The Greens in government?
Ireland has seen this movie before!
15 May 2020
One of the strangest aspects of the slow dance of the Green party towards government is the incredulous amazement of the socialist groups. How is it that a 'left' group like the Greens can think of such a thing?
Well, the simple answer is that the Green party is not particularly left wing, have a history of coalition and the implementation of savage austerity, and want to get into government and implement elements of their programme. That's actually what the discussions are about. What will Fine Gael and Fianna Fail be prepared to pay in terms of Green policies to build a government?
As explained in a recent article, available here , the former authors of the confidence and supply mechanism that provided the last government are in something of a bind. Their exclusion of Sinn Fein leaves them with a national government that the plurality of electors rejected. They need to present a shiny new programme that will convince the electorate that things will be different and the framework document was meant to do this while also leaving blank areas for minor parties to write in their individual conditions for joining government. First on the list was the Green party because of their number of seats, but unsuccessful overtures had also been made to the old standbys in the Irish Labour Party.
Now the process has moved on and formal negotiations have begun with the Green Party. What can be said right away is that the claim of offering a new government is not being met. The first casualty of the talks, the most genuinely radical of the Green party proposals, a call for public housing on public land, has been utterly rejected by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. They have agreed to end the inhumane direct provision system for asylum seekers but the details and timescale are vague.
The major sticking point now is the demand for a 7% per annum reduction in carbon emissions for the next decade and, in a carefully worded statement, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail say that they were;
"happy to confirm that a new government … will commit to developing measures to achieve an average 7 per cent per annum reduction in annual emissions for the next decade".There is clearly a lot of wriggle room here. An "average" target means that any particular year could be under the 7% guide without disturbing the coalition and an extended lockdown means that such a target could initially be met without doing anything just because of the reduction in traffic and industrial production. None of the discussions tackle the special position of agribusiness and its exclusion from climate controls but the more general problem is the nature of the Green Party programme itself. It is heavily aspirational. What is pictured is not a new society but our current society and economy tweaked. Heavy emphasis is put on the European Central Bank as a source of funds and the common agricultural policy (CAP) making it clear that this is, by its very nature, a programme for a party in coalition government. Negotiations with European institutions can clearly only be carried on by governments so to implement its programme the party has to be in government. Any alternative approach, involving alliances with unions or mobilising workers, is not even considered. It is a capitalist programme put forward by a capitalist party.
There's nothing new in this framework for government. The acres of newsprint never for a moment reference the realities of Irish society; the grasping capitalist class, ruling on behalf of the EU and the transnational corporations, the sovereign debt that is growing exponentially, or the main capitalist parties' determination to rule as before despite their unpopularity. The current government has temporarily rented itself a national health service to deal with the coronavirus crisis, but the new version of itself, adorned with a minor Green tweak, will return to Slaintecare, subsidies for health insurance companies, a hefty dose of privatisation and will continue to rely on vulture capital to fund housing that is unaffordable for the majority, giving away public land to property developers in the process.
Neither is there anything new in the role of the Greens. They were wiped out following their last incursion into an austerity coalition. Here they are again! They are a capitalist party and capitalist government is their natural home. We have seen that movie and the trailer for the sequel, played out in the Dail debate, reveals that the plot remains unchanged. Once again we find that the workers will get the bill for the latest round of borrowing and that another two decades of austerity will be needed to pay it.
The real crisis is not the unfolding of this hoary old plot. It is that many socialist activists are fixated on the mechanisms of the Dail and coalition arithmetic. Socialist reformists chase Sinn Fein to discuss an imaginary 'left' government while Sinn Fein chase Fianna Fail to discuss an inclusionary capitalist government.
There are four fracture points in the process. One is the divisions within the Green party itself between the leadership and the more radical youth. Socialists should not be indulging themselves in increasingly opportunist manoeuvres aimed at dressing capitalist Parties in socialist clothes and cajoling them in to a wholly imagined parliamentary dolly mixture, supposedly 'left', coalition.
The message to youth that are concerned about the looming climate catastrophe is that the answer is the end of capitalism and socialists should be advancing the argument that a green society will not be accomplished inside capitalist society or through minor trade offs and machinations inside the Dail.
The second major fracture point lies between the Green Party's demands and big agribusiness inside the proposed coalition. This is a circle that can't be squared and will lead to constant instability.
The third point is the framework document itself. Despite the promises, this is a return to the bad old days of homelessness and austerity.
Finally there is Covid 19 itself. The bill has to be paid. The homeless will have to be eased back on to the streets, rents and mortgages will have to resume their upward climb and workers will have to be forced back to work to take their chances with an ongoing risk of infection.
These battles will end in defeat for the working class without huge workers mobilisations and the socialists' discussions should be about how to achieve that! The central demands of these mobilisations must be homes and healthcare for all, an end to the destruction of the environment, no more austerity, a call for debt cancellation and the expropriation of the massive wealth that accumulates in the hands of a few banks, corporations and unbelievably rich individuals.