Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Labour's love lost? Building a progressive alliance in a world without social partnership.

In last week's An Phoblacht Eoin o'Broin again highlighted the opportunity for a broad, progressive, political alliance in south Ireland which would serve to realign southern politics away from the oddity of two right wing parties with the same ideas constantly swapping office.

Starry Plough had looked at this question before. There has never been a better time to realign politics certainly. For such a long time Fianna Fail had a strong lock on Public sector workers and also even in working class communities. Seeing as how both these groups have been targetted for some extra pain by that wretched party in the recent budget it is to be hoped that their % vote will drop even further. But for all the delight in seeing Fianna Fail on the canvas, if not quite knocked out, its a sober warning to anyone who wants to see some change in this state to see FG rising high in the polls. As so often Fine Gael will win not because their ideas are welcome but because they are not Fianna Fail. And in effect Tweedledum is about to see himself pushed over by Tweedledee. The tea party will continue full steam ahead, no changes planned thank you very much.

So can Labour upset the party and start to break this tired old musical chairs? However they choose to act Eoin is right in asserting that a meaningful left alliance would require Labour's input. They are still a strong block and without them a left wing alliance is weakened. But without a left wing alliance Labour is only going to be best supporting actor to Enda Kenny with a limited input over the big decisions with an unleashed Leo Varadkar.

The only part of the article I was unsure of was the strategy where "Firstly it would be to demonstrate to the Labour Party that republicans are serious about the long term objective of transforming the social, political and economic landscape of the country." I think its equally up to Labour to demonstrate their serious commitment to those objectives.

But that said every effort should be made to demonstrate to Labour that our committment to those objectives is firm and that we stand on the same side. I do think that Labour need to start building this idea of a broad left alliance if only to check Fine Gael who are starting to really dominate the polls with a 13% margin over FF and a 19% margin over Labour. A left alliance will give Labour leverage and the people of the south an alternative to the terrible twins.

I also think that with the effective death of social partnership that this type of alliance is necessary.

Eoin's article:

Engaging Labour

IN his February 2009 Ard Fheis speech, Gerry Adams called for an, ‘egalitarian alternative to the politics of greed, inefficiency, waste and corruption.’

He called for realignment in Irish politics to end “the dominance’ of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“The Labour Party” argued Adams “has a duty not to prop up either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Instead Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.”
The following month in his Ard Fheis speech Eamon Gilmore said that, “to end crony capitalism, you have to end crony politics”. He told delegates that Labour’s mission is “to build a new, better and fairer Ireland”.

A week earlier in a ‘Sunday Business Post’ interview Gilmore ruled out a left alliance. He told Pat Leahy, “There will be no alliance with Sinn Féin, parties of the left, with individuals of the left. There will be no alliance of that kind.”

While officially the Labour Party’s objective is to become the second largest party in the state and lead the next government, party strategists know that if it is in the next government it will be as a junior partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael.

Such a coalition can not create “a new, better and fairer Ireland”. It will be a conservative government, dominated by a resurgent, right-wing Fine Gael.
So where does this leave Sinn Féin’s call for an alliance for change? Should we abandon any hope of Labour working for a realignment of Irish politics? Is Labour really no different to Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael?

For this writer there will be no realignment of Irish politics without Labour. No alliance for change can be built without their active participation.

Thus Sinn Féin should not abandon the Labour Party but develop a strategy of engagement. The purpose of this strategy would be threefold.

Firstly it would be to demonstrate to the Labour Party that republicans are serious about the long term objective of transforming the social, political and economic landscape of the country.

Secondly it would be to build effective working relationships at a local and national level with Labour and its supporters on issues of common concern.

Thirdly it would be to strengthen the hand of those within the Labour Party, and its broader support base in the trade union movement and civic society who believe that such an alliance is not only possible, but realisable.

There are many activists and supporters within the Labour Party who do not want to be part of a Fine Gael coalition. There are others who simply do not see any other viable option in the short term.

Those of us who believe that a better, fairer Ireland is possible have a responsibility to engage and convince those who share our broad values and aspirations that an alliance for change is the best way forward.

But an alliance for change will not emerge on its own. Those of us who believe in it need a strategy, including a strategy for engaging with the Labour Party.

This year’s European elections saw the combined left vote in the 26 Counties reach 30% for the first time in the history of the state. The economic and political model promoted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is in crisis. There has never been a better time for the left to promote a real alternative.


  1. My opinion on this is well, what are we doing about it? What is Gerry et al doing to build these links he promoted at the Ard Fheis? What is the party doing on a local basis? What is going on.

    We have had plenty of talk about this but how are we meant ot do it. I have approcahed labour in our area and they were not interested in working with us. They look at the SDLP in the North and think they could loose out in a similar way to a radical republican party.

    So what advise have we from senior party leaders on the way forward? Have we a discussion document? Have we had activists called in to discuss it?

    When somebody knows could they please let me know.

  2. That for me is the part that i disagreed with Eoin about. Its as much up to Labour to work on this as Sinn Fein. Together both parties can make a contribution but I'd like to see Labour making some running on this as well.
    I believe that the scope for interacting with Labour as a party may be not as broad as we hope but I do think that at a more grass roots level members of both parties can work together. This will not represent a threat to Labour but will rather give them greater scope. Eventually that may give the Labour leadership the courage to build on greater cooperation.
    I think Labour needs to have courage and make a step change. I am concerned that their strategy is being shaped too much for what Enda Kenny, Hayes, Varadkar and Lucinda might want. I would suspect many labour activists would be keen to work to limit the damage that lot will inflict on the economy

  3. Simple basic common sense creates an imperative for the left/progressives to agree some minimum policy agenda items. The low paid wage earners, the unemployed, the young, the poor, the sick (the list gets longer every day) need the left/progressives to get its act together. I'm sure every party is well able to highlight the injustices of the current regime, but that don't exactly take an Einstein to figure out.

    O'Broin states that no progress can be made without Labour's involvement. Why? What are the benefits to the broad left/progressive movement with Labour inputs? Is is just the fact that they are able to garner about 20% support in the polls? Maybe this is a valid reason enough. Maybe it isn't. Solidarity without some agreed programs is just window dressing. The Irish people need an alternative that they can understand and believe will work. I also believe there is growing support among large swathes of the population for the notion that the present system isn't working for many people in Ireland, and is never going to work for many people. There is an inkling that change, fundamental change, is required in society, but it is by no means a given. The political party that articulates a concise and easy to understand program of change will make hay during the next GE. We probably have two years to create and articulate this program but the work starts now. We can't wait. Every day that passes is a lost opportunity.

    By all means approach any person, group, community or political party that shares our views in general. Start building a concensus for change where we can. Start building a new language and program for change that people across different disciplines, circumstances and outlooks can get behind to some degree. It won't be perfect but it'll be better than what we have in the present circumstances.

    But real politik is staring us in the face. Labour has stated categorically that it will not enter into a broad leftist/progressive alliance before the GE. I can understand their position. Many of their members, and some of the leadership, come from former organisations that were mired in factions, petty arguments over terminology, and just a general inability to function effectively in the political arena. They don't want to enter this world again. I fully sympathise. And lets not forget that while many Labour members easily jettisoned their Marxist repertoire, they still manage to bring their anti-Republican baggage with them.

    SF should do what it does well. Organise in the long grass. Localise politics and organise at the grass roots. Highlight the fact that local problems are only a manifestation of larger national problems. Highlight the fact that the MOTUs (master of the universe, FF, FG etc.) use the national and international stage and issues to perpetuate their own localised cronyist policies.

    There is one area that SF, and indeed the broad left, needs to improve upon in a big way. We need to create a professional and alternate media in this country - all 32 counties. SF should be leading the way, and maybe this project, rather than grand alliances, is something the entire left/progressives can work on together. Maybe it is in this medium that we can begin to build a concensusal alternative to the current system.


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