Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

ULA Council: Proceedings, with comments, of the ULA Council meeting, Dublin, 16th June 2012

with 3 comments

ULA Council, Teachers Club, Dublin, 16th June 2012

The following is a personal report of the proceedings of the ULA Council meeting in the Teachers Club, Dublin, on Saturday 16th June 2012, interspersed with some comments of my own in [square brackets] and initialled DD.

Speakers’ Branches and affiliations are indicated where known. Members of the People Before Profit Alliance are identified as ‘PBPA’ if they are not members of the Socialist Workers Party, or are not known to me as members.  SWP members of the People Before Profit Alliance are identified as ‘PBPA and SWP’. Socialist Party members are identified as “Socialist Party” or ‘SP’ if known. Individual members of the ULA are identified as “nonaligned”.

Apologies if I have mistakenly misrepresented anyone or their remarks. I will correct any errors brought to my attention.

I have allowed myself an Appendix of general comment at the end. Take it out if you wish.

Des Derwin (Dublin Central ULA, nonaligned), June 23rd 2012.


Sixty or so delegates from the ULA branches gathered in the Teachers Club, Dublin on Saturday 16th June, for the first ULA Council meeting. There was one delegate for every five members. The meeting was advisory to the Steering Committee but, as at the nonaligned meeting on 9th, votes were taken. There were seven Motions on the agenda with a further three added verbally later.

[It was immediately obvious what an advance the ULA Council idea was. 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 the members (especially the nonaligned) and an exchange of the 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 SC 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 28th ULA conference, mostly from SWP pressure.

There was some new agreement in one area , the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes, and several practical measures of real advance in the cohesion and development of the ULA (the registration and newsletter Motions and the July event for example).

Though there was nobody from Tipperary there was a good representation from across the ULA, with Declan Bree from Sligo (who spoke sense as usual) and some less politically experienced rank and file members. DD]

Session 1

The first session was on the European crisis and the aftermath of the Irish referendum campaign. From the platform Michael O’Brien of the Socialist Party said it had been a reluctant ‘yes’ vote and the class character of the vote was significant. There was some trade union opposition to the Treaty and SIPTU had had to hedge its bets. There was a broad anti-austerity movement, he said, but not an anti-capitalist consciousness. Our arguments were therefore a leap for many. They involve a clash with the system. There is a danger that we tailor our arguments to the level of consciousness. Our arguments dealt with the profound crisis of the system. [I would have thought our job was to tailor our arguments, if not our policies, to the level of consciousness – DD.] The campaign showed there is a space open to the ULA, he said. Sinn Fein and the ULA were the main beneficiaries on the ‘no’ side.

Michael was followed by Kieran Allen of the People Before Profit Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party who said the 40% ‘no’ was a good result. We could have done better. The line of the elite was ‘where will you get the money’. Sinn Féin stayed within the parameters of capitalism. The left could have put more emphasis on cancelling the debt and on the severity of the EMS (the new ‘bail out’ fund that the Treaty was supposed to let us avail of). The primary issue though was that the working class was angry but its confidence was low. There was a definite class dimension to the vote and some people are even listening to revolutionary arguments. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of the media description of the working class versus the middle class in the vote. The manual working class concentrated in estates and flats had voted ‘no’ but the white collar working class had been pulled to a ‘yes’ vote. Public and financial sector workers were scared. White collar workers were are as much a part of the working class. Trade union membership is actually now concentrated among white collar workers in the public sector. In the aftermath of the result, he said, Minister Phil Hogan was out of his box. The bullyboys are back and the government plans to move on the household tax, regional hospital, public sector allowances, etc.

He then referred to the Mick Wallace TD affair. [This was somewhat gratuitous and it was not on the agenda. Though the matter was inevitably going to arise – DD.] The media was associating Wallace with the left and trying to fuel the cynicism of people about all politics. The ULA should have been stronger and called for Mick Wallace to resign. The ULA needed to make it clear it has nothing to do with Wallace. The ULA didn’t make a statement. In the veto structure of the Steering Committee it is very hard to make a decision, he said. The veto needs to be removed. We need to move quickly to majority voting. It is needed because political sharpness is needed.

[Here Kieran was introducing a second provocative issue, majority voting, which the SWP would, as at the April conference, raise again and again throughout the meeting. The two issues were not necessarily linked and the forcing of a vote on the Wallace issue on the SC would have been particularly damaging given the strength of Socialist Party feeling. Besides, a majority for resignation was far from certain. Kieran actually represents the PBPA on the ULA Steering Committee. Although he and Eddie Conlon (the two PBPA reps on the ULA SC) favoured calling for resignation, the PBPA had not supported resignation because Joan Collins and Dermot Connolly were against responding to the media demand for a call on Mick Wallace to resign and the PBPA Steering Committee had respected that. But things are getting confusing these days with the open divergence between the SWP and the independents in the PBPA. The SWP are increasingly speaking as SWP and some SWP speakers were using the PBPA and SWP labels interchangeably at the meeting. One Motion on the agenda referred to the SWP rather than the PBPA –DD.]

Kieran continued by saying that it was important that the left launches its own offensive now against the right. The July 18th demonstration to the Dáil called by the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes should be built for. All other anti-austerity groups were being invited to take part. At this time what was needed was not just single-issue campaigns but a generalised anti-austerity movement, and this should be the character of July 18th. Sinn Féin were not the people who organise struggle. They will tack to the right, to place themselves for entering a coalition government. With whom it is not clear at this time, but they will be ready.

A Cork delegate speaking from the floor made a strong attack on Mick Wallace. Colm Stephens (Dublin Central PBPA and SWP) said the ULA referendum campaign lacked coherence. There was a need for positive proposals; clear answers on the ‘money’ issue. The ULA punched below its weight in the referendum campaign. [Some SWP members, in Dublin Central anyway, worked hard leafleting and postering for the ULA campaign – DD].

Henry Silke (Dublin Central nonaligned) said the referendum campaign had been a left/right campaign. There was no correct answer to the question, ‘where is the money?’

I made three points. That the various parts of the ULA had been involved in six ‘no’ campaigns and that this was no way to build either the broad anti-Treaty campaign (CAAT) or a ULA campaign. It was no way to build the ULA. To build the ULA required directing our activities through the ULA. I said that once the scandal broke the ULA should have been quick and firm and called for his resignation. But before that Mick Wallace was exactly the type we should be trying to get into the orbit of the ULA. [I did not mean into the ULA itself necessarily.] Who else would we be getting into the anti-austerity alliance we were talking about? We should not be trying to distance ourselves in hindsight from him now; that doesn’t hold water. I agreed with the ULA orientating itself to the July 18th demonstration.

John Lyons (PBPA and SWP) said it was a pity there was not a clear ULA line in the Treaty campaign. There were some good media appearances by ULA people. He disagreed with me about Mick Wallace and said we shouldn’t be making links with him.

[I had been referring to links with Wallace before the revelations about his tax affairs, and I think John Lyons was too, meaning we should never have gotten close to him. There had been some strong attacks on Wallace at the meeting including an allusion to a dispute he had with his workers in SIPTU. Yet it was the SWP who sought an alliance with Mick Wallace, outside of the ULA, immediately after the election when they set up the Enough! campaign. He was a big draw speaker at the launch meeting in the Gresham Hotel. (Actually he never turned up) – DD.]

Cian Prendiville (Limerick, Socialist Party) said the ULA did adopt a strong position in the referendum. Sinéad Kennedy (PBPA and SWP) said the media always want simple answers. We need to repeat our line. The alternative emerges through struggle.

Joe Higgins TD (SP) said that in the Treaty referendum campaign the media cornered us into the ‘where’s the money’ question. The ULA had a huge profile during the campaign. The media referred to us as ‘ULA’, he said.

The media has played a malicious role, he said. In relation to Mick Wallace there has been a media firestorm. He carries no spear for Mick Wallace but he is seen differently in sections of the working class. The context is the major battle ahead. The government have to smash the household tax campaign; there will be a ferocious attack on the campaign. The campaign will need to have a presence at court hearings over non-payment. The first three months of the campaign had been very successful. July 18th is a great opportunity to strengthen the campaign. The decisive battle will come in the autumn.

A Socialist party speaker from the floor said there were major gains to be made out there.

John Molyneux (PBPA and SWP) said that the main thing to note from the referendum result was the working class ‘no’ vote. The establishment promised stability through the Treaty: it is the one thing they cannot deliver. The hostility of the media was obvious, so it is better to have a co-ordinated response. Such as the position of ‘cancel the debt – hammer the rich’. On Wallace he said that people on the streets are concerned about the matter and the ULA should put clear water between it and Wallace. In Greece if Syriza wins the European ruling class will go for them. Syriza is not the same as the ULA, he said. The household charge demonstration on July 18th was very important.

Eddie Conlon (PBPA and ULA Steering Committee) said the ULA should have said that Mick Wallace should stand down with a by-election to follow in Wexford. We were damaged by our response. If a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael TD had done the same the ULA would have been much harder. On the referendum there was an anger/fear combination among people which will be resolved by continuing austerity. In reference to white collar workers not one delegate to the conference of the CPSU (the trade union for mostly lower paid civil servants) defended the Treaty. He noted that the new cohort of young teachers in September would be starting with 30% less pay than they would have had before the cuts. He reminded the meeting of what the Syriza speaker had said at the ULA public meeting before the referendum, outlining their immediate programme: tear up the Troika ‘bail-out’ memorandum of understanding, cancel interest payments on the debt, tax the rich and nationalise the leading industries. If Syriza wins they will open up a debate and we should associate with these demands.

The platform speakers summed up. Kieran Allen said there were obviously differences within the ULA and that these should be debated in a comradely way. Mick Wallace is a capitalist, but he is unfortunate to be a smaller one. If he was a big one he would get away with tax evasion and huge debt. We should keep a distance from Wallace now.

We should be reaching out, he aid, to white collar workers especially, where there is now a higher level of unionisation. We have a big job to do in relation to the Croke Park Agreement. Bad as it is there is now an intense media campaign to introduce worse cuts and conditions than it contains. Already 30 years of gains for public service workers have been undermined by the Croke Park Agreement and by the union leaderships that support it. Will Syriza take the measures needed, he asked, against the economic terrorism they will be subjected to?

Michael O’Brien said that resignation, like in the Wallace case, would not be good for democracy (as TDs are elected by their constituents). The household tax campaign had been damaged by the episode (as Wallace was associated with it and had called for non-payment). Fine Gael had withheld PRSI tax deducted from their staff for ten years. Nothing is being highlighted in the media about that now.

In relation to cohesion and division in the ULA referendum campaign, the ULA had put a lot of resources into it, with leaflets and meetings. There were funding reasons why the SP posters were not from, or did not mention, the ULA. The EU parliamentary group (GUE/NGL) which financed them required their name and the party member only on it. The ULA was frequently name checked in the media.

Michael thought the discussion from the floor had been deficient as he had raised many matters on which we faced attack after the Treaty (water charges, public service allowances, JLC minimum wage rates, etc.) and only the household tax had been talked about. [Good to hear this point. The left, and the SP above all, have tended, with some justification it must be said, to put most of their eggs into the household tax campaign – DD]. We needed to direct ourselves to all the issues, he said.

Session 2

The second session of the meeting was on the Campaign Against the Household and Water taxes, though the reader will have noticed that speakers had already spoken on this, and on anything else they fancied, in the first part of the meeting.

From the platform John Lyons (PBPA and SWP) said that the CAHWT was a good campaign. There was an attempt t smear it through association with Mick Wallace. Sinn Féin has a national day of protest ahead of their Dáil Bill on reversing the cuts. John said we need to work out how to intervene in the campaign. The ULA should aim for a large presence on July 18th. The Red Cow Hotel conference (of the CAHWT) had agreed that the campaign would become an anti-austerity campaign. It will be a long game. We need to get other issues involved in the campaign. To have ULA meetings and get people in. To go out into the community. The ULA branches should consider what they can do in the campaign, draw up a hit list of tasks and people to contact. It would be great, he said, if there was a sit down on July 18th. [To avoid a repeat of the divided column on 14th April in Galway, it would be better if everyone understood and complied with the campaign’s agreed organisational arrangements and tactics for the day – DD.]

Cian Prendiville (SP, Limerick) reported that there was great support in Limerick for the household tax campaign. He said that the government were very serious on this issue and asked how can we win this campaign? He said that ‘we’ were the leadership of the campaign. We would be meeting the situation of letters going out to individual households that have not paid. To win people needed the confidence not to pay. For that a strong level of organisation of the campaign was needed. In Limerick, he said, they were inviting people to join the ULA.

Cllr. Pat Dunne (Dublin 12/6W Branch, PBPA and Dublin City Councillor) spoke from the platform. He said the household tax campaign was not an overnight success. Behind it was the experience of the water and bin charges campaigns. Five new members of the Dublin 12/6W Branch had joined from the household tax campaign. He said that people have no idea who the ULA is. So we should try to use the ‘ULA’ tag as much as possible.

The household tax campaign will be a long haul, he said. He didn’t think the government will throw everything at it. There are phases in campaigns. He thought the crucial stage would be when water meters began to be installed: whether people could resist that. The household tax part of the campaign was largely passive, people just didn’t pay; the water charges part will be very different, with the prospect of being cut off.

How will we win people in the campaign to the ULA, he asked? “Skilfully”, he answered. In their ULA Branch they didn’t ask the new members to “join”. They gave half the proceeds of their traditional May Day social to the local campaign, so people from the household tax campaign came to it. The ULA Branch then invited household tax campaign members to a ULA meeting discussing the household tax. From there the new people joined the ULA. Let’s not be impatient, he said. It will be a long struggle and we need to fight it slowly and patiently. The crisis does not guarantee success.

Michael O’Brien (Socialist Party) was the next platform speaker. He said that in relation to the importance of the July 18th household tax demonstration “we are on the same hymn sheet in what we are saying at the household tax campaign Steering Committee”. [Presumably this is a reference to previous divisions in the household tax campaign and in particular the different emphasis on protests between the SP and the SWP, with the SWP giving more weight to demonstrations and street protests and the SP wishing to concentrate on the enrolment of locals and the organisation of non-payment –DD.] He said that the campaign must be responsive locally to the arrival of the letters demanding payment. On building the ULA through the household tax campaign he said that there had been ULA meetings and public meetings but we didn’t keep the new members. We need to build a quality relationship with people.

In the discussion from the floor Colm Stephens (Dublin Central, PBPA and SWP) said he didn’t agree with Pat Dunne that there would be no attacks on the household tax campaign. They will come fast. We should be asking people to join the ULA, he said. It was wonderful that the household tax campaign was becoming a campaign against austerity. But we should be careful that the broader anti-austerity demands not be too abstract.

Donal MacFhearraigh (Dublin 8, PBPA and SWP) said there is a small political core in the household and the Treaty campaigns. These have gone on to join the ULA. There needs to be a focus on activism. Canvassing during the Treaty campaign we were seeing the decimation of the base of the Labour Party. We need regular large pickets in the campaign, and these should be associated with the ULA. Activism and visibility on the streets are needed.

Emmett Farrell (Socialist Party) said there will be even greater financial pressure on local authorities as more cuts bite. The government argument will be that the household and water charges are needed to protect services and jobs. We will need to be ready for that. In order to build the campaign and recruit to the ULA we need to answer peoples’ questions, propose solutions. Our alternatives should include the fixing of water leaks which wastes enormous amounts of water at great expense. We should hammer that home. And the many jobs that can be provided by renewing the pipes. On the septic tanks there is an understanding by many people in rural areas that their tanks won’t qualify for the standards, and to meet them requires a big outlay. Our alternative should be that there can be no individual solution; build the treatment plants rather than have people with separate tanks even in areas of denser population. Again there is the argument of the jobs that can follow here.

Conor (Cork) said we should ask people to join the ULA.

Tina McVeigh (Dublin 8 Branch, PBP and SWP) said she did not think the household tax was the government’s “flagship project”. Austerity is. But the household tax presented the first opportunity for people to fight back. It is the ULA’s job to dispel the fear of people who have not paid as the authorities attempt to come after them. The ULA should put strong proposals to the campaign. The ULA should put out a strong, positive leaflet around the water charges. Tina’s proposal was agreed.

Eddie Conlon (PBPA and ULA Steering Committee) noted the agreement signalled here today on the importance of the household tax campaign. There has been division, he said, in the approach to the campaign in the ULA. There is more agreement today. He proposed a ULA caucus before the household tax campaign Steering Committee meeting the following week and before future campaign meetings. If there are differences ULA members can have a discussion in the caucus.

Michael O’Brien (Socialist Party) thought that the representatives of the component groups should meet in the caucus (and not all the ULA members who were to attend the meeting being caucused for). Who he asked would decide the position of the ULA? Eddie Conlon responded that all should meet for a discussion.

Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party) councelled sensitivity and caution on the caucusing suggestion. He said there was a danger of railroading things decided in advance. [One might ask why the Socialist Party meeting separately and forming positions does not present such a danger – DD].

Cian Prendiville (SP) said we should build for 18th July and also build the organisation to respond to the expected letters to householders, with immediate posters and meetings in the area.

The caucus proposal was agreed. (The wording, as reported by the ULA office, is ULA members should caucus before CAHWT Steering Committee meetings”.)

Session 3

The third session was on building the ULA and included reports from the centre and Motions. [These Motions, though something of a breakthrough in the ULA in being voted upon, were not binding but were recommendations to the Steering Committee. Nevertheless they carry some moral force and, anyway, most were carried by general agreement – DD.].

Two new Motions not on the printed agenda were signalled. They were from the Rathmines Branch. The first was (put verbally and no written version was available): To let the veto structure of the ULA lapse after a year. (The veto structure meant the operation of consensus on the Steering Committee, and presumably at conferences too).

The second was (according to the ULA centre’s record): ULA should look outwards instead of inwards, get involved in campaign and recruit new members.

Donal MacFhearraigh (ULA staff member, PBPA and SWP) reported. He set his remarks within the prospect that in Greece “a left reformist formation” (Syriza) could win the next day’s election. He presented the written report on New Media (copies were available to the meeting). It showed that the ULA email list has 1350 people on it. The website has been redesigned, it is hoped to plug local branches into it and upcoming events can be advertised on it. The ULA Facebook presence has been expanded and the membership has increased to 1875. The average reach is 8-10,000 people. There are 550 people on the text list. The two ULA staff members send out an emailed newsletter every week with reports and messages. Events to be added to weekly ULA newsletter should be emailed to by 5pm on Friday.

It is planned to hold a major public ULA event in July (around 21st/22nd) with a big speaker, maybe from abroad. The aim is to attract a new audience and to get media coverage.

Rita Harrold (ULA staff member, Socialist Party) said that some of the ULA branches were strong. They appear to be led by pre-existing activists, not necessarily from the groups. There are about 400 members in the database. There is a need for all members of the component groups to join up. The key issue is to boost membership. The conference report of the Sub Committee on Structures had aimed for 1,000 new members, which could be gained by each member recruiting three others. Activists in the household tax campaign were asking for a political party. There should be a recruitment drive at the 21st July event.

Eddie Conlon (ULA SC, PBPA) referred to the Steering Committee meetings. It was agreed that the administration of the Steering Committee would rotate between the groups, including the nonaligned. The minutes of the SCs had not been circulated, as was agreed in the Sub Committee report at conference, but that will begin now.

Eddie said that 150,000 leaflets had bee distributed in the ULA referendum campaign [the report to the April conference had said 30,000 – DD] and 3,000 posters. There had been a series of press conferences. There was some co-ordination of the ULA campaign with the broad campaign (CAAT).

Five policy groups have been established with chairs as follows: Economy, Brian O’Boyle; Mortgages, Michael O’Brien/Melissa Halpin; Environment, Brendan Young; Health, Peadar O’Grady; Equality, Rita Harrold. The SC had already taken a step on registration in commissioning Eddie to investigate the process and options. On finances, the Treaty campaign had cost € [withheld –DD] and that was now a deficit. The ULA finances depend on TDs contributions. There is a need for sustained funding. The SC is to launch a campaign seeking Standing Orders from 200 individuals.

Des Derwin (Dublin Central, nonaligned) said that the report from the office gave a sense, rightly or wrongly, of an organisation on the move. Also, the ULA Council meetings, going by this first one anyway, were a very positive development.

The Motions were then discussed and taken.

1: Motion on ULA participation in Dublin Pride

That the ULA will have a visible contingent at the Dublin Pride 2012 parade on Saturday 30th June and produces a statement/leaflet for the occasion. Proposed by the Wicklow Branch. Agreed

2: Motion on Political Party Status

The National Council calls upon the National Steering Committee to register the United Left Alliance as a political party and that this registration process should begin immediately. The Council recognises that the 2014 Local and European Elections will be an opportunity for the United Left Alliance to increase its profile and representation. Members of the United Left Alliance once endorsed by their local branch or branches and by the National Steering Committee would then be able to run in those elections, should they so desire, under the name of the United left Alliance. Proposed by Dublin 12/6W Branch. Agreed.

In presenting this Motion Cllr. Pat Dunne (Dublin 12/6W Branch, PBPA) said it did not mean the SP, WUAG or the PBPA don’t stand for election as those bodies, but whoever wants to can stand as ULA. [Though valid this is a rather limited argument for registration. The main push for registration comes from members who want to see the ULA have a bigger profile. The media would be more inclined to use the name (though the media uses it a lot because they mostly refer to the TDs that way) and the ULA would figure separately in opinion polls. ULA would also be mentioned on the ballot paper and registration would generally boost the public’s awareness of the ULA – DD]

From the floor John Molyneux (SWP) said if registration was to be implemented then the ULA should move to democratic structures and majority decisions.

A Cork speaker said that some people don’t want to join the SP or the SWP, but want to be part of a left party. The top down attitude must be got rid of, he said, and the Steering Committee eventually made defunct.

Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party) said that the ULA is an alliance. The Socialist Party does not agree that the time is right for to move to a party. This needs a major discussion. The SP would not support this Motion. There needs to be an investigation of what are the legal implications.

[The Socialist Party’s insistence that the time is not ripe yet for the declaration of a party is one thing. Their insistence on consensus is another. But their caution can produce an extra strong sigh when they unnecessarily, even from their own pace, resist measures which take the ULA forward a small but appreciable step in cohesion. The SP have been fully supportive of the ‘small steps’ so far, such as the nonaligned representatives on the Steering Committee and the ULA Council, but today, though the registration and caucusing proposals were let through, their reluctance was wearying – DD]

Eddie Conlon reported on the investigating he had begun. He said that broadly any component group of the ULA can amend their own registration. He said that Joe Higgins had investigated registering ‘Socialist Party-United Left Alliance’ [this is much to the credit of the Socialist Party and shows a willingness to at least consider having their name tied to the ULA – DD.] But the current position of the Registration authorities is that if ‘United Left Alliance’ was hyphenated with another name it could not be registered as a separate name itself. They do not want to have two names too close to each other [the experience of Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein-The Workers Party? DD]

Kieran Allen (PBPA and SWP) said he was not opposing the Motion [This was a surprise as his recent expressed position on ULA registration was that the PBPA would be remaining a registered party. Of course there is no technical or legal contradiction about having both registered. There was indirect opposition to the Motion in that he placed broad political conditions on registration, as John Molyneux had done – DD]. But, Kieran said, the issue is political. He is in favour of a radical left party, which would not be revolutionary but would be committed to “good labour values”. But there has to be major changes in the ULA:  first, democracy, the right to vote, one-person-one –vote; second, a culture of looking outwards.

Bernadette Barrington (Dublin 12/6W, nonaligned) asked if the ULA was an election alliance or something with more substance. Many people were looking for something on the lines of the ULA. We should build the ULA, branded as ‘ULA’; our representatives should be seen as ULA. One-person-one-vote can be worked out in time. Why not register the ULA now anyway; make the ULA permanent.

Sean (SP) said the ULA should not be registered until its policies are sorted.

Cllr. Declan Bree, (Sligo, nonaligned, ) said that having a brand name is important for all of us. He said we can’t really discuss the issue of consensus decision-making properly now. The majority in the ULA want it registered for technical political purposes. This is different than the debate about becoming a party or not.

Michael O’ Brien (Socialist Party) said that the political and economic situation hasn’t changed (in relation to the conditions for establishing a party.) [Actually, at the April Conference the SP national secretary, Kevin McLoughlin, said the political situation had changed, particularly with the household charge campaign. He did not go so far as to say we should declare a party, but he implied the situation had moved nearer to it – DD]. Michael said that most ULA Branches had groups in dominance and they could railroad decisions through. This would be divisive and lead to break up. [He was referring here to the one-person-one –vote issue rather than registration as such – DD].

Pat Dunne again offered to defer the Motion or send it back to the SC. But people wanted to vote on it. The vote was taken and it was carried. There were few if any votes against and the SP and the SWP seem to have acquiesced or abstained, perhaps in the knowledge that the Motion would go to the SC anyway, which would have the final say.

3: Motion on Youth Section

The National Council recognises the important role young people have in building a radical left movement and supports the setting up of a Youth Section of the United Left Alliance. Every effort should be made to establish this Youth Section in every constituency and all Third Level Institutions with a view to holding a National Youth Conference before the end of 2012. Proposed by the Dublin 12/6W Branch. The Motion was carried though it was suggested it contradicted the following Motion.

4: Motion on ULA college work

(This Motion was a proposal to the Steering Committee and was deferred to this branch council by the Steering Committee.) The Motion was agreed.

Regarding the establishment of ULA branches in third-level institutions

It is proposed that the Steering Committee mandates the establishment of a working-group on building the ULA amongst students and in third-level institutions.

Such a working group would ideally be comprised of the lead organisers/convenors for both Socialist Youth and the Socialist Worker Student Societies and nonaligned members from existing third-level branches.

The working-group should be mandated to prepare a discussion document to be presented at a forthcoming ULA Branch Council on June 16th.

Although the terms of reference of the working group should be broad, the following topics should be included in its deliberations and final document:

l        Relationship/cooperation with SY/SWSS/Sus/USI/FEE etc.

l        Solidarity with education sector workers’/education campaigns

l        Role of ULA third-level/student branches within ULA nationally

l        National platform/forum for third-level/student branches

l        Third-level/student specific campaigns

l        Recruitment

l        Funding and Material

l        Plans for 2012/13

The working group should contain no less than 5 members and should be convened by September 21st at the latest.

Joe Loughnane (Steering Committee, Galway, nonaligned) said that a ULA Branch had already been set up in Galway University.

A Maynooth University student (PBPA and SWP) spoke not to the Motion but, once again for an SWP delegate, on one-person-one-vote. He said that he wouldn’t be happy bringing people into an organisation without one-person-one-vote. [So, he would bring no one into PBPA either then as there isn’t one-person-one-vote there – DD].

5: Motion on the establishment of a ULA newsletter

The Council urges the SC 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. Editorial board consisting of 4 people – 1 PBPA, 1 SP, 1 WUAG and 1 non-aligned should be set up by end of June to examine format and design, how it would be funded, its distribution etc. Proposed by the Galway Branch. The Motion was agreed.

[This Motion was, perhaps surprisingly, passed by all without contention. 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 producing a ULA newsletter”, that it was a “newsletter”, a modest sounding publication, and that the Motion was advisory only, may have eased its passage without opposition. Nevertheless, as with 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 being made – DD.]

6: Motion to change the name of the Steering Committee.

When new members hear that we have a “steering committee2, they often exclaim that the ULA is out of touch and is top-down, even such a simple thing as changing the name of the SC would make the ULA feel more approachable. Proposed by the Galway Branch. The Motion was defeated.

7: Motion to rotate ULA Council meetings to other parts of the country

Constantly having meeting in Dublin is detrimental to the building of the ULA. Rotating important meetings will establish new branches and bring in new members. Also, many non-Dublin members cannot afford to travel to Dublin. Proposed by the Galway Branch. The Motion was defeated.

8: Motion: To let the veto structure of the ULA lapse after a year. Proposed by the Rathmines Branch. Defeated 19-17

[It was only at this point that the relative good humour of the meeting was replaced by some sourness. – DD]

John Molyneux (PBPA and SWP) said that there had been no votes at the recent ULA conference in April. Michael O’Brien (SP) said that decisions were made at the conference. It was agreed to have another conference in November, he said, and the consensus issue can be debated again then. Michael said that there were good reasons for the consensus. Purposeful work can and is being done in the ULA nevertheless.

Eddie Conlon in the chair suggested that as this Motion was very divisive that it not be taken and referred back to the Steering Committee. Kieran Allen said he was objecting to marginalising the debate on one-person-one-vote. He was for the Motion being put to the meeting. He said consensus wasn’t endorsed by the April conference, as had been claimed. There wasn’t a majority vote for it, or any vote. When Eddie let it be known that he was opposed to the Motion Kieran asked that he show less bias.

[No one contributed from the position, held by some of the nonaligned, that democracy is essential in the ULA as soon as possible, but that, for the sake of the maintenance of the ULA, voting could not be forced – DD].

Cllr. Declan Bree, (Sligo, nonaligned) said that he supported consensus at this point in the ULA.

The vote was taken. The Motion was defeated 19 to 17. About a third in the room didn’t vote. Some nonaligned voted for it. Those that voted against it were not all SP members.

[The SWP had pushed the one-person-one-vote issue continually throughout the meeting, as at the conference. Their contention was that any claim that the majority at the April conference had rejected their call for one-person-one-vote was untrue and baseless because there was no vote on it or anything else at the conference. That the matter hadn’t been tested at the conference. The Motion had been determinedly introduced and a vote insisted upon. Well it was tested now, before the delegates of the Branches, and 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 “resolutions” 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 official record of the ULA Council meeting is as a result seriously lacking in an important area –DD].

9: Motion: ULA should look outwards instead of inwards, get involved in campaign and recruit new members. Proposed by the Rathmines Branch. Agreed without a vote. [I missed this Motion being put. I must say I object to its tone and the implication that unspecified sections in the ULA are looking “inwards” – DD].

10: Motion: Having abandoned their “better fairer” approach to tackling austerity, the ICTU leadership with their failure to declare their outright opposition to the Fiscal Treaty recently, should be compelled to resign. Proposed by the Dublin North East Branch. Agreed.

[The ICTU executive is made up of the general secretaries or general officers of the member unions. Four of these unions opposed the Treaty and two supported it. One, SIPTU, would not endorse it without a stimulus package. Though the ICTU executive could not agree a position, are the executive members from the four unions who opposed the Treaty also to resign with the ICTU leadership? A more precise Motion might have been to seek the resignation of the ICTU general secretary who wrote a paper for the executive criticizing the Treaty but recommending support for it because of the blackmail clause –DD.]


More a scan than a stock take

Des Derwin

It is true that the ULA is fragile. That there is a pull between the alliance and the founding groups and between each of them. That top-down and inter-group decision-making is not sustainable indefinitely, while consensus is essential for early nurturing. That time is limited but that we must be patient.

The ultimate outcome depends on the recruitment of more nonaligned 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 are nonaligned.

There have been achievements in three areas.

Firstly, 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.

Secondly, the ULA has entered and acted upon the political stage, with

  • The election of five radical left TDs
  • Their 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 which led to the first attempt at a demonstration by the trade union movement (November 26th 2011) since the big Congress marches.
  • A result 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 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 Connolly’s proposal, for a worker’s party, for the ULA.
  • Etc.

The haphazard, inadequate though gradual establishment of the ULA as a real thing in itself through Dáil, media, campaign and street presences and intervention.

Thirdly, within the ULA there has been stepped but definite development:

  • Two workers for the ULA itself
  • Re-organised and improving membership data and registration (an essential for democracy)
  • Representation on the SC, through election, of the nonaligned members.
  • All the measures in the Sub Committee on Structures report, some of which are listed below.
  • The ULA Council complete with voting
  • Circulation of the SC Minutes
  • General agreement on a newsletter, registration (though this may not have speedy passage) and caucusing before CAHWT meetings
  • Nonaligned meetings, with voting, called through the official lists.
  • The Left Unity Network among the nonaligned  (whether now, or later as some propose)
  • A lively nonaligned mailing group
  • Several nonaligned websites
  • Regular socials in Dublin (or the promise of them – craic not guaranteed )
  • Two vibrant conferences (and another to follow in November)
  • Improved communications from the centre
  • The policy groups, open to all
  • A growing recognition of the need for real gender balance

We are getting there, or there is movement anyway; the groups may be restless or resistant but the ULA is still standing and still with loads of potential.







Written by tomasoflatharta

Jun 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm

3 Responses

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  1. An interesting summary, Des.

    The guff from the SWP about “one person one vote” is the kind of thing that gives cynical hypocrisy a bad name. As you note, in seven years, People Before Profit, which the SWP control, has not been given any of the structures they claim are so vital for the ULA. For that matter, it has yet to have a conference. There are, in my view, two distinct factors behind their shameless posturing:

    1) The key difference between PBP and the ULA is that the SWP don’t control the ULA. Further, they have found it consistently very difficult to win their ULA allies over to their point of view. They find this very frustrating and they seem to have decided that turning decision making in the ULA into a mobilising competition with the Socialist Party would improve their chances of getting their way to 40 or 50%. They already control PBP, so it, by contrast, doesn’t need the structures they demand in the ULA. What they are demanding is the democracy of the packed meeting.

    2) It gives them something to say in terms of trying to mark themselves out as “the real revolutionaries”, “the real democrats”, etc. Their recent opposition to proper stewarding at marches is a similar sort of thing. A bit of pointless pushing and shoving is much more exciting and pretending that it matters is centrally about portraying their less excitable rivals as “conservative”.

    The SWP lost the vote on stewarding and march plans at the CAHWT steering committee, but unfortunately it seems very likely that they will try to pull some divisive set of antics on the day anyway. “Democracy” after all is for other people.

    Incidentally, that the SWP consistently lines up against the rest of the ULA in the CAHWT is just one reason why trying to organise some kind of joint ULA approach to the CAHWT is ill-conceived. Another is that, if somehow those disagreements could be resolved, a monolithic ULA approach would completely dominate the CAHWT and would be perceived as overbearing and hostile by the other forces involved.

    A central problem involved in any kind of long term collaboration with the SWP is that their leadership have an entirely instrumentalist approach to political argument. Whatever is convenient in a given situation will be argued, and then it will be dropped as soon as it is inconvenient. Every single time any of them start mouthing off about “democracy”, they should be met with laughter and the words “People Before Profit”.

    Mark P

    Jun 24, 2012 at 9:57 pm

  2. Irritation with “allies” making obvious bad faith arguments aside, the meeting sounds like it was largely positive.

    The motions are a bit of a mixed bag. Some are self-evidently good things, like having a contingent on the Pride march. Then you have things like organising youth work, which are broadly good things, though as you note the two proposals seem at least partially contradictory. The two SWP motions were regrettable, as the one on “looking outwards” carried with it a nasty and dishonest insinuation and the one on consensus and voting was yet more bad-faith posturing. It’s good that it was voted down, not that it will have the slightest effect on their behaviour.

    On the issue of a newsletter, I’ve argued here before that advocates of a ULA publication would encounter less resistance if they put forward more concrete proposals for a particular type of publication with a particular purpose than they would get by making general calls for a “a publication” on the broad basis that proper organisations have publications.

    [The Socialist Party’s]caution can produce an extra strong sigh when they unnecessarily, even from their own pace, resist measures which take the ULA forward a small but appreciable step in cohesion.

    The core issue there, Des, is that when the Socialist Party says it isn’t in favour of launching a new party at the moment, that also means that it isn’t in favour of edging towards a new party through an accumulated series of small organisational measures. There are some in the ULA who accept that a new party isn’t on the immediate agenda, but who want to for most and intents and purposes keep making incremental organisational changes which will eventually add up to a new party. That’s not how the Socialist Party sees a new party coming about. For the SP, changes to the alliance have to be evaluated in terms of their benefits to it as an alliance.

    Mark P

    Jun 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm

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