The ULA is a joint slate or alliance of candidates that will put forward a real left alternative in the general election and challenge the austerity and capitalist consensus amongst all the parties in the Dail, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Greens but also clearly including Labour and Sinn Fein.
The ULA flows from a process of discussions initiated some time ago by the Socialist Party. It is a necessary and principled attempt at serious co-operation between left groups and while we will have to see how it goes over the next months, the Socialist Party hopes that the ULA will be an important first step in the formation of a new mass party for working class people, based on socialist policies.
The ULA could possibly stand up to 20 candidates in the general election. This will include many who will seriously challenge to win TD positions, most obviously Seamus Healy in South Tipperary, Cllr Joan Collins in Dublin South Central, Richard Boyd Barrett in Dun Laoghaire, and clearly the Socialist Party will be going all out to try to get Joe Higgins MEP and Councillors Clare Daly and Mick Barry elected in Dublin North and Cork North Central respectively.
As of now ULA candidates will stand in five cities, with Declan Bree also standing in Sligo, Seamus O’Brien (PBPA/SWP) standing in Wexford and Cian Prendiville of the Socialist Party standing in Limerick.
In pushing for the establishment for a slate/alliance, the Socialist Party argued that it was very important to try to get a fraction of genuinely left TDs elected at the next opportunity. Given that this crisis will continue to wreck devastation for the foreseeable future and the likelihood that Labour will be in power putting the boot into working class people while ICTU sit idly by, three or four left TDs could become a very important focal point for organising struggle against austerity and for the launching of a new party of the working class to fill the political vacuum.
The outstanding role that Joe Higgins played in national politics when it was difficult for the left during the boom years is on the one hand a model, but on the other also shows the massive potential that will exist in this unprecedented crisis to use the Dail as platform.
The ULA was primarily established on the basis of agreement on a political programme, agreement on specific candidates that were credible as well as how other potential candidates could be agreed. There was an agreement on a democratic and consensual approach to decision making and establishing structures of the ULA.
In the initial discussions which only involved the Socialist Party and the PBPA, there was debate and disagreement between us, particularly with the SWP, on the issue of whether an alliance should explicitly advocate socialist policies and socialism as the solution to the crisis. The Socialist Party did not agree with the SWP’s view that socialist policies would put people off from voting for candidates or from getting involved in a left alliance.
We felt it was very unfortunate that this argument was being put forward at precisely the time when there is emerging, a new interest and need for socialist policies because this is a crisis of the capitalist system itself. We demonstrated that Joe Higgins got more than 50,000 votes while being one of the most identifiable socialists in the country with radical and socialist policies. Socialism was advocated in his leaflets that went into every home in Dublin.
This debate should continue on the left in a fraternal atmosphere as it is of crucial importance. We are partly in favour of building a new left party because the likes of Labour have sold-out. But why have parties like Labour sold-out?
The diminishing and ultimate collapse of any socialist outlook and perspective meant that Labour just succumbed to the pressure of the establishment. If a new left movement isn’t rooted in a socialist outlook that wants to break definitively with capitalism, it too will ultimately fail, regardless of whether it has TDs or councillors.
If the left believes that policies like taking over the wealth of society and using it in a planned and productive way are necessary to create jobs, then it makes sense to advocate them and try to win people to these ideas rather than obscure the solution.
We agree that the left must present its ideas skilfully but we also have a duty to tell people the truth and advocate socialist policies, regardless of the criticism from the establishment. This is because objectively they are the only policies that address and can overcome the reasons for the crisis. The fact that the majority of people don’t yet agree with that doesn’t mean we should obscure this necessity, quite the opposite. It shows the need to skilfully advocate why socialist policies are necessary. We hope that through fraternal discussion that the ULA becomes very confident that working class people and the young people now growing up in this crisis will see through spin and grasp the necessity to advocate an explicitly socialist alternative to the capitalist parties.
Even though there wasn’t agreement on the need for an explicitly socialist programme, the Socialist Party felt we should continue to try to establish an alliance as that would be a step forward for working class people. We fully support the programme that the ULA has agreed and it can be read on the Socialist Party’s website. But the Socialist Party, while advocating the ULA programme will also exercise its right to also put forward our own socialist programme in our own election material etc.
The Socialist Party also pushed that the ULA should be something that isn’t just geared towards existing groups. If it is to become something more, it needs to be open for any individual to get involved in it and to have a say. People can register to become a supporter and activist in the ULA, and hopefully the supporters register may be a step towards a membership if there is an interest in the challenge that the ULA is mounting in the months ahead. We would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to get in touch, or better still to come along to the ULA Launch Rally in the Ashling Hotel, Dublin on 26 November!