Via WSM Ireland
I attended a public launch of the ULA in Cork city on Wednesday 16th of January. There was a real sense of purpose in the attendance and a fairly high level of energy , anger and enthusiasm. It was clear from the start in the packed hall that people had come to not just listen but many to join up and play a role in the emerging organisation.
This was born out when it was announced from the platform at the end that 109 people had signed up at the meeting to take part in the election campaign, that in a room of almost 200, of course some were already active and then there were a few like me who just wanted to stay informed. 600 euro in paper money was collected and an uncounted amount in coins. Speakers were Joe Higgins, Richard Boyd Barrett, Seamus Healy, Mick Barry and Ann Foley. The final 2 the candidates for Cork North Central and Cork Norh West respectively. I didn’t take notes for the speeches as the line was familiar and can be understood from a quick perusal of the agreed programme of the ULA.
After about an hour or more of speeches, the floor was opened. The quality of contribution from the floor varied quite honestly as with all such public events. There were people who felt the need to speak but said very little or quite bland things, a few SP members who seemed to be giving prepared interventions (I think that this habit which I have seen at many meetings is detrimental to the flow of a meeting in general as it gives an impression of the thing being rehearsed), then of course there were many questions about specific policies and a few who asked political questions about the alliance and its direction. These generally are the most interesting to me as they help flesh out things and give an opportunity for debate outside the narrow lines of the irish media. Over half of the 17 floor speakers were unaffiliated and so we got a good sense of what people wanted answered. Questions varied from prison reform to direct democracy, from childrens rights to education, reform versus revolution to abortion.
The two speakers who responded Richard and Mick both explained that the Alliance being quite new simply had agreed the programme on the economic issues as the most urgent and pressing and an area where agreement was possible within the period in which the alliance came together. Each component group and/or candidate has their own policies but you could take it as a given that generally they were on the progressive/left side of things. On the specific question of abortion, which a friend had asked me to raise, they both stated that they and their parties were firmly pro choice and would push for the legislation in the area set out by the X-case judgement as an immediate minimum, however the alliance had not yet a position as the formation was in early days. I wondered about this a bit as the same question put a number of years ago at at People Before Profit meeting had gained a similar reply. Whilst time was found to include equality for lesbian, gay,bisexual and transdgender people in the programme abortion was not touched on. Why really? Will we have to give them the benefit of the doubt as the SWP and SP are both explicity pro choice and make up the majority of candidates, I am less than convinced by the time argument I simply think the issue was avoided for political purposes and it would have been better to just state so.
Who wasn’t there is interesting there were very few republicans, no Workers Party people who I think are a bit sore over not being invited to help with the formation having had a voting pact with the SP in Cork in the last election, most of my comrades were at a showing of a new film on wikileaks not being enthused by elections anyhow. I am a bit confused by the exclusion of the WP though I understand the door is open to them, no attempt will be made to bring in Eirigi or other left republicans due to the overt hostility of the SP I would suppose.
There was a strong appeal for election workers and people were told that there were roles for everyone. It was also announced that there would be a national convention in Dublin on the 12th of February to launch the election campaign.
Future ambitions spoke of by some of the top table speakers was the idea of formally creating a united political party from the ULA. This would indeed involve a serious adoption of policy and programme on all the areas, and more, raised by people at the meeting. I don’t think this would be a revolutionary party along the lines that many of the participants have argued for down the years it will simply be a more leftwing and radical participant in the parliamentary system.
The ULA is essentially reformist in its approach to the political system, this is going to be further reinforced by the co-option of very recent Labour dissidents in Portlaoise and possibly Nicky Kelly and co. in Wicklow (a few weeks ago happy labour party members, this week ULA). Also the candidates pledge requires no support for governments containing Fianna Fail or Fine Gael but no reference to Labour or Sinn Fein both of whom were lacerated from the platform. However every speaker emphasised the importance of building the oppositional movement on the streets, on the picket lines etc. This is good as ultimately this is where change will come from not in the Dail and though I suspect as this alliance progresses and should it achieve electoral advances it will be come less of the street and more of the council chamber, less of the membership and more of the leadership. But for the coming period this new alliance will come to be a major focus of the hopes of people who believe in the political/electoral system, that was clear from the number of people who spoke from the floor and were ex members of other parties or had been election candidates themselves. But it will also draw in people looking for an alternative who will be open to a broad range of activity and action. We will be working alongside them and fighting in campaigns with them and it is with many of the activists in this movement and others that we will take back the unions, defeat the water charges and build an oppositional movement. We will need to have serious debate with them about democracy, leadership and revolution but we certainly won’t be ignoring them.
WORDS: James McBarron