Marxist World sympathiser Seán Heffernan reports on latest developments from Ireland
The Right2Water Campaign, which was a campaign spearheaded by a number of Trade Unions in Ireland that called for abolition of the water tax, although disgracefully refused to call on people to boycott the water charge, have formed an electoral policy framework called Right2Change (R2C).
The Trade Union leadership of R2C put together a set of reformist proposals based on a 4-year, 9 billion Euro spending programme. A number of parties, including the ‘radical’ nationalist Sinn Fein and the SWP’s People Before Profit Front, signed up to the R2C document “A Policy Proposal for a Progressive Irish Government”.
Right2Change is being led by a number of Trade Union officials, with UNITE’s Brendan Ogle being the head of the bunch, and seen by the media as the de facto leader of the group. Ogle in the past has criticised the “hard left” stance of the Socialist Party-Anti Austerity Alliance have taken on a number of issues. In return, Ogle has been accused as being soft on some key issues, where it is argued he should be taking a harder, more principled line. There are those on the Left who claim Ogle is too close to Sinn Fein for comfort, and is being led and said by them. Mr Ogle would of course reject this assertion outright.
Socialist Party and Anti-Austerity Alliance
Whilst broadly supporting the reforms outlined, the SP-AAA argued they did not go far enough, and that to be implemented would require breaking from the EU and capitalism. This is formally correct, but the AAA rarely, if ever, talks about socialism and the need for a planned economy based on public ownership of the major corporations under workers’ control. “Anti-austerity” is the trendy buzzword shared by reformists, revolutionaries and even bourgeois forces, which makes it extremely difficult for the public to distinguish between the different currents.
While the R2C policy document doesn’t mention voting pacts, a few days before the R2C document was launched, Sinn Fein put out a statement calling on SF voters to give preference votes to other R2C candidates in their area, after they give SF their number 1 (or 1 and 2 if SF is running 2 candidates in that area of course).
The SP-AAA demanded changes to the original R2C document draft, some of which were agreed to and put into the final document, but the SP were not happy that all of their demands were not met.
In my view (and that of Marxist World), the SP-AAA correctly refused to sign up to what is effectively a popular front electoral agreement, primarily because of the involvement of the ‘radical’ bourgeois nationalist party Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein refused to call on people to boycott the water charge, and overall hedged their bets. At one stage, Sinn Fein TD’s actually said they had planned to pay their water charges! But rest assured, they told us, Sinn Fein would abolish it if and when elected into government.
The Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance correctly argued for people to boycott the water charge, and put it to the others involved in Right2Change: “How can you defeat the charge without boycotting it? You cannot”. Sinn Fein refused to call on people to boycott the Property Tax, and criticised parties and grassroots groups that did so.
Sinn Fein’s “Anti-Austerity”
I agree with the SP that their call on Right2Change to completely rule out coalition with pro-austerity parties was essential, and it is shocking that this has been omitted from the Right2Change policy document. Some are saying this was to ensure Sinn Fein came on board.
Whilst I don’t know if this was the case for certain, it is indeed a distinct possibility. SF are hovering at around 20% in opinion polls, and could end up with over 25 Dail seats after the General Election, and may be kingmakers for one of the pro-capitalist parties if they are to form a Government.
SF should take a principled stand, refuse to go into government with pro-capitalist parties, and force Fianna Fail and Fine Gael (the two main bourgeois parties) to form a government. As it stands, a party or coalition needs 81 seats to get a majority in Parliament.
It is worth reminding people that during the battle against the bin charges in Dublin from 2001-2004, Sinn Fein told people there was no need to actively resist the charges; Instead just vote SF councillors on to the councils in the 2004 local elections and if they got into power they would abolish the charges. Sinn Fein are now in power on many councils in Ireland and yet have not done an iota on the issue as bin charges go up and up all the time.
On current poll numbers, FF and FG combined vote would get just under 50%. In terms of parliamentary seats, they could end up in the mid 80s, or in the high 70s. Should they fail to get a majority together, they may be able to cajole a few maverick Independent TD’s to support the government, in return for a new school, motorway, or a Regional office of a state department in their area.
FF and FG have stated that they refuse to be in an alliance with Sinn Fein, whilst Sinn Fein refuses to rule out going into coalition after the next election (due April 9th 2016 at the latest). People Before Profit have signed up to R2C, commenting that this movement could be the kickstarter of something big, whilst lashing out at Sinn Fein for refusing to rule out coalition with pro-austerity parties.
Some on the left, particularly Independent folk who are linked to R2C due to their active involvement in the water charges campaign, have slammed the AAA for refusing to support the R2C policy document. When I read their comments, I am reminded of all the people who blindly rushed into the arms of the now hated Irish Labour Party prior to the 2011 General Election. These folk scolded others who dare criticise Labour, merely because the Labour Party opposed the current Government at the time. Now many Lefts are saying we should turn a blind eye to the faults of Sinn Fein, such as their refusal to completely rule out coalition with pro-austerity parties, and more significantly, their cheer-leading of the austerity agenda in Northern Ireland.
While Sinn Fein are jumping up and down at “Tory/Westminster Cuts”, the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont has implemented over £300M of cuts completely independently of Westminster with the backing of Sinn Fein Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive! Can you thus blame the SP-AAA for having such reservations about SF?
Tensions in the SP-SWP Alliance
The Socialist Party pseudo-front the Anti Austerity Alliance, and the Socialist Workers Party pseudo-front People Before Profit, have merged to form a new official party Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit. However, SP-AAA rejected the R2C document whilst SWP-PBP supported it!
If a party in Ireland gets more than 7 seats, they official full designated status in Parliament. If AAA-PBP got more than 7 seats, the two parties would get more speaking time in the Dail, more seats on the Dail Committees, and more financing. This is the primary reason behind their pact. The two entities will continue to plough their own electoral furrows, with differing positions on many issues. This new electoral coalition is united in name, but not by nature. It is solely an electoral manoeuvre which, at its core, hopes to wrangle more money from the capitalist state to further fund their solo activities.
Socialist Party members are now currently hopping mad over news that the heads of Right2Change (the Trade Union apparatchiks) have said they won’t be calling on voters to transfer to the AAA. SP members argue that, given the hard work they put in to opposing the water tax, Right2Change should still call on people to transfer to the AAA, despite the AAA not signing up to Right2Changes policy document. But how can you reasonably argue Right2Change should support vote transfers to the AAA, when the AAA refuses to support vote transfers to Right2Change candidates?
Marxist World have made excellent criticisms of the programme, policies and methods of the Socialist Party of England/Wales and their electoral front the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coaltion (TUSC), which can equally be applied to their Irish counterparts. However, despite their reformist programme, an SP-AAA or SWP-PBP TD elected to parliament would be worth more than 10 sellout Labour TD’s in the Dail. In the absence of a genuine Marxist party with a socialist programme, we would critically advocate voting for them.
It remains to be seen how the SP-AAA will fair in the General Election, especially if a sizable number of left voters heed the Right2Changes call for voters not to transfer to AAA candidates running in their areas. In that case, without getting a big first preference vote at the ballot box, many AAA candidates could be eliminated long before the final seat in their area has been declared.