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The ULA, the fight against austerity & building a new party of the working class

The ULA, the fight against austerity & building a new party of the working class

The Socialist Party has ended its membership of the ULA. We do so with regret as we initiated the negotiations that led to the ULA and are genuine in our preparedness to work with others on the left in a respectful, democratic and principled fashion.

However some in the ULA, including TDs, have moved away from a principled left position and have ditched the collaborative spirit. Apart from the Socialist Party, the other groups in the ULA have accepted this situation, leaving us with no choice but to withdraw.

These developments decisively undermined the ULA, which was already in a weakened state as ordinary working class people had not joined it in any significant numbers, along with the withdrawal of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (Tipperary) last autumn. As a result, any potential that the ULA had of playing a role in building a new mass Left in Ireland is now gone.

New opportunities for the political re-organisation of the working class

At the same time, the struggle against the Household and Property Tax emerged as a real challenge to the Troika’s and the Government’s disastrous policy of austerity.

This struggle, which more than any other issue encapsulates the opposition to austerity, has now reached a decisive stage with the threat of deducting the tax at source from people’s wages and benefits. It is clear that a major struggle on the Property Tax will politicise tens of thousands of people and will give an enormous impetus to the political re-organisation of the working class, something that unfortunately the ULA proved incapable of achieving.

The Socialist Party remains committed to building a mass and democratic party of the working class and believes that all who are committed to that objective should register the potential significance of the Property Tax issue.

At the start of last year 30,000 people attended meetings organised by the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT). 15,000 marched on the Fine Gael Ard Fheis and by the end of the year nearly 700,000 households, 52% of single home owners, had not registered or paid for the Household Tax.

The threat to rob people’s wages and benefits at source poses difficulties for the campaign and for ordinary people, but it has also deepened the anger. If a strong lead is given on the Property Tax there is a real possibility of even stronger protests this year than last.

An aspect of this struggle should be to connect to the widespread mood to punish Labour and Fine Gael. If out of the struggle came the proposal for a slate or an alliance of anti-Property Tax / anti-austerity candidates for the Local and European Elections next year, that would really ratchet up the pressure on the Government, and on Labour in particular.

Such a proposal could gain huge support and could lead to the involvement of thousands of working class people in a political struggle, with the possibility that many working class activists could get elected. Such developments would not only be a massive step towards forcing the scrapping of the Property Tax, but would also represent a big step towards a new mass party of the working class.

Lessons from the ULA’s demise

The original idea of the ULA was for an electoral and parliamentary alliance of groups. On the suggestion of the Socialist Party, a membership was established to try to build a more significant alliance.

The launching of the ULA was a positive development coinciding as it did with the imposition of the Troika’s Programme and the looming general election. However, the worsening austerity combined with the abysmal failure of the trade union leadership to mount any struggle against it in the wake of the major public sector strike and mass demonstration in November 2010, dented people’s confidence and there was a tendency to wait and see if the new Fine Gael / Labour Government might be different.

Unfortunately, the absence of industrial struggles or battles against austerity, combined with a feeling that there was no alternative to austerity, meant that working class people weren’t pushed towards getting politically involved and the ULA didn’t grow despite many public recruitment meetings. Overwhelmingly the very limited numbers who did join were already established left activists, so instead of growing, the ULA barely got off the mark.

Last summer sections of the media consciously used Mick Wallace’s tax evasion and Clare Daly’s close political connection to him to attack the Left. This  damaged the Socialist Party and the ULA’s standing as principled Left organisations.

The Socialist Party insists that its elected representatives must be politically independent from business or capitalist interests or people who represent such interests, even more so when tax evasion is involved. In this instance, the fact that the Socialist Party was prepared to lose a TD rather than compromise on an important principle meant that we overcame that damage and gained considerable credit among working class people in particular, who strongly disapprove of Mick Wallace’s actions.

Political independence of the left can’t be compromised

Unfortunately Clare Daly and another ULA TD, Joan Collins, intensified this political connection with Mick Wallace. They co-presented the X case abortion bill with him in late November. Furthermore on 20 December they organised a major press conference with him, and also Independent TD Luke Flanagan, on the issue of alleged corruption among certain members of the Garda in erasing penalty points for traffic offences. These generated significant media coverage.

They consciously chose not to organise on these issues under the ULA banner but instead opted to promote what is essentially a new alliance of parliamentarians who are not of the Left. This was a body blow to the already diminished credibility of the ULA.

Just as damning for the future of the ULA as these actions, was the fact that none of the other groups in the alliance, the People Before Profit Alliance, the Independent / Non-aligned Group nor significantly, the Socialist Workers Party, opposed this approach of supposedly being committed to a left project but in practice contradicting that by organising a political alliance with others in the Dáil Technical Group who couldn’t at all be characterised as on the Left.

On 25 November, at the ULA Council, a motion moved by the Socialist Party on the need to end the political connection with Mick Wallace was voted down by all the other groups. In so doing they assisted in the jettisoning of a cornerstone principle for any left organisation, that it must take seriously its political independence from business interests or forces representing business interests.

Around the same time, the “Daly Bill” on the X case was resubmitted for the ULA’s Private Member’s slot on 27 November but, unfortunately, this was done without any consultation and in defiance of a specifically agreed procedure which necessitated discussion and consensus. If the Socialist Party had the opportunity, we were going to advocate that the ULA submit a bill on the X case but that it should be expanded to cater for a risk to a woman’s health as grounds for an abortion, with a view to broadening out the debate and discussion on abortion in the wake of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.

ULA at an impasse, but a real basis for optimism for the future

This subverting of democratic procedure undermined the structures and relations in the ULA. Despite the facts, any wrong doing was denied and again unfortunately, none of the other groups made any serious objection to what had happened when it was raised at the Council meeting. These developments destroyed any basis for principled political collaboration and the ULA has been at an impasse ever since.

The ULA is compromised and cannot now be seen as an independent, principled Left alliance nor any longer can there be hope that it could prepare the ground for a new mass workers’ party in the years ahead. These are the reasons why, as well as the need to avoid any future damaging associations for the party or for struggles that we are involved in, the Socialist Party is withdrawing from the ULA.

The Socialist Party is open to work with those who remain in the ULA on specific issues, on an agreed basis, both inside and outside the Dáil. However we believe that the key to building a Left alternative will flow from a serious struggle against the disastrous austerity and bailout agenda and in particular from the involvement of thousands of working class people in the battle against the property and water taxes in the year ahead.

Socialist Party members will be among the most active fighters in all aspects of the battle against the Property Tax. As part of that our members will raise in a democratic fashion, locally and nationally, the idea that an anti-Property Tax and anti-austerity challenge in the Local and European Elections in 2014 should be pursued by the campaigns.

Such an electoral initiative, combined with the active struggle against the tax and mass mobilisations against the Government, has the potential to pose a more real and substantial opportunity to build a new mass party of the working class.

Through the establishment of the ULA, initiated by the Socialist Party, an alternative was posed in half the Dáil constituencies in the last general election. We believe that the hopes engendered for a genuine left and socialist alternative which that stand raised, can be surpassed in the months ahead, if the unprecedented opportunity that the next elections offer, is fully grasped.

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