Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Where to now for the ULA?: Eddie Conlon & Brendan Young

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Where to now for the ULA?

Eddie Conlon, Brendan Young.

Repostedfrom the Cedar Lounge:

We offer the following as a contribution to the developing debate about the future of the ULA. As a conferences has now been called for April 21 we would hope that a wide ranging debate would take place about the future of the ULA. Members and branches should also submit ideas to the sub-committee that has been established to look at the ULA’s structures.

The establishment of the ULA was a big step forward for the left particularly for those of us who have promoted the idea of left unity as the basis for the establishment of a new mass workers party. The ULA must be nurtured and developed and allowed to grow at a pace that maintains the unity that has been established while at the same time creating a forward momentum based on united work, real and respectful internal debate and discussion and an acknowledgement that it will take time for the ULA to move beyond being an alliance to some kind of unitary formation that will from the nucleus of a new party.

There is much frustration at the slow pace of development. It is the case that it could be a little easier but there are reasons why it’s not: the ULA is an alliance (maybe even a federation) of founding groups with members who are not members of these groups; levels of struggles have not been as high as we would like them to be and the presence in the Dáil has created a set of problems that we have not had to face before. As a result, as an experienced activist said to one of us in the supermarket recently, the ULA lacks bite.

The tasks facing the ULA are to build a national profile whereby the public see us as the real opposition with a real political alternative and the best organisers; build an active branch structure in all areas where the constituent groups have a presence and beyond ; improve communications and internal debate (internal bulletin, better website and newsletter) creating a real internal life for the ULA. But the real challenge, in our opinion, is the degree of commitment to politically prioritising the ULA; little real joint work; and the existence of a number of campaigns (such as Enough) that are doing what should be done through the ULA.

Until the ULA becomes the main priority for all constituents it will not be built in a serious way. A stark opposition has emerged between the Socialist Party’s cautious approach based on an assessment that objective conditions are not conducive to significant growth of the ULA and the SWP’s voluntarism which suggest that anything is possible if we just work harder. The latter leads to a constant demand for mobilisation leading to poorly prepared and poorly attended protests. The former is in danger of demoralising people by suggesting that there’s not much that can be done.

As a bottom line the emphasis should shift from constituents running their own campaigns when they cannot get agreement in the ULA to agreeing to focus on campaigns where everyone is in agreement. There is evidence that a common approach to the HH Tax campaign may be emerging and also that it is seen by some, particularly the SP, as a potential turning point in building resistance to austerity. It should not be assumed that the HH Tax campaign will automatically lead to the growth of the ULA unless it contributes to the campaign in a cohesive fashion and seeks to draw the best activists to the ULA rather than to the constituent groups.

The ULA was established on the basis that there was much on which we agree but some issues which divide us. The focus must remain on areas of agreement and developing the programme so that it is more relevant to the crises around us and incorporates more areas where there is agreement. Where we disagree there should be ongoing and open debate. The ULA needs to facilitate more debate and clarification. It might be the case that what there might be even more we agree on than we thought! Differences can only be overcome through debate and discussion. Given the operation of consensus decision making there should be real efforts to reach consensus. Vetos should only be used after a period of discussion. And the content of these discussions should be made open to members so that they are aware of debates taking place in the ULA and are politically educated by the process of debate.

There is now an attempt to resolve differences by those, particularly the SWP, arguing that we need a delegate conference with full decision making powers. This is a mechanism to get around the fact that there is not agreement on perspectives. Because agreement cannot be found through discussion, it is to be imposed via majority vote. It is an organisational solution to a political problem. The ULA is not ready for such a development:

The election of voting branch delegates could lead to a race to have the most delegates; and the dynamic would be to create a leadership structure based upon proportionality of representation / delegates at the conference.

A voting conference, at this stage – where there is no agreement on political perspectives – will lead to polarisation and either paralysis or passive split. The majority will have its positions adopted, so what will the minority do?

On account of being organised, the SP and SWP will have an organised intervention into the conference – rendering the presentation of the views of independents less likely.

Finally the degree of internal communication is such that there would not be adequate internal debate prior to such a conference.

There is no agreement (the SP and Tipperary WUAG are opposed) on moving to this kind of decision making; and the for the reasons set out above, we agree. We need to work with what we have while building in structures that allow for non-aligned people to organise and have representation within the ULA. From the start we have supported the idea that the non-aligned members should have representation on the Steering Committee, elected only by these members themselves with the same rights to veto as the constituent organisations. It is unfortunate that in recent weeks PBP took a position against this. Arguing that all members should elect the non-aligned reps to the SC is to argue that they should have less rights and autonomy than the constituent groups. Further it sends the wrong message to prospective members and would reinforce the view that the ULA is a tool of the founding organisations. All members attending the conference should however vote to ratify the delegates to the SC – including those delegates independently selected by a meeting of the non-aligned members.

How non-aligned representation is organised and how political differences are managed is a matter for the non-aligned. There is a value in having people in the leadership feeding in the views of the non-aligned even if they are diverse. We should value political pluralism both within the ULA and its constituents. The imposition of lines through democratic centralist methods is not conducive to the kind of debate we need.

The expansion of the SC could be complemented by regular gatherings of branch activists to discuss ongoing work and have political discussions. There are some good ideas here, for example the formation of a ULA Council, which should be explored.

In recent days we have seen significant decisions made by the Steering Committee that hopefully will facilitate the ULA in moving forward:

1. A conference of the ULA is to be held on the 21st of April.

2. The Steering Committee also agreed that individual members of the ULA, comrades who are not members of the founding organisations, should meet separately during the Conference and elect members to represent them on the Steering Committee.

3. The Steering Committee has also agreed to set up a sub-committee – which should also include some individual, as well as members from the constituent groups – with the following terms of reference:
A) Recommend interim arrangements for representation of unaligned members on Steering Committee
B) Discuss future development of ULA including the development of participative structures
C) To consult all members on the above issues
D) Report to Steering Committee who will report to conference. The report of the Steering Committee to Conference will include the recommendations of the sub-committee

4. These were the main decisions of the Steering Committee held on Tuesday the 31 of January and clearly will need to be supplemented at the next meetings.

While these decisions do not resolve all issues hopefully they will provided the basis for a more structured debate on where the ULA is going. Hopefully it will encourage more people to join by sending out a message that there is a space in the ULA for those not aligned to the constituent groups. After all the very rationale for the ULA was to provide a mechanism for reaching out beyond the current membership and supporters of the constituents to a new layer of people who want to engage with radical and socialist politics.

Eddie Conlon, ULA/PBP Steering Committees
Brendan Young, Independent ULA/PBPA

3rd February 2012

Written by tomasoflatharta

Feb 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] Conlon and Brendan Young published their article on the ULA (Where to now for the ULA? – now on the Australian Links site BTW) on 3rd February. The response from the main […]

  2. […] has been little enough feedback on the 24th January article Where to now for the ULA? by Eddie Conlon and Brendan Young. But better quality than quantity. The quality of this response […]

  3. […] Conlon and Young : Where to Now for the ULA? Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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