal talks have been taking place during the Irish Ferries dispute illustrates the fact that the three main social partners are extremely anxious to find a solution to the current impasse”.
SIPTU and ICTU’s leaders will now enter talks on a new “social partnership” agreement and will probably do a deal, but this will not be enough to stop opposition from workers to neo-liberalism or the current wave of attacks on workers’ rights. The assault on worker’ rights and the neo-liberal agenda of the capitalists will be stepped up in 2006 if the EU implements the Bolkenstein directive on services. A European wide campaign against the Bolkenstein directive can unite workers all across the EU against this agenda and can limit its implementation or even defeat this directive.
The stand taken by the officers on board the two ferries and the refusal by SIPTU members in Rosslare to allow the MV Normandy to berth was an important act of resistance that gave confidence to thousands of others to take to the streets. It will also give confidence to others faced with a similar attack on their jobs, wages and conditions to take industrial action. Last year Irish Ferries re-flagged its ship the MV Normandy in the Bahamas and replaced its Irish staff with agency workers. This took place with virtually no resistance from Irish unions.
One year on a similar move by the company resulted in a mass movement of opposition by the working class. This depth and breadth of workers’ anger forced the leadership of SIPTU to take a major stand, not only against the company but also the government and IBEC by refusing to enter partnership talks. ICTU was also forced away from the partnership talks and to call a national day of protests. This shows that even the most right-wing union leaders are susceptible to pressure from their members and the working class in general.
The Socialist Party has explained that the government and big business have consciously encouraged migrant workers to come to Ireland as a means to lower the wages of all workers. They are now attempting to implement a neo-liberal agenda to take back all of the gains made by workers during the Celtic Tiger era. The capitalist class are implementing this agenda in order to protect their profits and as a consequence of the pressures on their “competitiveness” from globalisation.
Previously the government and IBEC spoke openly of the need for measures to lower the cost of labour in the construction industry, as well as manufacturing industry in general, and the service sector. This was the reason why Ireland gave workers from the 10 new EU states the right to immediately work in Ireland. The pressure to lower the wages of Irish workers has been slowly gathering, but more recently this process has become more widespread and has speeded up.
The GAMA dispute has had a major impact on this society. Working class people were outraged and disgusted when they discovered that GAMA was paying its Turkish and Kurdish workers only €2.20 an hour, and at their working and living conditions. Our party has had a major impact on the consciousness of the working class. We not only exposed the GAMA scandal but we also played a fundamental role in the battle and the victory of the GAMA workers. The example of downtrodden exploited migrant workers, living in fear standing up to a multinational company, taking strike action and achieving a victory has impacted on workers consciousness and affected how workers have reacted to the Irish Ferries dispute. GAMA has also lifted the lid on the widespread exploitation of migrant workers and in doing so laid bare the exploitative nature of capitalism to many working class people.
As Marx said, conditions and events determine consciousness. Increasingly the working class is affected directly or indirectly by the drive to use migrant workers to lower the wages and conditions of all workers. It is common place now for working class people to recount examples of how this drive has impacted on their wages and conditions or on the wages and conditions of relatives or friends. These practical life experiences have had an important impact on the consciousness of workers generally. Workers are now fearful that it is only a matter of time before their wages and conditions will be under attack.
The attacks on wages and conditions are not just confined to the private sector. The government’s neo-liberal agenda is being implemented in the public sector. This government supported in general by all of the establishment parties has a strategy to privatise and liberalise the public sector. Even Sinn Fein, despite their rhetoric, are supportive of this process as exposed by their willingness to go into a coalition government will all of the right-wing parties, with the exception at least so far of the PDs.
PPPs are now the norm in relation to development of the transport infrastructure – road building, the LUAS, plans for a new Dublin metro etc. Also in the health service and in education there is a greater emphasis on facilities being built and run by the private sector. The neo-liberal agenda has sharply hit home in the last period in the semi-state companies.
Despite the general lack of struggle in the last period there are other signs aside from the Irish Ferries struggle that workers are more prepared to resist attacks from the employers. A three-day strike at the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) was in opposition to the company’s plans to outsource even more of the work of its technicians to private contractors. Two wildcat strikes by Bus Eireann workers in Galway and Waterford were against the use of private operators for school transport. And the bitter dispute at An Post is ultimately about the government preparing the postal service for liberalisation and privatisation. There has also been a whole number of small disputes (some even involving occupations) by workers struggling for back wages, redundancy money, against wage cuts and to save their jobs. In the majority of these disputes workers have been victorious.
In an article on Socialist Worker online 14 December 2005, entitled “Mass action sinks Irish Ferries management” the Socialist Workers Party talk of “a stunning climbdown from the management of the shipping company”. Further the SWP comments: “While the union lost its fight to prevent the reflagging of the company’s vessels abroad, a legally binding contract guarantees the conditions of all workers for Irish ferries.” However the union leaders actually ended the dispute and agreed to a deal without any legal contract - negotiations on this contract are still ongoing. The SWP’s claim mis-reads a key aspect of the outcome of the dispute. That in the context of Irish Ferries re-flagging their ships a so-called legal contract is meaningless. Irish Ferries management will lead another assault on the wages and conditions of its employees with or without a legal contract.
In another article on 15 December the SWP says in relation to the new migrant workers to be employed by Irish Ferries: “These workers will be brought into the ‘threshold of decency’ set by the Irish labour movement.” In these articles the SWP echoes the claims from the trade union bureaucrats that accepting the outsourcing of jobs, and the employment of migrants on significantly reduced wages and conditions is an important achievement because it meets ICTUs new standard – a “threshold of decency”. Workers should reject ICTU’s “threshold of decency”, as it is an acceptance that the minimum wage is something to be struggled for rather than decent wages. This type of approach adds to the danger of the minimum wage becoming the maximum wage across whole sectors of employment.
It was inevitable that at some stage a confrontation of the character of Irish Ferries would take place. This battle is a consequence of the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights an agenda which if anything will intensify in the period ahead, particularly during the next recession. Therefore further battles are also inevitable. The working class is learning many lessons during this period. They have seen the capitalist class bare it’s teeth during the Irish Ferries dispute, and heard it’s representatives defend slave wages as being justified in order to protect the profits of big business.
The impact of the exploitation of migrant labour on wages has to be put in the context of the crisis in the health service and the many pressures faced by workers such as houses prices, the increasing cost of living, stealth taxes, traffic congestion etc, as well as the political corruption and scandals in planning and construction. There is a cumulative effect from these events that will result in the politicisation of thousands of workers, many of whom will come to the conclusion that it is necessary to build a new mass party of the working class.
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"There is a cumulative effect from these events that will result in the politicisation of thousands of workers, many of whom will come to the conclusion that it is necessary to build a new mass party of the working class."
Spot on, pity the SP won't come to the same conclusion until someone else has proved it or the word comes from London to change the line.
Who wrote this statement?
100000 on the streets, strkes and occupations, and you come out and declare it all a big failure. Why would anyone ever come out again, your whole position is about feeding into passivity and negantivity, you have no relation to the mood over this at all. It is of course not a complete victory but you have to look at things in context not just the the detail of the agreement. My guess is you probably had this all thought out before the thing began
"Reformists always sell us out"
This isnt what marxism is about. Its about dialectics, relationships between marxists and none marxists. You are confining yourself to sidelining sectarianism again.
The fact that 100,000 people were out in solidarity action and the huge feeling about this dispute amongst all workers is an extremely positive thing and is a very positive indicator of things to come and the willingness for people to struggle. If you read the article you will see it says that. But this doesn't take away from the fact that the deal done by the union bureacracy was a terrible deal.
The SWP, which have a similar line to Sean here, have a very condescending attitude to workers. They say that we cant call the deal a defeat as this would demoralise the thousends of workers out on the marches. This takes workers for idiots. People saw what the deal entails, they see it as a terrible deal regardless of what the SWP say.
The key thing for socialists to do is tell the truth. The truth is that the working class was sold out by the bureacrats. Socialists must put forward an alternative view of how unions should represent their members and how unions can be transformed. the overthrow of the bureacracy is one of the main tasks for activists and the class in general. We can't just put our head in the sand and pretend the bureacracy is not a barrier to struggle.
Of course the SWP have another disgusting motive to lie to people about the bureacracy, telling people the truth might upset people like the Labour Party, Des Garaghty, Paul Smyth and the other sell outs that they're cozying up to.
As the Celtic Tiger Fades: The First Whiff of Militancy
The Irish trade union movement is stirring with a new spate of strikes and protests.
The spark for the revolt has come from a renewed employers offensive to reduce wage costs.
The main tactic has been to casualise staff by replacing permanent workers with agency workers. The vast majority of the new ‘contingent’ workers are migrants who are vulnerable to employer pressure.
Eastern European workers, for example, are denied social welfare for two years even though they pay taxes and make social contributions. This means they can be more easily trapped into low pay jobs.
These developments explain the significance of the Irish Ferries dispute. The issue of displacement of workers has hit a raw nerve.
Irish Ferries is a hugely profitable firm, making in excess of €16 million last year. It has benefited from a special tonnage tax introduced by this government which has cut its tax bill to one tenth of what it once was.
But it is still determined to reduce wages to just €3.50 an hour and to keep workers on board its ships from 24 hours a day, for seven days a week.
The story is being repeated in Doyle concrete in Kildare, where the company has declared redundancies and then cut the starting rate by half to €8.50 an hour. They have refused to implement the terms of a Labour Court recommendation.
These attacks on workers are not just coming from a gung-ho faction of the employer class. The Irish state itself is deeply implicated in fomenting the new strategy.
Key Ministers like Mary Harney was involved in encouraging GAMA to come to Ireland to seek to reduce wage in the Irish building industry. And even after the revelations of the pay fraud, Gama has continued to win state contracts.
More generally, the Revenue Commissioners are facilitating a legal fiction whereby over 50,000 workers in the construction industry are supposed to be self employed.
As one activist from SIPTU’s construction branch put it, ‘You can have just a bucket and a brush and be classified as a sole trader’
In Bus Eireann, management are contracting out services to operators who pay less than the unionised staff.
In the universities, top management award themselves exorbitant salaries while other staff face casualisation.
However, there is a growing mood to resist these developments.
Union Grassroots Take The Lead
From the every start, the spark of resistance has come from the union grassroots.
During the recent SIPTU conference, Irish Ferries workers made it clear that they wanted a one day strike. But the union leaders preferred to make approaches to Bertie Ahern to bring a solution.
Despite this slowness, SIPTU activists got behind their leadership when they announced they would defer entering a new round of social partnership.
Then the Local Authorities branch took a further initiative and called a magnificent protest which involved over 8,000 workers. They were backed by the union leaders but it would have been far bigger if there had been a clear call for a stoppage.
The Irish Ferries has been a signal for thousands of other workers to join the battle.
Two unofficial stoppages have hit Bus Eireann over the management strategy of contracting out.
In Kildare, trade unionists are rallying behind the strikers in Doyle Concrete and are holding a mass rally on November 20th.
In UCD, staff staged an early morning protest outside their workplace and then 300 employees came to a ‘speak out’ to give witness to how new managerial changes were affecting them.
In An Post, the beginning of a rank and file network are emerging to challenge the union bureaucracy ( see accompanying story)
After many years of defeats, a new pattern is emerging. An over-confident employer class believe that the union have become paper tigers and want to impose US style labour relations.
However despite the incorporation of important layers of union activists into a social partnership mode, this is a bridge too far for the vast majority of union activists – including, it has to be said, the union leadership.
Yet there are also clear tensions in the response. The union bureaucracy increasingly looks to the machinery of the state to deal with the changes. They focus of on the rhetoric of Ahern and point to his concern about Irish Ferries. But they ‘forget’ that his same government is backing a services directive in Europe which will fully legalise the current strategy of Irish employers.
The vast majority of workers would like their government to impose labour standards on employers.
But they also have to good sense to know that they will first have to impose their will on their own government. Solutions will not come from ‘complex’ legal discussions led by barristers – but from the mobilisation and actions of tens of thousands of workers.
Only when displacement and casualisation is made politically unacceptable though ‘people power’ will any Irish governments be forced to turn on the very corporations who pull their strings.
The stakes are very high. Today the mood amongst many Irish workers is one of unity with migrants in the battle against employers. Nationality does not come into it – it is a fight of all workers against a ruthless employer class.
However, under conditions of defeat this could change and the focus could shift from class to nationality and colour.
This is why, as the Celtic Tiger fades, these are battles we must win.
A Fading Tiger-but the building site remains
The mainstream press continue to trumpet the Celtic Tiger but the economists they rely on are far from objective.
Take for example, Dan McLoughlin, who regularly cheer leads the property boom. He is the chief economist of the Bank of Ireland which has a strong vested interest in the maintenance of that boom.
Or look at the case of Daniel McCoy, the former top economist of the ESRI who has just moved over to take key role in IBEC, the employer’s organisation.
Short term conventional economic forecasting has a very poor record. One former forecaster, Jim O Leary recently looked back on forecasts for the years 2001 to 2004. He found that ‘ the evidence from recent years is that (forecasters) get it wrong more than they get it right, and they all get it wrong together’.
Most capitalist economists do not want to talk about the death of the Celtic Tiger – but this is precisely what is happening.
The Celtic Tiger refers to the huge growth rates that occurred in Ireland between 1993 and 2000. These were based on a surge of US investment which sought a base inside the EU market. They came to Ireland because it offered a tax haven and comparatively cheap labour.
In those years export volumes increased by 17 percent a year and Ireland became a world centre for the export of pharmaceuticals and computer equipment.
Since 2001, this particular engine has been slowing down. The volume of merchandise exports – physical goods, mainly – has fallen, 34,000 workers have lost their jobs in manufacturing and Foreign Direct Investment fell from €21.6 billion in 2003 to only €9.1 billion in 2004. By contrast US investment to Eastern Europe is rising.
Put simply, the Tiger has died and has been replaced with a different beast.
Since 2001, the main source of Ireland’s growth has been construction and financial services.
The Irish financial services sector has been driven by a host of tax scams and the country has won a reputation as the Bermuda of Europe where speculators and even criminals can enjoy ‘light regulation’. How long this can last is an interesting question.
The construction boom has been driven by rising houses prices and deliberate government policy to favour road construction rather than rail. House prices doubled over the past six years and a yuppie layer has emerged which sees property and the rental market as an easy source of money. The banks have stoked up this boom by offering high loans and are now addicted to the continuing growth of this sector.
However, a classic capitalist problem of oversupply has developed. So many apartments are being built at exorbitant prices that the rental market is not keeping up with the inflated prices. This is why the OECD has been warning that Irish property is over-valued by 15 percent.
This then is the background to the new round of industrial struggles. The employer class know that the Celtic Tiger is fading – and they want workers to pay the price. But workers who have seen the huge fortunes that were made are not willing to make more sacrifices.
The stage is being set for major confrontation.
The article doesn't really say too much, alot of the usual mixture of soft weak frill and 'workers are cant wait to tear the heads off the bourgeois' guff you expect from the SWP.
The fact is that the SWP support the deal at irish Ferries that was a complete sell out by Paul Smyth and the rest of the SIPTU/SUI bureaucracy. The wage rate was slashed, the cypriot flag adopted, the principle of outsourcing copperfastened and a no strike clause for 3 years.
The world and his mother can see that this was a bad deal. i woud say that the vast bulk of the 100,000 on the streets and the working class in general see it as a bad deal.
It is a disgrace that the SWP, an organisation that claims to be Socialist and stand for fighting trade unioism should back such a deal. It shows a complete contempt on their part for the intelligence of workers and shows how unprincipled they are in their phoney alliances and fake fronts with the Bureacrats/Labour/Green Party/Sinn Fein etc
This thread deals mainly with the analysis of the SP and the SWP over the outcome of the Ferries dispute in terms of was it a victory or not. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that this was a defeat for the working class. But I would like to raise some issues about why it was a defeat and perhaps ask some of those correctly condemning the role of the union bureaucracy to practise some self criticism.
The union bureaucracy pulled together their forces, held the working class in check and imposed this defeat on the workers in the Ferries and on the working class. Their united front held together and achieved its aim.
What about the different left groups and activists who opposed the employers attacks and the policies of the bureaucracy. Whey were they not able to pull their forces together into a fighting united front to take on the employers, to offer an alternative to the union bureaucracy and to try and win the support of the workers at this time of great anger and militancy.
The reason this was not done was because of the prevalance of left sectarianism in the left and activist movement in the Irish working class. The big left groups such as the SP and the SWP look at this and other struggles from the point of view of how can they recruit. They put their interests before that of the working class. Some of the other left groups do the same.
Look at what would have been possible if this left sectarianism had not been present. It would have been possible to have built a united front around a fighting alternative of the left groups and activists. This would have inspired the most fighting active workers. This in turn would have been able to pose a serious alternative to the bureaucracy of thousands of active fighters.
Central to this would have been the program and tactics of course. I am not in Ireland but I believe the taking over of Irish Ferries should have been posed as a central demand. But on the tactics I am sure. These should have been based on direct mass action disruption of the Ferries and transport system in the country.
However I am getting off my main point. Left Sectarianism meant that the left groups and activists, the militants in the shop floor and unions were not able to get together as a cohesive fighting group to oppose the bureaucracy and take this struggle forward. The trade union bureaucracy were more successful in building a unified front to achieve its aims than the left. This is a scandal and a condemnation of the left.
Look at the two articles on this thread from the SP and the SWP. Neither of them deals with the issue of Left Sectarianism, of why it was not possible to build fighting united fronts of struggle around the Ferry struggle. They ignore it. This is because to the extent they are conscious of left sectarianism they cannot mention it as it is central to their own method. They are always seeking to build their own groups and putting this ahead of the interests of the working class.
Any serious article on this dispute has to pose the failure of the left parties and the left activists to put to the forefront the need to build a non left sectarian opposition in the unions and working class movement. Neither of these articles or parties mention this. They are too focused on their own narrow sectarian interests. It is the working class which suffers. The struggle against left sectarianism cannot be ignored in this way.
Left sectarianism and the damage it does to the working class has to be identified, named and confronted. It must be openly challenged. Just as we openly raise the need to fight collaboration with the employers, just as we openly raise the need to oppose the refusal of the bureaucracy to fight, we have to also openly raise and oppose left sectarianism and the damage it does to the working class movement.
In doing so we have to ensure that those groups and individuals who practise left sectarianism are asked to explain their methods. We have to ask that they explain their refusal to build fighting united fronts of struggle in such circumstances as the Irish Ferry struggle. And we have to make sure that those who practise left sectarianism have to explain their false methods in front of the working class in the workplaces, the unions, the communities etc. Let the working class give its judgement. For a united front of struggle against the employers and the bureaucracy. For a struggle against left sectarianism which haunts the left and activist movement and which damages the working class movement.
I'm not sure which part of your approach is less helpful. Is it the constant one-note moaning about supposed "left sectarianism" being at the root of every defeat or every failing? Or is it the frankly bizarre over-hyping of the opportunities open to the small left groups at the moment.
Your regular argument that activists should try to hold small left organisations to account for their supposed sins "in front of the working class in the workplaces, the unions, the communities etc" displays a total lack of understanding of the current state of play in Ireland. Let's be clear about this. If someone or some group was to start going to their workplace, their union meetings and their community campaigns and moaning about the "left sectarianism" of small left groups they would be regarded as something of an oddball at best. The failings of left groups are not hot topics of workplace discussion. The "failure" of the Workers Party or the WSM or whoever to form "fighting united fronts" or committees of struggle or whatever John is calling for today is not widely considered a matter of vast importance.
The left is marginal in the greater scheme of things. My own organisation, the Socialist Party, is probably the biggest and most prominent of the left organisations at the moment, but we are all too keenly aware of just how politically peripheral we are. The question of just why the left is peripheral in Ireland is a complex one, and certainly not something which can be explained in terms of a stubborn and irrational refusal to form "fighting united fronts".
To mentions just one element of the story, we live in a country which has never had a truly mass working class party. Even back when the Labour Party was in some senses a party of the working class it was always far too small to be a real mass organisation. There was never a Communist Party of any significance either. These things are very unusual in Europe and have nothing much to do with "left sectarianism".
In more recent years we have seen a 15 year boom of a kind which has been extremely unusual in any Western country since the end of the long post Second World War boom.The same period saw ongoing national partnership deals, the destruction of the Labour Party as a part of the workers movement and the collapse of the Workers Party.. That's not to mention the fall of the Stalinist states, which for all that they were brutal bureaucratic dictatorships helped undermine the idea that any alternative to capitalism is possible.
Yet in those unpromising circumstances parts of the already very small socialist left have modestly grown and begun to have some small impact. From a Socialist Party point of view the most obvious examples include the water and bin tax campaigns, the struggle of the GAMA workers and the election of a TD and a handful of councillors. But others have had their successes too - the anarchists for instance organised a march of thousands against the EU summit. I'd suggest that the story of the Irish far left in recent years has been one of small but real successes carved out of a difficult situation. It's only if you believe the hype of some of the less steady heads on the far left about what possibilities have been open to our small organisations that the picture seems to be of wasted opportunities.
As for "fighting united fronts" or local committees to fight on this or that issue of concern, well yes, that would be wonderful, but we can't wish the forces required to create them into existence. The Socialist Party or some assembly of small left organisations could declare these committees open for business as often as we like, it won't fill them with politically active workers. And spending our time in the workplaces, unions and communities whining that various small left groups have failed to create them isn't going to help them into existence either. To be blunt about this John, you need to get a grip.
I am sorry that the correspondents from the SP continue in the tradition of the SP on this medium and refuse to give their names. I am also sorry that they refuse to take up the issues I raised in a serious and positive way rather than just trying to defend the SP and its role.
They make clear they think the SP is the most influential of the left groups. This is probably true. If so then they have the greatest responsibility. Why then did they not approach the other left groups, the socialist and anarchist groups, to discuss united action on the Irish Ferries. Why did they not, from this, call a public rally with speakers from all these groups to set up a united front around a program of demands and action which would have been an alternative to the union bureaucracy.
The SP, the SWP, other left groups have some serious and respected activists in their ranks. There are also respected groups and individuals in other groups and in no groups who have a base in the workplaces and communities. They all could have been approached and involved. Joe Higgins could have used his prominent position to give a lead on this. A serious substantial conference could have been built for with these resources.
Out of this would have come a united front and an alternative to the bureaucracy. The size and influence of this I cannot say but what is possible to say is that such an approach would have begun to lay down an alternative method to the left sectarianism which exists at present and which does such damage to the working class movement.
If this approach and method had been adopted and carried out over the past years in the struggles such as the bin and water charges, Gama, the struggle against the collaboration with the employers, then there would already be within the left and the activist layer of workers the beginnings of the development of a cohesive layer of activist fighting workers for whom the idea of united front work and the united front approach would be clear.
I thank the two anonymous writers for their lectures on how hard it has been in Ireland. I have probably been active in Ireland longer than either or maybe both of them. But I thank them for their lectures anyway. I have also been active in a country over the past almost 20 years which has been much harder to work in than Ireland.
So please Comrades deal with the issues seriously. There are a number of left groups in Ireland. There are many activists and left activists in the workplaces and communities. If there is to be a serious struuggle against the employers and the union bureaucracy these forces have to be brought together in a united front of struggle.
I would raise and relate one other issue. It is been part of the thinking of the revolutionary workers movement that there are different layers in the working class, the broader layers, the more advanced fighting workers. the revolutionary workers. The capitalist offensive of the past 25 years or so internationally has seriously damaged the advanced layer of workers, both in terms of their consciousness and their cohesion and organization.
How is this advanced layer to be brought together again and rebuilt. I agree that the objective situation will be a major factor in this. But there is also the role of the revolutionary groups and activists in building fighting united fronts. This new advanced layer is not going to just step forward and join one revolutionary group, the SP, or anyone else. The task here is in every struggle and on every occasion where there is an opportunity for struggle to seek to bring these forces together in fighting united fronts.
It is here the issue of left sectarianism comes into play and does the most damage. Left sectarianism has to be identified and openly fought against. It has to be opposed in the workplaces, the unions and the community struggles. The two anonymous writers sneer at this suggestion of mine. But do they sneer when it is raised that employers attacks and the class collaboration of the union bureaucracy has to be opposed in the workers movement. I think not. I think the problem is that my call for open opposition to left sectarianism hits a bit too close to home for the two correspondents.
There are limits to how seriously someone can take up points which are not themselves serious. You talk about the left coming together yet make no reference to the political basis of this unity, the nature of the groups involved or the wider social context. It's left unity put forward as a panacea, and as such it is delusional. It's like being in favour of cake and fun and all good things and about as relevant.
You talk about all of this without bothering to engage with the real political divisions between various groups on the left in the slightest. You engage in fantasies about the magical effect unity of small left groups would have on the workers movement. You fail to notice that the left groups you want us to unite with amount to the SWP and some very small groupings. Of the small groupings only a few are in any way serious (you know who you are!), and even some of those aren't interested in "unity" with Marxists to begin with.
You are calling for unity with forces that don't amount to much and weirdest of all calling for those who refuse to engage in this unity to be named and shamed in the workplaces and communities! As if anyone cares about the willingess or otherwise of the Workers Solidarity Movement or whoever to form "fighting united fronts".
What's more throughout your postings you confuse the idea of a united front and the idea of a broader coming together of the left. As I'm sure you are aware, given that you are at pains to tell us of your long experiences, these are not the same thing at all. A united front is an alliance around particular issues for limited goals. The Socialist Party does, where we think it will strengthen our activism, take part in united fronts. The bin tax campaign and the anti-war movement being obvious examples.
Anyway John, when you raise serious issues you will get a friendlier response. You might start by outlining how your assessment of the conditions facing socialists in Ireland in recent years differs from mine in a way that doesn't amount to handwaving about lost opportunities and claims that if only we would all agree to do it your way that everything would be better.
sp and swp activists work in irish ferries and did they organise seperate campaigns or in seperate unions, were they actually disunified?
As far as I am aware not one activist from any of the left groups in Ireland worked at Irish Ferries.
The dominant tone in Mark's correspondence reminds me of the comment wrongly attributed to Jim Callaghan in 1979: 'Crisis? What crisis?' In this case, it is: 'Left sectarianism: what left sectarianism?' Mark unwittingly illustrates the very problem under discussion, while remaining blissfully unaware of it.
His tone in the discussion is indicative of the problem. JT raises an issue and is met with invective: Mark observes that if he raised serious issues (ie ones in which Mark instantly agreed with him) he would get a 'friendlier' response. Thus if you disagree with Mark a friendly response is out of the question, and invective, denunciation, name calling etc become part of the equation. Sounds like left sectarianism to me.
Hard as it may be for Mark to get his head around, no one person or group has a monopoly of truth. It is perfectly possible outside the SP's central committee to have something interesting and useful to say. John Throne above all has interesting things to say, given his experience in Ireland and internationally. His points, and those of others, should be discussed calmly, rationally, and - yes - in a friendly spirit.
I personally think that the vanguard party building project epiomised by the present approach of the SP has completely outlives its usefyulness, and in the present hgistorical period a different approach is required. John's comments offer valuable ideas as to what that might be: other socialists within the SP and outside also have a contribution to make. Open and friendly discussion of this would be welcome.
Former Militant Member should feel free to point out the "invective" he/she thinks I met John with. My tone was not particularly friendly - a result of exasperation at seeing the same float being paraded past for the hundredth time - but I was at no stage abusive or nasty. I try to avoid personal invective in political discussion because it distracts from the issues at hand. The "invective, denunciation, name calling etc" are figments of your imagination.
As for "left sectarianism", I by no mean deny that it exists. But I don't think that the Socialist Party is generally sectarian in its approach and for that matter there are quite a few other groups on the Irish left that I don't regard as being particularly sectarian. I have my disagreements with the ISN or the WSM for instance, but they aren't by and large about them being sectarian. What I do deny is that "left sectarianism" is the big problem facing the Irish socialist movement currently or in recent years. I do deny that some form of left unity initiative would have a big impact on the workers movement at the moment. And I do find it difficult to take an approach as one-track as John's in any way seriously.
What about the 500 Irish workers?
I don't think I understand your question. The Socialist Party (and Joe Higgins) opposed the lay off of the Irish Ferries workers from the start.
Mark P says that he has his disagreements with a couple of socialist groups in Ireland, but he doesn't consider them to be sectarian. The tone he takes in talking about them seems to indicate that he has some respect for these other groups. In that case, I would like to ask Mark (and the rest of the SP) what steps they took to try to work together with these groups around building support for the ferry strikers? And if they didn't take any steps, if they didn't try to work together with these groups, then why not?
The SP regualrly works with the ISN and the WSM, bin tax campaign is an example. Both are very small, ISN comprising primarily of ex-WP members and the WSM are anarchists. We regularly work with these groups and others. If yourself and John were actually aware of what was happening on the ground in Ireland rather than judging the state of the Irish left from indymedia you may have a better understanding of what is actually happening although given your animosity towards the SP I doubt if your attitude would be any different. Give us a break and go bang a different drum.
Anyone looking for an example of left sectarianism, one symptom of which is complete intolerance towards different points of view, would need to look no further than the most recent comment from SP member. Talk of 'sidekicks' and 'banging a different drum' suggests an attitude of hostility bordering on hatred for socialists who have a different view of particular questions. It is certainly intemperate in tone.
In the real labour movement, a comradely discussion of differences is the norm. If, on the other hand, your prime goal is sect building then berating all those apparent imbeciles who don't yet buy into your programme is a reflex response. While it may be gratifying to your ego, it does little to advance the cause of the working class or build socialism.
I might respectfully suggest that actually answering, calmly, the arguments of your opponents might be a better approach. Assuming, that is, that you have more on your mind than sect building.
In my opinion, however, this kind of supposed debate is now such a normal thing in leninist or sub-leninist circles that it appears to indicate some deep rooted problem, which flows from the nature of the project on which such groups have embarked. To most working class activists, it is very deeply off putting.
It's also amusing to see someone with free access to producing the media spin that /they/ judge to be accurate or fair complaining about someone else "judging the state of the Irish left from indymedia".
It's almost as though "SP Member" wanted to prove that Throne et al had a point.
If you don't like the portrayal of the SP or the Irish left in general on indymedia then it's because you're looking in the mirror and seeing your own face. Can't say I blame you.
Lads really if you think this stuff is "nasty", you should go back to re read your marx and lenin, they were alot "nastier" in their critisism of other thinkers than poor old Mark P. Saying someone is sectarian beacause they disagree with you is the lefty version of "mark P denies beating his wife", pretty cheap. And alot of of people have a habit of accusing those who don't agree with his or her political projects for whatever reasons "sectarians". John is probably making the mistake of alienating those members of the SP who he might be able to convince.
Left unity is an important issue, but to come on indymedia and claim the Strike at Irish Ferries was lost because the SP (with no members working in Irish Ferries) didn't lead a united front with other left groups (who also have no members in irish ferries) is ridiculas! As far as I am aware all the groups supported the workers on the ferries unconditionaly! (with some slight differences on interpetation of the result), So basically all a united front would have achieved would have been a United press conference. Hardly earth shattering. If it was a situation where tens or hundreds of SP member workers refused to work with their SWP colleagues or operated different unions etc He would have a serious point, But right now all your talking about is slightly different editorials in two papers with quite a modest readership. The struggle with Irish Ferries as with GAMA is fought by the workers not the left parties or groups, without the workers themselves coming out none of Joe Higgins's work in the Dail or the partys work in exposing the scandal would have mattered.
Nobody needs to hear this, its pretty obvious, but sometimes it seems like John is missing the woods for the trees with his concentration on the political parties and groups without looking at the actual working class itself.
John and his supporters must first and foremost realise that the class struggle exists within concrete realities, the sp or the swp for that matter making grandiose statements of "alliances" will not change the realities of the struggle, A mass movement will not come from wishful thinking and grandiose pronouncements. There will be no mass party until their is a mass who want that party, demand that party and go out to create that party.
One could argue by simply announcing the alliance we could start up a critical mass, it's possible but probably unlikely without a mass of people already involved in struggle.
And remember the subjective! These aren't just numbers that will be all put together, for starters the anarchist groups aren't interested, (they already have a unified organisation i in grassroots) second the SP don't trust the SWP, (and not just the leadership) for one reason because the swp set up some alliance every other week. This week incidently it's "People Before Profit", and the smaller groups have a healthy mistrust of both the SP and the SWP. And thats to say nothing of program, Do we have to do the lowest common donominator politics of Respect in the UK. And wash down everything we stand for. What about the national question?
By the way are you aware the swp did set up an Irish Socialist Alliance before?
Personaly I believe the left will not unite on it's own now for this and other reasons. What will unite it is when a mass force, makes it unite, such as some trade unionists (aka WASG in Germany) or a new mass movement, that the current leftists will join. And have reason too. Until then, don't hold your breath, And don't blame every defeat the working class suffers on that problem. The left in Ireland is a very very small social force and as they used to say "truth is concrete" and wishful thinking isn't going to make it any better.
(PS none of this is to say we cannot run electoral campaigns without running against each other, or that we cannot endorse each other in elections, And none of this says that the masses won't get up and demand that party!)
In discussion with anonymous members of the SP you always have to go back and read over what you wrote. They could have you thinking you wrote things you did not. The anonymous Mark P claims I wrote that the "big problem facing the Irish socialist movement currently or in the recent years" was left sectarianism. My position which I have explained numerous times is that this is one of the problems. But to ridicule me Mark P makes out that I say this is the "big problem". I certainly accept that economic growth, the offensive of capitalism worldwide, the destruction of the cohesive advanced layer of workers, all these have been and are major factors in the crisis of the left. I also accept that the affect of stalinism on all revolutionary socialist organizations and the affect of their long term isolation from the mass movement resulted in an internal life in these organizations which was vastly over centralized and top down and insufficiently democratic. These factors also resulted in the relations between different groups being very sectarian. All these were and are major factors in the "problem of the Irish left".
The anonymous Mark P also writes; "I do deny that some kind of left unity initiative would have a big impact on the workers movement at this time." Again I have to go back and read what I wrote. And as before nowhere have I talked of any kind of "left unity initiative." I talk about "united fronts of action" a totally different thing. Mark P makes this up to obscure issues and make my position look ridiculous. I do not think that unity of the left, or a left unity initiative, is possible in Ireland at this time. There is too much history and too many differences. However I do feel that if the revolutionary organizations of today understood that revolutionary organizations of the past allowed much greater internal debate and differences and factional rights and open publication of differences then this would help reduce the degree of division amongst the left and help move things towards greater unity amongst the left. This would be a positive development.
The anonymous SP member says that the "SP regularly works with ISN and WSM, the bin tax campaign being an example". Then I do not understand why the anonymous SP member is attacking my suggestions for the struggle in Irish Ferries. My understanding is that just about all the revolutionary groups, were involved in the anti bin tax campaign, is this not a fighting united front on the issue of opposition to the bin charges. So what is wrong with my suggestion for the united front of struggle on Irish Ferries.
HS, as far as I understand HS is another anonymous SP member, HS writes: "To say the Irish Ferry dispute was lost because the SP with no members working in Irish Ferries didn't lead a united front with other far left groups is ridiculous." Again we are faced with anonymous SP members saying that I said things I have never said. What is wrong with the anonymous SP members. Is there such a weakness in their position that they have to distort my position in this way. Is there a difference in the SP on their position on the Irish Ferries dispute.
I repeat. I think the SP, the SWP, or any other group or individuals with resources should have met and discussed and set up a united front initiative such as was done in the bin charges struggle. From this an alternative strategy to the bureaucracy should have been developed. Take the Irish Ferries out of private hands and direct mass action to block the transport in the country where the resources existed for this would would have been my starting position in the discussion. From this bring out 20,000, 50,000 flyers, have a mass campaign aimed at the workplaces and the communities.
This would have got an echo. This is clear from the echo received by the day of action. The bin charges struggle saw arrempts to block the streets as far as I know. I think there would have been an echo amongst significant numbers of workers to take disruptive action on the Irish Ferries. The day of action could have been a real day of disruption. But the bureaucracy had it tied down. The SP is always criticizing me for over estimating the mood and the possibilities in Ireland. Well the day of action showed there was a mood to fight. I imagine this mood will have been punctured somewhat by the result of the struggle. This may take some time to get over.
However this is not the only issue. The union leaders held the movement united under their control and sold out the struggle. I would think it is inevitable that many many workers saw this betrayal and want to do something about it. But all they are offered is to try and be active in their union if they have one, their community group if there is one, join one of the left groups or to do nothing. I believe they should be offered united fronts of struggle on a program of action to take on the capitalist offensive. This is what I am proposing to the left activist movement and the left groups.
It is here that I think that left sectarianism comes in. Left sectarianism has as its priority the recruitment to and building of its own ranks above all else. It does not start from the existing consciousness of the working class, what is possible given that consciousness and what is the interest of the working class . I have nothing against groups building their own ranks. I build LMV. But it is necessary to recognize that the overwhelming majority of working class activists will not join your ranks or take a revolutionary position at this time. So it is necessary to take the initiative to build united fronts of action against the capitalist offensive and which carry out disruptive action against this offensive. This is what is in the interest of the working class. Give an alternative to the many workers who are disgusted with the Irish Ferry sell out but who are not yet ready to join a left organization.
By the way it is no alternative to say that in the future a workers party will be built and then these workers will join. We are talking about here and now and workers today who saw the sell out of Irish Ferries and the many activists today who are repelled from uniting in more militant action because of their fear of left sectarianism.
I think the insulting remark made about John Reimann is contemptable. Thank you to the brother who condemned it. I would also ask the anonymous SP members to answer John's questions. What united front action on Irish Ferries did the SP take with the groups they identify as non sectarian and with whom they say they are prepared to take united action and have done so in the past.
I don't recall saying that anyone who disagrees with me, or anyone else, is de facto sectarian: this is a straw man position that you are establishing. I do recall saying that how that disagreement is expressed can be sectarian. Members of your party have, in the past, on this site accused various people of being past it, oddballs, enemies of the CWI, enemies of the working class and all sorts of other abusive terms that do not clarify issues but raise the personal heat considerably. This is sectarian. It erects artificial barriers to clarification and unity, while establishing a sect-like mentality that sees the world in terms of a pure inner group, possessed of unique wisdom - unfortunately surrounded by bunches of SOBs. (The tone in this discussion is moderate in comparison, I agree: there is just the occasional hint of underlying impatience and hostility which is revealing...)
If your defence of this habit is that Marx and Lenin did it, I think you should look at your reasoning. Both of them made mistakes. They weren't Gods. We aren't duty bound to repeat everything they did. Why is that so many on the Leninist left think that by establishing an historical precedent in terms of what Lenin did that no further justification is required?
Lenin, in particular, was intolerably rude in his polemics against socialist opponents, which did neither him nor anyone else any good. There were some extenuating circumstances - the difficulties of isolation in exile, for example. But it remains a mistake, and one that you should disavow rather than emulate.
there seems to be a habit of accusing those who you agree with as sectarian. I don't think lenin or marx of anyone else are gods, i was just pointing out that Mark P in comparision with most political thinkers is in fact very polite, And I was defending him from over the top accusations of sectarianism because he disagreed with a previous comment. (And he was held of as an example of sp sectarianism.)
The other insults you spoke of I won't defend but I don't like being called a sectarian or a cult member either. And every lost strike being blamed on my sectarianism.
But I would be interested in what you think of the main point of my argument about Johns overhyping the left and its social force as compared to the working class itself.
i meant to say those who you disagree with. Incidently it's not just yourself it's a curse of the left in general.
1) On the issue of anonymity - both HS and myself use these names as a matter of course on Indymedia. Both of us also identify openly what organisation we are members of. The problem with anonymity on this site as far as I am concerned at least comes when it is abused by people to post under multiple pseudonyms or to give the impression that they are supporters of some organisation other than their own. It is not that people try to avoid building up a huge stock of articles or comments under their own full names which can then be easily googled by for instance employers.
2) I'm not going to comment further on Former Militant Member's complaints about supposed rudeness, except to note that he/she seems now to have dropped the claim that I was throwing "invective" at John and to have moved onto dragging up anything vaguely insulting anyone claiming to be connected to the Socialist Party may have said to anyone on the newswire at any time. So instead of comments about anything I said or anything anyone on this thread said we get general unrelated complaints.
3) In answer to John Reimann's question above, the Socialist Party did not approach either the WSM or the ISN for joint action during the Irish Ferries strike. These are indeed organisations I have a certain amount of respect for, which doesn't mean that our first thought when a struggle blows up is to hold meetings with organisations of a dozen or two dozen people so as to discuss a joint approach. If the strike had shown signs of becoming more prolonged it is possible however that the Socialist Party would have considered trying to launch broad support groups or something similar, perhaps of the kind which existed during the Aldi strike a few years back.
I will address John Throne's latest comments in another posting.
John, you seem to think that I'm misrepresenting your arguments by responding as if you regard "left sectarianism" as the major problem facing the Irish left. Given that your regular lengthy postings here concentrate on that issue to the point of mind-numbing tedium and to the exclusion of almost everything else, I don't think that it is at all unreasonable to infer that you regard it as the major problem facing us. Still, to avoid any further complaints of that sort, I will try to respond to precise quotations from your arguments in this posting.
One problem in doing so however is what seems to be your rather confused use of language. You bluntly deny that you are in favour of a left unity initiative stating (correctly in my view) that you "do not think that unity of the left, or a left unity initiative, is possible in Ireland at this time." Yet the bulk of your posting contains an argument that the first port of call in any struggle for the Socialist Party, and for the left in general, should be arranging meetings between the left groups to set up a "united front of struggle" on that particular issue. Thus for instance you state that you "think the SP, the SWP, or any other group or individuals with resources should have met and discussed and set up a united front initiative such as was done in the bin charges struggle". So what we would have is not a single left unity initiative covering every political issue, but an infinite series of seperate united left initiatives, covering each individual issue. This strikes me as much the same thing in content, except with the added disadvantage of massive duplication of structures.
What's more, the example you give of what should have been done in my view actually serves to weaken your argument. The Dublin City Council area anti-bin tax campaign was set up at exactly the kind of meeting you describe and it has suffered throughout its existence from an over-emphasis on the various left political groupings as the foundation for its activism in communities. I think on balance that trying to involve the likes of the SWP from the start turned out to be a mistake - they did little or no actual organising outside of two suburbs and when push came to shove they tried to undermine the kind of militant action which was necessary. To use another example, I don't think that anyone found trying to work with the SWP in the anti-war movement a positive experience.
Now say we had done what you suggest and gone to the SWP and the small groups looking to form a "united front of struggle" around the Irish Ferries dispute. Some of the small groups are frankly lunatic (Sparts, Workers Power etc) and some of the others are unlikely to want anything much to do with "united fronts of struggle". What we would have ended up with is a joint campaign with the SWP and a small number of others.
If you take a look at the material put out by the SWP and the Socialist Party before and after the strike you will see that we had very different assessments of what was needed to win the strike. Apart from arguing for the nationalisation of Irish Ferries, the Socialist Party argued for a 24 hour general strike. The SWP by contrast was arguing for an indefinite general strike, which may sound quite similar but is actually a frankly irresponsible call for the workers movement to take the most serious action it can mount short of an actual revolution. As the strike came to an end the two organisations drew diametrically opposed conclusions - the SWP that the union leaders had done a fine job and secured a victory, the Socialist Party that there had been a sell out and a major defeat. These are not positions which are compatible in a "united front" consisting at least initially chiefly of these two organisations. We would have ended up bickering, wasting time and resources and in the end amounting to less than the sum of our parts.
The Socialist Party takes a flexible approach to working in united fronts with other forces. Where we think it will strengthen our activism or strengthen the movement we are in favour of it and we do it. Where we think it will result less in greater strength and more in wasted time and effort bickering with people, watered down policies and a general dulling of a political cutting edge then we don't favour it and we don't do it. We are also careful about who exactly we enter into a united front with, the GAMA struggle being a perfect example of a united front not with the various left grouplets but with a body of striking workers.
We don't regard getting together with the SWP and the small groups as our starting point regardless of circumstances and frankly I think we would be borderline insane to take such an approach.
Mark P continues to hide his identity. There is no excuse for this. If you want to debate stand up and do so openly in your own name. If you cannnot do this then keep quiet. Nothing would keep the abuse off indymedia more than people having to identify themselves. Mark P can distort what I say and not retract it, he and others can abuse other people and suffer no consequences because they write under different names.
On the issue of abuse. I agree entirely with the correspondent who says that just because Lenin used abusive language in debate this should be emulated. Lenin was wrong in this. This created an atmosphere in which it was harder to clarify the issues. Anyway as far as I know Lenin never adopted the policy of slandering his opponents as the CWI does. I was accused of financially extorting the CWI when they expelled me.
I will make only the slightest comment on the issue of the building of a united front
of action in the Irish Ferry struggle. I believe that I have explained myself. I accept that there is left sectarianism in the SWP. This makes it hard to work with this group. But I accept also that there is left sectarianism in the SP. This causes problems in working with the SP. But the issue is this. The SP, the SWP, the other left groups and many left activists in other groups and in none represent a force. Not a major force but nevertheless a force.
So what do we say about these. I believe that we should say that our aim is to bring together these forces in struggle around a united front fighting program and around tactics of confrontation and disruption of the capitalist offensive. I believe we should strive for this in disputes such as the water charges, Gama, the Irish Ferries and so on. But I also believe that the capitalist offensive is going on every day in every area of the lives of the working class. So therefore I believe that we should seek to establish in local areas and taking up local issues such united fronts of struggle.
Every time I am back in Ireland I meet activists who are seeking more affective ways to struggle. They are disgusted by the left sectarianism that so many of them experienced either as members of or observing the left groups. These activists should be organized in united fronts of struggle in the local areas around local issues. These would not be local units of revolutionary groups. These would not have to be in agreement on everything. They would be united fronts of struggle against the capitalist offensive.
When we would meet left sectarianism in these united fronts of struggle and in the wider united fronts around more national and international issues we could identify it and discuss it in these bodies but also in local workers organizations in which we are involved. We would raise it in a non abusive manner with the groups who would be practizing it. Where we practized it ourselves we should openly state this and discuss it in a self critical way.
There is a serious problem of left sectarianism in the movement in Ireland. Let me say without any attempt to excuse myself that I contributed to this when I was the leading member of the CWI in Southern Ireland and when we thought we knew everything and that we had nothing to learn from anybody. And we thought that the day would come and that all the other groups would collapse and the working class would join us, and that we would always have total unity in our membership, and we would develop in a straight line into being the mass revolutionary party.
I am part of a small group now which I try to build. I defend its ideas and method. But I do not think we know everything. There are different opinions on some issues in our group and for that I am very pleased. Total unity in a revolutionary group is a sign of decay or a false method.
I believe that the revolutionary party of the future can only have a mass base if it can accept differences and factions in its ranks and can accept that these differences are openly published. The internal lives of the left groups, the interventions of the left in the workers movement, these have to be openly discussed and in a non abusive manner if the potential of the coming struggles of the working class is to be realized. Part of these discussions will have to involve the issue of Left Sectarianism and the damage it does to the workers movement.
It's difficult to discuss any issue with someone who doesn't respond to points made in the discussion. It's like holding a conversation with a speak your weight machine. The responses are predetermined.
I've tried to raise points about the wider political context we are operating in. The only response is a reiteration of the need for "united fronts of struggle" and complaints about "left sectarianism". I've tried to tease out what exactly John's approach would mean and how it differs from a standard call for left unity. The response is much the same. I've tried to look at the forces John is talking about forming united fronts with in more concrete terms. Again the response is the same.
Frankly John, I have better things to be doing than continuing a discussion of that sort. When you have something new to say, I'll try and offer a response. As far as your latest contribution is concerned, I think I've already dealt adequately with the points you raise and, unlike your good self, I have no intention of repeating.myself ad infinitum.
1. The left groups in Ireland have very different views that means any united front would not function. eg. SWP on Irish Ferries followed the line of supporting the trade union bureaucrats. How do you propose that SP, ISN, WSM, etc get involved with that?
2. Unfortunately left groups in Ireland are on the fringe at the moment. Even the SP with it's TD and 4 cllrs are still a tiny (but growing) group. No other left organisation comes near them in terms of public support. This is not pessimism rather it is a realistic assessment. Also no left group had members in Irish Ferries. btw CWI does support building a new workers' parties, including in Ireland when the time is right.
3. It's the right of people to remain anonymous. 'Mark P' is a consistent name used as is 'hs'. Most people know who these people are. Contributors may not wish to give their full name as many use work computers during work hours. So stop your righteous indignation.
First of all John I am not anonymous, I use my own initials and pretty much everyone in the party knows who I am and others besides. I have never tried to hide behind anything or deny any mistakes I may have made. I have also used my initials when being critical of the party. Incidently we met at the Socialist Party meeting you spoke at last year.
I am not trying to distort your views, which would be impossible anyway as all the interested reader has to do is scroll up to read for themselves. If I misrepresented them i apologise.
But I took from your contributions that you felt the most important point to be made about the strike was the lack of an initive or a united front that was going to win over the workers and lead them to victory. I took this to be incredibly utopian and completely out of touch. Especially as their is, as far as I know, no shop stewarts or activists from any of the parties in Irish Ferries. At best we would be making a call, whether the workers in Irish Ferries would notice would be a whole other story. You also said it was a disgrace and implied it had serious implications towards the strike. This also I believe was nonsense. As I said before of if we had hundreds of comrades working in Irish ferries refusing to struggle with other activists or unionists that would be the case, and something we would never do. Not having an agreed program on every strike isn't the same thing.
Again if i misrepesent you please feel free to correct me
As far as I can see you see "left sectarianism" as the most important factor from the dispute, as you have written of little else. It also dovetails nicely into you current political thinking, which I suspect may even have something to do with it. (even subconciously)
For the points I made under "unity" please scroll up to see, you haven't replied to a single point I have made. In fact while accusing the left parties here of believing we have all the answers, you yourself refuse to engage with most of the comrades points. You repeatly tell us (over months now) the answer to pretty much everything is a left united front, (permanent possibly.) But as of yet you are not responding to any of the critisims of the idea, apart from saying people not agreeing is a sympton of left sectarianism. And many of us have made very valid points. Until you address some of these points without reverting to the single argument you will not convince anyone, if anything you'll alienate them.
Your only answer to me so far is I am anonymous and I distort your views, but you haven't even attempted to answer clear and serious problems that i believe exist in trying to unite the left.
I woiuld love to see more unity especially with some of the newer groups and ex comrades around the city, but the problems I speak of are still there. The SWP whether we like it or not, are one of the largerest groups and are quite difficult to work with. This can't be ignored. I believe as most of your converstaions are with left activists you may have a distorted view to what is going on, I suggest you speak with people outside the movement as well on your next visit to get a feel for whats being said outside the activist left movement.
"Mark P continues to hide his identity. There is no excuse for this"
yes there is and he has given it to you. Even Lenin and Trotsky used pseudynoms... errr those werent their real names.
i'm only just back on line after a 9 nine day abscence in west cork dodging zombies, cannibals, homicadal hillbillies and eoghan harris, so i havent got a chance to really take in this debate. will make a more detailed comment later but the attack on john reimann was puerile, it may not have even been by an sp member.
i've given my own views on the irish ferries outcome on other threads including a reply to workers power under other press.
What was the pseudynom you used in the USA?
I believe there was also one you used on a trip the Sri Lanka.
Go on let us in on the secrets - how many pseudynoms have you actually used?
On my comment about John Reimann...
Every time an issue comes up on indymedia relating to the SP/CWI John Throne weighs in with a tirade about the sectarianism of the SP. When members of the SP invariably come on and defend their organisation from an individual expelled from our sister organisation in the USA Throne goes on and is inevitably backed up by John Reimann (another expelled member). If you two guys have nothing better to be doing with your time that the type of nonsense posted here, expect some SP members to get a little fed up of listening to a 10 year old political battle that should be dead and buried. In my experience, and I know John Reimann (and no I'm not Steven Boyd), he has yet to demonstrate and independent political thought and does little more than come in and back up John Throne in his attacks on the CWI. If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen, or even better find some other place for this stuff so we don't have to waste our time with it (as Dermot Connolly once said in reference to you 'you can't do proper political analysis just by reading the Irish Times').
the attempt by some users of this site to set their own regulations regarding anonymity shows the weakness of their argument. Thems the rules, this is not where they are discussed and using them as part of a response to someone you are engaging with anyway is a cop-out. If someone has an issue with anonymity they should contact the editorial list
Your argument on structures makes sense, Mark, and I would also add the amount of energy that would be diverted into navel gazing and dealing with egos and committee membership. In terms of political activity I think the worst use of anybodys time would have been setting up an all-Dublin action committee or something. I would be interested in your asessment of the TU movement - I think the balance of forces at the congress executive meeting was shifting? In a new Gama or Irish Ferries, how do you think the unions will react? Did any of your papers do an analysis?
As to other forces or moves for left unity, there is little point in considering it in terms of SP/SWP/ISN/CIL or a platform with GG or a PBP slate. Could I suggest the independent media created in 2005 gives a better feel for the social forces at play in our republic than the acronym soup. Cos any name is just a list of letters and doesn't mean all that much without the stories behind them. This place is for the stories of the struggles that affect our republic, so it should be used that way. If you want a debate, get a room and meet face to face. If you want to waste your life create a committee. Then we could all post here with our titles and wave our membership rolls at each other.
What d'ya reckon Ja_me_s Co_nn_olly* is remembered for, 'Labour in Irish History' and the citizen army or the 30 years of committee fighting he engaged in, in more swirling acronyms.
*Note the way Spailpins name is printed to give his true identity without alerting google.
I think we are in agreement, seedot, about the diversion of resources which running to get the left groups to set up a joint "All-Dublin Committee on Issue X" would involve. It's the kind of idea which appeals to people who mainly see political action through the prism of small left groups and their relationships to one another. In practice it's a bad use of scarce resources unless there is very substantial agreement about the goals and methods of the campaign.
On the Trade Union movement, my basic view is that it is like a sick elephant. It's huge and enormously powerful but partnership deals in particular have sapped it of its vigour. We now have a trade union bureaucracy which is so opposed to any form of actual struggle that they have come to view the unions primarily as "service providers" to their members, selling them insurance rather than fighting in their interests.
From this I take a sceptical view about the likelihood of left currents of any strength emerging from within the trade union leaderships, even when issues arise which seem to challenge the entire role of the unions. These people have spent their entire careers as apparatchiks in a movement committed to partnership. They have risen to the top on the basis of their continued support for partnership and even if they are forced out of actual national partnership deals from below the partnership mentality will remain. Irish Ferries is a perfect example, the bureaucrats were forced them to make some noise, but all the time they were looking for the first remotely face-saving deal they could find. I think unfortunately that any changes emerging from within the bureaucracy will be mostly cosmetic.
That said, it can't be ruled out that sheer self-preservation instinct will force some bureaucrats to adopt a stance which if it isn't exactly "fighting" is at least closer to something previous generations would recognise as trade unionism. In those circumstances, such people may be more susceptible to rank and file pressure. I'm not sure about the changes at the most recent Congress meeting you mentioned, and would be interested in hearing your views.
I find you one of the most boring posters on this site. Only Davy Carlin comes close to your egotistical shite. I have never managed to actually finish a post of yours- usually a long monotonous rant. The little I have managed to struggle through is always the same…..left unity is the answer to all.
This is the same shite that you came up with during the Bin Tax campaign. You simply don’t understand the insignificance of the left in Ireland. Whether they all joined together holding hands - anarchists, trots, tankies, ex-tankies- wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to either the Irish Ferries dispute or the Bin Tax dispute. The left have little or no support in Ireland. What support the left should have goes to Sinn Fein because there is no visible alternative. The likes of the ISN and Joan Collins appear to be attempting to address this but we will have to wait and see.
“The SP, the SWP, other left groups have some serious and respected activists in their ranks”. No, John, activists respected by ordinary working class people are few and far between on the left. The SWP are just a recruiting front for rebellious students until the go off to begin their careers. They are not trusted by any of the other left groups or activists. They have never made a positive contribution to any working class struggle. The SP are looked on as a cult led by individuals by most other left groups and activists. To be fair to them, they are making inroads into some working class areas and the best of luck to them but don’t overestimate their potential. Believe it or not, the working class don’t need self appointed leaders, they are more than capable of managing themselves.
The rest of the smaller left groups do contain some genuine activists but are currently too small to have any significance. The potential is there but involves a huge amount of work and I doubt if the majority of them have the stomach for it.
John, a taste of the real world would do you good now and again, get off the computer and head for the barricades!!!
PS. Welcome back workers power, just what the working class need - another bunch of fucking trot loons!!!!!!!!
A correction to a previous error in a WP article, stating that the CWI acted as a "left cover" for the union bureaucracy in the Irish Ferries conflict is now posted to the WP blog. See attached URL.
what a great image.
I think trade unionism is entering the most decisive generation since it was founded. given the weak densities and the demographics (weaker still in youth, urban and above all private sectors) if the elephant doesn't turn around it is going to stumble off to the graveyard of dead movements. The loss of the secondary strike and the removal of national agreements to the realm of the beauraucrat mean that sectional interests reign supreme in what is left of the movement.
I think this realisation is there to an extent amongst the leadership but see no chance that any turn or effective new direction will come from there - the weight of history and the financial responsibilities to all their policy holders is too much. They may though be willing to let the elephant turn where it wants since any new direction will be away from the graveyard for a bit.
The Tuesday before the Irish ferries day of action the congress executive met. The NIB had already published the outline of the deal that everybody knew would be made. The company had started to swing the battle by using the redundancy payment to open gaps between the unions and between the officals and members. There was a feeling that something had been unleashed and no-one was sure where it was going - a strong march meant the deal would be castigated as too little, a weak march would have called the movements bluff. But the executive decided to give the elephant it's head and see where it took them despite what seemed a no win position (I don't believe it was a pre-partnership negotiating stance - if anything it made the partnership negotiations that matter - between unions and their members - harder).
The IWU seems to have a sort of post apocalyptic view of the movement - the elephant is dead lets cut off the tusks and leave the rest behind - start again. Almost like a vanguard group that left a mass party ;-). I don't know if this is the correct approach - I do believe there are more possibilities within trade unionism today than five years ago.
I also think the work the SP did in orientating the movement towards the new sections of exploited workers through Gama should not be underestimated in its impact over the next few years. Whatever - anybody who looks at the Irish Ferries dispute and thinks the few hundred left wing activists who would attend something in the Teachers club are where attention should be focussed is missing the point.
While by no means the worst practitioners, I don't see a lot of point in the couple of paras about the swp in your statement above (they didn't exactly play a role on a par with SIPTU / ICTU / NIB) but sure I suppose you have to get one in for the troops. Unfortunately, it makes it sound as if only those swappies were nicer you'd be straight into the all-dublin irish ferries support group committee instead of traipsing around building sites having to organise ;-). Way too cold and hard that agitation stuff - lets get some plotting in.
I'm off to bed now, so I'll just comment on the last three paragraphs of your post, each of which I think makes a useful point:
"The IWU seems to have a sort of post apocalyptic view of the movement - the elephant is dead lets cut off the tusks and leave the rest behind - start again. Almost like a vanguard group that left a mass party ;-). I don't know if this is the correct approach - I do believe there are more possibilities within trade unionism today than five years ago."
This description of the parallels between the Indepedent Workers Union's attitude towards the existing trade union movement and the Socialist Party's attitude towards the Labour Party is right on the money I think. In both cases groups of people who were involved in mainstream labour movement organisations started to assess real and prolonged changes in those organisations. And the changes are linked - the uninterrupted two decade shift to the right by the Labour Party has much the same underlying causes as the increasing bureaucratisation and inertia of the unions. What's more it's not a phenomenon limited to Ireland. There has been an international crisis of the labour movement organisations, with organisations disappearing, falling apart or moving so far to the right that they have ceased to be recognisable as workers organisations.
I don't have time to go into the underlying causes at work but briefly I think some of the factors I mentioned to John Throne above are important - the collapse of Stalinism and a general capitalist offensive against the unions and the working class gains of the post war boom.
When the Socialist Party and its sister organisations were trying to work out what exactly had happened - remembering that we had expected the labour movement to move to get stronger and shift leftwards rather than the opposite - one of the issues raised was the degree to which the unions had followed the Social Democratic parties away from being organisations capable of reflecting or waging working class struggles. We came to the conclusion that while the Labour Parties were reinventing themselves as capitalist parties that there was still life in the union movement despite the setbacks. And I think that what has happened since in most countries indicates that that is still the case. Even here, with the debilitating effects of partnership, the industrial struggles we've seen have still mostly been fought through the mainstream trade union movement.
So I disagree with the assumption which seems to underly much of what the IWU are doing, the assumption that its time as you describe it to cut the tusks off and start again. I think the fight is still to transform or reclaim the existing unions. But I wish the IWU well and hope in particular that by organising sectors of workers currently ignored by the main unions that they will embarrass their leaderships and spur those unions into action.
The second point:
"I also think the work the SP did in orientating the movement towards the new sections of exploited workers through Gama should not be underestimated in its impact over the next few years."
Yep. I think that the GAMA dispute has had some very important consequences. It showed the labour movement that militant action can get results. It showed that workers can fight and win even when the union leaderships are reluctant. Most importantly it allowed the left to frame the debate over immigration in terms of the exploitation of immigrant workers and the need for unionisation, rather than in the reactionary "coming over here taking our jobs" terms which I think sections of the media and the political establishment would have preferred. This, in my view, had a huge impact on the way in which the Irish Ferries dispute was handled and portrayed.
We are lucky that the disputes didn't happen the other way around though - if it wasn't for the persistence of a small number of Socialist Party activists the GAMA issue might never have come to light - and we will have to fight to keep the issue framed in those terms. Central to that will have to be active unionisation of migrants and for that to happen migrants and Irish workers alike have to see that there is a benefit to joining a union, that the unions will actually fight in their interests.
The third point:
"While by no means the worst practitioners, I don't see a lot of point in the couple of paras about the swp in your statement above (they didn't exactly play a role on a par with SIPTU / ICTU / NIB) but sure I suppose you have to get one in for the troops."
I sort of agree with that. The overall analysis of the piece is very sharp and clearly argued, dealing with major issues. Then it takes a two paragraph detour to have a pop at the SWP. Don't get me wrong, I think that the SWP's line on the deal is positively crazed but I also don't think their opinion matters enough to raise in an article like that.
QUOTE: "anarchists, trots, tankies, ex-tankies"
I've never heard that expression before and would be grateful if someone could tell me what it means.
as the various CPs became Euro Communist (never happened to the Irish or Greek CPs) those who adhered to the old line became known as tankies ie - they supported sending in the Soviet tanks to Czechosovakia and other countries to maintain "Socialism".
This is an extract from an article on Tankies from Workers Liberty. The site is down at present so the link is to a google cached version.
"The Tankies' Tankies/ 1
Submitted on 12 April, 2004 - 20:50. Afghanistan | Defence of October Revolution
The first issue of The Leninist, in 1981, staked out its political ground on the Afghan question in an article called The Paradox of Afghanistan by James Marshall (who is the same person as Jack Conrad).
This is a précis of Emine Engins book The Revolution in Afghanistan, with a little John-Jackism here and there (most notably, he does not criticise Amin for softness towards Islam, as Engin does ). In the article the typical. all-pervasive characteristics of Karaoke Jack are already rampant.
He works by extrapolating from abstractions and from designated values and arbitrary attributions that do not exist in reality. He makes ropey and even ridiculous analogies Khalq as the Bolshevik party of Afghanistan! and then he reasons from the analogy, rather than from the actuality.
Neither in instinct nor thought has he much in common with authentic communism, working-class democracy or Marxism.
To appreciate what follows, it should be kept in mind that he writes when refugees are already numbered in the millions. The dead who will be perhaps one and a half million before the Russians are driven out number tens, and, maybe, hundreds of thousands. He is commenting through his fantasists spectacles on a Russian war of conquest in which the Russians are doing the same as the Americans did in Indochina, the French did during the terrible Algerian war of independence, and the Nazis did during the Second World War in Poland and Russia."
Full article at link.
This thread was getting a bit nasty there. Miss piggy and her s.... accusation. By the way MissPiggy I do not consider it my job to keep you from being bored.
On the union work and perspectives for the unions. There are different situations in different countries. However there is also an overall process at work. The union bureaucracy moves more and more into cooperation with the bourgeois and the bourgeois state. This is taking place against the background of the powerful capitalist offensive internationally which Bush says is to take away all that has been gained by the working class in the past 100 years.
In the US the union leaders openly speak of selling their product by which they mean their member's labor power. The union leaders ride in Airforce 1 with Bush. The union bureaucracy and movement has split in two and are competing with each other as to which can sell their member's labor cheapest. They openly argue that the unions will only survive if their members work for less than non union labor and less than immigrant labor. Along this road lies the total destruction of the unions. Why would anybody stay in a union if they work for less than non union.
I believe that in relation to the perspectives for the unions we have to ask ourselves what will turn this process around. And not only that but when might it be turned around. If this process is not turned around for a prolonged period then the union membership can collapse to practically nothing. This would leave a vacuum in which major new unions can develop. This in my opinion cannot be ruled out.
Look at the role of the union leaders. In St Paul MN recently there was a sit down in a meat packing plant. It was a non union plant and the sit down was organized by a group of workers who had come together outside the plant in a struggle over immigration issues. They led this struggle and got the line speed slowed and some control over the line speed. This had been the main issue and they won.
The question is this. If this plant had been organized would this struggle have taken place in the form it did and would it have won. It is extremely unlikely that it would as the bureaucracy would have stiffled it. So non union workers experienced in organizing on another issue outside the plant were able to organize in the plant and win on an issue there. This is one of the reasons I believe that when workers get together to fight on issues such as the bin charges, the water charges, etc., then they should try to keep together in fighting action committees to take up the issues of the workplaces etc.
In 1934 in the US the situation in the workplaces and the unions was turned around by the three general strikes and mass struggles of Minneapolis. Toledo, and San Francisco. These were all led by revolutionary and left groups which were at the center of united fronts of the most conscious and active workers. Fighting action committees which had been built by direct action defensive struggles in the years of 1929 to 1933. . The victories won by these general strikes split the AFL union bureaucracy as the Miners leadership saw that if they did not organize the workers the left would. Lewis and the mineworkers formed the CIO, took the left activists into their ranks and led the great battles in auto, rubber, steel etc which transformed the workers movement.
I think there is a few things to note here. The forces that led the victories of 1934 and opened the door to the offensive of US labor and the CIO were brought together in the terrible period of defeats and inactivity of 1929 to 1933 by the setting up of housing action committees, unemployed action committees etc, and at the center of these were the SP and the CP and the Trotskyists and other left groups. I would like to ask people on this list who dismiss the idea of united front work through fighting action committees to deal with this development in US workers history. And 1929 in the US was a period where the objective situation was very very difficult.
In relation to this period as far as the the unions today are concerned it is interesting to note that while the CIO was the fighting force that changed the union movement the AFL actually grew by much more in the ten years from 1934 to 1944. We should not write off the existing unions yet. My feeling is that the unions will decline much further than they are at the moment but that union activists who are in the existing unions should still work in the existing unions and build oppositions there because I believe that these unions still have traditions and resources and will most likely experience splits and struggles as a new movement of the working class will evoke new massive opposition movements within them in the future. On this basis I think they will be forced to move into a more combative stance to the bosses and in this way they will begin to grow again.
But also I believe that different from the past we have to be much more open to build independent unions, new unions where the workers involved seek to take this direction and where to go into the existing unions would crush the life out of a new emerging union force. Such new union forces can adopt a united front approach to the existing unions. I am not sure if I would have advocated that the St Paul workers would join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union which they did. I think the life is being squeezed out of them. It is possible they would have been better to remain as a local independent union or try and link up with a group such as the IWW. If a union such as the IWU existed here I would have definitely been in favor of them joing the IWU rather than the UFCW.
I would like to ask those who are so dismissive of my position of trying to build fighting united front action committees to answer this question. Is it in the interest of the working class that the left groups and the many left activists remain divided from each other as opposed to trying to seek united fronts of struggle, fighting action committees? Please explain to me how this in the interest of the working class. If you think it is in the interest of the working class please explain why. If not please say what you think is a strategy for trying to change the situation.
In the recent Presidential elections in France three left groups ran their own independent candidate. The run off election was between Le Pen the extreme racist and bourgeois candidate and Chirac the racist and bourgeois candidate. It is very very possible looking at the votes, that with the increased impetus that would have been won with one united candidate of the left , that a united left candidate could have defeated Le Pen and got into the final run off with Chirac. This would have convulsed French politics and then it would have been followed with the NON vote and the explosions in the neighborhoods. Instead.... Left Sectarianism.
I have never been able to get a discussion on this on indymedia or with left groups. The reason I believe is that the left groups know that they would have done the same thing themselves, that is run their own candidate. That they would have refused to come together behind one left candidate instead they they would have maintained their left sectarian position.
Just a detail on the issue of anonymous postings. Everybody knows the difference between Lenin and Trotsky using false names, or people where they are in danger of being acted against by the state using false names, and people using false names on this indymedia. Please. Are people here saying they are Lenins and Trotskys or in danger of repression by the state like the Bolsheviks. If not why do they not debate under there own name.
It is indisputable that debating under our own name would help the debate. It would allow every contribution to be taken in the context of the work of the individual or the group. In this way it would be more clearly understood. It would also reduce the abuse and filth that at times gets thrown around.
i think the miss piggy and the spwatch type stuff is gradually getting ignored away and would not see that type of bile as evidence of left sectarianism - rather a lack of etiquette amongst some of the young ;-) If you read this thread ignoring the flamebait you see a fairly open, fraternal discussion of an SP statement by members of the SP, ex-members and a few others. Part of the debate is about whether, during the irish ferries dispute, a united front approach would have served any purpose. This is not merely a rejection of any lesson from any incident or persons viewpoint - rather an attempt to figure out how best to spend our energies if another irish ferries type dispute (which is fairly certain) arises.
I think this struggle should be primarily industrial and am worried about the state of the irish labour movement in taking this on - thus my strained elephant analogy above. I think any attempt to seek political gain or organise primarily politically on this issue will be at best pointless, and at worst a negative diversion of energies and attention from where it is needed. Whether the tusks of the heritage and ideals of the trades union movement should now be removed from the corpse of the movement and used to start again, a la IWU, or whether we can work within our existing unions is a key issue. But if you believe in those ideals and in the power of workers organising collectively in their place of work surely you can see that it is through industrial activity that Eamonn Rothwell and all the rest will be faced down. Whether Mark and hs and davy and former militant and yourself have this discussion online or in a committee room is not, imo, a real issue at all.
As to real names - don't believe that you know or understand everybody who posts here. Leaders are just brands we get sold and the jockeying to create the brand of me that marks much of hierarchical political activity implies that only those up to no good in this game would obscure their identity. I don't know who obscured their name 100 years ago, or why, or whether it was right or not. I reckon they did it because somebody ,other than their competing comrades, thought they were up to no good.
I do know that open, free, collective media is a revolutionary development today, that it creates a multitude who are building an alternative hegemony and that they often choose to be masked. Sometimes this is a symbol, sometimes a pose, sometimes just basic practicality in an era of profiling by credit agencies, employers, recruiters, clients on top of the state that people dealt with a hundred years ago.
Masks are donned for revolutionary acts - you profess to be a revolutionary and have chosen to use the tools of a movement that supports the right to and tries to facilitate anonymity, while attempting to revolutionise our media. But you say everybody wearing a mask here is wrong?
Maybe some of them, in somebodys eyes, are up to no good, and long may it remain so ;-)
I know in the Italian situation , the smaller split unions, generally called unions of the base, do act as a catylast to push the major unions into action. I remember one case where the three large unions canceled a demonstration after an 11th hour deal, the small unions went ahead it. It was massively successful and forced the larger unions back to the table.
Even a relatively small IWU could push the larger ones along.
Incidently I never really pictured the union leaders pushing for a new party, they're perfectly happy with their man in power (bertie), but in the future after more struggles it's possible a small layer of union members or shop stewarts could push for something.
Although as John points out it's probably gonna get alot worse before it gets better, as unions don't fight nobody see's much of a reason to join them. And without new members...
One last point for John, your example of the French presidental elections is completely off the point. But you're completely right it would be crazy for the swp and sp to stand against each other in elections, but then for the last few elections we haven't not even in council elections. So thats some progress for you.
"Even a relatively small IWU could push the larger ones along."
surely the iwu is compromised as long as it is associated with the sui. the sui stabbed the siptu strikers in the back. it wasnt siptu or ictu burocrats who sent letters of support to irish ferries management, it was the sui.
unless the iwu breaks with the sui it will have a serious credibility problem. one that no doubt will be exploited by the TU burocrats.
I'm not familiar with the sui or the situation with them and irish ferries, any links?
other than the shared use of the building on Amiens st., what other links are there Pat?
hs - sui is the semans union of ireland - who organised the rest of the IF workers with SIPTU - any news on the last week of the dispute outlines their role.
those links are enough. the sui own the building.
the sui is whats best described as a yellow union, one that will stab other workers in the back and toadyto management. as long as the iwu shares the rsources of the sui then it will have no credibility.
heres some links to comments i made:
(plus additional comments on this thread.)
cheers i'll have a read later. None of those unions of the base I mentioned earlier are perfect either, although this seems pretty bad.