Get yourselves over to CLR (although if anyone comes here before going there, you really need to have a word with yourselves) for the skinny on the newborn United Left Alliance, a pre-electoral grouping formed in Dublin over the weekend.

From the language and precipitousness of the text released, I’m guessing it’s a PBPA production. That said, it’s undoubtedly legit, and something of this nature has been on the cards for quite some time. Joining the happy PBPA/Socialist Party couple at the altar will be Séamus Healy’s Tipperary Workers’ & Unemployed Action Group, while the West contributes the Declan Bree Commando, based around the colourful Sligo county councillor.

The inclusion of the last-named represents something of a triumph for ecumenicism, as the former Labour councillor woudn’t have pushed too many buttons on the more hardcore Trot wing of the alliance.

It wouldn’t be Circumlimina if we weren’t fully engaged in pettifogging nit-picking, so let’s get that out of the way first, starting with the name. I appreciate the need not to transgress against the political sensibilities of the component groups, but it would have been nice to have avoided transgressions against the English language, too. United Left Alliance is a frightful tautology, any alliance being, perforce and by definition, united.

On a more serious note, some of the language in the issued document is a little bit strange.

The alliance will be open to anyone who accepts its basic programme and aims, but the aim is to attract as many workers and young people as possible.

The absence of the unemployed (arguably the constituency most ripe for recruitment and most urgently in need of representation) from that target group is rather striking. I’m putting it down to thoughtless use of language rather than dogmatic Marxist workerism, though.

In the situation now facing the country, such a party could grow rapidly, supplanting Labour and Sinn Fein, and providing a real alternative to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

I say, one step at a time, what? Actually, I’m going to shock all regular followers of this blog by stating that I would have relatively little problem with a sizeable, principled and cohesive left bloc supporting a minority Labour-only government on a strong social democratic (i.e., nationalisation, no cuts, bleeding the rich dry and fucking the Commission in the ear) basis, provided they could extract massive concessions and veto cabinet appointments. But that’s cloud-cuckoo stuff, and more because of the orientation of the Labour leadership than the parliamentary arithmetic.

I must note also that talk of “supplanting” the Labour Party concedes them too much credit, particularly in the wake of Gilmore’s parliamentary assault against public servants and the unemployed today.

It will initially have a register of supporters, a steering committee, a website, a media group, and will hold open monthly meetings in all the constituencies where it is fielding candidates for the general election. At this stage 12/13 candidates are agreed, covering Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Wexford, Tipperary South and Sligo, with a number of other areas and candidates to be considered.

All good stuff, particularly the media group, a drum I’ve been banging arrhythmically for some time. We can only hope that the ULA fares better than TUSC, the half-hearted left alliance formed on the eve of the UK election, which died a predictable death at the polls. Even a convocation of relatively small left groupings, sharing goals and resources in good faith and broadsiding Labour from the left, could help effect a significant change to the national narrative. It may be an electoral lash-up, but the true barometer of its success will be in making itself relevant as a force in national politics before the election takes place.

It is also to be hoped that the ULA, like St. Brigid’s cloak, will expand to cover more ground over time. I note the absence from the list of attendees of the Irish Socialist Network, a bunch of natural born contrarians if ever there was, but one with a contribution to make. This is especially discernible on my own native soil of Dublin North West, where the socialist left (the ISN and the Workers’ Party) are operating from a solid base of ~1k first preferences. With one, and possibly two, sitting FF incumbents surely for the chop, and the Labour and Sinn Féin franchisees (Shortall and Ellis) being the very definition of low-hanging fruit intellectually speaking, it would be a crying shame if no concerted challenge were mounted from the left.

Let’s not, to be rhetorically redundant for a moment, overplay the significance of this development. This is not even the beginning of the beginning of the end of the end of the beginning. But those of us, and we are many, who daily choke back back our anger at the desecration of everything we understand to be implicit in the words “society”, “justice” and “compassion” might just have a productive outlet for our discontent. For that reason, I’d urge everybody to register as a supporter when the facility becomes available. You’re not being asked to discard all your personal and ideological differences to accord with a party orthodoxy. You’re being invited to sign up for the defence of your families, your communities and broader society from what even the most resistant to the idea must surely now acknowledge is a fully-fledged class war.

The ULA might be an electoral mechanism for now, but it might also grow legs and become a powerful weapon for the defence of the defenceless. If nothing else, all those involved are sincere about the necessity for such a weapon. And the one lesson all of us have learned beneath the blows of the financial and political elite over the past two years is that no-one else is going to stand up and fight on our behalf.


18 Responses to “HalleULA”

  1. WorldbyStorm Says:

    Your last sentence hits the nail on the head. It’s a grim lesson, and all the more painful because it demonstrates how much has yet to be achieved.

    BTW, I’m not sure people should go to the CLR before Circumlimina…

  2. Mark P Says:

    I think it’s worth remembering that this is an internal or semi-internal PBPA document, with their take, language and priorities put forward when, you are assessing certain aspects of it.

  3. Pidge Says:

    I’m an outsider to all of this, but Dr. X’s comment on the CLR put it nicely:

    “A Left Alliance that includes an SWP front group.

    What could possibly go wrong?”

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      That’s why I think the structure is a wisely-chosen one. If the SWP pull any shenanigans, the other elements can retreat to their minimum programme of a solid electoral alliance. If there’s a bit of good faith on all sides (which there certainly wasn’t with TUSC), it can develop traction in the possibly lengthy period before the election and become greater than the sum of its parts.

  4. neilcaff Says:

    As far as TUSC is concerned I think people are mistaken in their belief it is dead.

    There will be a national meeting of representatives of all the TUSC election campaigns from the general election in February to discuss the future direction of TUSC and plan for the local and regional elections in 2011. As well as this the RMT has written to TUSC formally requesting that it works with the National Shop Stewards Network to become the political face of opposition to the cuts.

    These are all modest steps in comparison to what’s going in in Ireland of course but I certainly wouldn’t write off TUSC just yet.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Well, TUSC is actually up and running, so I’m not sure the ULA outstrips it by that much at this point. But I do see more potential in the ULA. Whatever about its utility at present (which I’m pleased to hear of), you can’t deny that TUSC was a miserable failure at the polls because of the half-hearted way it was set up and run just prior to the election. Must say I find the Socialist Party E&W’s top-down approach to getting union leaders on board and presenting it as union backing a bit odd, ideologically and strategically. I think the Old Labour DNA is a bit of a hindrance at times, in terms of outlook.

    • neilcaff Says:

      With respect DD I suspect you’ve gleaning most of your info on TUSC from the pages of the Weekly Worker.

      The main reason TUSC did badly at the polls was because there was a squeeze in the vote for small parties as the prospect of a return of the Tories polarized the vote. The election of a Green MP in Brighton was an exception for local reasons but nationally, both left and right the vote for fringe parties fell. Respect lost their MP and failed to get Salma Yaqoob elected, the Greens lost all bar one of their councillors in the London borough of Lewisham, which was their next biggest electoral base outside Brighton. The BNP councillors were almost wiped out nationally and didn’t come near to getting an MP elected. UKIP did very badly as well.

      It was probably the least favourable circumstances possible to set up a left electoral coalition but you have to start from where you are. Everyone in the Socialist Party would agree with you it should have been set up far earlier but what people don’t realise is that the formation of TUSC only came about after months of discussion, cajoling, negotiation and lobbying.
      This is unfortunately the reality of genuine coalition building where the time table is not set by one organisation but by the competing (legitimate) agendas of several different groups and individuals. Also when your dealing with unions (don’t forget the POA and PCS are also in the mix on one level or another) the wheels of action can often move quite slowly, again however, this is the reality of dealing with the mass organisations of the working class. There are committee’s, factions, cliques, competing agendas and many other factors outside the control of the SP that have to be dealt with.

      Once it was off the ground though I can assure you as someone who organised one of the TUSC campaigns in London there was nothing half hearted about the campaigns we ran or for any of the campaigns run by the other members of the coalition.

      I don’t really understand what you mean by ‘top down approach to geting union leaders involved’ actually means. TUSC is a coalition, not a party. Genuine coalitions are the coming together of different organisations around an agreed minimum program to work together where each component is free to run their end of the campaign in a manner they see fit. In essence it’s a mobile balance between cooperation and autonomy. It was a big step that the leadership of the RMT agreed to back a national electoral challenge. In the RMT’s case they choose to do that by allowing branches that wished to run candidates under the banner of TUSC. As far as I’m aware 6 RMT branches ran candidates and other groups in TUSC in the local area helped out and the bulk of the remaining candidates endorsed candidates run from other TUSC affiliated organisations. People may not agree with how the RMT ran their end of the campaign but that is a matter for the RMT membership to decide. At the last RMT national conference the work of TUSC was overwhelmingly endorsed by the the elected delegates and the Executive was mandated to continue the work in TUSC.

      Of course there is ample room for improvement with TUSC and I think will improve as it builds its local profile but also as a deepening politicisation of the most combative elements in the class make TUSC a pole of attraction. The end point obviously is a full workers party but we’re a long way from that yet.

    • neilcaff Says:

      The perils of early morning posting…

      This; “As far as I’m aware 6 RMT branches ran candidates and other groups in TUSC in the local area helped out and the bulk of the remaining candidates endorsed candidates run from other TUSC affiliated organisations.”

      Should read; As far as I’m aware 6 RMT branches ran candidates and other groups in TUSC in the local area helped out and the bulk of the remaining RMT branches endorsed candidates from other TUSC affiliated organisations.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      From the Weekly Worker? Give me some credit here. 😉 One of the few things I thought TUSC did right from the outset was to give the Ceepie Geebies short shrift rather than accommodate their Trojan horse.

      It was obvious from the outset that the SP had gambled on TUSC becoming an expansion of No2EU, when in fact it turned out to be a regression. I think the SP in England (less so in Ireland, where Labour was never the undisputed champion of the trade union movement) is hidebound by a very 20th century vision of what a 21st century workers’ party will look like. The RMT’s equivocal support, appearances by Bob Crow in a personal capacity and endorsement by local branches are not the stuff of a new LRC.

      The “squeeze” analysis I’ve always found a little specious an an overarching explanation for the failure of the left. Undoubtedly it was a factor, but if one acknowledges it as the sole or major contributory factor, it would be a fine argument for throwing the hat at the whole thing. If the whiff of a Tory government, after thirteen years of vicious Blairite neoliberalism, was enough to send people scrambling for the Labour box, what are five years of Tory rule and five years of leftish posing from Labour going to do next time?

      I vividly remember a statement posted by the SP itself recounting the feeling within the party that they should only consent to enter into an arrangement with the SWP because their target audience wouldn’t know they were a bunch of chancers. That sort of bad faith, and what seemed from the outside to have been a fairly poorly-integrated campaign (we all know how these things can end up, but either you commit to them or you don’t) indicates to me that TUSC was hamstrung from the start. However, I’m very pleased to hear that it’s building up momentum, and hopefully capitalising on some of the diffuse and unfocused goodwill towards such an enterprise that by all accounts was evident on the campaign trail.

    • neilcaff Says:

      Ok the WW was harsh. Socialist Unity maybe? 🙂

      “The RMT’s equivocal support, appearances by Bob Crow in a personal capacity and endorsement by local branches are not the stuff of a new LRC.”
      You got that right. If we get as far as the LRC that would be progress. Although bear in mind the LRC spent a fair amount of time (15 years?) in the wilderness battling against the hegemony of the Liberals for the working class vote. I don’t think it will take another 15 years for a new workers party to come about because the crisis of capitalism is far more acute than it was in the period the LRC was first formed.

      I don’t think the SP are hidebound on how a new party will be formed. If the smoking ruins of the Socialist Alliance and Respect has taught us anything it’s that a new party will not be formed simply by having a coming together of the existing left organisation or simply on the back of a single social movement. Because of the traditions of the British Labour movement with it’s close connection between industrial and political struggle then any stable, long term formation needs to have the active input of the organised working class. The SP position is often caricatured as getting as just getting TU leaders on board. This is not the case. In the PCS, where the SP has quite an influence, there has been a year long consultation with the membership over the question of political representation. We want the membership to be active in pushing their union organisations to throw it’s weight behind a new political party. Where people like Bob Crow are willing to co-operate with us in this goal so much the better. Believe me the job is much harder where you have unions with a hostile leadership like Unison where SP members are being witch hunted out of the union primarily due to our stance on the Labour Party. The leaderships of the unions do matter. It’s an interconnected task to mobilise rank and file unionists around the idea of new political party of the working class and winning the argument with the union leadership, either by persuasion or re-election.

      “what are five years of Tory rule and five years of leftish posing from Labour going to do next time?”
      The Labour Party can pose left all they want. It may even fool people. But on a local level they will be implementing a lot of the cuts. In Rhondda Cynon Taff council in Wales the Labour group are threatening to sack the entire council workforce unless they sign new contract cutting their pay and conditions. There will be no place to hide for the Labour Party.

  5. ejh Says:

    United Left Alliance is a frightful tautology, any alliance being, perforce and by definition, united.

    Do you know I’d missed this before you pointed it out. I must be getting old.

  6. sonofstan Says:

    The SWP really need to recruit a pedant: as well as the solecism in the name of the organisation – although there the blame is shared – the document confuses ‘affect/ effect’ which always sets my teeth on edge, and today, I saw posters in town asking ‘is a European worker’s revolt coming?’ Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it’ll take more than one worker for it to have any effect (or affect, as they prefer.)

  7. ejh Says:

    And add a full stop after the final bracket.

  8. Mark P Says:

    United Left Alliance to challenge at general election

    The newly established United Left Alliance, which will be publicly launched at a rally in the Ashling Hotel , Dublin on Friday 26 November, involves the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance, the South Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group and the Independent Socialist group of Declan Bree in Sligo.

    The ULA is a joint slate or alliance of candidates that will put forward a real left alternative in the general election and challenge the austerity and capitalist consensus amongst all the parties in the Dail, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Greens but also clearly including Labour and Sinn Fein.

    The ULA flows from a process of discussions initiated some time ago by the Socialist Party. It is a necessary and principled attempt at serious co-operation between left groups and while we will have to see how it goes over the next months, the Socialist Party hopes that the ULA will be an important first step in the formation of a new mass party for working class people, based on socialist policies.

    The ULA could possibly stand up to 20 candidates in the general election. This will include many who will seriously challenge to win TD positions, most obviously Seamus Healy in South Tipperary, Cllr Joan Collins in Dublin South Central, Richard Boyd Barrett in Dun Laoghaire, and clearly the Socialist Party will be going all out to try to get Joe Higgins MEP and Councillors Clare Daly and Mick Barry elected in Dublin North and Cork North Central respectively.

    As of now ULA candidates will stand in five cities, with Declan Bree also standing in Sligo, Seamus O’Brien (PBPA/SWP) standing in Wexford and Cian Prendiville of the Socialist Party standing in Limerick.

    In pushing for the establishment for a slate/alliance, the Socialist Party argued that it was very important to try to get a fraction of genuinely left TDs elected at the next opportunity. Given that this crisis will continue to wreck devastation for the foreseeable future and the likelihood that Labour will be in power putting the boot into working class people while ICTU sit idly by, three or four left TDs could become a very important focal point for organising struggle against austerity and for the launching of a new party of the working class to fill the political vacuum.

    The outstanding role that Joe Higgins played in national politics when it was difficult for the left during the boom years is on the one hand a model, but on the other also shows the massive potential that will exist in this unprecedented crisis to use the Dail as platform.

    The ULA was primarily established on the basis of agreement on a political programme, agreement on specific candidates that were credible as well as how other potential candidates could be agreed. There was an agreement on a democratic and consensual approach to decision making and establishing structures of the ULA.

    In the initial discussions which only involved the Socialist Party and the PBPA, there was debate and disagreement between us, particularly with the SWP, on the issue of whether an alliance should explicitly advocate socialist policies and socialism as the solution to the crisis. The Socialist Party did not agree with the SWP’s view that socialist policies would put people off from voting for candidates or from getting involved in a left alliance.

    We felt it was very unfortunate that this argument was being put forward at precisely the time when there is emerging, a new interest and need for socialist policies because this is a crisis of the capitalist system itself. We demonstrated that Joe Higgins got more than 50,000 votes while being one of the most identifiable socialists in the country with radical and socialist policies. Socialism was advocated in his leaflets that went into every home in Dublin.

    This debate should continue on the left in a fraternal atmosphere as it is of crucial importance. We are partly in favour of building a new left party because the likes of Labour have sold-out. But why have parties like Labour sold-out?

    The diminishing and ultimate collapse of any socialist outlook and perspective meant that Labour just succumbed to the pressure of the establishment. If a new left movement isn’t rooted in a socialist outlook that wants to break definitively with capitalism, it too will ultimately fail, regardless of whether it has TDs or councillors.

    If the left believes that policies like taking over the wealth of society and using it in a planned and productive way are necessary to create jobs, then it makes sense to advocate them and try to win people to these ideas rather than obscure the solution.

    We agree that the left must present its ideas skilfully but we also have a duty to tell people the truth and advocate socialist policies, regardless of the criticism from the establishment. This is because objectively they are the only policies that address and can overcome the reasons for the crisis. The fact that the majority of people don’t yet agree with that doesn’t mean we should obscure this necessity, quite the opposite. It shows the need to skilfully advocate why socialist policies are necessary. We hope that through fraternal discussion that the ULA becomes very confident that working class people and the young people now growing up in this crisis will see through spin and grasp the necessity to advocate an explicitly socialist alternative to the capitalist parties.

    Even though there wasn’t agreement on the need for an explicitly socialist programme, the Socialist Party felt we should continue to try to establish an alliance as that would be a step forward for working class people. We fully support the programme that the ULA has agreed and it can be read on the Socialist Party’s website. But the Socialist Party, while advocating the ULA programme will also exercise its right to also put forward our own socialist programme in our own election material etc.

    The Socialist Party also pushed that the ULA should be something that isn’t just geared towards existing groups. If it is to become something more, it needs to be open for any individual to get involved in it and to have a say. People can register to become a supporter and activist in the ULA, and hopefully the supporters register may be a step towards a membership if there is an interest in the challenge that the ULA is mounting in the months ahead. We would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to get in touch, or better still to come along to the ULA Launch Rally in the Ashling Hotel, Dublin on 26 November!


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