Over 350 people attended the United Left Alliance (ULA) National Forum, held in Dublin on June 25. This forum was held exactly four months since the General Election at which the ULA won 5 Dail seats and was the first national gathering of ULA activists from throughout the state.
With mass protest shaking Greek and Spanish capitalism to the core and the threat of national bankruptcy beginning to loom here, the forum was an opportunity for ULA activists to prepare for the gathering storm.
There were two key discussions (“The Left Response to the Crisis” and “What Kind of Party Do We Need?”) and a dozen workshops on issues such as water tax, the unions, the North, womens’ rights and socialism.
There was a clear determination to build a new party to resist the austerity. Speakers were enthusiastic about campaigning against JLC pay cuts, IMF dictatorship and other issues in preparation for the launch of a new party.
There was real debate as to what programme the ULA should adopt.
For more detailed report on this debate, check out this article.
Professor Terence McDonagh advocated a 5-point programme as the left response to the crisis: default, leave the euro, establish a good public bank, a guaranteed job for all and the nationalisation of the Corrib gas field. Kieran Allen of the People Before Profit Alliance and Socialist Workers Party (SWP), argued for cancellation of the national debt to be brought centre stage. Kevin McLoughlin of the Socialist Party outlined how neither foreign direct investment nor Irish capitalism could solve the crisis and that what was needed was a mass movement of ordinary people to be equipped with a socialist programme for decisively ending capitalism.
In reply, Professor McDonagh stated what he was advocating was different to, and separate from, a full socialist programme. Kieran Allen argued that ULA’s programme is effectively the best programme for attracting broad layers of working people and that the Socialist Party line of argument was “abstract”.
Richard Boyd Barrett TD (People Before Profit Alliance and SWP) continued on this theme, arguing that the ULA could win the support of a majority of Irish people who were opposed to cuts, needed to avoid “jargon” and instanced the Enough! anti-IMF protests in July as the way the ULA can build.
Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party) was interrupted with applause when he said that ULA should not facilitate dissident Labour TDs on campaign platforms, something the SWP argue for but did not defend at the forum.
Cllr Mick Barry (Socialist Party) said ULA branches should campaign hard on the class issues, fighting for reform but opposing reformism and any idea that lasting change can be won without ending capitalism. He also argued that the ULA’s platform needed to be strengthened by explicitly calling for an end to capitalism and for a democratic, socialist society with the agenda set by ordinary working people.
In effect, the SWP and some others argued for a radical, left programme allied to activity as a way to reach broad masses of ordinary people whereas the Socialist Party and some others argued that a socialist programme plus campaigns could reach the same broad masses but would also provide a more effective challenge to capitalism.
Joe Higgins TD said that campaigning, the discrediting of Labour by its role in government and active struggle by working people would be key to developing ULA from an alliance to a party. The days’ debates will have focussed ULA members on this goal as we step up our efforts and continue the discussion on the policies that a new party will need.
The Socialist Party believes local ULA meetings and activities should be held at least monthly. Nationally, the ULA must find a way to allow the views of individual members to be reflected on the Steering Committee.
Crucially, the ULA must prepare now to play a leading role in organising mass mobilisations against the EU/IMF and the next austerity budget in December.