Posts By Brendan Young

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Principles for a Left Alternative

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Principles for a left alternative. May-June 2015

The following statement, as a contribution to the debate at the conference organised by the R2W unions on June 13, has been agreed between the Anti-Austerity Alliance, the People Before Profit Alliance and some independent left-wing activists including Cllr Brendan Young.

The Mayday Conference initiated by the Right2Water Trade Unions was designed to bring union members, community groups and political representatives into dialogue about an alternative to the political and economic establishment. We welcome the fact that these unions initiated such a meeting to build a political movement based on the anti-water charges struggle of the last eight months. Unfortunately, the meeting was a limited and invite-only event, without sufficient space for discussion.

Open up and democratise the June 13 conference

To best achieve the potential for this movement, we believe that the process needs to be opened up and democratised. Without grassroots participation, any political initiative will lack the energy and vibrancy needed to challenge the political establishment. So we think the follow up conference on June 13 should have delegates invited from all of the community groups campaigning against water charges, selected over the coming weeks at local meetings.

On June 13, the conference must also be designed to allow genuine debate and maximum inclusion. In place of structured inputs from selected speakers, the event should be bottom-up and participatory. It should be designed to allow as many contributions as possible and allow for decisions to be made by those present.

For an anti-austerity, anti-coalition approach – based on struggle

To initiate the debate, the R2W unions have developed a document entitled, Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government. The basis of the Principles document is a series of seven economic and social rights. The R2W unions have asked for “further discussion and input”. In responding to this call, we believe that a number of additions and amendments need to be made.

Firstly, any proposed political initiative must not become a replacement for the grassroots struggles that have brought us to this point. In relation to water charges, the document proposes that “Irish Water PLC’ and domestic water charges will be abolished within the first 100 days of a government endorsing this policy”.

We must not wait for a progressive government to abolish water charges. What if such a government is not elected? Abolition can only be won by an organised boycott and continuing the protest movement on the streets. People power and protest is the only way to beat austerity measures and the best way to build support for the actions of any future left government.

We think the 13 June conference should make a public statement calling for mass non-payment of the water charges. This is the crucial stage of the campaign and the crucial question. It would be negligent if a major conference of large sections of the anti-water charges movement takes place and does not issue a call for people not to pay. Instead of giving confidence to the movement and impetus to continue organising and mobilising, it can give the impression that the only focus now is the election.

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Agree to a Left Slate: Response to PBPA ‘Alliance’ Proposal.

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This response is written by Brendan Young and Eddie Conlon

People Before Profit have released a public letter seeking endorsement from individuals and organisations for a ‘coherent left alliance’ which would include “[PBP], the Anti-Austerity Alliance and many independent socialists and community and trade union activists.” The focus of this is the coming general election. We are in favor of a slate of anti-austerity candidates standing in the election – based on the water charge campaign and clear opposition to coalition with pro-austerity parties. While we favor this, we are opposed to the method of the current PBPA proposal. But we are in favour of urgent discussion between the SP and SWP on a left slate and would urge the SP to stop stalling on the matter.

While we agree with much of the politics set out in the PBPA proposal, individuals and organizations are being asked to sign up to a proposal for a new left alliance – which is undefined. An alliance is, by definition, a formal organization involving groups and perhaps individuals. We are a couple of years after the breakup of the ULA and relations between groups and individuals on the left are probably worse now than before 2011. Proposing that a new alliance be set up has no basis in the current relations on the left.

There is now however, an improved basis for a left slate in that PBPA is now openly campaigning for non-payment of the water charge. Calling for a boycott is essential to winning this battle and is the basis for common political work. We think that PBPA should now energetically build the non-payment demo on April 18; and that PBPA should actively get involved in the Non-Payment Network or agree to a coordinated approach to non-payment activities. This does not involve splitting from R2W. The groups in North Kildare actively build R2W events – but have publicly argued for non-payment from the outset.

But to propose a new alliance by publicly soliciting support is to attempt to apply pressure so that those who do not agree with participating in a new alliance at this point in time are seen as divisive. The PBPA proposal, as it stands, is likely to fail. The last thing we need now is another failed initiative for left unity leading to hostile recrimination and the demoralisation of those who actively want to see the radical left uniting.

A more considered approach is needed which ensures that those left forces with significant social weight, and in the main that means PBP and the AAA, are committed in principle before the project is publicly launched. That’s not to argue that these are the only forces that should be involved. Indeed the success of any new project will be determined by the extent to which it engages with those who have become active and organised against the water charges.

The focus now should be on building a slate of candidates to run in the general election. A slate would be based upon rejection of coalition with the Troika parties and the championing of non-payment as essential points; repudiation of debt, taxes on wealth, a public works program and repeal of the 8th Amendment would also be needed. How to deal with the North should be parked for ongoing discussion, as there are known differences on it and the more urgent need is to put a slate in place for the elections in the South.

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Time for the Left to Act Together

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Popular desire for political change has become a feature of the current campaign against the water charge. This charge is the last straw in a litany of bank-bailout  impositions; and many want an entirely different set of socio-political priorities. Recent months have also shown the power of the mass movement to bring change. The movement now needs to drive home the advantage by making the charge unworkable through mass non-payment and continued mobilization. But this in itself is not enough to create the radical political alternative that would implement the significant change that many in the campaign, and across society, desire.

Such change would require a new left party – committed to a socialist alternative. The imperative for socialism has never been greater given the disastrous impact of the financial crash on working people and impending environmental meltdown due to the failure of the market system to curb fossil fuelled growth.

Is a new left party on the political horizon at present? Clearly not. The closest recent approximation to the start of such a party was the United Left Alliance. While we acknowledge its failure, we think there are some lessons from the ULA experience that can help us today.

At the time when ULA TDs were elected there was little mass challenge to the government: dissatisfaction was expressed through the election and there was no mass movement behind the new political formation. So there was no big growth in the ULA.

But other factors also influenced the difficulties in the ULA. There was insufficient trust between the leaderships of the two main political groups; there was unease at working together in a common organization, while having differences. There was also a failure to prioritise the ULA and build it as a functioning organisation.

But the political conditions for such a formation have changed for the better: there now exists a powerful mass movement against the water charge and other austerity measures – albeit quite fragmented. It has created the conditions for a political alternative to the Troika parties and to Sinn Fein, which is prepared to go into coalition with the Troika parties – with the inevitable political accommodations that preserve inequality such as we have seen Labour and the Greens implement.

Based on the experience of the ULA, we think that any new left formation cannot be based solely on an amalgamation of the current small parties but would have to draw in activists who have mobilised in recent months and who want real change. Relations between these parties are not great at present: witness the electoral competition in the European elections and Dublin South West. But a commitment to develop common work against the water charges and a common electoral project involving many new activists could generate positive working relations and create the momentum and trust required for the construction of a new, anti-austerity political formation after the election.

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