Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Kubla heard from far: the problem with the ULA is everbody else

with 10 comments

There seems be more than one occasion (Waterloo, the Peninsular War) for the claim that the Duke of Wellington said the following as he inspected a section of his troops:

“I don’t know what they’ll do to the enemy; but, by God, they frighten me.”

Below is an internal bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party dated 6th February 2012. It is instructive in many ways. It is also very frightening. How is the ULA to survive this, or if the SWP acts on this?

*SWP Bulletin  06.02.12* 

*Household tax*

It’s only a matter of time now before the State pulls out the heavy guns and starts to pile the pressure on people through the media and through threats as we approach March. It’s vital that we win local groups to the demand for protests- not only in words but in action in order to resist this pressure. Alan Shatter has already been in the Sunday Papers threatening legislation to take the fines directly from wages.

Overall the level of payment is still only 5% which means a huge 95% of people are still holding out. But the substitutionism of some on the left is appalling and will suffocate the ability of the campaign to effectively

Everywhere we have put down motions for protests to back up non payment the response from the floor has been overwhelming.

This description of a Wexford meeting captures the mood: Wednesday night, Ballynabola. On a freezing night over 100 people packed into the local pub to organise against the household charges. Ballynabola is a small village on the Wexford to New Ross road that you might miss if you were not paying attention. The turnout and the mood of those present indicated that something deep is stirring in Ireland. People are taking the first tentative steps to say: We have had enough.

The Ballynabola meeting kicked off with a speech from the local campaign co-ordinator, Seamus O Brien who outlined the details of what the household charge involved and allayed fears about fines. When the meeting was opened to the floor, the sheer rage that is stalking the country could be heard. Many of those present rely on sceptic tanks and
were facing the double whammy of household charges and remediation work of up to €15,000.

‘Have the government no responsibility in this? We paid planning fees – we followed the regulations – so why are they just blaming individuals.’ is how one man put it. The reply from the platform was that urban and rural Ireland had to stick together. Instead of bailing out bankers, there should be a public works programme to help carry out remediation work. There are plenty of unemployed building workers on the dole and there is much useful work to be done.

The overwhelming cry from the meeting was a call to protest – to get out on the streets and make our voices heard. The first suggestion was for a protest at the next local council meeting. Another was to block the main bridge at New Ross and hold up traffic. When it was put to a vote, every hand in the room shot up to back a protest at the local council next week.

Sometimes left wing activists who have struggled long and hard in isolation underestimate the capacity of people. They suggest a campaign *purely* of non-payment and believe that slow, methodical canvassing of areas will be enough in itself to defeat the government. This electoralist perspective which leaves the mass of people as passive and the activists substituting will not find itself capable of resisting the onslaught of the State.

Where we have an influence in a campaign we should be calling protests. It’s time to show in practice that it works. We should also get into the routine of having one good nights canvassing with as many locals as possible before our branch meetings.

The response from our SWP leaflet has been great with 7 text joiners last Friday and another group of texts following the weekend’s stalls. We have to keep getting those leaflets around as much as possible at household activities. Remember: campaigns don’t last forever and there is a limited window of opportunity to start the process of targeting key individuals who want to take the fight further for recruitment to the SWP. The stronger the SWP the stronger the voice for a bottom up dynamic and radical campaign will be andthe more will remain when the campaign comes to a lull.

*Right To Work Protest Labour’s Conference*

We discussed at the last SWP National Committee that battles over jobs and redundancy payments would be key in the coming months. We therefore called a protest to take place on April 14th at Labour’s Conference in Galway. The demand for the ‘Right To Work’ is central to how we relate to occupations. We want the fight to get the best payments the workers can get but as revolutionaries we want to go much further: the whole process of worker’s occupation raise the question- who owns the workplaces- the capitalists or the workers?

We want to start raising demands that relate to these workers struggles but draw out the implications of every sit in. We want a serious jobs programme across the country so that workers like the La Senza workers can be re appointed. We want companies nationalised to save jobs. Bosses who run down assets to rip off redundancies should face jail for reckless trading etc.

We also want to relate these demands to the wider issue of lack of opportunity for the unemployed. There are 26 workers for every 1 job. The governments threats of an ‘end date’ or ‘exit’ from your payment are just means by which to penalise the poor when the lack of investment by the rich is the true source of unemployment.

Leaflets for the Right To Work march will be ready for this weekend. Until then we need branches to start thinking of organising to get to Galway with wider layers of people for April 14th. In Cork and Galway we need to get together a group of activists to plan a Right To Work meeting at which we will have a Vita Cortex, La Senza worker speaking alongside James O’Toole (who will push the demo).

We need all members who are in a wider campaign or union or union branch to email: [deleted] the name of your group and their ‘sponsorship’ of the Right To Work protest. Please share the event on your facebook. We need to start using social media to the party’s advantage when we can:

*Revolution 2012 Belfast*

On Friday the 9th of March the Belfast SWP’s conference ‘Revolution 2012’ begins. The Belfast branch have pulled together an amazing line up of international and local speakers and a really interesting selection of
talks. We’re waiting for the delivery of material but branches should make sure to put that weekend in their diary.

*United Left Alliance*

The space that the ULA should occupy is now the realm of Sinn Fein spokespeople. The weakness of the ULA is a product of the sectarianism of the SP and the conservatism of Joan Collins and  the Healy group. On a steering committee of 6 we have one representative and all proposals we put forward over the last year are vetoed. We suggested a common ULA strategy for the household campaign but this was shot down as the other components would rather not be tied to the SWP but would rather side with the anarchist/eirigi elements of the left who are more than happy to cooperate when it comes to marginalising the SWP. The SP’s formalism will be the subject of an article produced by the PC to explain their politics.

We are going into the open with our critique of the state of the ULA. This involved pointing out the others political positions. Putting down motions at ULA branches for action e.g. to support the Right To Work demo on April the 14th. By building an open and democratic ULA on the ground in key areas we can prove in practice the poverty of the SP’s political positions.

The steering committee want to suggest adding ‘independents’ to the committee but this is just a sop to democracy. Instead of one member one vote and a delegate based leadership structure we end up with the insane: the semi-anarchist ‘independent’ in the ULA and the reformist on the right of the ULA can represent one another? So heterogenous elements with no shared platform can be represented by one individual?

The long delayed conference will now take place on April 21st with a separate meeting for independents- we should demand that this separate meeting report back to the main conference and that there has to be a vote on any proposals that are put forward. The NPA in France has declined from 10,000 to 3,000 members because of the logjam at the top. Instead of open votes they have ‘platforms’ who each put forward a proposal and opposing proposals are amalgamated. So one faction says ‘we are for the veil ban’ the other says ‘we are against’ and you try to formulate a position that encompasses both!! This destroys the ability to take any action.

In summary: Kieran Allen’s document on the ULA will be published soon and we should already be open in our critique of the reasons for the collapse of the ULA. We should put down proposals for action in ULA branches- especially the protest at the Labour Conference.

*Educationals  *

Course of ten free lectures starts this Saturday at 4pm at 5 henrietta st. All new members should be encouraged to attend!

*Internet protest*

350 teenagers marched through Dublin city centre last Saturday and more are due to march again next week on the issue of the ACTA bill (anti piracy). We should try to get any student members to the garden of remembrance Dublin at 1pm this Saturday.

* *

10 Responses

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  1. Sir: I’m a member of the Swedish section of the CWI, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, and a longtime former member of the ISO in the United States. I find publishing the internal bulletins of another political organization on the web extremely politically distasteful and crass.

    If you’re a member of the Irish section of the CWI, how would you have reacted if the situation were reversed? How would the leadership of the Irish section have reacted? If the SWP, in your eyes, would be wrong for doing so, what makes it acceptable for you to do the same thing to the SWP?

    Jeff Skinner

    Feb 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    • Jeff, he’s not a member of the Socialist Party in Ireland.


      Feb 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    • The author of this blog is not and never has been a member of the CWI. The CWI obviously bears no responsibility for the publishing of this bulletin, so you’re accusatory tone is clearly misplaced.

      As a member of the CWI in Ireland myself, I will comment on your questions by saying that I agree that in general it is distasteful to publish internal documents other organisations. However it should be said that given the nature of this particular bulletin and the potential ramifications for the United Left Alliance, of which Tomas O’Flatharta is a member, I can understand why he would want it published. That doesn’t make it right, but if anything here is crass or distasteful surely it is the content of that bulletin?


      Feb 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

  2. Thank you both for your clarifications. The only reason I asked about the possible CWI connection is that I got this link through another CWI comrade here in Stockholm – he’s Irish and was with the SP before he moved here last year – so I began to wonder how he found out about it and if there was any CWI connection to begin with.

    The accusatory tone, however, is not misplaced. There’s no call for this kind of stunt, generally speaking. Pat admits the action wasn’t right, and however crass or distasteful he or Tomas may think the contents are, that doesn’t whitewash the larger sin committed by publishing the internal bulletin, period.

    I don’t know much about the structure of the ULA’s steering committee or how the independents were added on to it – and the impression I get is that it was done undemocratically – but if the organisation can’t withstand a group within it going public with their criticisms, how strong can it actually be in the first place? The SWP notes similarities with the problems in the NPA; if this is in fact so, how could the ULA *not* benefit from examining and discussing the problems? If the ULA has internal contradictions that lead to its collapse, blame those contradictions – not the party that feels it needs to call attention to them. Based on the limited understanding I do have of the situation, this smacks of sectarian scapegoating instead of genuine whistleblowing (which I do heartily endorse).

    Jeff Skinner

    Feb 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    • The accusatory tone aimed at the CWI is misplaced, because the publishing of the bulletin has nothing to do with the CWI. I – as a CWI member – don’t share your outrage at the bulletin being published, but that’s different.

      Where exactly does your impression that the independents are being added onto the steering committee “undemocratically” come from? This SWP bulletin? Have you discussed the issue with other CWI members in Sweden or Ireland?

      I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that the ULA cannot withstand a group within it going public with criticisms, or even that such a thing would be unwelcome? Also the SWP haven’t gone public with their criticisms of the ULA, not yet anyway. Making criticisms public or otherwise is not an issue for anyone as far as I can see, the issue is the nature and tone of the criticisms of other groups etc in the ULA – which are hysterical and dishonest.

      The comparison with the NPA is bogus and shows only a poor understanding about the NPA and in fact the ULA, on the part of the SWP.

      I must say I find your admittedly misinformed, accusation of “sectarian scategoating” strange given the lack of any basis for it or where have you seen the SWP being scapegoated?


      Feb 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      • I’m not aiming any accusations at the CWI, Pat. I asked Tomas *if* he were a member of the CWI, and if so how he or the Irish section might have felt were the situation reversed. Since that is not the case, I’ve said nothing further whatsoever about the CWI. The accusatory tone is aimed at the action of publishing the bulletin itself.

        I have discussed this issue – via Facebook – with others who appear to be involved in the ULA, but I don’t know their party affiliations, if any. The impression I get is that the steering committee is making decisions that affect the very structure of the organization over the heads of the membership in general, for example expanding the steering committee to include independents without allowing the general membership to vote on a full slate – instead only allowing a smaller group within the ULA to vote for representatives who then govern the organization as a whole. Those steering committee representatives are therefore not accountable to the rest of the ULA membership. Highly undemocratic. Note here that I have absolutely no problem with taking steps to ensure representation of all groups on the steering committee of an organization, but that it can nonetheless be done in a very undemocratic manner. If this is in fact the case, the SWP is quite right to criticize.

        I quote Tomas’ own words at the beginning of his blogpost: “How is the ULA to survive this, or if the SWP acts on this?” I think it’s pretty clear that Tomas, if not others, are concerned about the ULA collapsing or at the very least suffering a major setback if the SWP goes public with its criticisms. The question is then: Is this a result of internal contradictions within the ULA, or deliberate wrecking by the SWP? If my impression of the steering committee’s actions are correct – and I would need to investigate this further to really decide one way or the other – then it’s the former, not the latter, and this becomes scapegoating in that other groups are trying to pin the blame on someone instead of looking to the actual problems and trying to solve them.

        Tomas is, of course, right in that there is no absolute morality regarding things like this (note my previous endorsement of whistleblowing; I’d be a fool if I viewed the leakage of the Pentagon Papers or the Wikileaks affair as morally contemptible) but his claim that this is not exactly a confidential communication is bullshit. Internal bulletins are by nature confidential communications, regardless of the size of the group they are addressed to. That the SWP makes up about a third of the ULA doesn’t justify what he or others (who published this first, by the way?) did in the slightest.

        The only thing that would justify this is if the SWP is in fact setting out to deliberately wreck the ULA, which – based on the limited conversations I have had on the subject – I’m not convinced they’re trying to do.

        Jeff Skinner

        Feb 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm

  3. Jeff et al,

    This site is run by non-party members of the United Left Alliance and is largely addressed to ULA members and supporters.

    In general we would not be for the publication of confidential internal material from a political organisation. That is, a political organisation on the side of the workers. And of course we consider the SWP on the side of the workers.

    But there is no absolute morality. In this case we – and we were not the first site to publish the document – consider the nature of the material – from one of the three principal components of the AllIance – to be of legitimate and high interest to all members of the United Left Alliance. We consider the content to have serious politicial significance for the ULA and to be in a different order to voyerism, title tattle or titilation.

    Also, the document is not exactly a confidential or private communication as it was addressed to the membership of the SWP. And SWP members make up about a third of the membership of the ULA.

    We removed identifiable and personal contact details.


    Feb 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm

  4. […] the SWP internal communication of 6th February and a commentator on it reffered to the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste  (New Anti-capitalist Party, […]

  5. […] the ULA about to fall apart? Somebody linked me to this the other day – appears to be an SWP internal memo. It seems the SP and the SWP are having a lovers […]

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