Elections an opportunity for Socialist Party and United Left Alliance, as a first step to build a mass workers’ party
“We need Joe back in the Dail”. You can hear this sentence very often, canvassing in Dublin West, fighting to get Joe Higgins, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) MEP, re-elected to the Irish parliament. Their record and campaigns – for example, the success of the campaign that defeated the imposition of water charges in the 1990s – give Joe and the Socialist Party a strong basis to their candidacy. But with the newly formed United Left Alliance (ULA), it is also clear that it is now not only about one or two TDs (members of the Irish parliament). It is about building a mass force of opposition to all the parties of big business. And given the depth of the crisis, the discussions on the doorsteps immediately focus on the "big questions", of how to overcome the consequences of the capitalist crisis – the EU / IMF deal, rising unemployment, attacks on living standards, and for many people, the danger of loosing their homes. Socialist answers are urgently needed.
The days before the final act of the disintegrating Fianna Fail led government already saw encouraging steps in the ULA’s campaign: 42 volunteers organised the kick start of the campaign to get the Socialist Party’s Mick Barry elected in Cork, with a first wave of leaflets distributed. 80 people attended the local launch of the ULA in Swords, Dublin North, last Saturday, where Clare Daly from the Socialist Party, who is in contention to taking a seat, is the ULA’s candidate. 120 attended the local launch of the ULA in Limerick. Joe Higgins is touring around the country to build the ULA throughout the whole of Ireland while battling to re-win his seat in Dublin West. After the national launch of the ULA in Dublin at the end of November, which had over 350 in attendance, 200 came together in Cork at the beginning of January. Another 20 local launches have taken place or are planned for the next days. The potential for the ULA in many areas is very promising and indicates an opportunity, not only for electoral success on 25 February, but also to start the building of a mass political force for and of working people in Ireland.
Political turmoil reflects underlying social crisis
On Tuesday, the disgraced government finally came to an end. Brian Cowen, now definitely in his last weeks as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) (he is not even standing as a candidate in his constituency), announced the dissolution of the Dail, the Irish parliament. New elections will be held on 25 February. According to polls, this could see a fall of Cowen’s party, Fianna Fail, from 42% in 2007 down to 16%! The Greens, who were a junior partner in his government until their pathetic, belated withdrawal from government, are facing a political wipe-out, with a chance that they could lose all seats. Opinion polls show that 94% are now dissatisfied with the government.
Just as elections loom, further attacks on working class living standards are hitting because of Budget 2011. The implementation of a “Universal Social Charge”, replacing previous regulations, takes more than €500 per year from a person with an annual income of €25,000. Changes in income tax affect all people earning more than €18,000 per year, with a fall of €729 – no matter whether they earn €18,000 or €180,000. The minimum wage is being reduced from €8.65 to €7.65 per hour.
These are the results of the implementation of the EU / IMF deal and the bailout for bankers and speculators – “a mechanism to make working people throughout Europe pay for the crisis of a broken financial system”, as Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP, has explained. The deal was not only accepted by the governing parties, but also by Fine Gael and Labour who are expected to form the next government. They will do well in this election by virtue of the hatred of working and middle class people of Fianna Fail and the Greens, but the reality is that there is not strong enthusiasm for the ‘opposition’. This is because it is clear that any government led by these parties would not reverse the huge cuts, and more and more people are looking for an alternative to the EU/IMF diktats that such a government would continue to implement.
An article in the Sunday Independent on 30 January, titled “Austerity be damned!” gave the following figures:
· Record 95% Government dissatisfaction
· 82% want EU/IMF bailout renegotiated
· 75% fear standards of living will fall
· 25% fear losing their home
· 66% worry about paying household bills
· 69% say Croke Park (agreed between trade union leaders and the government) deal ’unrealistic’
Aer Lingus dispute
Although the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has done everything to postpone the resistance of working people against these cuts and has also agreed to huge attacks on public sector workers, bitter disputes are likely to come as Aer Lingus, the former state owned airline shows. More than 300 cabin crew have been suspended from the payroll as they refused to operate new, controversial rosters, introduced by Aer Lingus unilaterally two weeks ago. The cabin crew had already accepted longer hourse, but not under the conditions of these rosters.
The management is playing hardball, and trying to send a message to its workforce not to resist their attacks. Seven of the 300 are now threatened with disciplinary meetings and sacking. Unfortunately their union, Impact, is not even organising joint strike action or spreading the resistance to other workers and unions facing the same attacks from the bosses and the government.
Search for an alternative
Deep frustration, bitterness and a mood of “being sick of all parties” is an element in the situation. However, the search for an alternative is also tangible. Sinn Fein is currently averaging 12% to 14% in the polls (in some polls up to 16%) and so called “independents”, among them the United Left Alliance, are now averaging around 15%, up in recent polls compared to last year.
The Irish Independent newspaper called Sinn Fein’s ability to “present itself as a party of the left in the south and a party of the centre right in the North (where it is in government with the DUP)” as an “amazing phenomenon”. SF initially voted for the Government’s blanket bank guarantee but now presents itself in opposition to the EU / IMF deal and argues for “burning the bondholders”. In the North, SF agreed to a policy of £4 billion cuts over 4 years and more than £500 million in privatisation sell-offs. They also implemented a “pay freeze” for 200,000 workers. Sinn Fein’s ability to benefit from the dramatic changes in the political landscape are further undermined by their record of supporting the IRA campaign in the past, deeply alienating a layer of working people.
The Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) took the initiative to form the United Left Alliance (see http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/4772), which is now standing candidates in 19 constituencies (around half of the constituencies in the state). The ULA can bring together activists from local campaigns, from the trade unions and young people looking for an alternative.
The Socialist Party is arguing for the ULA to adopt a clear socialist programme as a way out of capitalist misery. Given the economic meltdown in Ireland there is openness for socialist ideas to rebuild the economy, using the wealth of the rich and the resources controlled by multinational companies. The Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) argues to “oppose all cutbacks” and “vote against paying a cent towards the debts of bankers and speculators”. Instead of any acceptance of the EU / IMF bailout, a plan to rebuild the economy is needed. The nationalisation of the major industries, banks and financial institutions under workers’ control and management is part of this strategy to overcome the limits of capitalism.
With the chance to win a number of seats in the coming Dail, and armed with such a programme, the ULA could develop into a formation to build a mass working class party in Ireland, with repercussions for the workers’ and socialist movement internationally.
With canvassing, stalls, mass leafleting and postering, the Socialist Party is now doing everything to use the election campaign to return a number of ULA TDs to the Dail, but also to build campaigns to fight all the cuts and attacks when the election is over. In particular, it is crucial that we build the Socialist Party itself as a force that can win mass support for a fighting socialist alternative, which alone offers a way out of the crisis.