16 January 2017 Edition
Do we really need another new party on the Left?
Getting organised labour involved in political struggle is a vital task
Some trade union activists are now floating the idea of a new party of organised labour
THE GROSS BETRAYAL of the interests of the organised labour movement by the Labour Party has rightly led thousands of trade unionists to reject the abject posturing of this personal-pension-hungry rabble.
But where does the rejection of the Labour Party by so many leave organised labour itself?
The Labour Party was originally founded to be the political voice of Irish trade unionism and, under the guidance of James Connolly, Labour earned the right to take its place in the leadership of the national struggle.
Tragically, the labour leadership after Connolly stood aside from that struggle, waiting for others to complete the task and so made organised labour peripheral to Irish politics.
The veteran socialist republican, George Gilmore, showed back in 1966 how the organised trade union struggle forced the pace that led to the Rising and the Tan War. He also showed how the militant nationalists who took part in the Rising and the Tan War leaned naturally towards labour’s side on social and industrial issues.
For Gilmore, and for republicans like him, the eventual defeat of the Republic was due to a large extent to the fact that labour had abandoned its role in the leadership.
Sinn Féin today recognises the need to bring the labour and republican traditions together, for without that unity we cannot establish a united, independent republic. Nor can we create a fair and equal society in which all the resources of our country are at the disposal of all of our people.
The problem, of course, is that the labour component is missing.
The trade unions are – politically – all over the shop.
• SIPTU's Jack O'Connor: Reaching out
SIPTU still officially maintains support for and a link with the Labour Party, even though SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor (who continues to argue for that link) also wants to reach out to Sinn Féin and bring labour and republican together.
Other trade unions have formally broken with the Labour Party and are no longer affiliated, leaving individual members to paddle their own canoes and work out their own political allegiances.
That’s fine but it means that organised labour has no united political voice, does not intervene in any powerful way in the political life of the country, and deprives progressive politics of a vital link in the chain.
Breakaways from the Labour Party seem to have little to offer.
The Trotskyists play their traditional opportunist and divisive games while the Social Democrats seem to have no clear purpose or policy (even though there are good, genuine people in both tendencies).
Arising from the Right2Change movement, some trade union activists are now floating the idea of a new party of organised labour to take up the reins which the discredited Labour Party abandoned.
Talk of yet another new party brings forth a chorus of groans but a new initiative is needed to take the labour movement out of the doldrums in which it is rotting while the Irish people endure more and more attacks on their living standards and political rights.
For this idea to have any value, from the start it must take on Connolly’s mantle and aim to work not as a single party, eschewing all others, but as a component of a broad labour republican alliance, working particularly in alliance with Sinn Féin, the voice of Irish republicanism..
Right2Change set out some principles and Sinn Fein was to the fore in advancing these. It might be difficult to get the Trotskyists or Social Democrats to commit themselves genuinely to developing these principles but the effort should still be made.
Getting organised labour involved in political struggle is a vital task but the first step is to begin serious debate on these principles and on the need for a republican labour alliance.