Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Debate on the United Left Alliance – Proposal for a Branch Delegate Council

with 9 comments

We continue the discussion on how to take forward the United Left Alliance (ULA) with this contribution from Henry Silke (Dublin Central ULA Branch)

Proposal for a Branch Delegate Council

by Henry Silke (Dublin Central ULA)


There is some frustration in the ULA on a several fronts: one has been the lack of cohesion of the organisation, with the component parts continuing to act separately; a second has been the lack of representation of members who are not aligned to the founding groups; and finally a general lack of development of branches and structure. The steering committee of the ULA has proposed a number of policies to deal with these issues. Firstly it has proposed to give non-aligned members representation (on the steering committee) which is a very welcome step forward. It does remain problematic in that it only gives non-aligned members an annual vote on representation (at conference) with no detail on how the representatives may stay in contact (if at all) with their constituency. The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) opposes this and are instead calling for a one person one vote annual conference where a steering committee (and I presume policy and strategy) would be voted on. This too is problematic for reasons already attested by Conlon and Young (see below), the main problem being that it could lead to passive if not active divisions and an alienation of the non aligned membership. Moreover even if a simple one person one vote conference did work without leading to a fight for delegates between the SWP and the Socialist Party (SP); it remains again only an annual vote without recourse, something which does not move beyond passive concepts of democracy where members are given a voice once a year. On a more long-term structural development the steering committee has also established a sub-committee on the structural development of the alliance and it is with this in mind that I have formulated this proposal.

Branch Delegate Council

  • I propose, as a bridging mechanism between the membership and the steering committee, the establishment of a branch delegate council which will meet regularly and elect two additional members onto the steering committee.

  • The concept is simple; firstly every active branch (i.e. a branch with a set minimum number of members who meet at least once a month) will elect a delegate who is mandated to represent that branch on the branch council. The delegate position should be a mandated one and elected every six months – (as it is within a regularly meeting branch this should not be an issue). I would also suggest that the position is rotated. All members of the branch must be notified when the branch delegate election will take place at least a number of weeks in advance.

  • Members of the ULA can propose policies or strategies to their branch which, the branch delegates in turn, will bring forward ideas, policies etc proposed by the branches and discuss and vote on them in the council. The council should meet regularly, every two months at least.

  • Here the mandated point is important; before a branch council meeting the agenda should be prepared, and sent to all branch delegates. The agenda will then be discussed at branch level, (all members should be notified well in advance of such meetings). The delegate will then bring the opinion(s) of the branch to the council. The branch delegate will work under the strict mandate of the branch. The branch delegate council shall discuss/vote on all proposed issues and the individual branch delegate will then report back to the branch (this can be either done at meeting or by communication). The branch delegate council is therefore a forum for issues, ideas and strategies for the membership to propose and be discussed by the entire Alliance.

  • The steering committee can also propose issues to be dealt with at the branch delegate council which will be dealt with in the same manner (i.e. discussed at branch level first and mandated delegates sent to council who will then report to the steering committee).

  • Members who are not already in a branch should be informed of their nearest branch, and if not possible to attend a branch due to distance or other reasons, a mechanism could be developed for their inclusion in the branch delegate system (by a communicative method for example).

  • From the branch council I suggest that two delegates sit on the steering committee. They will bring forward the views of the council. This will act as a direct link between the membership and the steering committee, and a link which is constantly in motion rather than an annual vote. The steering committee will then consist of members of the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA), the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG), SP and non aligned as well as two branch council members. Therefore overall representation of all members of the ULA will remain federal in nature, with an input from the branch delegate council.

Strict guidelines

Strict guidelines will be necessary to prevent the creation of paper branches and members. Firstly a branch must meet regularly and secondly the members must attend meetings regularly (50%). If a member suspects that a branch is a paper branch he/she should be able to report it to a appeals committee established by the steering committee. To prevent the packing of meetings members should turn up to at least 50% of meetings to be entitled to vote. And new members should not be able to vote for a short period of time after joining. Again if a member believes a meeting has been packed he/she should be able to report it to an appeals committee.

Wider advantages to a branch council

1– This creates a permanent and direct route for the ULA membership to propose policies, strategies etc to the steering committee and a route for discussion on the steering committee to be relayed back to the branches.

2- It will encourage members to attend branch meetings as it is where they will have a direct effect on policy and strategy.

3- It will act to make the ULA a more cohesive and unified force

4- It will encourage the development of new branches, and encourage the recruitment of new members.

6- It will encourage the existing tendencies in the ULA to both take part in existing branches and help establish new ones.

7- By taking part in discussions on policy and strategy, and acting as delegates, it will encourage the political development of the membership.

8- It will give a sense of ownership of the ULA to the membership and prevent the development of a leadership-rank and file division

Henry Silke (Dublin Central ULA)

Eddie Conlon & Brendan Young (2012) Where to now for the ULA:

Conlon and Young : Where to Now for the ULA?

Written by tomasoflatharta

Mar 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm

9 Responses

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  1. I believe your proposal deserves more serious merit & discussion/consideration than Brendan Young & Eddie Conlon’s analysis.

    All members of the ULA should be allowed to put their ideas and proposals to the members including the Independents and not be prevented from communicating to non-alligned members – it is more open – more democratic and any side room that has its own private meeting away from other ULA members who are alligned to SP/SWP/PBPA is open to natural suspicion.

    The Independents do have a important role, but in a more open democratic way and should stand for steering committee/delegate the old-fashioned democratic way like the rest of us in the ULA.

    Francis O'Reilly

    Mar 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    • What on earth is undemocratic about independent members of the ULA voting for their own representatives on the leadership, rather than having SWP and Socialist Party members choose their representatives for them?

      There’s something particularly odd about someone who seems to be an SWP member arguing that people in the ULA shouldn’t have “private meetings” “away from other ULA members”.

      Mark P

      Mar 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

  2. “and any side room that has its own private meeting away from other ULA members who are alligned to SP/SWP/PBPA is open to natural suspicion.”

    Or any any side room that has its own private meeting away from other ULA members who are not alligned to SP/SWP/PBPA is open to natural suspicion.

    Des Derwin

    Mar 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

  3. Yeah, I think that frankly bonkers SWP newsletter the other week shows that groups *are* established in the ULA which meet in private and hold different opinions on things in public and in private.

    Julian Assandwich

    Mar 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

  4. The 50% part I do not agree with as imagine telling a single parent who can’t get a child minder he/she cannot have a vote because of the 50% rule….

    Francis O'Reilly

    Mar 20, 2012 at 11:57 am

    • Well that would be unfortunate to for that particular example, but I think there does need to be some qualifying standard. If ULA branches meet monthly, so 12 in a year, how can you call yourself a member of something if over a calendar year you cannot find 6 hours for it?

      I think someone waltzing in once in a blue moon for a vote then vanishing again is more unfair on those that do the work of building the ULA. There’s nothing wrong with just being a supporter(not a member) like.

      Julian Assandwich

      Mar 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      • The point of the 50% rule is to stop meetings being packed for votes by paper members. For democratic structures to work we have to consider such issues. To take the parenting example imagine a parent turning up every few years for key decisions and then leaving again.

        critical media review

        Mar 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm

  5. […] suggestions include Henry Silke’s proposal for a delegate’s council and Brian Stafford’s “nuts and bolts.” Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe […]

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