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Report on United Left Alliance Launch – November 29th November 30, 2010

Posted 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.

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1. United Left Alliance Launched at packed meeting - November 30, 2010

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2. sonofstan - November 30, 2010

John Deasy giving out about left wing ‘headbangers’ on Waterford Local Radio: apparently youse will ruin the economy …..*insert obvious response*

Putting the wind up them is certainly a start.

Mark P - November 30, 2010

Yeah, Varadkar flipped out about the ULA menace on the Week in Politics the other day two.

That makes two blueshirts and a Labourite in a few days. Nice to see.

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

Isn’t it fascinating how the champions of ‘competition’ and their version of democracy in all other areas of our lives suddenly seem less enamoured of it when it comes to politics.

LeftAtTheCross - November 30, 2010

Whereas Marc Coleman was practically fawning over Richard Boyd Barrett on the Frontline last night, highlighting areas of apparent common cause between the United Left Alliance position and that of the National Forum, not that RBB was having any of it of course, and rightly so obviously. Bizarre viewing actually…

RosencrantzisDead - November 30, 2010

Part of this, I am sure, is down to pure political atavism (Keep the Commies Out). This is native ground for FG. Labour, I think, might have realised that the ULA, along with the Shinners, is likely to be the actual opposition in the next Dail (Higgins and a few others are likely to get seats). Highly likely that we will see a chastened FF have an identity crisis which will blunt any opposition attacks – the have a distinct leadership deficit and backbenchers ‘ratting’ to other parties (or ‘Independent’ status) would not be out of the question.

Labour also realise that, as much as the ULA despise FG, they will be saving their most vicious attacks for Labour.

Observer - December 1, 2010

The ULA suits FG quiet well.

What are the two plausible scenarios:

1. They take votes from Labour – thereby increasing FG’s relative strength in a coalition government.

2. They force Labour more leftwards, shoring up the FG vote from the centre allowing FG to appear as the reasonable party to the middle classes, and attracting the dregs of the FF support in this area remaining and the significant support Labour attract in this regard.

RepublicanSocialist1798 - November 30, 2010

Deasy is a muppet. [edit] I’d like to know about that town councillor friend in Dungarven.

At least they’ve rattled some Blueshirts.

3. Jim Monaghan - November 30, 2010

With PR I can see a lot of votes transferring between ULA and SF and even LP.The progressive vote varies in consciousness and the bulk of it will vote for what they see as progressive.Donegal showed in my opinion that there was a LP, Sf and Pringle vote which formed a rough block.Transfers are not within the gift of the first preference recipient.In Donegal FG was nearly as transfer toxic as FF

Mark P - November 30, 2010

I suspect that you are being a bit optimistic there, Jim.

There’ll probably be a decent transfer between Sinn Fein and the left, but Labour votes will transfer firstly to other Labour candidates, secondly to Fine Gael candidates and everyone else will come some way after FG. The left and SF will probably get a few more Labour transfers than usual because Fianna Fail will be seriously transfer repellent, but the natural “bloc” will be FG/Lab rather than Lab/SF/left.

Clive Sullish - November 30, 2010

Mark: re Labour transfers
Your argument is consistent with the Socialist Party’s analysis, but it is not confirmed by the few facts available at the moment. When Labour was eliminated in Donegal SW last week, almost two-and-a-half times as many of its transfers went to SF and the (left-wing) independent as went to Fine Gael. BTW, has Thomas Pringle been aproached by the Left Alliance?

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

There’s another point as well that might back up some of what you’re saying Clive. A lot of Labour’s newfound vote is from former FF voters. It has to be given the polling data. That extra 20 per cent can’t have come from anywhere else, at least not in that quantity. Is it really likely that former long term FF voters are going to transfer to FG from the LP? I don’t think it is given the nature of the Irish political culture and the antipathy between the two parties (FF/FG). I think that makes SF and indeed Independents even of a leftist stripe much more likely destinations of many LP transfers than was previously the case.

Mark P - November 30, 2010

It’s consistent with the trend in every national election that I’m aware of in recent years. Including the most recent local and European elections.

One by-election is too distorted by particular and local factors to tell us much. Most noteably, the weakness of the FG candidate, the much greater general popularity of the SF candidate and the (let’s be diplomatic about this) rather “unconventional” appeal of the Labour candidate.

I also think that the usually high transfer between Labour and FG will if anything by “get them out” government-in-waiting thinking.

I don’t know if Pringle has been approached.

Mark P - November 30, 2010

Sorry, that shouild read:

“I also think that the usually high transfer between Labour and FG will if anything be reinforced by “get them out” government-in-waiting thinking.”

For that matter, in response to WbS point, I think it would be very optimistic to assume that ex-FF voters switching to Labour are then going to transfer further left than Labour voters usually do.

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

That’s true, and I’d accept the caveats you raise particularly re Donegal. On the other hand hard to believe they’ll plump for FG either.

So that might mean a greater swell of support either for SF – given that we may assume they’ll have some sympathy for republicanism, as a second preference, or for the local proxy FF Independent.

James Breen, your time has come, again!

One other thought though, a lot of that newfound LP vote is from the public sector. There’s a chance that some of that might just tilt a bit more leftwards, particularly given how the LP is being so rhetorically cautious. Not a huge amount, but perhaps enough in terms of transfers to be handy for SF, the SP, etc, etc.

EDIT: Of course, they [many of the former FF, now voting LP, voters] might not transfer at all. That’s another possibility.

Mark P - November 30, 2010

I think that you are right that there’s a certain added unpredictability.

It may well be that the left and SF get more transfers than usual. But I don’t really see any reason yet to doubt that the near-universal pattern of Labour voters transferring more heavily to FG than to SF or to the left will remain the dominant trend.

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

I guess a lot depends on the nature of that newfound LP support, doesn’t it?

And of course whether it even sticks with the LP up to and including the election.

seamus - December 1, 2010

I dont think you can compare Donegal by election with the urban areas for left wing vote patterns,its very parochial still in many areas”i hope it will change” You had not to long ago Joe Higgins calling Provo S F,uncle Toms.
I think we need to study these things carefully,the things that divide the common man,and left unity?

4. Jim Monaghan - November 30, 2010

In Donegal admitably not a great sample, McBreatry transfers were not that FG oriented.
On a general note transfers are going to be different this time.

5. D_D - November 30, 2010

Thomas Pringle stated firnly to the PBPA in May that he had given a pledge to his supporters that he would not be joining any organisation or party.

But look how things can change. Even the in short time since May. And the ULA is at present but a mere electoral alliance (though there was a little more to the feeling in the Gresham last night than that).

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

I’d be very happy if the ULA ultimately became a sort of platform party with distinct strands within it.

Budapestkick - November 30, 2010

That’s the long term aim, csomething along the lines of the SSP or Die Linke.

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

That would be great. I’ll be joining the Euro-communist strand ;)

6. Miriam Daly - November 30, 2010

I was glad to hear that groups like the IRSP eirigi and the WP will not be excluded from working for the ULA and that acceptance of the ULAs broad program will be enough to join.

7. Pope Epopt - November 30, 2010

Is Labour-slagging the way to get votes on the doorstep though, Mark? I’d hazard a guess that using STV to persuade those intuitively dissatisfied with Labour’s position to vote 1. ULA, 2. Lab would be more effective.

Mark P - November 30, 2010

We’re not looking to get votes from people by lying to them. And saying to them that Labour will be any different to Fine Gael or to Fianna Fail would be lying to them.

Now as far as actual doorstep conversations are concerned, I generally prefer to talk about what we stand for rather than how much of a shower of bastards everyone else is.

8. Budapestkick - November 30, 2010

‘Is Labour-slagging the way to get votes on the doorstep though, Mark?’

Annoying as I find the term ‘labour-slagging’, our approach on the doors will be to patiently explain Labour’s commitment to IMF and FG policies and to encourage people to vote for a real alternative in the form of the SP / ULA, as we did to some success in the local and european elections. People may agree or disagree but among those voting to the left of FF and FG will either vote for us out of desire for something more militant or else will be sympathetic to us but still feel that Labour are the best of a bad lot in terms of forming a gov. and will give us the 2nd preference instead.

9. Pope Epopt - November 30, 2010

Actually, now I think about it, this election is going to be about a new category of floating (implicitly anti-FF/Green) voter. The new precariat – just hanging on by the skin of their teeth – are open to new notions. Provided (and this is important IMO) they don’t sound like the same-old-same-old stuff they half-heard before, and doesn’t seem to them entirely public-sector oriented.

I hear people who were solidly sold on hegemonic neo-liberal clichés four years ago now sounding like Joe Higgins at times. Consequently I suspect the standard transfer calculations might not be as reliable as before.

To this end the endorsement of Fintan O’Toole’s minimum governmental reforms might not be a bad move. These floating voters are genuinely concerned with the reform of representative democracy and a less corrupt political culture – I can’t see anything to address this in the ULA programme.

WorldbyStorm - November 30, 2010

Unpredictability could be good then.

Budapestkick - November 30, 2010

Not in the programme, but the reputation of Joe, Boyd Barret, Healy et al is of being distanced from and even immune to that kind of corruption.

Pope Epopt - December 1, 2010

Constitutions trump reputations as far as many people are concerned. There is a real appetite for what democracy we have or is possible within capitalism to be made to work. I believe that the ULA would be missing an important constituency by not being explicit about this.

Tomboktu - December 1, 2010

I think that is a large part of why Labour is getting support: I think there is widespread belief that the system per se is not inherently flawed, just the way it was mismanaged over the last decade.

dmfod - December 1, 2010

The candidate pledge covers a lot of the integrity issues as does the no-coalitionism.


DublinDilettante - December 1, 2010

I was going to blog about that. There are six paras about expenses (with a workers’ wage stipulation conspicuously absent) and only four about everything else.

I’m interested by the references to local authorities. Is a ULA slate at the next locals envisaged (optimistic, but I’m all for optimism!) or are all councillors from constituent groups now bound, de facto, by these articles? It’s a good set of first principles, anyway. I hope the ULA does register as a political party and stand candidates on that basis. It’s generating a bit of momentum.

Pope Epopt - December 1, 2010

Thanks dfmod – I hadn’t read that part or the site. There is some good stuff there that will strike a chord with the ‘politicians are shysters’ constituency. This should be extended and played up in the election literature. It needs a little better presentation on the web site, however.

10. Tomboktu - November 30, 2010

I wonder how much the “L” word would be a help or a hindrance with some voters (and how many voters that would be). Ditto “socialist” and variants of that word.

As I tramped through the snow this evening, I had more time than usual to mull over random thoughts, and one that occurred to me was to wonder whether one of the side-effects of the a-bit-more-than-rebranding of the SWP to form the PBPA was the creation of a more friendly “brand”: not only does the PBPA logo consist of a more comforting pair of hands holding each other (in contrast to the SWP’s clenched fist logo), but the name seems so much, well, nicer: it’s about people and doesn’t have those nasty ‘socialist’ or ‘worker’ words in the title.

Blissett - December 1, 2010

plus, it doesnt really sound that much like a political party – added bonus!! Have to say think the PBPA brand is very well constructed, and shows an understanding of the realities of the electorate often absent on the left.

WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2010

Yep, there’s that – definitely. Mind you blurring identities can be tricky. One of the first (first????) signs to me that Democratic Left was not the place for me was the suggestion that it might be called the People’s Party, a moniker loved of centre right outfits elsewhere (by the way, the People Before Profit has none of those connotations as both you and Tomboktu note).

Pope Epopt - December 1, 2010

Good points. The opposition (in the wider sense – not just FF/FG/Lab) have been engaged in continuous re-branding, and what’s good for the goose…

Only left-wonks know, or indeed care, that PBPA is dominated by the SWP. The ‘Left’ in ULA might work (in an ‘it does what it says on the tin’) sense for the left, but it will scare away some potential casual support. But that’s water under the bridge now. ‘United’ and ‘Alliance’ are good warm-and-fuzzy words, in a purely cynical marketing sense.

dmfod - December 1, 2010

If people won’t vote for something with ‘left’ in it I doubt their support would be particularly meaningful in terms of the active on the ground support that is sought over and above votes. You can hide your politics to get a vote but not if you want someone to participate. The ULA is primarily focused on building a movement in society, with seats in the Dail a means to that end rather than an end in itself.

Pope Epopt - December 1, 2010

That’s true about participation being the goal, which does change the perspective. I do think, however, we need to rethink what we mean by ‘left’ if that participation is to go further than an electoral campaign.

11. Jim Monaghan - December 1, 2010

I think the Officials contested the 1972 election with the slogan People before Profits. Yes, I remember it well.
Peoples is a term popular in eastern Europe.Here the Peoples movement obviously likes using the term.

12. NollaigO - December 1, 2010

What was the age profile of those attending the meeting?
Was there a significant number of women present? Were there any Greens/ex Greens in the audience? Any immigrants in attendance?

LeftAtTheCross - December 1, 2010

I’d imagine defectors from the Greens might gravitate towards Fis Nua rather than the ULA.

13. dmfod - December 1, 2010

There were loads of young people, which is true of the parties involved generally. The majority were under 40 and most of them under 30. One of the candidates who spoke, Cian Prendiville, is 21 and the woman who did the finance appeal is also in her early 20s. The number of women was relatively high, though not sure on proportions. Ailbhe Smyth remarked on the strong female turnout from the platform and announced the next meeting of the Feminist Open Forum.

I don’t know how many immigrants were there though the SP has attracted a fair amount over the last few years and they should be attracted by this bit of the programme:
“End all anti-asylum seeker and anti-immigrant laws and bias by the state.Give asylum seekers the right to work and give both asylum seekers and
migrant workers the same rights as all other workers, to help fight “the race to the bottom” in pay and conditions”.Hopefully the Residents against Racism people can get involved on this basis.

I didn’t meet or hear of any Greens/ex-Greens though a Labour guy with flaming ears was present.

14. Budapestkick - December 1, 2010

Recording of all main speakers from ULA launch:

15. Paul - December 2, 2010

How come Declan Bree wasn’t at this? Word in the north west is that Bree is now reluctant to join up. Anyone know the truth?

Budapestkick - December 2, 2010

He appears to be having second thoughts.

16. Irish Left Review · ULA! “No one would have believed….” - December 13, 2010
17. D_D - December 19, 2010

There’s an interview ‘Joe Higgins and the United Left Alliance’ in the new issue of ‘Village’ magazine, No 12, Dec-Jan 2011

18. Jim Monaghan - December 20, 2010

The Village article indulged in a bit of witchhunting of the SWP in my opinion. It sounded like the Harris and Sunday Independent in that part.
None of the demos had any real violence. I don’t regard the playacting at the Dail as violence. And as far as I know nobopdy in the SWP gave advocated anything that could be so described.
I worry about this as seeing as the ULA is a little threat we can expect more of the Harris, O’Toole crap abot protecting democracy with FF who are well know for lies and deceit adding to it

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