Irish Left Unity

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Debating Directions for a New Republic

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This article provides a critique of social partnership & ‘soft’ NGO advocacy and reflections on pathways forward.

Political & Economic Context: Neoliberalism & Ireland
Many people ask about the cause of poverty, oppression, rising inequality, environmental destruction and climate change. Neo-Marxist thinkers like David Harvey, Erik Olin Wright and Hardt & Negri, make the case that it is International capitalist globalization that is underlying these social catastrophes. It is the neoliberalism of the Washington Consensus – which was a political project of the wealthy and capital elite, theorized by the free marketeers of Friedman and Hayak. It started in Pinochet’s Chile and then Reagan and Thatcher implemented it in the US and the UK. In the face of declining profitability and the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s the aim of the wealthy and elite was to reduce the share of income (wealth) that went to workers and to increase that returning to capital and the elite. They also sought to reduce the power and influence of trade unions and the working class socialist organisations in society, politics and the economy.

At the heart of the neoliberal ideology was a belief that private unregulated markets are the best mechanisms to organize society and state-led planning is inefficient. Neoliberal policies included the de-regulation of the Keynesian welfare state protections and the financial sector, the privatization of public services, neocolonial conquest through corporations, imperial wars for resources such as Iraq, the commodification of nature like water, land, and seeds. Indeed at the heart of this project of neoliberal capitalism is the commodification of everything. Everything is to be turned into something that can be bought and sold, traded on markets, profited from, commercialized. Neoliberalism is about the utopia of individualized responsibility. Your existence is commodified through competition. You must compete with everyone for everything. Values of solidarity, public good, and co-operation are replaced with competition, individualism, commercialism and materialism.

But neoliberalism is also based on a myth of freedom. Where is the freedom for migrants who die in attempts to enter the EU or the US? Where is the freedom for low paid workers forced to work three jobs to survive? Neoliberalism has been dramatically successful in increasing the wealth of the minority, in increasing inequality, and in promoting its values and ideology amongst populations. However, it is also riven with contradictions as any variant of capitalism is inherently so because of the anarchy of free, unregulated, markets that continually engages in boom and bust cycles and because of uneven development where one area expands at the expense of retrenchment in another area. For example, the declining rate of investment for capital in general commodities led to capital in the 2000s flooding new financial products and the financialisation and commodification of ever greater aspects of our lives that capital could invest, gamble and accumulate profit from. But as the logic of the market was expanded into ever greater areas the potential for crisis and crashes increases and thus we see greater numbers and intensity of economic crises. Naoimi Klein has used an interesting term ‘disaster capitalism’ to describe the way in which the elites use various crises to further intensify exploitation and the commodification of everything by private corporations.

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Dear friends in the Irish Labour Party…

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… I won’t be voting for you. I have voted Labour in every election since I could first vote. I haven’t always given you my first preference – sometimes there were better left candidates – but you’ve always been there in the first two or three, and first more often than not.

Some of my younger friends are amazed that I voted Labour at all, but they weren’t there during the seventies and eighties, when Labour was on the side of divorce and contraception in a Catholic confessional Ireland. In those days Labour seemed to a lot of people to stand on our side in fights that were not easy, given the array of reactionary forces – the Church, the two main political parties, most of the institutions of civil society. In those days the modernisation of Irish social life – still an unaccomplished task of course – seemed of vital importance. We did not notice, or took a long time to notice, that Labour was moving steadily to the right in coalition after coalition. Those with historical blind-spots, like me, didn’t know, or swept aside the fact that Labour had not always been on the side of Labour, and in fact as a trade union member, I was perplexed to discover that Labour was not always on the strikers’ side in industrial disputes. But other forms of struggle seemed so important then, and Labour was by-and large- on our side. What’s more I have always believed in the idea of a broad coalition of the left, hoping that differing parties with differing discourses could or at least should draw together in shared opposition to capital and oppression.

So for a long time I believed that at heart the Labour Party was really a party of labour, of the worker, a left-wing party, and that given the opportunity it would show its true colours.

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Breaking a Cycle

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This post was originally published on the 28th of October on the comradezhenka blog.

Socialists, Protests and Strategy

The last few years has seen a lot of frenetic political activity, there have been countless protests and mobilisations without much success in many of them. There were of course some obvious exceptions, the early CAHWT demos and more recently the Coillte protests The unions had organised some very big demos but they’re now in the distant past, and the recent ones are more a case of being seen to do something, rather than actually doing something. It seems like there has been an endless round of activism and it appears people are simply moving from one protest to the next. Every new cut in services is met with a protest, every attack on the working class is met with a demo. There are a lot of very good people putting a lot of effort into these activities. Unfortunately it seems as if we’re simply chasing our tails and one of the results of this is that the numbers attending have, in general, been declining. The lower numbers and the lack of substance to back up the demos ultimately leads to demoralisation and a downward spiral.

If you ask someone outside of the left what the left does, the answer is usually ‘protest’. Is that all we stand for? Of course not. We do however need to move beyond the cycle of tactical actions. Rather than objecting to every single manifestation of ‘austerity’ we need to develop an overall strategy for tackling capitalism. This means we need to break the current cycle of protests. We need to take a step back from the current level of activity and analyse what has worked over the last few years and what hasn’t. It is important we don’t get bogged down in the usual protest-recruit cycle that other groups thrive on, but ultimately leads to a dead end as there’s little substance to back it up. We need now to develop that substance. This is naturally going to be a long process involving as wide a range of voices on the left as possible. It certainly won’t be glamorous and will most likely be boring, but it’s vital for our long-term interests that we break this cycle and get back to some serious thinking.

This is not to say there should be no protests, but that we should pick and choose our battlegrounds more carefully. There are a myriad of cuts and attacks on the working class happening now under the guise of austerity, and we shouldn’t be looking to protest every last one of them. Simply put we don’t have the numbers to tackle each one of them individually. We have been trying to do this, and the result of it is diminished numbers at these demos. In my opinion this has the net effect of making the left appear weaker than it actually is. I know this won’t be a popular idea, but the left is thin on the ground and further dividing our strength by the sheer volume of (and sometimes competing) demos doesn’t serve us well. We simply don’t have the strength of numbers required to attend every protest, and in truth everyone knows the low turnouts make us look weak. We need to strategise our demonstrations, we need to decide what our priorities are and then take each invite to a protest and decide whether it fits into our strategic plan.

This will necessarily involve making some tough decisions. Nobody wants to turn away from any members of the working class that are under attack. But it must be done. We have to find other ways of supporting those groups, because truth be told having 300 people turn up to protest a cut in, for instance, the education budget does that group no favours at all. Ultimately it shows that those protesting aren’t strong enough to defeat the cuts, and makes them ripe for further cuts in future. I know some people will say that having 300 there is better than having no one, but really it isn’t, it amounts to the same thing: There is not enough force there to prevent the cuts.

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Left Forum Debate: Does Ireland Need a New Left Party? Sat. Nov 2nd 2013 @ Teacher’s Club

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The proceedings begin at 10:30 am, and will be followed by an afternoon of open workshops.

The intention of the Left Forum is to provide an opportunity for a productive dialogue across the left, and as far as it is possible, to facilitate coordination of left-activists and campaign groups, so as to strengthen the worker’s movement in Ireland generally.

All left-organisations, left-campaign groups, independent left-activists and all others that are interested in facilitating the development of the workers’ movement are invited to participate. Please join us at the Teacher’s Club on November 2 to take part in this important debate.

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What’s Left After the ULA?

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Originally posted on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on the 29th of April.

This brief report intends to outline the situation within the Irish left following the slow implosion of the United Left Alliance (ULA).

The ULA was an alliance made up of the Socialist Party (affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, CWI), the Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialist Tendency, IST), the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG, a locally based group with public representation including a member of Ireland’s parliament [TD] and numerous municipal councillors). It also included smaller groups such as the Irish Socialist Network and Socialist Democracy.

The ULA was initially very successful by Irish left standards and won five TDs. Though, it should be understood most, if not all, of these victories did not come only from the unity project itself but from literally decades of work by the various groups.

However, seeing the left under a single banner with a serious electoral challenge did initially attract many activists to its banner.

The ULA unfortunately lasted less than two years and today exists in name only.

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The Origins of May Day and Why it’s Relevant Today

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Originally posted on Irish Student Left Online on the 24th of April.

Eoin Griffin writes about the history of May Day and how we can use this focal point to reassess our own goals. On Wednesday, May 1st from 6:45PM at Parnell Square we'll be taking the energy that was part of last Monday's public meeting organised by the 1913 Unfinished Business Youth Bloc into the DCTU’s May Day march leaving Parnell Square at 7pm. What was it Oscar Wilde said about socialism and evenings? Sign up to the Facebook event here.

May Day holds a mythical position among the international workers and union movements. Its origins can be traced back to Australia in 1856 when stonemasons and builders in Melbourne downed tools on the 21st of April and marched on Parliament to demand an eight hour working day without any deterioration in pay. In 1884 the Chicago Labour Movement adopted the eight hour working day as their core demand, declaring that May 1st 1886 would mark the beginning of the 8 hour working day being a standard. They famously campaigned for this using the slogan “eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours of recreation”. This slogan had first appeared in the UK during the Industrial Revolution.

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The Left Forum – Who, What, When, Where and Why?

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The First Left Forum will be held in the Teacher’s Club, Parnell Square, on May 18th 2013. In the call out the Forum states:

“We have had five years of crisis, five years where no alternative has been able to win support despite the obvious failures of the current political and economic regime, with serious human and environmental consequences.

Can we do better? Can the Left win widespread support for our ideas and build an alternative society? Can we make socialism more than a nice idea? The Left Forum invites you to contribute your views on the state of progressive politics and to discuss how we can do better.

The forum will be participatory and exploratory, and will aim to ask and answer key questions about what levels of political agreement are possible, what forms of organisation are useful and what tactics and strategies will be effective. We hope that you will join us and help define the future of the Left in Ireland”

This has led to some questions, firstly who is the Left Forum? Is it another front? What ideas do you mean, what exactly is ‘participatory’ and ‘inclusive’ and haven’t we heard all of this before?

Who are we?

The Left forum is an initiative that has been launched by the old United Left Alliance reading group in DCU, (now renamed the Left Forum DCU). While small the membership is diverse representing many trends of the Irish left. The group includes ex members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, The Workers Solidarity Movement, The Workers Party, the Communist Party as well as the non-affiliated. Though the various group members very much recognise the different strengths of the various organisations we believe that for both objective and subjective reasons that these groups (certainly alone) do not offer all the answers. The group originally came together as the DCU branch of the United Left Alliance and this initiative has partly comes as a result of the implosion of the alliance and the gap left in the political spectrum by its demise, including the political space available independent left activists.

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Dublin Council of Trade Unions: May Day March, ‘1913-2013 Unfinished Business’

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Dublin Council of Trade Unions

May Day 2013

1913-2013 Unfinished Business’

Resist austerity- March with your banners

The Dublin Council of Trade Unions is holding its annual MAY DAY demonstration on Wednesday, May 1st.

Assembly point will be Parnell Square at 7 pm and marching to Liberty Hall for a public meeting at Beresford Place.

Music and stalls around the Lock Out theme will follow in the theatre and bar area of Liberty Hall.

This year’s theme will be ’1913/2013: unfinished business’. The unfinished business includes the legal recognition of trade unions in all employments and negotiating rights for all members.

It also includes a policy of resistance to austerity imposed by the government at the behest of the troika. Resistance to unemployment; to relentless cuts in health services, education, social welfare, community services, and in provision for the needy.

Job creation can never be seriously addressed in a climate of austerity. Oil and water don’t mix.

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Public Talk on the Irish Revolution and the Labour Movement in Sligo 1912 – 1923

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The historian and author Dr Michael Farry, will give an interesting talk on the role and activities of the labour and trade union movement in Sligo during the war of independence and the civil war; in the Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo, on Wednesday 20th March at 8.00.p.m.

The title of the lecture, which is being held under the auspices of United Left – People First is “The Irish revolution and the labour movement in Sligo 1912-1923”.

Cllr Declan Bree will preside at the event which is open to the public.

Dr Farry who is a native of Coolaney, Co Sligo, has published a number of books dealing with the period. His most recent book “The Irish Revolution 1912-23 Sligo” was published last November.

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Editorial: LookLeft Issue 15, March 2013

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Editorial: LookLeft Issue 15, March 2013

“I am, of course, aware that the ultimate solution is the ownership and control of the means of life by the whole of the people; but we are not at that stage of development as yet.”

– James Larkin

Across Europe, progressive political forces have yet to find an adequate response to the rightwing onslaught on the public good which has been unleashed since 2008.

The neo-liberal agenda, which the right uses to disguise the capitalist grab for more power and resources, has over 30 years permeated our political, media, academic and cultural worlds.

In Ireland this problem has been exacerbated still further by the historic success of deeply conservative forces in undermining the development of progressive and working class institutions.

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LookLeft Forum: Realising a Left Alternative, Saturday 2nd of March, Teacher’s Club

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LookLeft Forum: Realising a Left Alternative

2pm, Saturday March 2nd at the Teacher’s Club

LookLeft Magazine are pleased to invite you to the launch of our new issue, featuring a discussion on the topic of Realising a Left Alternative: Complementary Visions of Social Change. This discussion will be lead by Erik Olin Wright, the distinguished American Marxist scholar and author of books such as Envisioning Real Utopias, Gender Equality, Class Counts.

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Conference – A Century of Workers in Struggle 1913-2013

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Conference – A Century of Workers in Struggle 1913-2013

2013 will see the centenary of perhaps the most significant event in Irish Industrial History, the 1913 Lockout. This anniversary offers an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the struggles of workers in the past, and on the challenges facing workers today, both in Ireland and abroad.

To that end, Sinn Fein have organised a major conference early this year in Dublin to consider all the key issues workers faced today and in the past.

The conference, entitled ‘A Century of Workers in Struggle 1913-2013’ is to take place on March the 2nd, 2013 in Liberty Hall in Dublin.

The Conference will hear from many of Ireland's key Trade Union leaders such as Jack O'Connor, Jimmy Kelly, Peter Bunting and John Douglas, journalists such as Eamon Dunphy, Frank Connolly and Gerry Flynn, workers from the Vita Cortex, Visteon, Lagan Brick and Waterford Crystal disputes, International Union Leaders, Siobhán O'Donoghue from the MRCI, writers such as Brian Hanley and Conor McCabe, Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald, and more.

The full line-up and brochure for the event is provided below.

This is a public event, and trade unionists, political activists, and member of the public are all very welcome to attend.

The details of the event are also available on Facebook.

Please also note that stalls from Trade Unions, NGOs, Historical Societies and other bodies are welcome, so please feel free to contact us if you are interested.

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Strikes Now!

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Does anybody else want to scream in frustration at the intellectually-rationalised paralysis that has the Irish Left by its vitals when it comes to the subject of strikes?

Richard McAleavey has written a terrific post on his Cunning Hired Knaves blog. Prompted by a poster for the upcoming Irish Congress of Trade Union (ICTU) march on February 9th against the debt burden, it’s a sharp analysis of its imagery and wording:

“First of all, its destructive ambiguity. To whom is the message addressed? Is it supposed to be a message to the Irish government, and through them, to the Council of Ministers to lift the burden off working people? Or, is it supposed to be a message to the people who bear the burden at the moment that they should exert themselves even more? Who is doing the speaking? Is 'Lift the burden' what the faceless silhouettes struggling beneath the weight are saying, or is it a public notice, as with a street sign that reads 'Give Way'?”

Rightly observing that ICTU’s poster is something Enda Kenny could equally happily stand in front of while telling us citizens that we must pay ‘our’ way, McAleavey goes on to parse the impotence of ICTU and its role in the country’s economic crisis as exemplified by their dissembling poster. However, just at the point in his article at which some readers might reasonably expect a call to strike action against the state of affairs he has just delineated, McAleavey lobs cold water over any idea of that kind in favour of this:

“And that -amid a climate of grim sacrificial inevitability- is a problem that no amount of simply shouting 'traitor!' or 'general strike!' will solve. We need imaginative ways of communicating the conflict, of capturing people’s commitment to a struggle for democratic rights, and of destroying the ambiguity served up by zombie social partnership.”

Whatever all that may yet turn out to mean, I’m sure it will be very worthwhile when it has finally been thrashed out. Wouldn’t strikes themselves be among the most effective means possible of ‘capturing’ people’s commitment to a struggle for rights? But there you have it – sit down again everybody. As you were. We need to do lots more talking and thinking before we act.

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