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elections / politics |
Thursday December 04, 2008 21:39 by Michael Murphy - Socialist Party
Proposals by the Socialist Party for a Local Election Socialist Alliance have been rejected by the Socialist Workers Party, People Before Profit Alliance and the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group
The Socialist Party regrets that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) and the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group (STWUAG) have rejected the very positive proposal from us for a Local Election Socialist Alliance.
The proposal from the Socialist Party was a contribution to a series of meetings on the issue of left unity involving various left groups initiated by the Irish Socialist Network in July of this year.
The Socialist Party then initiated a separate but parallel process with the SWP, PBPA and STWUAG, as the groups with the most significant base and numbers on the left and those who would form the majority of any electoral alliance. We did this in order to allow fuller discussion to see if agreement on key issues was possible. Agreement between these groups would be essential to the viability of any electoral alliance. If agreement could be reached we could further discuss with all other groups who are interested.
The Socialist Party took several positive initiatives in writing proposals to provoke discussion and move towards agreement for the local elections. Our latest proposal incorporates our earlier proposals and can be seen below.
The SWP, PBPA and STWUAG rejected our proposals for credible candidates and our argument to, at this stage limit the alliance to an electoral platform. We proposed an approach to an electoral alliance that could result in approximately 30 candidates which in our view would represent a significant number. We argued strongly but reasonably that there must be serious commitment to important political positions by candidates but also there must be a serious basis to someone’s candidature based on their record in their community of campaigning on issues. This was designed to cut across people seeking to opportunistically use the electoral alliance.
The other groups involved were not prepared to accept this and are in reality arguing for a broader slate of candidates where record is not crucial and concessions on political agreement will be made. The Socialist Party was extremely fearful of a loose political agreement with candidates which would repeat the Respect experience in Britain where a number of Respect councillors defected to New Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party clearly illustrating the very weak political position of these councillors. We want genuine left candidates who are opposed to the market and capitalism and who would argue for and are committed to building a new party of the working class that fights for socialism. Our proposals were an attempt to avoid a repeat of these mistakes.
We felt it was necessary to have full consensus between groups on the issue of candidates. This would be a democratic process with full discussion to reach agreement about candidates, where there could be an amount of give and take but we were not prepared to allow what has happened in other campaigns, where, based on a numerical majority the SWP have forced through decisions for their own interests.
The Socialist Party put a lot of time and effort into this process and is disappointed at the rejection of our proposals by the other groups. The Socialist Party is always open to working in campaigns with other groups and forces and this will continue.
We would encourage groups and individuals on the left to get involved in the European Election campaign of Joe Higgins. If you are interested in this campaign contact the Socialist Party at (01) 6772592, firstname.lastname@example.org
Socialist Party proposals for Local Election Socialist Alliance
The Socialist Party has been engaged in discussions over the last few months with a number of left groups including the Socialist Workers Party/People before Profit Alliance, the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action group and others with a view to establishing a slate of candidates for the local election due in June 2009.
Changing political situation
The economic and resulting political crisis in Ireland has had a profound impact on the lives of ordinary people. The budget cuts, in particular the attempted removal of the over 70’s medical cards and the attacks on education are seen by people, as harsh attacks on the some of the most vulnerable sections of Irish society to make them pay for an economic crisis caused by bankers, speculators and facilitated by the banks and the Flanna Fail led government.
The movement by the pensioners which forced the government into a significant retreat has inspired many workers around the country. The movement by students on third level fees and the mass demonstrations by teachers, parents and school students is the music of the future. The economic crisis will continue to worsen and it is clearly the intention of the government to continue to make workers pay. There is the strong possibility of a second budget in the spring of 2009 where more attacks on public services and workers living standards can be expected.
The local elections next year will be an important test for this government and, given the recent opinion poll figures reflecting the massive anger at the economic crisis it is likely they will take a hammering. Labour and Fine Gael, in this context, while offering no solution to these problems, are likely to make gains partly because they have a base, they have been in opposition for so long and are the most obvious force to defeat the government but also because there is no strong left alternative on a national basis. Labour has adopted a left posture on issues recently including voting against the bank bail-out in an opportunist attempt to gain electoral support.
Local Elections 2009
Left groups can potentially do well in the local elections next year and in some areas could provide a fighting socialist alternative to the establishment parties including the so called opposition.
The continued move to the right of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein has meant that there is no real left alternative on a national basis to the main right wing establishment parties. There is a gaping need and role for a new left party to represent working class people. The Socialist Party has consistently argued for such a party not just in Ireland but internationally and our sister organisations in the Committee for a Workers International have participated in a number of initiatives in countries such as Brazil, Scotland, Germany and Greece with other forces to launch such initiatives.
We believe that the involvement of a substantial number of activists in communities, workplaces and the unions is critical to the establishment of such a party. These activists in our view will emerge from the struggles of the working class that are arising and will continue to arise from the current economic crisis. However these forces don’t exist in sufficient numbers in Ireland at the present time and bringing the relatively small existing forces of the left together would not constitute a significant step forward as this stage.
Timing is a very important factor in establishing any new formation. There have been several examples of premature initiatives in Europe that have collapsed because of the absence of significant numbers of workers.
We are in favour of left co-operation on specific issues and campaigns as long as it is done on an open, genuine and democratic basis, which is why we have made this proposal for a slate of left candidates for the local elections.
In our opinion there doesn’t at this moment exist a sufficient number of strong candidates or mood to raise the prospect of a broader slate of candidates of a generally left position fighting around particular issues such as existed around the Taxation Justice Alliance in 1997 or the bin tax in 2004.
In view of this situation, we believe that a specifically “left” slate of candidates is a more appropriate prospect. It could pose a real political alternative and point a way forward for how the working class can get organised. Any slate involving the participation of the Socialist Party would have to be made up of credible candidates. We are opposed to inviting anyone and everyone on to a slate just to add as many candidates as possible. The significance of a slate will not be based on the number of candidates who stand but what it represents and the results it receives. In our view a slate would also be a testing ground of the potential for the formation of a new party or left alliance to represent working class people.
Candidates with a record and credibility
We believe if there is going to be a slate of left candidates; it is important that some political criteria apply to ensure that any left or socialist slate is made up of genuinely left forces that are committed to building a socialist alternative. The disaster of the Respect coalition in Britain is illustrative of what can happen when a politically loose arrangement is agreed. The defection of a number of Respect councillors to New Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party illustrates the very weak political position of these councillors. We want genuine left candidates who are opposed to the market and capitalism and who would argue for and are committed to building a new party of the working class that fights for socialism.
We also believe that opposition to coalition at local or national level with right wing parties – including voting for Mayoral candidates from the right wing parties needs to be a pre-condition to any candidate participation.
Any slate of candidates should be opposed to double taxation service charges including water, bin, recycling and sewerage charges. There are some who may be considered to be on the left who have voted for charges in the past or are at best ambiguous on the issue and may be in favour of such charges on “environmental” grounds.
In our opinion the credibility of candidates is critical. Political agreement on issues is important but it is not sufficient for someone to simply sign up to a set of demands if their previous political history has been counter to some of those demands for example on coalition or doing deals with right wing parties at local or national level. We need to learn the lessons of experiences such as Respect and not repeat those mistakes.
The movement of pensioners recently showed how struggle by people is the critical way to win gains for working people. If people are serious about representing working class people and fighting on the issues then standing in elections should flow from being involved in campaigns and struggles alongside people. Obviously occasions arise where important issues can blow up in a matter of days or weeks, people get organised and decide to stand in an election to highlight their issues. We have seen this on some occasions with health and other campaigns. If this were to arise we would adopt a flexible approach but that is entirely different to a particular group putting forward people who have no record or history behind them to be part of slate with people who have been campaigning for years on important issues in areas. We do think that it may be possible to have a slate of up to 30 credible candidates which in our view would be a significant number. While the change in the political situation and the impact of the financial crisis can have a positive affect on the votes of left candidates in the local election campaign this is not automatic. It is still the case that the work done on the ground by candidates will be decisive.
If there is a slate it could be launched publicly in early 2009 at a press event launching the candidates. There could be then a series of local launches in areas where candidates are based with the possibility of a small number of public meetings involving some of the more “high profile” candidates or existing councillors. However the key goal is to try and make the alliance a success by ensuring as many of the candidates get elected as possible. This will involve a lot of hard work in the local areas on campaigns and issues. The success or failure of the slate will be judged on its successes in the election and that cannot be taken for granted.
We have proposed that there should be a democratic structure elected to oversee a slate. All groups should be entitled to put forward representatives to this structure; the number of reps for each can be discussed. This structure should take decisions on such matters as the political programme of the slate, who would be selected as candidates, as well as the number of candidates.
We believe that there needs to be trust on these issues but there have been problems in the past regarding alliances and election slates. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in particular has an inglorious history of playing a destructive role in campaigns and initiatives in which they have been involved. They have used their force of numbers to try push through their proposals in an undemocratic way in many campaigns and initiatives which has alienated many genuine people. Our sister organisation in Britain were left with no option but to leave the Socialist Alliance in Britain, an alliance they initiated. The SWP used their greater force of numbers to vote down proposals from us for a democratic and federal structure for the alliance. These proposals were deliberately designed to prevent the domination of the alliance of any one political group. Under the stewardship of the SWP the Socialist Alliance then disintegrated.
In 2004 there was an attempt to stand candidates as part of an anti bin tax slate for the local elections in Dublin proposed by the Socialist Party. The SWP insisted on putting a number of people on the slate who had not built a campaign in their area and had no place on a slate alongside people who had been to prison on the issue and had slogged over years building a campaign and in particular played crucial role in extending campaign during its high point in September/October 2004. The Socialist Party proposal would have resulted in a slate of people who had played an important role in that struggle and it would have amounted to a slate of about 20 candidates. The Socialist Party would not give in to the demands of the SWP and the slate did not go ahead because of the intransigence of the SWP and some of their supporters on the left.
We have also seen recently where the SWP attempted to set up a campaign against the social partnership deal. They organised a conference in Dublin supposedly to discuss the establishment of a trade union rank and file network and didn’t invite the Socialist Party, individual members of the Socialist Party or many other prominent activists who have important positions in the trade union movement. Then at the event, which was inevitably dominated by the SWP, they initiated a campaign against the social partnership deal, which was undemocratic and served to consciously exclude genuine activists. A genuine approach to discuss the agenda, speakers or even building a campaign against the partnership deal would seek to include as many left activists in the trades union movement irrespective of party affiliation.
It is for these reasons among others that the issue of trust is so important for the Socialist Party. To that end we believe a democratic structure such as this is not only necessary but critical. We believe all major decisions taken must be on the basis of serious and thorough discussion and unanimous agreement at a structure particularly by the groups representing the majority of candidates on the slate.
The Socialist Party believes the left slate should have an independent new name. Clearly Socialist Party candidates will carry our name but would carry the slate name on material and dealings with the media etc. We would be opposed to the use of any name that is linked with any particular political grouping or party. As befitting a new slate for upcoming elections, it should be launched anew and fresh. We believe at this stage something like “Local Election Socialist Alliance” could be considered.
European Elections 2009
Joe Higgins will once again be the Socialist Party candidate in the Dublin constituency for the European election in June 2009. Joe Higgins stood in 1999 and 2004 when he received a very credible 23,000 votes (5.5%). While Joe Higgins played a crucial role in the recent No campaign in the Lisbon referendum which strengthens his candidacy for the euro elections it was our intention to stand Joe Higgins irrespective of the Lisbon campaign and result. Joe Higgins is the most credible left wing candidate for the euro election and all groups on the left in Dublin have benefited from the work of Joe Higgins in the Dail.
Joe Higgins is clearly seen as a tremendous fighter for working people having spent ten years in the Dail as a workers TD for Dublin West. The SWP raised that they may stand a candidate in effect against the Socialist Party in Dublin. We think this would be a mistake and would be an opportunist move for short term gain and is not in the interest of serious representation for working people. The Dublin constituency has been reduced to three seats in a recent electoral review which means there will be fierce competition for votes on the left with Labour and Sinn Fein also competing. Rather than strengthening the radical left vote the decision of the SWP to stand would split the left vote. We think too that many people looking on this would think it rather foolish that candidates stand together on a local slate would then stand against each other in the European elections!
We would welcome the participation of groups and individuals who want to play a role in Joe Higgins election campaign and who would assist with giving out leaflets, assist with canvassing, organising meetings or fundraising. Local campaigns, for example on health issues, could also find it very helpful to have their issues highlighted through the European Election campaign of Joe Higgins.
The Socialist Party believes if a local election slate was pulled together made up of serious forces and resulted in getting a number of people elected to councils around the country it would potentially represent a step forward for left wing representation and working class people in this country particularly in light of the developing economic crisis and the impact it is having and will continue to have on workers’ consciousness. However the economic and political crisis gripping Ireland will result in massive increase in working class struggle against the attacks of the Fianna Fail/Green government and will pose the need for new political representation for working class people. The Socialist Party with others will play a key role in that process. But crucially it will be from the participation of new forces of young people and workers entering into struggle which will be critical in bringing about a new party for working class people.