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Launch of United Left Alliance -- is this the way forward?

category national | anti-capitalism | opinion/analysis author Sunday December 05, 2010 13:55author by Diarmuid Breatnach - personal capacity Report this post to the editors

The United Left Alliance was launched during the week on a socialist programme and planning to stand in the forthcoming elections. The meeting was well attended and addressed by speakers from People Before Profit, the Socialist Party and Unemployed & Workers' Action Group. The mood was upbeat and even euphoric. However, their charter does not mention imperialism and there were some prominent absences among their sponsors, including éirigí and Workers' Solidarity Movement. There was hardly a mention of work-place organisation and this essential work is not being focussed on by either the ULA or the 1% Network.

Despite snow, icy footpaths and some transport difficulties the United Left Alliance got a good attendance at its launch meeting in the Gresham Hotel on Monday (29th November). Approximately 350 gathered to hear speakers Richard Boyd Barrett (People Before Profit Alliance & Socialist Workers’ Party), Cnclr. Seamus Healy (South Tipperary Workers’ and Unemployed Action Group), Cian Prendiville (Socialist Party), Cnclr. Joan Collins (PBPA) and MEP Joe Higgins (Socialist Party). The Chair was Ailbhe Smyth (PBPA).

The audience included revolutionary and reformist socialists, along with some Republicans. A large part of the attendance were Trotskyist by ideology, members or supporters of either the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers’ Party but also included many independents, i.e. activists who belong to no party.

The speeches of the main speakers predictably lambasted the current Irish Government coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party but also attacked the main parties currently in opposition and expected to form the next government. The Government, the audience were told, had squandered the wealth of the Celtic Tiger and then, when it collapsed through the greed of the speculators, builders and bankers, had bailed them out of public finances. Subsequently, they had agreed a loan from the IMF and others such as the EU and the British which was to be repaid again from public finances. These payments and repayments from public finances were to be funded through massive cuts in state expenditure on health, education and social programmes and employment, resulting in a further depressed economy, access to higher education restricted to the wealthier and a return to mass youth emigration. Of course all of this was no news to the left-wing audience and all of it had even been said by some financial pundits whose political ideas are far from revolutionary.

Speakers called for the putting of financial institutions and development land under “democratic public ownership” and to use their resources “for the benefit of people, not the profit of the few.” In addition they called for the taking of the Corrib gas field into public ownership and also called for a higher tax on corporations and on wealthy individuals. Other demands included full employment; reduced working weeks without loss of pay; reversing of previous cuts in health, education and social provision; the protection of the environment; full equality of opportunity; and building a “Real Left alternative in Ireland and in Europe.”

The speakers called for people to attend the demonstration about the budget on the evening of the 7th December and to generally organise in their communities, places of education and trade unions in order to oppose this Government and its likely replacement, Fine Gael and Labour, who had already indicated that they will implement the budget passed in the Dáil before them.

But the main purpose of the Left Alliance at this time, it was made clear, was to field a number of candidates to stand in the forthcoming elections, widely expected in January, not as before mainly with a view to using them for revolutionary propaganda, but with a real expectation that some of them would actually be elected. This was a distinct possibility, the audience was told, because Fianna Fáil and the Greens were likely to lose a huge amount of seats and that some of those could be taken by candidates of the Left Alliance.

The other purpose of the Left Alliance was stated by Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party as being to build “a mass worker’s party, a socialist party”. However, Richard Boyd Barrrett, speaking prior to Joe for People Before Profit but also well-known as a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, made no reference whatsoever to this objective.

Revolution was hinted at but never explicitly mentioned so the question of whether it was possible peacefully or whether armed action would be necessary because of capitalist resistance never came up.

As an Alliance of the Left, there were some striking absences from the sponsors of the meeting. Where were the Communist Party of Ireland or the Workers’ Party? Where was Sinn Féin? Where were the anarchists of the Workers’ Solidarity Movement or the socialist republicans of éirigí or of the Irish Republican Socialist Party? Indeed a question from the floor asked whether they had been invited.

Joe Higgins replied that the initial negotiations had been between his party and PBPA (or did he mean the SWP?) but that they would sit down and discuss with all who were prepared to sign up to the eight principles they had outlined earlier. Sinn Féin would not be eligible because they refused to rule out going into coalition with one of the right-wing parties and that was a requirement for joining the Alliance (point 2 of the introduction to the ULA’s charter http://worldwidesocialist.net/blog/2010/11/programme-of...land/).

The absence of the socialist republican éirigí from the ULA is easily explained, one would imagine (although their representative spoke at the street rally at the end of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ Dublin demonstration on the 27th). Nowhere in the charter of the ULA is there a mention of the occupation of a part of Ireland by British Imperialism, nor of its fostering of religious sectarianism and discrimination. Indeed there is no mention of imperialism whatsoever. This is a startling omission from any basic programme of the Left which years ago would have been impossible to contemplate. Of course, it is clear that on this question, the SWP and the SP could not have reached an agreed position other than in the most general terms – so they just side-stepped it. That may do for their two respective organisations but will hardly do for many others.

The absence of the anarchists of the WSM from the ULA is also easily explained by the concentration on parliamentary elections. Most anarchists do not favour taking part in such elections and even those who do would not put it high on their agenda of activities.

The absence of the others, the CPI, WP and the IRSP may have other explanations.

There were a number of other contributions from the floor which included the usual “I think this is a wonderful development” from supporters of the SP and the SWP (but without the usual swipes at one another) as well as from some others and a few that were mainly about self-promotion by the contributors.

The only contribution that stood out apart from the one enquiring about the absent groups was an interesting question about whether raising corporation tax would chase away foreign investment? The Left in Ireland is usually strong on rhetoric about social justice and polemics but not on economic analysis and explanation of alternatives. However, the question was answered from the floor and from the platform.

Joe Higgins, who had been assigned the role of “sweeper” for the questions and contributions, pointed out the huge profits made by a number of corporations and that, if the taxation rate were raised, they would still be making huge profits, just taking a cut.

Left parties in parliamentary elections usually have a trade union base – that gives them their mandate and serves them as an election machine. The ULA is essentially an electoral platform which does not have a trade union base. And the question of the trade union movement, is the most crucial question of all at the current time. It is referred to only in passing in the ULA’s charter and was barely mentioned once or twice in the speeches at the meeting.

Sadly, it is not being addressed either by that other Left alliance currently in existence: the 1% Network. This one was initiated by éirigí and by the WSM, along with some smaller groups and collectives, some months back. The activities of this network are mostly of a socialist and anti-capitalist propaganda nature but are not around workplace organisation. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=143661105666744

In fact, neither the consituent groups of the 1% Network nor those of the ULA are undertaking workplace organisation in any serious way.

Why is it that the Government and the employers have been able to freeze recruitment and close hospitals in the Health Service, privatise services, pay the bond-holders from public funds and propose to cut employment in public services? The reason is because the trade unions in Ireland are largely supine, class-collaborative organisations which do not fulfill even their supposed primary functions, the elimination of competition among workers and the defence and advancement of workers’ conditions. Their leaders have become soft and distanced from the rank and file. The union structures do not facilitate workers’ participation.

Nothing new in that picture, perhaps. But when the ICTU promised a general strike to their many, many thousands of members who marched in February only to renege on their promise, why were they able to get away with it without serious challenge? Why were they able to foist the Croke Park Agreement on a trade union membership that mostly disagreed with with all concrete decisions of that Agreement? The answer is clear: because there is no strong grassroots workers’ movement (not to mention a Left alternative trade union movement) in the existing Irish trade union movement.

The absence of such a movement is largely a result of two factors:
• The failure of revolutionary socialists (whether Trotskyist, Anarchist or Communist) to seriously address this absence
• The inability of left-Republicans to see this task as an important part of revolutionary work
In those circumstances, it is hard to see the frequent calls of the SWP and the SP and others for a General Strike as more than wishful thinking or radical posturing.

And without building such a movement, capable of bringing about a general strike or series of strikes, of mobilising thousands of workers to take more advanced steps, to learn through a higher level of organisation and struggle, the attacks of capital cannot be successfully resisted, nor can be achieved the revolution that so many on the Left aspire to and see as providing the possibility of a socialist organisation of society.

The meeting ended on a positive note and even some euphoria. However, the reality is that a small number of socialists in a capitalist Dáil can achieve little. They cannot pass legislation of their own nor block that of others (except by voting with the opposition). They cannot, by their own principles, force concessions from a government with a small majority by supporting it in crucial votes. Even their speeches and statements will receive only such coverage as the capitalist media accords them.

The question is not whether or not to vote for ULA candidates, should they stand one in our constituency. The question is whether the main activities of the ULA (or for that matter of the 1% Network) really represent the way out of the hole in which we find ourselves. It is hard to see how the answer to that question could be answered in the positive.


author by Brendanpublication date Sun Dec 05, 2010 17:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

That last sentence begs a big 'why?' Diarmuid, as in 'why do they not represent a way out of the current crisis?'

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Sun Dec 05, 2010 17:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dermot is entirely correct that the election of a number of socialist TDs will not in and of itself provide a path out of the crisis, nor will it enable us to defeat the savage austerity measures the mainstream parties with their friends in the EU and IMF will be imposing. But then again, nobody from the United Left Alliance is claiming that the election of a few socialist TDs will have that result. In fact, speaker after speaker emphasized that the reason why the ULA wants to get some TDs elected is to provide a voice for a movement against the "bailout" and against the cuts on the streets, in the communities and in the workplaces. A group of TDs would be focused on helping such a movement to mobilise. Joe Higgins was already able to use a single Dail seat, in much more stable times, to assist various movements of workers in organising and mobilising, most famously during the GAMA dispute.

The component organisations of the United Left Alliance would entirely agree with Dermot that a movement within the unions and workplaces is a vital, indeed central, part of any fight against the various "austerity" measures. Perhaps Dermot is unaware of the efforts made by many of those involved to encourage such a development. Socialist Party activists have been important to the growth of the CPSU Activist group and they are in the process of helping the establishment of similar groupings in a number of other unions. Paddy Healy of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group is the chair of the National Public Services Alliances. Others involved in the ULA are also involved in various types of campaigning work in the union movement.

In other words, Dermot is presenting an inaccurate picture of the outlook of the United Left Alliance and its components. None of them would have any difficulty in telling you that the election campaign is merely one part of a wider struggle, and not the most important part at that.

author by Pepepublication date Sun Dec 05, 2010 21:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I could not attend the meeting even though I was very interested in doing so. So thanks Diarmuid for bothering to put your impressions on it and help a necessary debate among the left in Ireland.

I first want to start by saying that I welcome the initiative and think it is excellent to see a step in the right direction. Unity of the Left is the most critical factor for a process of serious social change as that needed in Ireland right now (let alone for revolution). So to see two parties that, in spite of sharing an awful lot in common have often been seen as “rivals”, come to agreement and move towards a basic level of unity, is a most welcome thing indeed. The same could be said about the 1% Network, which represents other attempt at creating unity, although from a different approach.

Another positive element of this alliance (and that of the 1%) is that it tries to create unity with substance, with agreements, with content. It is not merely opportunism in the face of the upcoming elections. As such, this has a potential to become a long term political phenomenon in the country.

Now that said, Diarmuid is right when he insists that a couple of socialists TDs in the Daíl will not stop the IMF plan nor will it provide a way out for the crisis. Mark P claims that no one in ULA is saying this, which may be right (and I’d be surprised if anyone was naïve enough to believe so), but he misses the point Diarmuid is trying to put across. The point is that, beyond the elections in January, the crisis will still be there, breaking our communities, affecting our families and we need to start discussing a way out of it. Obviously I’m not talking about theoretical economic alternatives, but about ways to implement them and how you will twist the arm of the bourgeoisie as an organised class in order to defeat them (that being the pre-requisite for any “alternative” being viable).

How will we defeat the IMF-EU-Irish-ruling-class project? That remains the question and I’m glad that Mark P states that ULA will not do it by itself, but can at most provide a voice for certain sectors in struggle. The question though remains –how will that happen?

I wholeheartedly welcome this initiative –I think they are right to come to agreements in the face of January elections that will see an important change in the composition of the Dáil and there is a real chance to get a couple of “progressive” TDs. But this is insufficient. We all know that getting a couple or many people to the bourgeois parliament will not change the system. The only thing that could change it is a broad coalition directly representing the interests and the struggles of the bulk of the people (ie. Working class and other subordinated elements of society, according to whatever your theoretical background on these issues is).

ULA is a step in the right direction, but still did not manage to get out of a relatively reduced circle of people who share a common political current (variants of a certain brand of Trostkyism), although it is remarkable that they managed to drag some independent activists, what is another positive sign. But why other currents are excluded may be explained in one way or another, but surely when a platform is ready on the grounds of the agreements between two parties of the same broad political tradition, and other potential allies have to abide to it, there’s little chance for it to grow beyond a certain limit. An open agreement is needed on the Left, but a broader one that can actually leave doors open for different political traditions (other Marxists, libertarians, republicans and the so-called liberals).

ULA will need to think about tactical and strategic and even circumstantial forms of unity with other actors, including Sinn Féin (the only party to actually increase their preference among the public according to the latest poll).

It is also insufficient because the electoral agenda remains the starting and finishing point of the political agreement (maybe not in theory, but there does not seem to be much clarity about how action will be taken on the streets and workplaces -please correct me if I'm wrong). And even though this may be a valid political view, we keep reproducing an Irish pattern of trusting our political voice into the “decision makers”.This is most certainly linked to the lack of mass struggles and the lack of roots of the Left among communities. The fetishism of Parliament in this country is unbelievable and it is tough job to convince people than political action is not merely done on the ballot box. How left wing candidates will convince people that they are not likely to make any significant change through the Dáil and that what is needed is for them to take action?

Diarmuid rightly points to the lack of an organised presence of the Left in the trade union movement and how badly it is needed in order to defeat the current project of the rich. He is also right to mention that neither left alliance (ULA or 1%) seem to have a real strategy to gain a foothold in the labour movement, something that is critical. The left wing representatives talk about a general strike, not the trade union movement, and unfortunately, I do not think the calls for a strike on the 7th will have any impact. Yet, the problem, in my opinion runs deeper that the lack of a foothold in the TU movement: the problem is the lack of a constituency whatsoever for the Left, not only in the trade union movement, but in communities or even in college campuses. There is no tradition among communities or trades or campuses of left wing radicalism and to create it remains a major challenge for the Left. The Left articulates around anti-capitalist demos, but rarely consolidates actual work with the people on a long term basis in a specific area. Without a critical mass in certain constituencies, no socialist (let alone revolutionary) project can ever take off in the long term.

A most pressing question, more pressing than the electoral strategy, is how we can get levels of unity among the people working in the same sector, living in the same communities, studying in the same campuses (FEE has advanced to a great extent this issue, but there is a long road to go). This unity could be achieved at a local level, in the face of pressing needs, and in relation to specific struggles where an electoral alliance could fail to bring people together. What I mean is that people have a bigger chance to disagree a lot on political tactics (some being reluctant to participate in elections, for instance) or political strategy (the importance given to the British occupation of the six counties), than in an immediate fight (workers in the same sector facing wage cuts or fearing dismissal). Surely these fights, no matter how immediate, will come along political debates on strategy and tactics –but politics discussed with your feet on the ground of actual struggles and actual movements, are far easier to carry than superstructural debates on the big project of the Left for the 22nd century.

In order to build a house you need to start by the foundations. The foundation is the correlation of forces in the actual class struggle, not the correlation of forces in the Dáíl (that at most, should be reflecting the real correlation in the class struggle as the theory goes). How to do this is something we should be debating, coming to agreements and trying to think strategically both in the 1%, ULA, or any other initiative that may come along. Surely there are no magic formulas and in most countries, the Left already has roots in communities and workplaces and that is a big advantage to organise resistance to the crisis. In Ireland, the Left has the difficult task of starting from a very weak position, but at the same time, has the opportunity to create that tradition and that radical culture among the people. Whatever we make now, if we do it well, has the potential to leave a deep mark on the culture of this country for decades.

Apollogies if this "comment" is already too long. Just wanted to contribute with my two pence on the debate and I do so in the most constructive possible manner, and once again, I want to finish by saying that I genuinely believe this is a positive step forward and hopefully other steps in the same direction are followed by others.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - -- personal capacitypublication date Sun Dec 05, 2010 22:38author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Brendan, I answered that question in the body of the article. And I did not say not to vote for them.

Mark, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on the ULA's perspective, based on their actual documents and the speeches from the platform. With regard to the constituent organisations, I have been involved a number of times in recent years in attempts at building grass-roots trade unionist resistance to the attacks of capital. The SWP and the SP were present and were not only not really interested in working with each other but not with others either and these efforts fell apart. I am ready to believe that there are some individuals sweating away at this work within the SWP, the SP and indeed the WSM. But the work is not being seriously undertaken by their respective organisations and, if it had been, we would now be in a very different situation.

With regard to the usefulness of socialist TDs, I think Pepe has put this in the proper perspective.

Pepe, on the whole I agree with what you say but I fear that instead of being a step towards a United Left, this will be a diversion from the necessary work in the trade union movement as people get sucked into trying to get socialists elected as TDs and then trot them around meetings and demos without ever addressing what I think is what is really needed. And while organising communities and students is important it seems to me that organising workers on a fighting basis is paramount and that if we do this, the work in communities and colleges will rapidly take off. Ultimately, only workers can bring about the general strikes that can slow down the offensive of capital and begin to give us some room to "twist the arm of capital", and also learn the lessons that we need to learn through struggle.
Most of all, I agree that in actual struggle with real forces, it will be much easier to hammer out working alliances. However, it is important that socialists do not succumb to the temptation to keep revolutionary politics, including anti-imperialism, out of the workers' movement but, on the contrary, should be putting them forward while at the same time working among them to build the organs of industrial struggle and resistance to the attacks of capital.

author by Pepepublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 00:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Pepe, on the whole I agree with what you say but I fear that instead of being a step towards a United Left, this will be a diversion from the necessary work in the trade union movement as people get sucked into trying to get socialists elected as TDs and then trot them around meetings and demos without ever addressing what I think is what is really needed."

There is surely a risk of that to happen, and it is a likely outcome. It depends on how the forces within ULA deals with it. But to be honest and very straight forward, I am so sick and tired of sectarianism in the left, that any attempt of people to work together is positive in my humble opinion, even if it privileges a tactic that I personally don't agree with (even though I respect it). I hope that attempts to form alliances like ULA or 1% replicate at other levels, by other people and even though ULA may not be a step towards a United Left (what remains to be seen), or may not be the type of unity we may think is most necessary to face the crisis, they are putting the issue of the unity of the Left in the agenda and thus making exchanges like this possible.

"while organising communities and students is important it seems to me that organising workers on a fighting basis is paramount and that if we do this, the work in communities and colleges will rapidly take off. Ultimately, only workers can bring about the general strikes that can slow down the offensive of capital and begin to give us some room to "twist the arm of capital", and also learn the lessons that we need to learn through struggle."

I do agree with you on the paramount importance of the workers as actors of political change. What I am adressing is the lack of any constituency at all, because even if the workers are poorly organised or at a very low level of struggle, other "constituencies" can drag the struggle and organise some form of resistance. In Latin America, because of the high levels of informal work and unemployment, often other actors can take the leading role in times of relative weakness of the workers' organisations -the Argentinian case is interesting with the community struggles in the forms of piqueteros, that lead struggles preciously to the meltdown of 2001 -only months after the crisis started the workers occupations of factories became a significant issue, but who organised the first forms of resistance were unemployed people in their community based organisations.

So even if the left had no presence in the trade unions now, if they had presence in other constituencies, they could take a lead in the struggle. Unfortunately, we have to keep attending disciplined and orderly demos organised by ICTU.

But I do agree with you on the centrality of the trade unions and the fact that there is no "objective" reason in Ireland not to give more of a strategic importance to this work.

"However, it is important that socialists do not succumb to the temptation to keep revolutionary politics, including anti-imperialism, out of the workers' movement but, on the contrary, should be putting them forward while at the same time working among them to build the organs of industrial struggle and resistance to the attacks of capital."

Spot on Diarmuid. But you also have to keep in mind that you can't alienate people over issues that do not affect DIRECTLY the struggle at the shoop floor. It is a tough balance to keep, on the one hand being open in putting forward your political ideas and on the other, to work with people that will not necessarily agree with them.

author by Kimberley Jacobspublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 11:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think Diarmuid has raised some important questions here. (Important enough that Mark P should get his name right, in fact!)

It's not just true that the left has little or no base in the unions, but the unions themselves are in a bad way. The years of social partnership have weakened them seriously. It's hard for socialists to raise their arguments at a union branch meeting when such meetings take place rarely and have little involvement of rank and file members. It will take a lot of struggles to re-energise the unions and give them back to their members. The left could have worked better in the unions, sure, but the situation they face hasn't been very favourable. But as Diarmuid says we will need to get the unions fighting again to achieve anything.

The ULA is what it is, an electoral alliance. Anything else is aspiration, with nothing in place to turn it into reality. I wonder what happens after the election? Say 5 TDs are elected: will they act as a united group in the Dail? Will there be any structure for ULA members to hold their TDs to account? Or will Joe Higgins follow the SP line, Richard Boyd-Barrett the SWP line, Declan Bree his own line, etc? These groups have different positions on lots of issues. Will the ULA adopt a common position that will bind its representatives? That would require the ULA being something more than the sum of its parts, a campaigning organisation on the ground rather than just an election pact, an alliance that can adopt positions that might not necessarily agree with the party lines of its constituent groups.

The way the ULA was formed is worrying. It actually represents a small step backwards compared to the Left Bloc that has worked well in recent protests against the cuts. That Bloc has included the WSM, Eirigi, the ISN, Socialist Democracy, Ciaran Perry's supporters. It's true that the WSM are against elections, but others in that Bloc aren't. In fact some of them have a fairly good record of contesting elections. It wasn't anti-electoralism that kept them in the dark until the alliance was formed, but a recognition by the SP and SWP that they could stitch something together easier if they didn't have to worry about other viewpoints, or peoplewho might insist on democratic structures.

Everyone should vote for the ULA candidates. If the electoral register hadn't been tightened up, I would have been voting for them twice! But the real test will come after the election. How will ULA TDs operate? How will the ULA branch out into the unions and other campaigning activity? Will ULA members be able to grow it into something that goes beyond the control of the organisations that set it up? It's too early yet to give a full answer to these questions, but we should be asking them.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 16:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think that there are some misapprehensions here about the United Left Alliance and about left cooperation on other issues.

It is a fact that there are significant political differences over all kinds of issues on the Irish left. These range from relatively abstract theoretical differences, to differences of orientation and perspective, to differences of method and approach. Some of these differences are, no doubt, silly. Others however are very real and have real world consequences. If "left unity" is to have more content than the archetypal politician's pious appeals to motherhood, apple pie and all things admirable, then these differences have to be understood and taken into account. Crucially, it also has to be recognised that different types of cooperation have different preconditions.

The ULA is an alliance established by the three major forces on the Irish socialist left, certainly in electoral terms. It's also an alliance established by three groups who have established, after careful and prolonged discussions, that they have converged on a shared understanding of many of the political tasks facing the left in Ireland at the moment at least in broad terms. They have agreed a political programme based on that shared understanding. This was a much more serious way to proceed towards a common alliance for the forthcoming elections than, for instance, repeating the process of a couple of years ago when every group and grouplet on the left, regardless of what they did or did not have in common, talked endlessly at each other about unity and made no progress at all.

The ULA is not an attempt to stitch together every grouplet with no regard for whether or not basic political agreement about anything exists between those organisations. Thankfully, because such an approach would not work.

On a less significant note, and with all due respect to the many organisations listed in some of the comments above, with the exception of the Workers Party and one or two independents, none of them have any recent record of electoral significance even by the modest standards of the socialist left. They oppose elections in principle (WSM), have never stood in elections (Eirigi), haven't stood in decades (CPI, IRSP, Socialist Democracy) or stand one candidate (ISN). To put it mildly, the viability or otherwise of a left alliance in terms of the next election hardly rests on the participation of these groupings. That doesn't mean that these groups are automatically excluded or anything like that, but none have publically expressed any desire to be involved and at least in some cases it would be difficult to see how a political agreement could be reached.

The ULA is an alliance with a relatively high level of political agreement, and a common minimum programme. It is not a new party however, it does not yet have fully developed party-like structures, and as everyone who spoke at the launch was careful to emphasize, nobody sees it as the finished product. It is a step forward, and an important one, but no more than that. Everybody in the ULA wants the alliance to develop into a much larger and firmer formation over time. The Socialist Party explicitly sees the ULA as a step towards a mass party of the working class. But we have to walk before we can run. I would encourage anyone who is interested to join and take those steps with us.

It is also incorrect to counterpose the ULA to other forms of left cooperation. It is not "a step back" from the Left Bloc style of organizing as Kimberly suggests. In fact, they are parallel developments.

These ad hoc alliances for particular protests stem from the approach the Socialist Party has been taking towards single issue campaigns and protests over the last year or two. When a particular issue arises where it is felt that a large range of left groups or activist groups and individuals can viably and usefully cooperate together, the Socialist Party, through the office of Joe Higgins MEP, has been convening broad meetings to discuss how this kind of cooperation can work. The first of these meetings was to discuss the need for a water tax campaign, the next to discuss mobilising for an ICTU demonstration which Congress had shown no interest in mobilising people for itself.

The central point is that different forms of cooperation require different levels of agreement and different types of structure. It is entirely desirable that the broad left, including organisations which have little or no interest in electoral politics, cooperate on issues where there is broad agreement. This is distinct from, but not opposed to, more structured collaboration where deeper agreement exists, as in the case of the ULA.

Finally, to address a point made by Diarmuid (and apologies for getting your name wrong earlier), I simply do not accept your assessment of the commitment of the Irish left to building within the unions. In particular I think that you are confusing a lack of results with a lack of effort. It was extremely difficult for small groups of socialists to build lasting oppositional structures within the union movement during the long years of partnership, with the slow hollowing out of grass roots participation it entailed. There were no shortage of (mostly failed) attempts however.

At the moment, the component organisations of the ULA all agree with you that the unions and workplaces are central to any strategy which can hope to defeat austerity and cuts. And as I've already pointed out to you, the Socialist Party is doing what it can to help establish left groups within a range of unions based on the successful ones which alreadly exist in the CPSU (and NIPSA in the North). These are not Socialist Party groups, nor even ULA groups, but represent yet another different way to create cooperative structures where workers who want to fight can work together.

author by Jamespublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 17:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark, has the ULA no position on imperialism, particularly here in the six counties?

You said the ula comprised the three significant organisations electorally on the left in Ireland. What are those three organisations? SP and PbP I assume you are referring to but who else?

author by Infamy Or The Bulletpublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 17:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Tipperary WUAG is the third group. They are anti-imperialist.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 17:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The three organisations I was referring to were the Socialist Party, which has an MEP and six Councillors, People Before Profit, which has five Councillors and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group, which has eight Councillors (or strictly speaking eight Council seats).

The largest electoral force currently outside of the ULA on the socialist left is the Workers Party, with two Councillors. None of the other groups mentioned have won an election of any sort in decades, or in most cases, ever. I believe Eirigi does have a couple of defector Councillors however.

The agreed positions of the ULA are outlined in the documents available on the ULA website. The ULA exists only in the Republic and does not cover the North. Its policies deal almost entirely with the current economic crisis and are aimed towards an election in which partition will be entirely irrelevant.

It is possible that an alliance will be formed in the North in the future, and certainly over time the ULA will have to develop agreed policies on a range of other issues. I should warn you however, that if you are coming from a left republican position you almost certainly will not like any agreed position on the North which the main socialist organisations arrive at. In the meantime, the component organisations of the ULA have their own detailed policies on the North which can be read on their websites.

author by Jamespublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 17:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Are the WUAG more significant electorally than the WP?

I know Seamus is an anti-imperialist tand opponent of the British occupation here but what is the ULA position on it though?

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 18:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Both of your questions have already been answered.

author by Jamespublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 18:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

How can a foreign imperialist occupation of part of our country not be relevant. Are you suggesting Seamus Healy does not believe the occupation is relevant?

Are you suggesting that the ULA will take a position of supporting, not opposing partition and the ongoing occupation of the six counties?

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 18:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am suggesting that the issue of partition will not be relevant in the forthcoming elections in the Republic. Not that the issue has no underlying relevance or will never be significant.

And no, I am not suggesting that the ULA will take a position supporting partition. I have already told you in plain language that the ULA does not have an agreed position on the the North. And I have also pointed you towards the existing positions of the component organisations, which are available in some detail.

If your primary political concern at the moment at the moment is partition, I can only suggest that the ULA probably isn't what you are looking for in a political organisation and suggest that you look elsewhere.

author by Jamespublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 18:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark, I am concerned at the economnic crisis here in the 26 as much as anyone else but that doesnt mean I shut my eyes to what is happening in the 6 counties.

It seems strange that within the ULA there has been no discussion about whether groups support or oppose the occupation.

Do you support or oppose the occupation yourself Mark?

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 18:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I favour an end to partition as part of a socialist transformation of this island, in line with Socialist Party policy on the issue.

You may find it strange that people in the Republic are not much concerned about partition at the moment, but I can assure you that it's true. Even Eirigi, a left republican grouping, were handing out detailed four page leaflets on recent demonstrations which didn't mention the national question once. As an issue it simply does not register currently. People have more pressing things to be concerned about.

I'm not at all interested in turning this discussion into a set-piece debate with left republicans about partition, by the way. The ULA does not have an agreed stance on the issue. Its component organisations have their own detailed policies. If you want to debate those detailed policies another forum would be more appropriate rather than this thread.

author by Emmett Farrell - Socialist Partypublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 18:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

For people who were not at the launch of ULA - I took notes and placed this on another thread. I see that it may be more appropriate here and note that I have omitted two speakers from floor both from CPSU - one who stated that ULA needed to get media exposure and another from Revenue branch who ofered to organise a concert.

United Left Alliance launched
by emmett farrell - socialist party Sun Dec 05, 2010 18:38
Launch of United Left Alliance Gresham Hotel Dublin 29th November 2010

Chair Ailbhe Smith, PBPA

350 ... Ballroom ... all seats taken and people standing at rear and on either wall.

Great turn out given the weather ... ULA significant ... Agreed Program ... NB No Coalition with FF/FG or Centre Left...Reject Four Year Plan ...Total Disgrace ... Time for revolt ... Roll back the tide.

Richard Boyd Barrett PBPA Candidate for Dun Laoghaire
Joe Higgins MEP and SP candidate for Dublin West
Seamus Healy Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Group and Candidate for Tipperary South
Cian Prendiville, SP (21 years) and Candidate for Limerick City
Joan Collins DN CC Cllr and Candidate for Dublin Central (At DN CC Estimates meeting and due to arrive later)

RBB spoke first

8.15 ...Gave background to the crisis ...’ Coillte is threatened by privatisation ... Bertie Ahern is advising an offshore Swiss based bank ... though Coillte owns 7% of land mass of the state, it is only valued at 1.7 billion Euro . ... Labour no different ... Pat Rabbitte asked this am ‘will you reverse the IMF cuts’ ...No! We need to say ‘Bondholders take a hike’ ... we need to take the financial system back into the ownership of society .. take back the oil and gas given away by a corrupt Minister ...We for public sector reform... for us it means slashing the salaries of the tops ...

8.33 Seamus Healy spoke next.

...a great turnout in this weather ... significant meeting ... most important development since I became active in 1960s after reading James Connolly’s Labour in Irish History as a 16 year old... have been active since in local government union LGPSU now Impact ... some very good people in Impact but unfortunately controlled now by same type of bureaucracy which controls all unions ... previously President of Clonmel Trades Council and in Dail with Joe 2000 to 2007. ... huge wealth in Ireland 5% control 40||% of wealth and have control over 250 million euros despite the collapse ... now these people are being bailed out by poor and middle income people . Brian Lenihan continually says ‘everyone must pay their share’ but the wealthy pay nothing ...Fact of the matter is, that all the opposition parties have accepted the cuts including the Labour Party.. they have accepted the Four Year Plan and will not reverse any cuts ... We are here tonight to start a process ... in 1985, we set up the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Group and now have 5 of 12 councillors on Clonmel UDC ... we built on support for ordinary working people in all their struggles ... 20,000 on demo in fight for local hospital ... We will build and we call on people all around the country to join us ... Thank you all and we will play our part.

8.43 Cian Prendiville SP and candidate in Limerick City

Interruption by bearded man from audience who wants to speak. Chair advises that he should wait until speakers finished ... demands to speak and keeps shouting ... appears that he wants to inform us that he is standing in Wicklow.

CP resumes ...

Thanks for applause ... all downhill after this ...Notes LP Councillor Richard Humphries attack on ULA and Leo Varadker description of ULa as ‘looney left alliance’ ... ‘they feel threatened’ ...
Born 1989 ... told for 20 years that there is no alternative to capitalism ... this generation promised jobs ... but will be worse off than their parents ... Humphries praises the market - capitalism - as the only system that works and states that any political group that rejects the market deserves to be dismissed out of hand as economic illiterates ... but 37,000 applied for 13,000 PLC places, 2/3 of young men in Limerick are on the dole ... due to greed of Dell and the other multinationals ...in Limerick city centre every second shop is closed ... the government have cut the dole and will cut it again ... their policy is to show us the door ... emigrate ! ...they would like that ... well I’m not going (applause) ...in US earlier this year ... 44% of 16-24 year old reacted positively in poll to ‘socialism’ ... young people will not accept being forced into poverty by this system ... one small Limerick college where no SU previously 300 of 1000 students marched ... reports from secondary schools that students on their own initiative are organising to walk out on Budget day ... we have to break with the dictatorship of the market.

8.57 Joan Collins.

Have just come from City Council estimates meeting and unfortunately the estimates with cuts were passed again this year by a Labour and Fine Gael majority ... deflated leaving that meeting but lifted by the huge crowd and atmosphere here ... People are angry and fearful ... shocked that their lives can be changed so abruptly ... great march on Saturday and very significant that Jack O’Connor and David Begg booed by big sections of the crowd... ULA is a huge development ... of people who have argued against the unbridled market for 10 years ... people were told they had no power ... DN CC decided to close swimming pools ... Labour councillors accepted this without challenge but we did not ... we got together with people fighting the closure of Crumlin, Sean McDermott street and Coolock ... we fought and won .. We have to build ... peoples expectations have been crushed ... leading to suicide... sickening to hear Lenihan telling us we lost the run of ourselves and the party is over ... we were never part of the party ... we lived on our wages ... not like Johnny whathisname and his Pink Elephant and other clubs ...they can go bankrupt and owe money to lots of people but can start up a new club ... see that Pat Kenny was at the opening ... this is the man that is running the Frontline programme ... Dublin City Council had a budget of 105 million in 2008 but have to operate next year on 79 million euro ...Labour and Fine Gael voted in this estimate ... We have to build the ULA.

9.07 Joe Higgins

Introduction as Gaelige ...

Message to youth of Ireland in yesterday’s Sunday Independent interview with Denis Brosnan CEO of Kerry Foods .. advice to young graduates .. post-graduate study if your parents or somebody can sponsor you otherwise get out of the Ireland .. there will be no jobs for you in this country for next four or five years ... indictment of Irish capitalist class ... IMF bail-out ,,,they have handed over to IMF dictatorial powers ...10 billion of workers pension funds to be sunk into black hole of Irish banks ... minimum wage cut by 40 euros a week ... Registered Employment Agreements which barely keep workers above the minimum wage are to be decimated ... public assets to be privatised ...ULA must fill the gaping vacuum ... all Labour and Social Democratic parties have moved inexorably to the right ... Greece, Portugal, Spain ...so-called ‘Socialist’ governments are driving the cuts and implementing a massive sell-out ... tonight and the ULA must be the beginning ... critical to rebuilding parties of the working class ... the key lesson of the past period is that when social democratic parties cease to stand for an alternative that they become ideological prisoners of the market ...and then hedge funds and the like dictate what labour and social democratic parties implement ... as the crisis intensifies it becomes more difficult to hide ... Joan Burton says that FF deal with IMF means the next government will be in a strait-jacket but you are only in a strait-jacket if you accept the rules of the IMF... the IMF economists are the shock troops for Western multinational companies ... Africa, Asia and Latin America...
The ULA does not capitulate to the dictatorship of the market ... we resist it... that is why we say ‘not one cent to the bondholders, bankers and gamblers’ ...private deals were made for private profit and they collapsed ...now the bill is being presented to the working class and it is an indictment of the media who do not explain what is happening. ... we need to build support in our workplaces and communities for general strike to stop the dictatorship ...the plea from the platform on Saturday to call John Gormley’s phone number is misplaced ... I would send John Gormley for the milk ... but if your house is on fire !!...Tom O’Connor has estimated private wealth of 123 billion ... this and our natural resources and an end to the private ownership of the financial sector is what is needed and a European and international perspective ... workers in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland need to work together ... those who dismiss us should be laughed at in the face ... they brought us to this pass ... in the coming general election FF and the Greens will be justifiably eviscerated and it is most likely that we will have a FG/Labour government ... it is critical that we pose this perspective and ask who should be the main opposition ... it is crucial that a viable left/critical alternative will exist ... this coming together is very positive ... and will be seen as the road to a new mass party of the left ... the kind that Connolly and Larkin wanted ... Yes we have had and have differences .. so what ... let us continue to debate the issues on which we differ while focusing on the agreed programme ... let us rise above the petty cynicism of the media who will say that the first thing on the agenda of a new left grouping is a split ... that will not happen ... many of us have given decades .. our adult lives in fact ... to the movement for a civilised and humane society and we seek structures to bring this about .. we have three former TDs and 16 councillors ... as a pointer to what is possible, the Socialist Party with myself as candidate supported by the entire left defeated Fianna Fail in Dublin in the European election, got 51 000 first preference votes and finished up with 82,000 ... we can come back after the general election with serious forces ... Thank you very much.

9.25 Standing ovation

Questions from the floor ... Dominick Comerford Tallaght

‘Can’t understand where the money has gone ... the money was ok a few years ago and now it is not ok ... who are the people who have the money...

Ann Conway TUI and Socialist Democracy

Before coming to meeting tonight I looked in at FG meeting in Donnycarney and they had 16 people ... this meeting is entirely different and inspiring... the booing of TU leaders on Saturday is an indication that people are looking for a lead ... we need workplace action committees .... fight the IMF cuts ...we will not be re-colonised

Brendan Young

This is a beginning ... a historic moment and a historic opportunity ... must take the work of building the ULa seriously ...people want to join and have ownership ... the massive transfer of wealth which is happening reveals also the class nature of the Irish state ... the role of Department of Finance and Department of Justice ...

Brid Smith DN CC Councillor PBPA

On Friday the security staff of Group Four received a letter informing them that their pay would be cut by one euro an hour in line with the cut in the minimum wage ...ULA hugely welcome development ... if no left opposition leaves road open to development of far right party.

Rita Harrold made a financial appeal ... tonight had cost 2,000 euro to organised ...buckets passed around.

Ciaran ... Major propaganda offensive ... need to send people onto Frontline and Joe Duffy programme...

Sean Creagh ... Business Studies student DLR ... question re Corporation Tax will cutting it not drive out the multinationals ... not hostile just want to know what is position...

Vanessa O Sullivan Clondalkin

Not the Joe Duffy show but door to door ... would be huge mistake not to mobilise for Budget Day protest ..; Right to Work campaign ..

(Name not audible )

Why are WP, IRSP and Eirigi not invited into ULA ..?

Mick Murphy SP Councillor South Dublin Council

Re Corporation Tax ... Ruari Quinn reduced Corporation Tax from 40% to 38% to 12.5 % ... the effective rate of tax on workers is 28% ... If 1997 rate applied from 2000 to 2010 the BOI and AIB would have paid an extra 6 billion euro..

Eddie Conlon TUI and PBPA

Involved in the movement since 1978 ... involved in the committee which agreed the ULA programme ...can;t overstress the importance of tonight's meeting ...we have to continue to debate ... this is an open project ... we have debated and agreed a program ... if you agree you are invited ... the programme is left, anti-coalition ...principled opposition ... we must build this ULA as a real project ...Need to develop structures ..;. sustainable long term .. focus on what we agree on and debate that which we disagree on ...

JH asked by Chair to respond.

Re agreement ... can’t have unanimity on everything ... would not be healthy ..re corporation tax ... we point to how society is organised .. 2008 Multinational Profits were 58 billion and six billion was paid in corporation tax ... even at 20% this would mean an extra six billion ,,, not to mention that CT is 25% in Austria, 30% in Germany and 33% in France ... will the multinationals leave if CT is increased ... even ( Not clear if JH referring to 2009 ) year, profits where 34 billion and 3 billion was paid in CT ... would they leave if it was increased ... why would they ?
Re ULA and other groups ... currently ULA comprises PBPA, SP and STWUG who have discussed and debated and agreed the ULA programme over the past year... any group or organisation which accepts this program and code of conduct is welcome ... important to say that we do not want people who speak out of both sides of their mouth ... left and anti-coalition in words but then rush in to participate in an unprincipled coalition when the opportunity arises ...
Currently the constituent groups are very active in areas ..;. early in January we will convene a general meeting of ULA ... NB ...Dec 7th turnout against the budget ...

We are living in a time of seismic change ... attitudes will be challenged as never before ..;. we should not give way to fatalism ... we can resist ... we can fight back ... there is an alternative ... we have known record of refusing to capitulate ... we do what we say and this record will give faith to workers that they will not be betrayed again ... that is new ... we must build support so that after the general election there will be a bloc of TDs in the Dail showing a way forward and linking opposition in the Dail to the social movement outside and in particular to the trade unions ... the ULA is the new force which will facilitate mobilisation ..

Meeting ended at 10.10

author by hs - sppublication date Mon Dec 06, 2010 23:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think you should get involved with the ULA and do your best to push the proto-organisation in what you think is the correct direction, if you think there should be more industrial work, get involved and argue for it. I think you see the problem as an either - or. Either elections or union work. Why not both? Personally I am not in a union I have no option to join a union (I work in precarious employment with no contract and am employed on a weekly basis).
Therefore for me and others like me (or unemployed people) the struggle within the unions is not an option. Moreover in the final analysis I don't think the work in the unions will be possible without a political struggle alongside it. On structure I agree with much of what was said above, if the ULA is to move beyond electoral slate it will need democratic structures to be developed and I will argue for this within the alliance and the SP. But I do recognise at the moment the ULA is just that, an electoral slate, and will hopefully mark the first step towards a new workers party. One thing I don't think any serious person should do is right it off almost immediately and without getting involved with it.

author by Caoimhínpublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 00:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The ULA was formed by election hopefuls in a series of private meetings. Given the circumstances, a pure electoral alliance was always going to be the outcome. You can't get involved and attempt change its direction, its a wholly top down affair.

A genuinely open process, where voices like those from Pepe and Diarmuid could be heard and different ideas debated, should have been the the starting point for a genuine left alliance that could go beyond elections.

There is a case of this occuring in Ireland at the moment - Free Education for Everyone has people from most left wing groups in the country involved in it. Ideological and tactical differences exist, and are trashed out democratically - yet it still manages to function. Others should take inspiration.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 01:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There is nothing "undemocratic" about a group of organisations talking to each other, reaching a level of political agreement and then setting up an alliance based on that agreement. In fact that's a much more rational way of going about trying to establish a new alliance that actually works than, say for instance the model which was tried a couple of years ago of an endless series of meetings of every group on the left, regardless of what they had in common.

And it has a very much better chance of success than simply pretending that we are starting the socialist movement from scratch, that a large percentage of existing activists aren't already in one current or another and holding an open conference. Which would lead to the mother of all bunfights as every organisation proposed its existing ideas as a programme and bickered with each other. Either one organisation would win out and everyone else would leave, or some of the larger organisations would reach an agreement amongst themselves and then win the votes. Either way it would immediately be denounced as a "stitch up" by people like Caoimhín.

The ULA is not a political party and it does not (yet) have the sort of structures which would be appropriate to one. It is structured around existing organisations and candidates, and that's an entirely appropriate way to structure a new alliance initially based on existing organisations and aimed initially at an election in the very near future. At the moment, individual activists can have their say in local campaigns and nationally through one of the affiliated organisations. That would not be an appropriate structure for a fully fledged party, but everyone in the ULA is clear that they see the alliance as simply a starting point. It comes back to the issue of learning to walk before we run. The Irish left has a long history of disagreements, sometimes vitriolic ones. It's important to build trust and work together collaboratively and to avoid turning the whole thing into a mobilising competition (I've been a member, in Britain of an alliance which leapt forward to a traditional party structure very quickly and I can safely say that the experience set back rather than advanced cooperation on the left over there).

I can perfectly understand an independent left activist taking the view that they don't agree with the platform, don't like the politics of any of the Socialist Party, People Before Profit or the Workers and Unemployed Action Group and don't want to be involved as they can't change the political basis of the alliance before the election. That's their right. But if that's the angle someone is coming from, I'm not sure why they'd be interested in an alliance founded by those groups in the first place.

The comparison with FEE, which the Socialist Party also played a significant role in establishing, is a strange one. FEE is a single issue campaign, not a wider political alliance and (quite rightly) it doesn't require the kind of political agreement which a political alliance presenting a common minimum programme requires. For perfectly sensible reasons, you only have to oppose fees to be a member. And for equally sensible reasons, forming something like the ULA requires rather more agreement than that. Different aims and different circumstances require different approaches. Which is why the Socialist Party has also been calling open meetings to discuss particular campaigns and protests, with the aim of arranging collaboration on them on a wider basis than the ULA.

The ULA is an important and very welcome step forward. But it isn't the finished product and it isn't the only way in which the left is currently collaborating. And it doesn't claim to be either.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 04:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion so far. Each one has made important contributions to the discussion. However, Emmet, this was not the place to insert your entire record of a meeting – a link and explanation would have been sufficient.

Mark, in your first comment on my report of the ULA launch and analysis of its programme, you stated that I had misrepresented its position by saying that it was essentially an electoral platform that had little to say or do with grassroots workplace organisation. You said that the constituent organisations of the ULA were involved in workplace organisation and even went on to say that it was highly placed on their agenda. Later you said that much effort had been expended in this direction by the consituent groups and that the lack of results, though disappointing, was no indication of lack of effort and went on to infer that it was merely the times that were against the work.

Firstly, nothing that has been said by any advocate of the ULA approach has managed to refute what I said about it vis-a-vis its avoidance of the issue of workplace organisation.

Secondly, even in a time of relative prosperity and of social partnership, there were many opportunities that I have seen, even since I returned to Ireland in 2003, for grassroots organisation of the type that I have been advocating. Casual employment, privatisation, falling union membership, agency working, discrimination against migrant workers and the ongoing crisis in the health service were only some of the issues and opportunities that presented themselves. If long-term work had been going on, with struggles around those issues helping to build grassroots organisation, we would have been in a much better position when agitation began for a national trade union protest, never mind the reneging on the promise of a general strike. We would have had a grassroots network that could mobilise, that could put up posters, that could organise meetings, that could hand out leaflets at demonstrations against cuts, against closures, around the health service, as well as at pickets against sackings, in the course of which the network would have grown.

I can’t answer for how things went in South Tipperary, but I know that in Dublin, despite the hard work of individuals (both inside and outside those groups), those organisations did not prioritise the work of long-term building and, when they did get involved, they largely jumped in on a particular dispute, used it to build their own organisation or newspaper and, crucially, refused to work with others in any genuine sense.

Now to the other issues of unity of the Left in general. The position seems to be “We think alike on some issues, we have been planning this for a long time, we have experience of putting candidates up for election, we have agreed the rules, you can join if you want but if not, we’re not interested in your criticism.” Perhaps that would be a justified position, IF the ULA were not being promoted as the way forward for the Left in Ireland; IF the project were not being launched in the context of, and as an important part of the answer, to the most concentrated attack of capital on the Irish workers and most of society in many years; and IF the project were not being promoted as the way to build a mass socialist party of the working class in Ireland.
Once you raise those banners (or signposts, to use another metaphor), you put yourself up for the legitimate comment of every socialist and every activist who wants to stop capital, turn back the attacks, and build a socialist future. The attitude to those criticisms displayed in the comments above reveals the same take-it-or-leave-it stance which some political groups and parties have displayed to even smaller groups and individuals over the years, disregarding the record and/or potential of those other constituencies and damaging the prospects of Left unity in the course of it.

Although people should organise and struggle wherever they find themselves being attacked by capital, the building of a grass-roots workers’ movement in the trade union movement remains THE most important task for the Left (with respect, Pepe). Let me briefly lay out suggestions as to how this should be developed by those genuinely interested in doing this, in order to give form and flesh to the kind of united left grassroots trade union which we should have and could have.

• A meeting is convened to which all those interested in the project are invited
• At this meeting or at subsequent meetings
• A minimum basis of unity is agreed (which will include the duty to give assistance to struggles in workplaces where there are supporters of the movement)
• A programme of building the movement is agreed
• An Executive Committee is elected (each candidate having to declare their political affiliations)
• A date for re-election of the Executive is agreed
• A date(s) for General Meeting(s) of the organisation is agreed.
• Regularity of meetings of the Executive is agreed
• Working groups are set up (e.g. publicity, finance, specific employment areas, rules of the organisation) and convenors elected, reporting to the regular meetings of the Executive.

author by reillypublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 07:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I suspect that those activists - various independent socialists, left-republicans, anarchists ect - committed to extra-parlimentary political organizingwill group around the 1 percent Network and promoted a strategy of direct action and civil disobdience - which I think will resonate with increasing numbers of working people who see these elections as a shell game. We'll see. Those who committed to an electoral strategy will largely orient around SF - which, despite it's declared intention to join a Labor gov if possible - seem to be soaring in the latest polls. The Greens, of course, are dead meat.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 09:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors


As you should be aware from the discussion above, the forces assembled in the ULA are not "committed to an electoral strategy" in the sense that they imagine that electing a few socialist TDs is the way to end the crisis or defeat austerity. They do however think that getting a group of socialist TDs elected will help with "extra-parliamentary" mobilisation, in the unions and in the communities.

You are correct, that formations like SF (and Labour) will receive many more votes than the ULA on a national basis, and again, there is nobody in the ULA who imagines otherwise.


I've explained to you in some detail that the forces assembled in the ULA see workplace organisation and activity as absolutely central to defeating the cuts and austerity. You don't have to believe me, but if you're simply going to deny that this is true then I suspect that we don't have much further to discuss with each other.

It now transpires that you see the setting up of "a united left grassroots trade union" as the main priority, and assuming that isn't a typo, I can certainly agree that doing so isn't high on the priority list of the various left groupings. And rightly so, in my view. If you meant a grassroots "network" of some kind, then that idea isn't a bad one but it's the view of organisations like the Socialist Party that the most effective way to go about creating such a thing is to start at the grassroots of each union, by building organisations like the CPSU Activist and then uniting from there.

There have been numerous attempts over the years to set up "grassroots" networks of various sorts within unions and between unions. In the partnership years most of these efforts petered out. And despite your inaccurate claims, the main motor forces in trying again and again were the groups assembled in the ULA (and for that matter some people associated with other groups like the WSM). You put the lack of a strong preexisting network down to insufficient application or desire on the part of small left organisations, which in my view gets the problem exactly the wrong way around.

And by the way, I have no problem at all with people like yourself offering "criticism" of the ULA. You are doing so here, and people are responding to you in a civil and hopefully constructive way. That doesn't mean that I'm obliged to think that your criticisms have much merit.

author by Kimberley Jacobspublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 11:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks to Mark P for honestly addressing questions that have been raised. This thread has been a lot more fruitful than these discussions sometimes end up. But there are 2 questions that haven't been addressed.

First, I mentioned Ciaran Perry and his group. Perry has won an election and has built up a decent base over the years. The ISN only stand one candidate, but he has sometimes done fairly well. Where does it say you have to stand a huge number of candidates? The point remains that people who have a real record of activism including respectable electoral showings were not invited to this process and only found out about it by leaks on Indymedia. They should have had as much right to be involved as Declan Bree - unless, as I speculated, there were other factors excluding them.

Secondly, how would a group of ULA TDs operate in the Dail? Would they act collectively, bound by majority decisions of members of the ULA? Or would they take lead from their individual parties/organisations, presenting the right wing with the spectacle of a disunited left alliance? There is no point telling people to get involved in this alliance if we're just there to canvass. We should surely have a right to democratic control over the TDs we work to elect. And that is something that has to be decided before they get in - we have seen too many examples of people getting elected and doing their own thing afterwards.

author by Malachy Steenson - Workers Partypublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 13:03author email malachysteenson at yahoo dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Civil disobedience fully justified

WP President Michael Finnegan

The President of the Workers' Party, Michael Finnegan has called for a campaign of civil disobedience in protest against proposed cuts in social welfare and essential services which are aimed at the vulnerable and in particular pensioners and children.

Mr. Finnegan said civil disobedience could include non-cooperation with forthcoming Census returns from households, refusal to pay water charges and other such charges.

"These cuts were worked out by the Fianna Fail / Green Party government along with the IMF and the ECB. There was no democratic mandate for these extremely far reaching measures which pours countless billions of Euro into the banks while impoverishing generations of Irish people. Ireland is supposed to be a democracy but people are being treated as if it were a dictatorship. As in previous generations the Irish people must reclaim their birthright and the right to determine their own futures".

"The most vulnerable are the main targets along with the below-cost sale of valuable public assets built up over decades and which are crucial to economic recovery. The elderly who have spent their lives building up the country and children who now stand to inherit nothing but poverty will carry the brunt of these undemocratic proposals. The old now live in fear and uncertainty. Not only will they suffer cuts to an already poor health service but anyone with an additional work pension faces tax increases".

"The Old Age Pension is to remain at the same rate until 2015 – this taking inflation into account amounts to a cut. A further worrying point is the means testing of community health services. Additionally, Public Service pensioners on a relatively low income of between €12,000 and €24,000 face a 6% reduction. Scandalously, according to the Plan this is done in the name of ‘fairness’. Impositions of flat rate taxes and charges will further cripple the vulnerable and elderly – increases in VAT, carbon tax, property tax and water charges will all hit these groups and in particular the elderly hardest".

"Alarmingly the so-called ‘National Recovery Plan’ is set to benefit the tiny wealthy elite whose practices have got the country into crisis. What is proposed will further enrich this tiny group and is similar to pouring our wealth into a black hole".

Related Link: http://workerspartyireland.net/index.html
author by Nikki Grahamepublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 15:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I know most of the candidates but usually Nig.. sorry Mark P don's his anorak come election time and attempts witty comments on the candidates, who they are and there chances.
So come on Mark P - John Lyons and Annette Mooney, who are they? I'm a Dub so I can't pass comments on the non-Dublin names that I also don't know.

author by stephenpublication date Tue Dec 07, 2010 17:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Has Ciaran Perry, the isn or the workers party applied to join the alliance, are they willing to stand over the platform. I would welcome their inclusion.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Wed Dec 08, 2010 16:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors


I don't believe that there is any intent to exclude people like Perry, the ISN or the Workers Party from the ULA. If groups or individuals like that want to get involved, and want to sign up to the minimum programme, I can't foresee there being any difficulty with that, although it's worth noting that none of them have expressed any interest that I'm aware of. The decision to have a smaller group starting the discussions was to some extent a reaction to the futility of the process of a couple of years ago, where essentially every group on the left, regardless of whether they had anything in common or how much they represented, talked at each other endlessly without making progress.

By the way, the existence of these discussions wasn't something that was "leaked" to Indymedia. They began with an open letter which was posted here amongst other places.

On accountability, the ULA will not be enforcing unanimity on its component organisations or individuals beyond (a) the agreed minimum program, (b) the candidate pledge and (c) any further policies which are agreed by all components. It will hold any representatives accountable to those things however, and between them they cover most of the business of any left Dail rep. There is absolutely the intention that the ULA will continue beyond the election, but the ULA does not have policies beyond those agreed and rightly so as we are not at a stage where any component of the left would accept enforced unanimity. The ULA is a coming together based on the large areas where we agree, not an agreement by smaller groups or individuals to express the views of the larger components, which is what enforced unanimity would essentially mean.


You will no doubt be pleased to note that activists from the CPSU Activist group along with Socialist Party activists from some other unions were handing out leaflets at yesterday's protests calling for the formation of a "Trade Union Activists Network". It is planned that Joe Higgins MEP and a number of CPSU activists will convene an open meeting of activists from all trade unions and from left organisations to discuss the formation of a national network.

author by Ballymun Republicanpublication date Wed Dec 08, 2010 16:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There's a Labour Party councillor from Ballymun which borders DNC. Maybe he's joined this outfit.

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Wed Dec 08, 2010 19:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: This form of struggle appears to be one of the few left open to us, in the absence of a viable grassroots trade union network organising a general strike. However, the tactics should be carefully thought through as all too often these struggles end up meaning the sacrifices of a few prominent individuals. The struggle then becomes more about them and their sacrifice than that of the movement.

Mark P, you are correct in considering that the phrase “grassroots trade union” was a typo in my posting on Dec.7th – the intended phrase should have been clear from the sentence immediately preceding it (I reproduce both below):
“Although people should organise and struggle wherever they find themselves being attacked by capital, the building of a grass-roots workers’ movement in the trade union movement remains THE most important task for the Left (with respect, Pepe). Let me briefly lay out suggestions as to how this should be developed by those genuinely interested in doing this, in order to give form and flesh to the kind of united left grassroots trade union which we should have and could have.”

Just as you have the right to think that my criticisms don’t have much merit, I have the right to disagree with you about the the record of left groups and their priorities. I base my opinion of the priorities of organisations and individuals on their actions. I base my opinion of their actions not only on results but also on what I have observed. And despite what you called my “inaccurate claims” which you misrepresented, I did acknowledge that some activists of the groups on the Left (including some of those in the ULA) did undertake the work of building grassroots workers’ organisation (but I would also include the work of independent socialist activists). I reproduce the relevant entry here:
“I know that in Dublin, despite the hard work of individuals (both inside and outside those groups), those organisations did not prioritise the work of long-term building and, when they did get involved, they largely jumped in on a particular dispute, used it to build their own organisation or newspaper and, crucially, refused to work with others in any genuine sense.”

I would agree that the contributions to this discussion, including yours, have been civil; I hope that you will agree that mine have been so too. Nevertheless, I was coming to a similar conclusion as yourself “that we don't have much further to discuss with each other” (your posting Dec. 7th), until you informed me (your posting Dec. 8th) that Socialist Party activists at the rally yesterday were handing out leaflets that appear to be calling for precisely the same kind of trade union grassroots network that I have been advocating, also intending to follow, in at least the initial steps, the methodology that I have advocated.

This was all the more surprising, as on Dec. 7th, in opposition to my view of a cross-union network, you told me that the SP thinks “that the most effective way to go about creating (a grassroots trade union network) is to start at the grassroots of each union” but, on Dec. 8th, that they are “calling for the formation of a ‘Trade Union Activists Network’."

I regret that although I was present at the rally, I did not receive the leaflet. I very much look forward to this meeting being convened and trust that it will be called along inclusive lines, as you have outlined.

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Wed Dec 08, 2010 22:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Yes, it appears that Socialist Party trade unionists do indeed agree broadly with you about the need for a grassroots activist network across the unions. They do think that setting up CPSU Activist style groups in each union is important, but they don't see that as being in any way opposed to establishing a cross-union network. Each can assist the other. In other words, I was wrong about the Socialist Party's view on the subject.

Here's what the leaflet had to say about how it is planned to go about setting up a Trade Union Activist Network:

"Joe Higgins MEP and leading CPSU and other trade union activists will be convening a meeting of activists from all trade unions and from the socialist/left parties and groups to discuss the formation of a national network of trade union activists. This network could organise joint campaigns against the Budget cuts, the Corke Park Deal and solidarity action in support of struggling workers and oppose the rotten pro-partnership agenda of the ICTU leaders."

If you are interested in getting involved please forward your details to Activists United c/o info@joehiggins.eu

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Thu Dec 09, 2010 15:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks, Mark. I have written to the address you gave me. I hope they find some way of contacting the many independent activists also.

author by Just wonderingpublication date Thu Dec 09, 2010 18:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mark above: "On accountability, the ULA will not be enforcing unanimity on its component organisations or individuals beyond (a) the agreed minimum program, (b) the candidate pledge and (c) any further policies which are agreed by all components. It will hold any representatives accountable to those things however..."

Could someone from the ULA please clarify what are the mechanisms in place to ensure this accountability, what mechanisms would for example prevent a successful candidate from deciding that s/he knows best on a particular vote? If a successful candidate votes against ULA policy and/or resigns from the ULA is there a mechanism by which the ULA can recall her/him?

author by Mark P - Socialist Party (personal capacity)publication date Thu Dec 09, 2010 18:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As I understand it, there's no legal way for any political party or alliance to recall someone from a seat in a Council or in a Dail, if they refuse to resign.

You will note for instance that Sinn Fein customarily has candidates sign a piece of paper accepting that any seat they hold belongs to the party rather than to themselves. Yet in practice, their councillors have defected to Labour, Eirigi, Fianna Fail or simply moved to sit as independents without SF being able to do anything about it. When Domhnal O'Cobhthaigh, an SF Councillor in Fermanagh resigned to join the Socialist Party he did in fact resign his Council seat, but that's down to his principles rather than an enforcement mechanism.

In Ireland political parties (or alliances of political parties) are essentially voluntary associations and the most that they can generally do to an errant member is expell them. The ULA has its candidates sign a lengthy pledge agreeing not to benefit from junkets, etc. The consequences of breaching that pledge would be getting the boot from the ULA rather than a legal requirement to resign any seat.

author by curious leftiepublication date Mon Dec 13, 2010 19:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am thinking about joining them if they satisfy a couple of policies. First they seem cool on raising the scandalously low corporation tax in this country, but by how much? it should be at least doubled from 12.5% and that would still be too low. What is their position on Ireland leaving the EU? Joe Higgins was excellent during Lisbon 1 and 2 and I take it he would be in favour of opting out of the empire? but I dont know about boyd barrett and some of the more middle class elements? getting candidates to sign a pledge to accept a recall would be a great idea even if they renage on it later on. How about the mad salaries that TD s get are they in favour of cutting the td's salary to 40,000 euros? and the taoiseach's to 45,000?

author by D_D - PBPA - individualpublication date Sun Dec 19, 2010 21:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

For more on the ULA:

a piece by yours truly at http://www.irishleftreview.org/2010/12/13/ula-believed/

an interview 'Joe Higgins and the United Left Alliance' in the new issue of 'Village' magazine, No 12, Dec-Jan 2011

author by D_Dpublication date Sun Dec 19, 2010 22:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

... and loads too over at The Cedar Lounge: http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/

author by D_D - PBP - ULA - individualpublication date Fri Jan 07, 2011 18:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

From: United Left Alliance Date: 15 December 2010 23:13Subject: ULA Activists meeting 7pm Monday 10 January Wynn's Hotel To:

Dear Supporter,

Last month the United Left Alliance (ULA) was officially launched at a packed meeting room in the Gresham Hotel. More than 350 people turned up on a cold wintry evening to hear John Higgins MEP, Cllr. Joan Collins, Cllr. Richard Boyd Barrett, Cian Prendiville and Cllr. Seamus Healy outline the ULA’s solution to the crisis. It was an exciting evening and since then hundreds of people like you have signed up eager to be a part of this new Alliance.

The next key event we want to invite you and the others who have signed up to be a part of this Alliance is an activists meeting at 7pm on Monday 10th of January in Wynn’s Hotel Abbey Street (beside the Luas stop) to discuss building the United Left Alliance and the radical opposition to this government.

Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of workers and their families have seen their living standards collapse and their children forced to emigrate. We were told that if we all ‘took the pain up front’ things would turn around. So the government slashed public spending, imposed income and pension levies and took €14 billion out of the economy promising that the deficit would fall, the economy would grow and unemployment would fall. It didn’t happen; in fact things have gotten worse. We are now in EU/IMF receivership and the government has just launched another round of six billion euro in cuts.

These cuts are being imposed because by taking on the private debts of bankers and developers they have bankrupted the country and made the economy worse by imposing austerity budgets.

We need a new strategy. All the main political parties including the Labour Party are committed to €15 billion in cuts because they argue there is no alternative.

The United Left Alliance argues that there is an alternative. It begins with tearing up the EU/IMF Memorandum of Understanding and ‘burning’ the bondholders by repudiating the debt. It does not involve pouring billions of taxpayer’s money into a failed banking system and the private pockets of property developers. See attached our programme and pledge.

In the general election the ULA will mount a major challenge and a real alternative to the establishment parties. The approach of a Fine Gael / Labour government, who back the proposed austerity measures in the Budget and in the Four Year Plan, would not be fundamentally different than this government, while Sinn Fein is implementing cuts in the North and is prepared to prop up right wing parties in a coalition government in the South.

We expect to run about 20 candidates. The details of the candidates so far, including contact details for their election campaigns are below:

Cllr. Mick Barry (Socialist Party - Cork North Central) 087-205 2722
Cllr. Richard Boyd Barrett (People Before Profit Alliance
- Dun Laoghaire) 087-632 9511
Cllr. Joan Collins (PBPA - Dublin South Central) 086-388 8151
Joe Higgins MEP (SP - Dublin West) 087-695 6968
Cllr. Clare Daly (SP - Dublin North) 086-168 8050
Cllr .Seamus Healy (Workers and Unemployed Action
Group - South Tipperary and West Waterford) 086-418 3732
Cllr. Gino Kenny (PBPA - Dublin Mid West) 085-721 1574
Seamus O’Brien (PBPA - Wexford) 086-332 7423
Mick Murphy (SP - Dublin South West) 087 2400331
Cian Prendiville (SP - Limerick City) 086-806 4801
John Lyons (PBPA - Dublin North Central) 087-772 9292
Annette Mooney (PBPA - Dublin South East) 087-283 9964
Conor MacLiam (SP - Carlow/Kilkenny) 086-6033584
Brian Greene (SP - Dublin North East) 086-1688050

The central contact details for the three constituent organizations at this stage are:

People Before Profit Alliance - Eddie Conlon 087-6775468 & Kieran Allen 087-2839964.
Socialist Party – Michael O’Brien 087-2400331.
Workers and Unemployed Action Group – Paddy Healy 086-4183732.

We hope to see you all at the activists meeting at 7pm on Monday 10th of January in Wynn’s Hotel Abbey Street (beside the Luas stop).

Yours fraternally,

Paul Murphy
Sinead Kennedy

On behalf of the United Left Alliance

author by D_D & Tomás Ó Flathartapublication date Sat Jan 08, 2011 13:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Building the United Left Alliance -

Discussion Article by Brendan Young :


author by Peadarrpublication date Sat Jan 08, 2011 14:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The German Ambassasor to Ireland in 2007 was gobsmacked at how highly paid the Irish public sector were.

Irish Consultants (with mere mechanics' skills) claiming that 220K Euroes a year was "mickey Mouse money".

Bring the efficient Germans in.

author by opus diablos - the regressive hypocrite partypublication date Sat Jan 08, 2011 15:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'Bring the efficient Germans in'.

They've been in for a wee while. Not least their bondholding speculators who just got Konigen Angela to bail them out by clattering Irish taxpayers with their feedbucket for their crimes. Have a coffee.

And quite a few of us locals have tried to voice criticisms of local corruption. You may have been too busy rummaging the diplomatic bag to notice.

And stop scattergunning the public sector for the bloated scams of the top honchos.

If I remember rightly, consultants tend to originate in the PRIVATE sector.

author by opus diablos - the regressive hypocrite partypublication date Sat Jan 08, 2011 17:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Time to revise your scope. You wanted to play the capitalist card with the property, but keep the social safety net. They are currently irreconcilable opposites. You have some reconsideration to do. We are not autonous organisms, we are interdependent. The capitalist delusion of self-sufficiency stems from his insulation due to the power of his moolah.He has sold us his delusion largely through his advertising programming. Did you never think when you turned on your tele that you were being PROGRAMMED by the program. Pravda West. The social model is upside-down. With a capitalist dog-eat-dog foundation and a few subsistence provisions for welfare(mostly developed during the Cold War to keep up with soviet social programs that might have inspired the western workforce to rebellion if not matched)it is built on unlimited(and hence on limited resources unsustainable)consumption and competition.

With a social recognion of our common interdependence as foundation, we can go ahead and allow capitalised enterprise generate efficiencies and luxuries with competitive elements. Thats why we dont need a revolution.That'd be full circle. A half rev should rectify things. Now all we havta do is tell the bullionaires. Ya think they're listnin?

author by Steve Rex - Irish exilepublication date Tue Feb 08, 2011 00:25author email grannan at wanadoo dot frauthor address Brittany, Franceauthor phone Report this post to the editors

See the Word file

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