Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Labour Leadership Offensive to the Left, Offensive Against the Left

with 4 comments

Thanks to Des Derwin for this article, also published here :

http://www.irishleftreview.org/2011/01/25/godsend-sinn-fin-left/

The Finance Bill stroke is the latest, but greatest, in a line of indications that Labour in government will be on the good ship Austerity.

Until fairly recently I would have counselled my friends on the left against rejecting calls for an all-left alliance out of hand and, instead, for saying to Labour and Sinn Féin, ‘reject coalition and austerity and we can all ally’. The clarity of Labour’s intentions makes this position redundant. More, the Labour leadership has now gone on the offensive against the ULA and Sinn Féin, against the rest of an all-left alliance.

http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/talk-away-mister-higgins/

Now the question has turned on those in and associated with the Labour Party who have long sought an alternative to the FF/Green direction of the crisis, and who have long hoped that the unions begin to fight back. Can you continue to support this? Is it not now time to make the break? You do not have to come right into the ULA. A looser umbrella might be erected for the time being.

After the Finance Bill stroke the question must be directed a little wider: to the leadership of SIPTU, Unite and the TEEU. SIPTU, for instance, made and continues to make, harsh and accurate criticisms of the effects of the Budget on workers. Can they tolerate this blatant manouvre to ALLOW IN that same Budget? Can they continue to call for workers to vote Labour, or Labour and left?

Further, can those who have researched and written so brilliantly against the FF/Green government making workers and the vulnerable pay for the crisis and the banks, and who have produced viable alternatives, Fintan O’Toole, TASC, some associated with Claiming Our Future and the 5th February Gresham Conference, etc., continue to support Labour when Labour, in alliance with Fine Gael, have let in the Budget and will clearly continue the thrust of the present government policies?

Is it not time, just as the far left have made the jump into a broad alliance and a real alternative, for those Labour supporters and activists anguished by Labour’s trajectory, to make their own break and express their dissatisfaction through some new public formation, association, political organisation independent of the Labour leadership and putting out a different message? There would be immediate synergy, solidarity and opportunities for co-operation with the rest of the left and, in time, for closer organisational links with it.

———————————————————————

A back-up note by Tomás Ó Flatharta :

An opportunity for more left unity presents itself here :

A very important conference looms :

Political Change and People Power
‘New Political Possibilities in Ireland for all Left-Wing Parties in Partnership with Civil Society’

Saturday, 5th February 2011
Gresham Hotel, Dublin

http://www.irishleftreview.org/2011/01/21/new-political-possibilities-ireland-leftwing-parties-partnership-civil-society-conference/

Left unity cannot occur via coalition in government with right-wing parties.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called left-wing Lisbon Treaty opponents “headbangers”.

Regrettably two Dublin Labour TD’s – Róisín Shortall and Joan Burton – have used similar language to attack left-wing rivals.

You wonder if Labour headquarters “focus groups” have picked up deep unease among Labour supporters about the right-wing policies of Fine Gael, and the shoddy manoeuvres designed to help the Budget Finance Bill through a dying Dáil?  Did some dark princes from the Gilmore kitchen cabinet tell Shortall and Burton to be offensive towards left-wing rivals?

This may not play well with Labour voters.  Following the elimination of Labour’s Frank McBrearty in the recent Donegal South-West by-election, his transfers went leftward, and away from Fine Gael – historically a very unusual pattern :

http://tomasoflatharta.com/2010/12/04/donegal-south-west-by-election-isolated-example-or-pointer-to-the-future/

After the general election, Labour Leader Eamonn Gilmore will probably be Tánaiste, a deputy Taoiseach in a government headed by the Mayo TD who will not even implement the Supreme Court X Case Judgment on abortion.  Enda has given the two fingers sign to the recent European Court of Human Rights Judgment – and to irish referendum voters who have decided twice – in 1992 and 2002 – to keep the Supreme Court X Case Judgment in place.

This inaction occurs 18 years after the former Fine Gael minister, Judge Declan Costello,  detonated the 1992 X Case crisis by trying to intern in Ireland a suicidal 14-year-old girl made pregnant after being raped.

That is just one issue, a very important one.  The time is now :  Labour left supporters should actively fight coalition with the right.

4 Responses

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  1. Tomas, I’m genuinely curious as to who exactly these Labour left supporters you address you argument to actually are.

    The Labour Party is a very small organisation in the greater scheme of things. It contains within it no left candidate for next Labour. No Left frontbencher. No left candidate to be a future frontbencher. Not one single TD with a profile to the left of the Quinn/Rabbitte/Gilmore/Burton leadership. No distinctly organised Labour left. No Labour left publications. No distinct Labour left programmes. No left networks. Not even one oppositional left branch.

    In the 1970s and the 1980s, the Labour Party had a very substantial left wing and the emblematic issue of the left – right divide was that of coalition. There is now absolutely no force in the Labour Party remaining which opposes coalition with the traditional right wing parties. When it was debated at conference before the last election, 80% of delegates favoured coalition with Fine Gael, most of the rest favoured coalition with Fianna Fail and a handful favoured fighting independently and then choosing which party to go into coalition with afterwards. Not one delegate argued against coalition in principle. Not one.

    There are of course some left individuals in the occasional Labour Party branch and one or two well known reformist individuals who support them in a kind of semi-detached manner. But they are scattered, disorganised and demoralised. There is absolutely no hope of a battle inside Labour – that war has been fought and comprehensively lost.

    At most there might be some small scale local splits (we’ve recently seen two, one in Sligo and one in Laois/Offally but there are no indications of further ones on the way). If such splits occur, we should encourage them and take an open attitude to them, while not fudging political disagreements. But given that the Labour Party has a total claimed paper membership in the region of 5,000 and an active membership of much less than that, when we talk about a very small minority of that membership we just aren’t talking about a significant audience. We do need to pitch an argument towards people who are considering voting for Labour, but their active membership is hardly the most fruitful place to be targeting our activism.

    Calling on “the Labour Left” to do this or that strikes me as akin to calling on imaginary armies to charge or retreat.

    Mark P

    January 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm

  2. There is a chance that the Labour / Fine Gael manoeuvre, designed to ease the Finance Bill into law, may not work. Various independent TD’s (Michael Lowry, Jackie Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath et al) are threatening to vote against the minority Fianna Fáil government.

    Source :

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2011/0125/breaking12.html

    So, the Labour Party / Fine Gael stroke could blow up in the faces of Gilmore/Kenny – Is Labour bitterly regretting not going ahead with its no confidence motion this week? It is likely that Coalition Labour has lost ground to left-wing rivals this week – stung again by the blueshirt vampire!

    tomasoflatharta

    January 25, 2011 at 11:11 pm

  3. Maybe Tomás’ wording prompted Mark P to make a – undoubtedly valid and well-argued – case against the existence of a ‘Labour left’. I’m confident when he said “Labour left supporters” my friend Tomás did not mean an organised Labour left, nor even a substantial informal left current in the Labour Party, but a small number of lefter and more genuine members of the Labour Party, some of whom would know each other either socially or in small informal circles. In fact there has been some focus for some of these in recent weeks on a couple of Facebook sites and there are some loosely collected around the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, Unite and TASC. Labour Youth too, a while ago anyway. The main cluster of Dublin left blogs is run by people who not too long ago would have regarded Labour as no write-off. A thin layer. Mais, oui! Actually the emergence of the Laois/Offaly breakaway to the ULA, a break which I consider totally genuine, was a big surprise to me and revealed a portion of the Labour Party which I did not think existed never mind so cohesively. Tell me more about the Sligo break.

    Mark says, “The Labour Party is a very small organisation in the greater scheme of things…There are of course some left individuals in the occasional Labour Party branch and one or two well known reformist individuals who support them in a kind of semi-detached manner. But they are scattered, disorganised and demoralised…At most there might be some small scale local splits… If such splits occur, we should encourage them and take an open attitude to them, while not fudging political disagreements. But given that the Labour Party has a total claimed paper membership in the region of 5,000 and an active membership of much less than that…”

    But of course! This is the case. No significant iceberg expected to dislodge from the ice field. Mark P continues,

    “…when we talk about a very small minority of that membership we just aren’t talking about a significant audience.”

    But we are not talking about an audience, meaning a mixed mass of people hearing a general message. We are talking about a few dozen – maybe more if there are a few more cohorts around like that in Laois/Offaly – active and semi-active members who like the rest of us have seen the system practically collapse and who think we ought to resist. Of course, “We do need to pitch an argument towards people who are considering voting for Labour…” That is part of the ULA’s election, and continuing, campaign. And it is true – in general – that “their active membership is hardly the most fruitful place to be targeting our activism.” But if there are a few relatively prominent and influential Labour members or supporters that can, at this precise time, be loosened or won away towards the ULA’s great overall project it is a duty to tend to these as well as to the trade union and community activists, students, young unemployed, whom we also, and indeed more eagerly, hope to win from THEIR prevailing set of ideas and bring into the new movement.

    [This is not to disagree for a minute with the contention, should it be raised, that the Labour Party is not even party of the left. That some serious, if they are serious, socialists or left social democrats, whatever, consider or considered the Labour Party to have been the place to put their energies – this is what we are talking about here.]

    The small numbers need not turn us away either. It may be true that “the Labour Party has a total claimed paper membership in the region of 5,000 and an active membership of much less than that…” We are DEALING IN small numbers. It has turned out after all that the sum of the ULA is indeed greater than its parts, far greater to be honest than I ever expected in such a short time for all my interest in ‘left unity’. But let’s not be moved to think that a jump from cents to ten cent pieces, with twenty cent pieces in view, means that we already have a wad of notes in our pockets. An active membership that is ten percent of 5,000 is as much as or more than the combined active membership of the constituent organisations of the ULA (there were a hundred plus at the recent ULA activists meeting in Dublin). Which is not to say that there is some pool of, say, 500 Labour activists to be reached and recruited. Only that, we being in the small numbers game itself for the time being, it is worth considering how to relate to and perhaps reach some of the few, perhaps a few dozen, Labour supporters who are unhappy with the Party’s stance at present and open to considering a political alternative.

    Finally the winning of people from the Labour Party, and from other political persuasions too, as well as being a matter of adding a little to a little, is also a qualitative gain, freshening the political complexion of the ULA and presenting a new face, radical yet reaching out, that will be seen as more than a product of one particular left tradition, solid and essential and all as that tradition is and must remain.

    PS. Relevant to the above, and not optimistically so, is the passing last night (25th January), that is after the Finance Bill stroke, by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions of a Motion from the DCTU executive dealing with the economic crisis and including, in an admitedly long Motion on the general situation, a call on the ICTU to urge union members “to vote Labour and other left-wing political parties”. OK the “other political parties” is expansive but “vote Labour” endured regardless.

    Des Derwin

    January 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm


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