With every new turn of the crisis comes an opportunity to win the affiliation of growing numbers of people. However, for the United Left Alliance (ULA), every new opportunity also brings political challenges.
Such is the seriousness of the crisis that the ULA, will not necessarily flounder if it is found wanting on one particular issue.
Having been damaged by being associated with Mick Wallace since the summer, the ULA is at the point were it needs to provide political direction, a fighting strategy and a real alternative if the building of a new mass left is to be pushed forward.
The household tax, soon to be replaced by the property tax, has been the major issue this year. The different elements of the ULA have been active in the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT), but not all have adopted a strong approach on the key issues.
For some time the Socialist Party has stressed the importance of defending non-payment by having a developed strategy for when householders are brought to court. Some multiple homeowners are already being pursued and it is only a matter of time, either this year or early next, that ordinary householders are dragged before the courts.
But amongst some, there is an element of “court case denial” going on and a refusal to prepare the communities and give people the confidence necessary to resist and defy court threats. In many areas, forces from the ULA have actually allowed the campaigns to lapse.
The property tax can be a decisive issue next year but the approach that is being adopted by some ULA affiliates undermines the capability of the campaign to match the potential.
The CAHWT needs to be rebuilt in all areas as active and democratic campaigns, and it needs to be connected to the perspective that the battle against the property tax can be explosive. It can become the sharp edge of a battle against austerity and this government. But right now the ULA isn’t playing the role that it should.
The capitalist crisis is getting worse, but in economic commentary there is a tendency in the ULA of trying to frame our position so that it is seen to be “practical” and “relevant”.
There is a real danger that instead of exposing capitalism in Ireland as incapable of solving any of the major issues facing people today, that the ULA and its reps run the serious risk of sowing illusions, not just that key issues can be relatively easily resolved without major struggle, but even that capitalism itself can resolve them.
In drawing up the ULA pre-budget statement, the Socialist Party has been arguing for the need for radical policies; such as proper nationalisation and democratic control of the banks, including the taking over of the mortgage portfolios and writing down mortgages and repayments, and for these write-downs to be achieved by ensuring that the bank’s creditors are only paid on the basis of proven need. We don’t believe that there is any other just solution to the growing mortgage crisis.
We believe it is now necessary for the ULA and its reps to end the hesitancy that has existed, and to make the case for a fuller socialist programme if we are to point a real way forward, but also if we are inspire people to get involved.
A movement for real choice
The ULA is well positioned to assist the developing movement and potentially grow from its role in relation to the issue of abortion – made all too concrete by the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.
The fact that Clare Daly put forward a bill in ULA private members time in April, that tried to legislate for the Supreme Court Ruling in the X Case, has meant that the ULA is in a strong position now, not just to represent people’s anger in the Dail, but also to build and influence a campaign and struggle for abortion rights.
The establishment, both in government and in the opposition (through Fianna Fail), are doing all they can to narrow the debate and disgracefully are trying to ignore the reality of what caused Savita not to get the treatment she needed.
It is clear that even if the X Case ruling had been legislated for, that Savita or another women in a similar situation, could still have suffered the same fate. The X Case must be legislated for, but it is not enough, and the ULA and its reps need to make sure that every opportunity is taken to expand the debate for abortion rights.
On the basis of the outburst of disgust and anger at the treatment of Savita, there is a need to challenge the counter posing of a woman’s health to her life, which is at the centre of the X Case ruling. Winning support for abortion rights on the grounds of protecting the health of women is potentially a key way of pushing the situation forward.
If there is an over focus by the ULA on legislating for the X Case, we could inadvertently assist the narrowing of the debate, which is one way in which the establishment is trying to get away with making as minimal changes as possible.
In the ULA, the Socialist Party argued that we shouldn’t just move the same bill on X again, but that it would be best if it included a new section citing health as grounds for abortion, as otherwise the ULA would not be taking the opportunity to link the debate to the reality and advocate for fuller abortion rights. Unfortunately, all the other groups and TDs disagreed with this proposal.
There are opportunities for the ULA to lead and build a base for a new left, but taking them requires a correct political perspective, a strong programme and a forward looking approach. Hopefully the ULA collectively will be able to take such an approach but clearly there are serious issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.