Minutes from the United Left Alliance Forum

Posted: June 26, 2011 in politics
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Typed out below are notes from the two plenary sessions of the United Left Alliance forum in Liberty Hall, June 25th, 2011, giving a report, noted down on the spot, of the main points made by speakers from the podium and the floor. These are for the perusal of anyone interested who couldn’t make it. More importantly, in a few years there may be great interest in what exactly was said by whom. Let’s look back on this and see how well we anticipated the challenges and opportunities, and learn from that. Also I have in mind issues of democratic accountability and minute-taking, which were recurring themes in speeches.  

The Left Response to the Crisis- 10.30-12.00

Chair: Ailbhe Smith (PBPA) Speakers: Professor Terence McDonagh (NUIG), Kieran Allen (SWP), Kevin McLoughlin (SP)  

Ailbhe Smith (PBPA) Acknowledged Gay Pride parade on the same day, displayed the lgbt flag and apologized for not showing up in costume! Stressed need for “generosity of politics” and spirit of compromise between constituent organisations. Sent message of solidarity to comrades on the Gaza Flotilla including Paul Murphy MEP and Cllr Hugh Lewis.  

Prof Terence McDonagh Will outline an economic programme that can be implemented within 48 hours and turn the economy around

1-Default, 2-Leave the Euro, 3-build a good public bank, 4-guaranteed job for everyone, 5-nationalize corrib gas

Default- by 2014 debt will be €80 bn private banking debt, €40 bn sovereign debt and further €80 bn interest on borrowing Can’t possibly pay back, shouldn’t pay back

Leave the Euro- control over own currency, fall of value of new punt, fiscal control for public works

Good Public Bank- public bank to provide credit for people, bad private bank for the bondholders & shareholders of private debt [applause and laughter]

Job guarantee- control over punt gives leeway to govt. Little risk of inflation because inflation is created by bidding against the private sector- not applicable

Nationalize Corrib gas- Nobody loses except Shell

Endorses end goal of Socialism- this programme is a step in the right direction  

Kevin McLoughlin (SP) Emphasis on mass uprising creating basis for programme to be implemented- Perspective of such an uprising taking place in Ireland in coming years

Outlines crisis of capitalism since the 1970s- shift to finance, credit to fuel consumer spending, fundamentally unproductive capitalism resulting in the bubble bursting

No way out under capitalism Debunking 2 myths on which the right-wing discourse rests: Recovery through 1) MNCs, 2) Exports

Multinational Corporations- account for 7-8% of labour force but 90% of exports in Ireland- profits sent abroad, equipment and raw materials mostly ordered from abroad

2005-2011: 11% growth in MNC sector- no corresponding job growth.

Exports- Indigenous Irish Capitalism & “entrepreneurship” accounts for only 10% of exports

2000-2007: 11,000 jobs lost in indigenous enterprises ULA must debunk these myths, as a starting point  

Kieran Allen Economists compared to priests, interpreting “the signs” of the markets for the benefit of the rest of us ignorant masses- with no offense meant to Prof. McDonagh- “He’s one of the best ones! It’s unusual to see an economist like him!” Economics is not a technical matter- it’s about choices

Eg. Last budget took €100 million from corporations but took €1 billion from PAYE workers

Need for wealth tax

Middle East- North Africa revolutions presented by mass media as being for “Western-style democracy”- in fact the demands of the revolutionaries, little-publicized, are for better wages and social conditions, “for democracy and against neo-liberalism”

The €18 billion sovereign deficit that commentators always go on about: if 450,000 people were working instead of on the dole, we wouldn’t have that deficit

The rich are effectively on strike, demanding major reforms and threatening to sabotage society if their demands are not met

2007: investment in economy of €50 bn, 2010: only €14 bn- collapse on the scale of the Great Depression

Economist John Fitzgerald says: Irish people apparently have loads of savings, economy would recover if only people went out and spent more! In fact Irish people have been hit very hard, repeatedly

Capitalism is insane- €613 spent on advertising, which would solve world hunger if invested Need for democratic public ownership  

Over to the floor—  

Anne McShane (CPGB) Need to hold ULA TDs to account Membership-led organisation

Debate on what we mean by socialism

Internationalist agenda  

Alan Gibson (IBT) Accusations of stage-ist approach in economic programme  

Sinead Kennedy (SWP) Need to present concrete alternatives to people

Slavoj Žižek says that now, Socialists are the realists and the Capitalist class are the new utopians  

Kerry Cuskelly Need to go beyond economics to civic engagement and social development

As a social worker, she works in communities where they wouldn’t get what we were talking about, communities with serious problems like racism and drugs

Can’t just frame it in terms of economics but involve underprivileged people in a real way  

Brian Gould Don’t pay back the banking debt

State should honour debt but not private debt

Question to Prof. McDonagh: leaving Euro or leaving EU? Need to express economics in simpler terms  

Anne Connolly In a simple capitalist default, working people will still be hit hard- not enough to argue for a default

Need for a 32-county workers’ republic Condemn Union ldrship  

Spirit of James Connolly

Brendan Young Use of the word “socialism”- link abstract to concrete

Getting rid of Euro would result in speculation against the punt

Ireland in the European economy, need for a Europe-wide solution

Control over currency would not mean control over economy or capital  

Paddy Healy (WUAG) Victories and achievements of ULA TDs

Govt has deferred the JLC bill

Substantial differences from the 1080s when WUAG was formed- people now far more qualified  

Mary Smith (SWP) A revolutionary socialist, but not hung up on the word “socialist”- must not be “abstract”

Need for mass organisation and building of campaigns

“It’s wonderful to be swimming in a sea where people agree with you”

People don’t have the confidence to call themselves socialist, while they do agree with us.  

Cian Prendiville (SP) Vital need for a programme that represents reality and will solve our very real crisis, rather than simply chasing opinion polls

Key problem: strike of capital

“telling the truth” demands that we talk about socialism

We need not to demand a limited public sector “tangential” to the capitalist system but the end of capitalism

Eg. Sinn Fein/Unite: €2 bn public works programme proposed- would still only restore economy to 2010 levels  

Amal Nasser [apologies. I missed her name and I’m certain I have it wrong here- please correct me by commenting below] Egyptian revolution- revolutions are a progressive force in society

Problems: Middle East, petrol. Imperialists/Capitalists will not allow revolution to survive

Ruling class planning Islamist regime

Military govt arresting, torturing activists

Female activists arrested and subjected to virginity tests

Attacks on Copts allowed by military govt., no investigations

Young officers leaked documents on how military govt,. Is pushing a plan drawn up with Soudi Arabia and the USA

Revolution in Egypt is only the beginning  

Summation

[Alibhe Smith says that time is up and we must return to the main speakers. an attendee proposes that he be allowed two minutes to speak before return to podium for summation. Refused by chair. Persists. Shouted down by audience. Sits down, heard to grumble: “…not very democratic.”]  

Prof. Terence McDonagh Leaving the € and leaving the EU inseperable.Costs vs. Benefits- Benefits of leaving Euro outweigh costs

Outlines conflict between broader and narrower range of demands  

Kieran Allen (SWP) Private &state debt now too closely intertwined to continue slogan of “burn the bondholders”

Must default on all

Blackmail about being kicked out of the EU must be answered

Believes People Before Profit is a better name than Socialist Party or Socialist Workers’ Party

Not about words, it’s about methods

If we say socialism, we must explain what it means, not be abstract  

Kevin McLoughlin (SP) SP is not “abstract”- delivered detailed, worked-out manifestos to 250,000 homes in the country during election

If SP is abstract, it got 2 TDs elected on that “abstractness”- but SP is not abstract- history of linking concrete proposals to the need to change society

Should be no hesitation about using the word socialism or having a socialist programme

People are not turned off by socialism- socialism has never dissuaded people from voting for Socialist Party  

14.15-16.00: The ULA: What kind of party do we need? Chair: Laura Fitzgerald, Speakers: Declan Bree (Cllr), Richard Boyd Barrett (SWP, TD), Seamus Healy (WUAG, TD), Joe Higgins (SP, TD)  

Declan Bree (Cllr) Outline of general situation- Huge crisis of capitalism, austerity, union sellout EU/IMF diktats

Attempts to divide public and private sector workers Social Democrats and Republicans who see the state as neutral must soon see the error of their ways

ULA must be the new force on the Irish left Amid growing radicalisation, it must definitely be socialist ULA as it is now- only an initial step

Must be prepared to fight capitalism, not just fight for a more humane form of capitalism

Must create a new party, as soon as the ULA has built a base through campaigning

New level of cooperation Non-aligned members- a democratic participatory structure is vital

Industrial, social and community action  

Joe Higgins (SP, TD) Filling the vacuum left by the shift to the right of the Social Democratic parties across Europe

Recognition that capitalism is “a diseased system” that is wounding economy and society NO solution within capitalism

Yes to reformist demands, but these demands, to be consistent, must be led into the need for a socialist alternative Orientation toward working class & youth Unions, communities, action groups

ULA must not crudely control campaigns as has happened in the past with some organisations, but assist in a leadership capacity, also provide logistics, resources Building a mass workers’ party

NO COALITION with right-wing parties -labour totally discredited -anomaly of Sinn Fein opposing cuts down here, implementing them in Northern Ireland with the “lame” excuse that they are in a power-sharing government ULA must act with principle, honesty, consistency

Raise criticism of an SWP leaflet- ULA should give no platform to any Labour  Party TD or Cllr- they are supporting the govt, even if they are willing to criticize it

Parliamentary limitations have been frustrating for ULA- technical group rather than party etc.

However, Dail intervention on many issues, eg, the JLCs, has been excellent ULA will work for new party- November 2010 was very good timing for the launch of the ULA- the launch of a mass party demands equally good timing

Limited numbers currently- need to build the ULA Vital need to represent non-aligned members on the steering committee

Launching a mvmt of thousands against double taxes

Great success so far- 5 TDs, 20 Councillors, 1 MEP

Must work towards the ending of the “diseased, sclerotic” system of capitalism  

Richard Boyd-Barrett (SWP, TD) Come a long way in the past year- achievements so far still relatively modest, but still it’s a very exciting time

Lots of hope invested in the ULA

New force outside of the ”cosy club” of the political establishment

Context & basis of this alliance: Egyptian revolutionary movement- coalitions of diverse groups on the basis of what unites them rather than what divides them- we should be the same, the 90, 95 % we agree on should be the basis

Vast majority of people agree with us that austerity and the overall policies of the govt are bad

That is is unjust that we are paying the gambling debts of rich people

Need to win over people who are not used to the same tradition and language as we on the left are

People furiously angry- most favourable situation for the left since the foundation of the state

Problems: we’re not big enough

People want to resist, need leadership- starting from a starting-point that may not be close to us but on a trajectory toward us

Party of struggle- we’re all here on the basis of broad movements

Answer concrete questions, break the strategy of fear

There is an alternative- cancel the debt, tax the wealth, default

“captains of enterprise” are vultures, parasites- take wealth, invest it, struggle mass movements, power of workers

“wage war on jargon”- language& traditions of the left can be off-putting- suspicion of political parties  

Séamus Healy (WUAG, TD) ULA must be grass-roots and bottom-up

Comparison to birth of South Tipperary WUAG- workers, unemployed, housewives got together and got active

Local and national electoral success of group- many borough, county and town Cllrs as well as a TD

1980s- “no alternative” mantra- real alternative

The bailout is to benefit British, French, German banks

Not a “good Samaritan” deal- paying off bad debts of international gamblers

Default, burning the bondholders, wealth & assets tax

Building through campaigns- water, JLCs etc

Importance of building personal& political relationships

Good start today, great turnout

Must be all around the country, not just Dublin  

Over to the floor…  

Eddie Conlon (PBPA) Tremendous success, very encouraging

Ppl looking towards us

Ldrship-responsibility and opportunity

Constituent organisations must concentrate on building the ULA

intervention into campaigns and independent ULA-launched campaigns

We can build 40 branches, very soon

Serious democratic structures, get ppl on board

Great opportunity, let’s not blow it  

Shane Fitzgerald Presenting view of an independent participant, unaligned to a constituent organisation

Need to bring in loads more people Open question: how many in the room are non-aligned members?

Some proposals- doesn’t want to press for huge changes but just suggestions

One branch meeting per month is not enough for independent members, while SP and SWP members meet every month.

Unaligned members fall out of the loop

Proposal: E-mail newsletter. Contact @ weareragbags.wordpress.com or weareragbags@gmail.com  

Ruth Coppinger (SP, Cllr) Campaigning party first and foremost

Lively, interesting discussions at branch meetings

Meetings should be about the ULA

Programme- Boyd-Barrett’s comments on “war on jargon”- heard the same thing years and years ago in another party- one called Labour Youth. Same things said about scaring ppl away and being too extreme

We need to politicize, not depoliticize- not abstract demands, but demands that make a bridge   

Gerard Lawlor (SIPTU Shop Steward) Piece of EU legislation regarding Unions- demanding democratic participation from membership, information sharing systems

Works in a private hospital, struggled very hard over recent years bringing membership from 10% to 60%

Local union branches not implementing this very important piece of legislation

Union leadership holding back movement

David Begg- on board of Irish Times, Aer LIngus and Central Bank, yet still General Secretary of ICTU! David Begg must go!  

John Lyons (SWP) Lots of ppl voted Labour to take the edge of Fine Gael, while many voted Sinn Fein because they believed SFs radical rhetoric- many times more than voted for us voted for those two parties

Lots of disappointed Labour voters will be coming over to our side- target labour supporters

Andrew Keegan, Larkhill candidate for PBPA- campaign to save the no. 3 bus, public mtg- 70 present

Labour TD Róisín Shortall came to meeting, read out info given to her by Dublin Bus- proposed nothing concrete- people just listened politely

Bus campaign will expand and Labour will have little to do with it 

 Dermot Connolly (PBPA) ULA is a process for now, not a party

We need to build not over a scale of years but over a short space of time

Build party culture, build trust between organisations

Campaigning together will be successful- eg. Of general election

Next local elections- double number of councillors

Build branches, not just a Dublin project– 15 present at Mullingar launch- that’s a branch, in somewhere the Left has never truly been active outside the Labour Party

Unaligned ppl need control over branches- we should have 40-50 branches soon

Proper communications network for unaligned- regular forums- rank & file must control  

Annette Mooney (PBPA) Question of gender representation- only 9 women speaking at ULA forum out of 25 total- undemocratic

What is ULA policy on gender representation? Issues like childcare& education get ignored without representation for women  

Matt Waine (SP, Cllr) Not the 1st time the left has got together- previous left parties

Immediate demands to mobilize around are not enough- mistakes of past Social Democratic and Labour parties- same mistake of current left formations

Socialism is not something for the dim and distant future

Consciousness lags behind the situation

Example of youth mvmts in Greece and Spain- independent youth movements totally bypass the left because the “left” was too conservative

Gareth Fitzpatrick (ULA North Kildare) Need for taking minutes at meetings Information for individual members- steering committee needs more contact  

Mick Barry (SP, Cllr) Busy week next week- vote in council, protest, 2 meetings

Class issues opening up, vital to build ULA on these issues

Saturday- ULA day of action in Cork- 18 on the streets- credibility through campaigns

We fight for reforms, but we are not reformist

Election programme- a step forward, a left anti-capitalist programme but not a socialist programme Emphasis not on jargon but on content- whether you call it socialist or whatever else you want to call it, what’s the content?  

Madeleine Johansen (SWP) Need for grassroots, democracy Discussions at branch mtgs in which everyone puts forward their opinion ULA must be revolutionaries ULA must have “A vision of a future society that is better for all”  

Summation [Same guy as before wants 2 minutes to speak. Chair refuses, time is pressing. Persists. Lots of shouting from the audience. A handful seem to be shouting “Go back to the workers’ party”, “Go back to Labour”, even “go back to your IMF”. One individual stands up and says it’s unfair that this guy wants special treatment. Applause. Dermot Connolly stands up and proposes that the guy is given just a minute to speak. Less applause. Shouting continues for some time until the guy finally sits down.]  

Séamus Healy (WUAG, TD) Vital to get information to members and take minutes of meetings Campaigns vital to knit together the organisations  

Richard Boyd-Barrett (SWP, TD) Building branches- 40-50 branches- key unit of democracy and accountability

Branch delegates to a national council which would make decisions, coordinate

Local groups should decide their own regularity of meetings- no central diktat

Public reps and delegates must be kept accountable to branches.

Agreeing on action & campaigns, ideological ferment  on IMF etc Forces moving toward us, not as left-wing as us, but getting there Socialism about the deed, not the word, eg. Socialist parties in Greece and elsewhere, who are in govt bringing down cuts, what does the word “Socialist” mean there?  

Declan Bree (Cllr) Urgent need to develop ULA internal democracy- hopes that the steering committee can provide that  

Joe Higgins (SP, TD) Gender balance points raised- 9 women out of 25 is not undemocratic. Would not advocate Fine Gael-style gender quotas – what is needed is an open and welcoming atmosphere. Further, ULA should choose the most able candidates, and the ones most willing to make sacrifices in their personal lives for politics

Unions- ULA must reclaim them for workers- activist networks forming in unions

Rest over the summer- in September things will heat up- opposition to local charges and water taxes

Water charges, ‘94-’96- great victory, but we’re fighting that battle again. Why, because it’s the same system. Critical need to bring together all our demands and campaigns with the aim of a Socialist world

  [this is all taken from notes I jotted down while sitting in the audience- inevitably I will have made some mistakes and misrepresented some things. If you’re reading this and want to propose an amendment to it, feel free to comment below. Sorry if I misunderstood or misleadingly rephrased anything anyone said]

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Comments
  1. […] quickly and they seem like an accurate representation of the discussion at the 2 plaenary sessions: ranksavagespit.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/minutes-from-the-united-left-alliance-forum/ LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Cass says:

    Thanks for these useful minutes. The minutes of the second session certainly seem accurate to me. Was not able to be at the first.

  3. siptuactivist says:

    Marvelous. Thank you. [Eddie Conlon is no a Cllr. :)]

    • socialist feminist says:

      Respect to Annette Mooney for bringing up lack of democracy and gender imbalance-this issue is more important now than ever-I also brought up the need to integrate women of colour and also the importance of these issues for our feminist third wave-women in our communities have the power to stand up and take the power and it’s about time we did.

  4. Hi LenihanM. The aforementioned ragbags here. Absolutely stellar notes here I must say.

    My most recent blogpost(A Modest Proposal) has an idea/a potential initiative for you if you get the chance to read it! Thanks!

  5. I like the valuable information you supply on your articles.
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