Report on United Left Alliance Launch – November 29th November 30, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.
Many thanks to Mark P for the following report from what sounds like a very positive and useful event. Apologies to all for the delay in posting this up.
The United Left Alliance (ULA) was launched last night in the Gresham Hotel, Dublin. The Alliance consists, at this stage, of the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group.
Around 350 people filled the ballroom, despite terrible weather conditions. I have to admit that at about ten to eight I was a bit concerned that freezing cold and snow might have damaged the attendance, but the room filled up very rapidly after that. There were many faces familiar to me, supporters of the Socialist Party and the PBPA, but also many people I’d never seen before.
A four page leaflet, containing the founding political basis of the ULA was distributed to those in attendance. The leaflet also contained a lengthy pledge to be signed by all ULA candidates, committing them not to take part in junkets at the public expense or to profit from expenses fiddles.
The meeting was chaired by Ailbhe Smyth, a prominent feminist academic and convenor of the People Before Profit Alliance. Also on the platform were Richard Boyd Barrett, a PBPA councillor and SWP leader, Seamus Healy, a WUAG councillor and former TD, Cian Prendiville, an SP activist from Limerick, Joan Collins, a PBPA councillor, and Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP.
Unfortunately, I don’t have notes of precisely who said what during their speeches. Hopefully other people who were there can fill in some of the detail on that score.
Richard gave an outline of the political and economic crisis facing Ireland, and talked about the kind of attacks Irish workers could expect on their living standards. Both he, and later Joe, emphasised that the ULA as it stands is only a starting point.
Cian was introduced as one of the youngest if not the youngest candidate of any party in the forthcoming General Election. He spoke very well, emphasising the effect that the crisis will have and is already having on young people and talking about the impact on Limerick City. He also took some time to ridicule a certain Labour Party councillor who put out a red-scare press release expounding the glories of the market this week.
Seamus Healy explained that he wasn’t going to repeat the political points made by other speakers at length, and instead focused on the story of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group. The WUAG, which was founded in 1985 by a small number of trade unionists, has built itself into a position where it has 5 out of 12 councillors in Clonmel, 2 South Tipperary County councillors and a new councillor in Carrick on Suir. They are central to every community campaign in the region. He emphasised that this showed the kind of possibilities that were open to the left in towns and villages across the country.
Joan Collins had just returned from a Dublin City Council meeting where the Labour/Fine Gael majority had just passed estimates involving huge cuts – just a taste of what’s to come. I’m afraid that I had to leave the room for part of Joan’s speech and so didn’t hear all of the rest of it.
Joe Higgins was the last of the platform speakers to speak. He spoke about the bailout and austerity, about the “lifeblood” being sucked from the working class of this country to “fill the bellies of financial vampires.” He argued that crises and chaos are an inherent part of the capitalist system and advocated the democratic control, on an international basis, of the financial system. He particularly emphasised the need for a European and international perspective, arguing that just as the capitalists and financiers organise internationally that we need to link up with the workers of Greece, Portugal, Spain etc who are or will be facing similar attacks. He also said that the ULA was a starting point, a step towards a goal of a new mass party of working people and of the left.
All of the speakers were also sharply critical of the Labour Party and Fine Gael, pointing out repeatedly that a FG/Labour government will be fundamentally no different to the current one.
Each of the platform speeches were very well received. When the meeting was thrown open to the floor, dozens of hands went up, so although the Chairperson did sterling work keeping things moving, only a minority of those looking to speak actually got in.
Speakers from the floor variously volunteered to raise funds, welcomed the new initiative and made suggestions of various kinds. Unfortunately, my lack of notes is even more telling here and I really don’t know who said what. Questions were also asked about corporation tax, about whether other groups such as the Workers Party would be involved, and about moving the next national meeting forward.
Finally Joe Higgins returned to the podium to briefly respond to the discussion. He answered the questions asked and then he went on to outline what he saw as the role of any ULA candidates elected as TDs. He talked of them helping to give voice to movements in the streets and in the workplaces against the cutbacks and of using the positions to mobilise people to defend their livelihoods and communities.
After the meeting finished, a lot of people stuck around for a drink. The mood was very good. People at the meeting were angry but felt that the ULA offered a way to do something about it. Two of the people I was chatting to had never been to a political meeting of any kind before, which was an encouraging sign.