Only Labour can deliver real change! That’s the message on leaflets dropping into homes around the country. One recent opinion poll gave Labour 32% of the vote, indicating that they could become the biggest party in the state.
The consequences of that would be historic – Labour would be the majority party in the next government and Eamon Gilmore would be the first Labour Taoiseach. That certainly would constitute real change, at least for Eamon and Co.
There is a perception that Labour is clean, bear no responsibility for the crisis and that they have been consistent enough in their opposition to the government, and they certainly encourage that perception. But does Labour offer real hope and can they deliver real change on key issues and on the economic crisis?
With only one councillor, Joe Higgins in Mulhuddart, the Socialist Party and working class communities in Dublin led a campaign that defeated water charges in the 1990s. Labour has 20 TDs, 132 councillors and 6 Senators. Many of the most influential union leaders and officials are members of Labour. By any standards, Labour has very significant resources and influence and the crucial question for any force claiming to represent working people is, has it used its power to help workers and the unemployed fight the affects of this economic crisis?
Labour has developed the knack of false claims and speaking out of both sides of their mouth at the same time but they have refused to fight in any serious way for ordinary people during this crisis.
Labour may have voted against the bank guarantee but they support the bail-out. They said the banks should be nationalised temporarily and then reprivatised. That is, we should pay the debts but then the bankers, who caused the crisis, should again be able to trouser the big money when the banks become profitable again. That is a version of socialism, but it’s socialism for the rich.
Eamon Gilmore didn’t tell workers that they should support the Croke Park Deal but he did say that public sector workers who took industrial action to defend their pay would be engaging in economic sabotage!
The Lisbon Treaty is being exposed. It is now being used by the EU and different governments to help impose austerity cuts throughout Europe. Eamon Gilmore lied that Lisbon would be beneficial for workers. Then he said that Labour would never support a Lisbon 2. Then Eamon Gilmore lied again when he supported Lisbon 2.
In the middle of the conflict before last December’s budget, when the government was trying to intimidate workers into accepting €4 billion worth of cuts and restructuring, Eamon Gilmore said there should be €6 billion worth of “financial adjustment” and restructuring, justifying this sell-out on the basis that they advocated a few limited measures against the rich, some whistles and bells!
Based on this experience, workers and young people can expect nothing from the Labour Party in government, even if they were to out poll Fine Gael and become the majority party in that coalition.
Labour supports the organisation of the economy around private ownership and profit and it can’t deliver on any issues that go beyond what capitalism is prepared to give. Right now, in the grips of a profound capitalist crisis, that is nothing but continuous attacks on living standards and in power that is what Labour would try to impose.
On occasions, Labour may try to quote Connolly and Larkin. But Connolly and Larkin never sold-out and remained organically linked to the working class.
But Labour politicians and the trade union leaders have never been so divorced from the mass of ordinary people. Labour may not be mired with the same corruption as Fianna Fail and Fine Gael but each Labour TD gets a salary of €120,000 plus expenses in any case. That’s more than three times the average industrial wage. Some senior figures in Labour would get much more from ministerial pensions etc. It is simply not possible for Labour to reflect or represent the needs of working class people.
The biggest things that Labour has going for it are people’s desperation to get rid of this government and that they haven’t been in government in more than thirteen years.
Labour was in power between 1992 and 1997 and those were first years of the so-called Celtic Tiger boom, which was rooted in neo-liberal policies, where governments encouraged the making of super profits.
The unsustainable credit and property bubbles that have made the crisis in Ireland worse were not just based in the actions of Fianna Fail in the last few years; Labour and Fine Gael started the ball rolling and legitimised such policies.
When Labour was in power, house prices took off; lending policy was relaxed; the rich were given a tax amnesty in 1993, which encouraged corruption and fraud; corporation taxes were reduced but water charges were imposed on ordinary people; the drive to privatisation began with Team Aer Lingus and Telecom Eireann.
The growth in support for Labour shows the huge desire for a real alternative but clearly Labour isn’t an alternative and they need to be challenged. Socialists who refer to Labour as left-wing will only serve to re-enforce the illusions that seem to be developing and divert focus away from the key issue – that is the urgent need for people to get active to build a new mass party to represent the working class.