Sixty or so delegates from the ULA branches gathered in the Teachers’ Club, Dublin, on June 16, for the first ULA council meeting. (A fuller account of the meeting can be found here: http://tomasoflatharta.com/2012/06/2...6th-june-2012/
There was one delegate for every five members. The meeting was advisory to the Steering Committee but, as at the non-aligned meeting on June 9, votes were taken. Though there was nobody from Tipperary, there was a good representation from across the ULA and some less politically experienced rank and file members.
It was immediately obvious what an advance the ULA Council idea is. Here was a regular forum for members, interfacing with the Steering Committee, which dealt with topical matters and allowed an expression of the views of members (especially the non-aligned) and an exchange of views of the component groups. An internal life for the ULA was beginning. Despite the tussles, and the provocations from some quarters, there was no feeling of anyone being on their way out and, rather, a general discussion of perspectives for ULA branches and the ULA in general; a sense of the ULA meeting together.
The organisational and activity reports from the Steering Committee gave the impression of an organisation seriously trying to do things. The atmosphere was good, up to a point. The same stresses built up as at the April 28 ULA conference, mostly from SWP pressure.
Speakers advised preparation for a government offensive on the household tax and a line of new cuts. And right enough government ministers since then have been flying more kites than over Dollymount Strand, on breaking election promises on tax and social welfare rates, on breaking the Croke Park Agreement with the unions on public sector pay increments, allowances and overtime premiums, and on selling the remaining state share of Aer Lingus and the state forests.
The SWP tended to criticise the ULA referendum campaign (not cohesive or sharp enough) and the Socialist Party and Steering Committee tended to defend it (cohesive, resourced and impactful for the ULA), but only myself raised the multiplication of separate campaigns as an issue. The discussion around whether the ULA should have called for the resignation of Mick Wallace TD had the SWP -- and others – in favour, and the SP against. The SWP linked the matter to the veto and then brought up the veto continually throughout the meeting.
There was some new agreement in relation to the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes on the importance of the planned demonstration in Dublin on July 18. It was agreed, with some hesitancy from the Socialist Party, that ULA members would caucus before Steering Committee meetings. Several practical measures of real advance in the cohesion and development of the ULA were agreed.
The report from the ULA office and the Steering Committee announced plans to hold a major public ULA event in July. This has since been fleshed out in a ULA News Update, June 26. It will be a two-day “summer school” on July 20 and 21 in Dublin to discuss political and economic alternatives in the crisis. It will have a wide range of speakers, both Irish and international, including a speaker from SYRIZA in Greece. An open event, members and supporters are encouraged to invite friends along.
It was reported that 150,000 leaflets had been distributed in the ULA referendum campaign (the report to the April conference had said 30,000) and 3000 posters. There were about 400 members and a “new media” report showed an email list of 1350 and a Facebook reach of up to 10,000. The covenors of the new policy groups (economy, mortgages, environment, health and equality) were announced. There will be another national conference in November and another council meeting in September.
The meeting called on the Steering Committee to register the ULA as a political party. The Socialist Party opposed the motion, with a resistant intervention from Joe Higgins TD, and the SWP made support for it conditional on “democracy” and a “culture of looking outwards”. But the motion was easily carried and the two parties seem to have acquiesced, perhaps in the knowledge that it would go to the Steering Committee for final decision anyway. (The Steering Committee had begun to investigate the registration process anyway.)
(Author’s note: registering as a party in Ireland for electoral purposes is not to declare a party in the organisational sense. The PBPA is a registered party and never pretended to be a party. Party registration leads to various state and media recognitions such as naming on the ballot paper and separate categorisation in opinion polls.)
The stubborn immovabilities of the Socialist Party on consensus and the ULA becoming a party are givens that can hopefully change in time. But its reflex caution on small incremental measures in the development of the ULA, such as party registration and the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) caucus is draining, and unnecessary even for its perspectives on the ULA.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was passed by all without contention that, “the Council urges the Steering Committee to begin work on producing a ULA newsletter which would allow members and branches to inform each other of their activities; promote debate and give the alliance a physical presence at meetings/demos”.
Even those among the founding groups who are most for moving towards party-like structures have remained silent on, or opposed outright, the launch of a ULA publication, especially talk of a newspaper. As with registration the competition for the groups is obvious. That this motion only proposed “to begin work” on a “newsletter”, a modest-sounding publication, and that the motion was advisory only, may have eased its passage without opposition. Nevertheless, as with party registration and the CAHWT caucus, to have it passed at all is a measure of the worth of the ULA Council and of the stepped progress that is being made.
One of the motions not on the written agenda was from the Rathmines Branch and proposed, “To let the veto structure of the ULA lapse after a year.” The SWP had pushed the one person, one vote issue continually throughout the meeting, as at the conference. Its contention was that any claim that the majority at the April conference had rejected its call for one person, one vote was untrue and baseless because there was no vote on it or anything else at the conference and that the matter hadn’t been tested at the conference.
The motion had now been determinedly introduced and a vote insisted upon. It was tested before the delegates of the branches. About a third in the room didn’t vote and there were non-aligned members on both sides but the motion was narrowly defeated. The significance of this for the relentless and provocative presentation of this issue should be obvious. It should curb it. However, there was no reference to the motion or its existence in the report of the ULA Council meeting circulated by the ULA office on the following Tuesday. Most of the members may not know of this indication that ending consensus at this time in the ULA is a minority pursuit after all.
The second edition of the SWP’s interesting new journal, Irish Marxist Review (issue 2, June 2012, at http://www.irishmarxistreview.ie
) appeared in time for the ULA Council meeting. It contained a detailed critique of the history and politics of the Socialist Party. Educational – to an extent – but not really helpful just now and no doubt it will provoke a response in kind from the Socialist Party. There was also some confirmation in it of reports that the SWP is to relaunch the People Before Profit Alliance, “whose growth and expansion will become an important element in developing a radical left”, while staying in the ULA.
It is true that the ULA is fragile. There is a pull between the alliance and the founding groups, and between each of them. Top-down and inter-group decision making is not sustainable indefinitely, while consensus is essential for early nurturing. Time is limited but we must be patient.
The ultimate outcome depends on the recruitment of more non-aligned people to become the overwhelming majority of the ULA and to establish the ULA as a living organisation in its own right. Already 156 out of 388 registered members are non-aligned.
There have been achievements in three areas. First, the founding groups -- the Socialist Party, the People Before Profit Alliance including the Socialist Workers Party, and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group in Tipperary -- have shown courage, innovation and flexibility in forming the ULA and sticking with it thus far.
Second, the ULA has entered and acted upon the political stage, with:
· the election of five radical left TDs;
· the TDs’ impact in the Dáil, the media and on the streets;
· a host of public meetings;
· a serious and united, if stalled, attempt to establish an alternative focus in the trade unions;
· an initiative that led to the first attempt at a demonstration by the trade union movement (on November 26, 2011) since the big ICTU marches;
· a vote of 21% in the Dublin West by-election;
· the ULA, mostly through its components, but with a ULA plank to it, making a large part of the framework of the historic Campaign Against the Household and Water Charges;
· a ULA counter-conference to the Labour Party conference in Galway;
· a presence, if a second-class one, in the Austerity Treaty campaign and, in any case, a boost to the ULA profile;
· the impact and the credibility from the integrity of the ULA women TDs who finally put legislation to the Dáil on the “X” case;
· the march of WUAG in Clonmel that claimed the centenary of James Connolly’s proposal for a worker’s party, for the ULA; and
· the ULA Summer School in July.
In other words, the haphazard, inadequate but gradual establishment of the ULA as a real thing in itself through Dáil, media, campaign and street presences and intervention.
Third, within the ULA there has been stepped but definite development, with:
· a staff of two for the ULA itself;
· re-organised and improving membership data and registration (an essential for democracy);
· representation on the Steering Committee, through election, of the non-aligned members;
· all the measures in the subcommittee on structures report, some of which are listed below;
· the creation of the ULA Council, complete with voting;
· the circulation of the Steering Committee minutes
· general agreement on a newsletter, party registration (though this may not have a speedy passage) and caucusing before CAHWT meetings;
· non-aligned meetings, with voting, called through the official lists;
· the formation of the Left Unity Network among the non-aligned members (whether now, or later as some propose);
· a lively non-aligned mailing group;
· several non-aligned websites;
· regular socials in Dublin (or the promise of them – craic not guaranteed);
· two vibrant conferences (and another to follow in November 2012);
· improved communications from the centre;
· Policy groups, open to all; and
· a growing recognition of the need for real gender balance.