The United Left Alliance, in existence just seven months, was established to pull together a slate of candidates in advance of a general election. The election then came quickly, a year and a half early, forced along because the deepening economic crisis smashed the basis for the government.
The economic crisis and the austerity attacks of the new Fine Gael / Labour government, even worse than those of Fianna Fail and the Greens, now pose huge challenges for the ULA.
This isn’t a recession; it’s a depression, which is being made much worse by the austerity policies of the government, the EU and the IMF. The latest figures show unemployment is up despite mass emigration.
The combination of huge indebtedness and no productive investment in the economy means it is impossible to see the circumstances in which economic decline can be halted over the next years. The growing prospect of a double dip in the world economy makes the situation here even gloomier.
The recent developments in both Greece and Spain, where new mass struggles have erupted from below led by young people, are extremely significant. That there is suspicion of political parties and some hostility to the distribution of political leaflets and papers in these movements at the moment doesn’t alter the extremely progressive character of these developments.
In both countries, the social democratic parties presided over the crisis and are now the ones imposing the dictates of the capitalist market. The trade union bureaucracies have also refused to organise a fight back against austerity. These conditions created the basis for the current explosions from below.
While the mood amongst working class people in Ireland is down at the moment, fundamentally the situation here has much more in common with Greece, Spain and Portugal than different.
Labour is now in power and has begun to demonstrate in practice its betrayal of the working class. The hatred of the trade union leaders was graphically illustrated by the mass booing of Messr’s O’Connor and Begg when they tried to address the trade union rally last November.
The ULA, the individual members and the groups involved, must prepare for an inevitable explosion of anger here which, when it comes, will be every bit as significant as the movements sweeping southern Europe.
The ULA has a responsibility to help resist the devastation of living standards and the war being waged against the working class itself. Struggle and the mass mobilisations, including militant industrial action, can knock back the attacks of the government and the bosses and the ULA must assist workers to take action and to seize back control of their unions from the bureaucracy.
However, crucially unless the capitalist system itself is challenged, the government and the bosses will return relentlessly over the next years to try to restore profit levels by super exploitation and the imposition of poverty conditions reminiscent of the 1950s or the 1930s.
Therefore, as well as fighting the attacks, the ULA has the responsibility to advocate a real alternative – a complete break with capitalism and a socialist programme and plan for economic development, the only alternative to private ownership of wealth and profiteering.
The Socialist Party thinks that the ULA should aspire to lead the revolt against austerity, which is likely to include young people, the working class and sections of the middle class. However, the job of the ULA is not to become the leadership of a revolt on the basis of hiding the left and socialist policies necessary to overcome the crisis. That would contradict the purpose for establishing the ULA in the first place.
The job of the ULA is to argue for socialist policies and strive, over time, on the basis of peoples experiences of capitalism in crisis, to win mass and then majority support for genuine socialism as the only way forward.
While the conditions are difficult for working class people, this crisis of capitalism poses an historic opportunity to build a new mass socialist movement. The ULA should be confident of its ability to put forward a skilful and a strong case for socialist policies and, on the other hand, the ULA must have confidence in the ability of young people and the working class to understand and become champions for revolutionary socialist change.