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Left electoral alliance

Less plan B, more plan Alpha written in cuneiform

29 September 2019

At the end of  August People before Profit sent a letter to trade unions and political parties proposing a left electoral alliance.

It was presented as "plan B" following electoral setbacks for the reformist left and Sinn Fein.

Unfortunately, not only is plan B identical to the plan A that was PbP's position before the election, it is identical to the Socialist Workers Party position of several decades ago. Not so much "plan A all over again" as plan Alpha scribed in cuneiform on an ancient clay tablet. The rigidity of the PbP position, their inability to adapt, is bad news for short term attempts to reorganise and pose a credible opposition to capitalism.

In the longer run it is likely to be fatal to the existing reformist left currents.

The proposal is:

A living wage of €12.50 an hour
Resolving the housing crisis
Combating climate change
A voting pact in by-elections

Why these particular demands? That was made clear in earlier left debates. The contents of a programme were those with which the different groups could feel comfortable. Diplomacy among the parties and trade unions trumps the struggle to address the  real needs of the workers. Just how false these ideas of diplomatic unity are becomes clear when we see the political weakening of the Socialist Workers Network within PbP and a split in the Socialist Party just as they focus in on voting pacts.

Richard Boyd Barrett, speaking for PbP, had not resolved the question of whether Labour was a left party or not. This is bad politics. If you propose an alliance around certain issues then all who agree are part of the alliance. If you exclude parties anyway you are not running a political alliance but a private, members only club. If the group you end up with is not left wing it is because your demands are not left wing.

If the proposed alliance is set up the issue of Labour will resolve itself quickly.  As with the housing coalition, SIPTU's union leadership will say that they want Labour in and PbP will fall silent.

Subliminally there are indications that, if Labour is not the core of the new alliance, the only party that can play that role is Sinn Fein. However the union left, represented by Brendan Ogle, had already tried and failed to build this electoral alliance. The left groups did not oppose the populist programme, but they didn't vote for Sinn Fein nor Sinn Fein for them.  The Shinners had moved to the right before the last election and have moved further right since. presenting them as the core of a left alliance lacks all credibility.

PbP present a totally mistaken idea of recent history. The water charges campaign was not successful in dismantling Irish Water nor was it an exemplar of a left alliance. The socialist groups groups did the bidding of the left union bureaucracy and advanced sufficiently in platform and support to gain electorally. The funds available to elected representatives have enabled them to boost their organisations. The current initiative is an attempt to recover electorally. It has nothing to say about the current needs of Irish workers.

An alliance based on the workers needs would demand an end to two tier pay, the restoration of full public sector pay,  promotion and pension rights and full staffing of public services. Public resources, such as public hospitals, should remain in public hands. The alliance would demand mass public housing rather than a general "solving" of the housing crisis. It would look to an overall restructuring of the Irish economy around sustainable resources and international solidarity on climate change rather than "solving" the climate crisis.

It would oppose Brexit, already being used to mount an offensive on Irish workers rather than playacting around an imaginary Irexit. Irish workers will advance their cause in solidarity with other European workers rather by separating from them.

Building a movement around this programme is clearly a long and difficult task. It would mean opposing Sinn Fein and the trade union bureaucracy rather than uniting with them.

But consider where we are now. After years of advancing from one victory to another the left are scrabbling for electoral recovery. The Dublin government will publish a budget in a few weeks time.  They have signalled that preparation for Brexit will mean a new wave of austerity. The trade union leaders haven't even bothered to mount the traditional budget demonstration and lobby of parliament nor have the left organised independently.

Wouldn't it be better to have some demonstration of the rights of workers rather than silence and secret diplomacy of the left?

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