Ireland: Build the ULA, build the fight back!

New government: "Same circus, just different clowns!"

It’s just two months into this new Dail and the character of the new government is clear. Its the same as the old one, kneels before the ditaks of the EU/IMF, with the Labour Party in particular, arrogantly lecturing working class people to accept austerity cuts. As someone on the radio said, "Same circus, just different clowns!"

It is only a matter of time before Fine Gael and Labour’s defence that they have inherited an economic disaster will cut no ice and people will fight their attacks.

In the months ahead it is very important that the United Left Alliance (ULA) cuts itself out as the left alternative to the crisis and builds its active support. That is essential preparation for the successful launching of a new party, hopefully in the near future.

So far, between them, the five ULA TDs [members of the Irish parliament] have spoken more than 120 times in the Dail. But added to this the ULA needs a clear campaigning and fighting profile outside the Dail on the key issues of unemployment and jobs, the attacks on pay and the housing and mortgage crisis.

ULA launches on local level

April saw the start of a series of public meetings to formally launch the ULA in local areas, particularly were candidates stood in the general election. These meetings will continue well into May.

The Socialist Party proposed that a ULA membership should now be established. A ULA membership card has been produced and a recruitment leaflet will be available soon so activists can engage in an organised recruitment drive.

The attendance at the meetings so far is down on the attendance at the meetings just before the election. That doesn’t surprise us and is in line with the dip in mood amongst the working class at this point. There is huge submerged anger but people are also down and fearful.

The Socialist Workers Party seems to favour launching a new party immediately, dismissing the problems that the current mood of the working class poses and warning against delays and conservatism. However, that has more to do with inappropriate impatience than a serious approach to building a new party.

A new party

Others are nervous about whether the working class will fight back and become part of a new party and therefore are desperate for a move forward now. That’s understandable, but it is impossible to conjure up a new party without a willingness of a significant layer of people to get involved. Given the material conditions that are developing, struggle and further radicalisation are inevitable and all in the ULA should be fully confident that that, and a new party will happen.

The immediate task is to flesh out the ULA as much as is possible and prepare the ground for the launching of a new party when there has been a clear shift against this government, Labour in particular, and an active opposition to the austerity. Seizing the opportunity when it opens up will guarantee that the launch of a new party will be a big success and engender the momentum we all desire, potentially bringing thousands of working class people into political activity.

Debate on programme

As indicated there are some differences regarding the timing and best circumstances in which to launch a new party. However, there is full agreement amongst all the component groups in the ULA that we are taking essential steps towards establishing a new party and that is very positive and welcome.

There is general agreement on the ULA programme that rejects the capitalist market and calls for democratic public ownership of the key wealth and resources in society. The Socialist Party thinks these policies need to be pushed more consistently by representatives of the ULA.

We disagree with important aspects of the approach of the other groups in the ULA to taxation. Corporation tax rate must be increased. To argue to maintain the 12.5% rate gives credence to the false idea that private or foreign investment is a way to tackle unemployment.

We also think to pose that the crisis can be tackled primarily by taxing the rich but staying silent on the need for democratic public ownership of the key wealth and resources is mistaken. If that isn’t argued for the ULA will be incapable of convincing people that it represents a real alternative. These issues should be debated at the ULA conference on June 25th.

Essential for the building of the ULA and a new party is to attract the most fighting and politically aware workers and young people to get involved.

Orientation towards current Labour politicans?

However, in the leaflet for the ULA public meetings, the SWP say, “It (the ULA) should reach out to any left wing politician who commits themselves to oppose “the consensus for cuts”. A bit later it adds, “Where sections of Labour start to break with their party leaders, for example, they should be welcomed onto platforms…But they should also be told to break with the Labour Party leadership…”

For the ULA to orientate to current Labour politicians and members would be a significant mistake and would inevitably undermine the potential to attract the best workers and young people.

Ordinary members of Labour breaking away and genuinely coming over to the ULA is fair enough, but the SWP is open to Labour TDs speaking on ULA platforms while they are still part of a government that is imposing the worst austerity in the history of the state. This has nothing to do with helping to fight austerity or building a new left, but rather it would disgust workers and young people whose lives are being destroyed by the cuts.

These are important political issues and relate to how the ULA should be built and they should form part of the debate at June’s convention. Hopefully there will be a big audience of ordinary working class people at the convention who will fully participate in these debates and to push the ULA forward.

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April 2011