ULA: Historic breakthrough – Now build a socialist opposition

Enda Kenny was proposed as Taoiseach by the youngest Fine Gael TD in a gushing speech. Then Labour’s youngest TD was very happy to second the proposal. Micheal Martin gave his own endorsement. As well he might, seen as the new government just copied and pasted the policies of the outgoing Fianna Fail / Green administration, who in turn had copied and pasted them from the IMF and EU bosses.

As people watched and listened on live TV and radio to the opening of the new Dail, undoubtedly many wondered who is going to bring some reality into these proceedings, who will oppose this austerity consensus and fight for the victims of this crisis, ordinary working class people?

Gerry Adams, leading a group of fourteen Sinn Fein TDs should have been next but in a move that will be symptomatic of the new Dail, he was beaten to the punch by Socialist Party and United Left Alliance TD, Joe Higgins.

Joe saw Adams’ hesitation, rose to his feet quicker, was duly recognised by the Ceann Comhairle and then delivered a blistering speech that marked the cards of the new government and outlined the role that the Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance would play in opposing the government’s attacks and to build a real left and socialist alternative. Timing is very important in politics.

In the course of the first day, new Socialist Party TD Clare Daly and the three other ULA TDs also spoke.

Since its establishment last October, the United Left Alliance has had the impact it was designed to have. However, at the start of 2010 the then Fianna Fail and Green government seemed to have weathered the storms of the Lisbon Treaty, the re-negotiation of the government programme and a draconian austerity budget. This was largely because of the capitulation of the trade union leaders but to some it looked as if the government may be in for some peace and stability.

The Socialist Party’s perspective was that the crisis would get worse and that it was likely that the government would be on the ropes by the years end. That was the basis we re-ignited the discussions regarding an alliance which lead to the formation of the ULA. We felt that it was very important to establish a principled left alliance before an election.

As it turned out, the ULA was established at precisely at the time when attention turned to politics and the need for an election and it became part of that debate. Then when the EU and IMF stepped in, Labour signalled its capitulation to austerity, while on the other hand Sinn Fein mounted a spirited but fundamentally phoney opposition austerity considering the huge cutbacks they are imposing austerity in the North. In this situation, the existence of the ULA was critical as it represented a real force of opposition and for a left and socialist alternative.

Getting five TDs elected and standing 20 candidates was a major achievement. Each candidate was strengthened by their involvement in the ULA. Though it is likely that most or all of the TDs could have been elected even without the ULA, its establishment was very important for other reasons. If the ULA hadn’t been established to give a good political definition to a left alternative, undoubtedly there would be now be a scramble of discussions amongst the host of Independent / Left TDs with the possibility that a political group would have emerged that was much more vaguely left and potentially unprincipled.

Even though the ULA’s programme is not explicitly socialist, it is consistent in its rejection of capitalism and is generally left. This programme can act as an anchor and help ensure that ULA representatives clearly distinguish themselves from Labour and Sinn Fein and point a real way out of the crisis. The Socialist Party strongly believes that the ULA should advocate a full socialist programme as the only way forward, but we recognise that for now the ULA programme has had an effect and is a step forward to be built on.

A new formation has – in our view – to be linked to the struggles of the working class. Therefore it needs a socialist programme breaking with the dictatorship of the markets. While being prepared to fight against cutbacks and attacks with everyone serious about this, a new formation has to exclude any fundamental concession or even governmental participation with formations like the Labour Party, as they are committed to implementation of austerity and attacks on working class people. We ask all workplace and trade union activists, social campaigners and interested people to be involved in these discussions – and the fight back.

ULA is now in a position to fight for the mantle of being the real left and socialist opposition in the Dail and is well placed to be the principled nucleus around which a new party for the working class can be established.

All this and the ULA is just four months old. The immediate task is to consolidate the alliance politically and organisationally but at the same time, we have to go on the offensive, particularly in the Dail against the government. Using the Dail as a platform, the ULA must struggle to establish itself in the broad consciousness as offering a real opposition and popularise the left/socialist alternative. This will be a huge help to organise the coming battles to defend public sector jobs and services, the fight the water charges and home taxes, and all the other attacks, already announced by the new government.

We should move to try to establish the local groups of the ULA where local launches have taken place. Just under 2,000 attended these launch meetings in total. Unfortunately, a relatively small minority of those actually got active in the election campaigns but now we need to see if independent groups can be established. The Steering Committee should also organise launches in some of the key cities that haven’t yet been touched.

The national convention of all ULA registered supporters that had been pencilled in for February but which had to be postponed, should now be properly prepared and built for to take place in May or early June. There should be a full and free debate on what next for the ULA and the programme and ideas that it stands on before and at such a convention.

The ULA should be open to discuss with a few of the independent TDs who consider themselves to be on the left but this should be done on the basis of trying to convince them to take a genuine step to the left in the context of this profound crisis of capitalism. However, what is most important is that the ULA tries to attract and encourage workers and young people who have not been involved to get active in the struggle.

The Socialist Party believes the ULA should launch a new party for working class people. As stated previously timing is crucial in politics. The issue is not if, it’s when a new party should be launched. The ULA needs to clarify its programme, perspectives and orientation. The best conditions in which to launch a new party would be on the basis of shifts in opinion against the new government based on their austerity policies, radicalisation and the development of activity and struggle in workplaces, communities and of young people. The job of the groups in the ULA and of the ULA itself is to prepare the ground so that when a new party is launched it becomes a real factor in Irish politics.