2 March 2015 Edition
Creating common ground
We have a very rare chance to build a real alternative to the status quo, to be part of a new politics
SPEAKING last November at a Sinn Féin conference in Clondalkin, Dublin, Gerry Adams called for “a realignment of Irish politics”.
He said: “Let those on the Left who really believe that a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil is possible begin working now together towards that end.”
In the months that followed, a broad alliance of trade unions, community groups, political parties and citizens have marched against austerity.
This mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of people – coupled with the rise of anti-austerity parties in Greece and Spain – has given birth to a new optimism.
Sensing this change, SIPTU President Jack O’Connor in January called for social democrats, Left republicans and independent socialists “to set aside sectarian divisions and develop a political project aimed at winning the next general election on a common platform”.
The five trade unions at the heart of the Right2Water campaign (Unite, Mandate, CPSU, OPATSI and CWC) issued a separate call for a “Platform for Renewal” setting out the “core principles” that “a progressive government will be expected to deliver in the next Dáil”.
• The mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of people – coupled with the rise of anti-austerity parties in Greece and Spain – has given birth to a new optimism
On May Day, Right2Water are hoping to bring trade unions, individuals, political parties and independents, NGOs, academics, representatives of the not-for-profit sector and community activists to shape this Platform for Renewal.
Never has there been a better time for building common ground between all sections of Irish society who believe in a better, fairer way.
While this new sense of progressive optimism may be intoxicating, the scale of the challenge involved in installing the state’s first Left-led government should bring us all back down to earth.
Can we really build that ever-elusive Left unity?
Divisions between the anti-austerity unions and those supportive of the Government run deep. Will SIPTU be invited to attend the May Day Platform for Renewal dialogue? What position will Congress take, if any?
Likewise, relations between the political parties on the Left remain in poor shape. Electoral competition and differing strategic approaches to the water charges campaign continue to divide.
In Dublin’s Left-leaning councils, the Socialist Workers’ Party/People Before Profit and Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance refuse to participate in progressive alliances.
‘Let those on the Left who really believe that a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil is possible begin working now together towards that end’
Gerry Adams, November 2014
Joe Higgins has already ruled his party out of any ‘reformist’ coalition. The position of the SWP is less clear. If these groups couldn’t keep the United Left Alliance together, can they really play a constructive role in any broader alliance?
What about the Left Independents? Will they form a progressive alliance or disperse across the less ideologically clear groupings.
And is it possible to have an anti-austerity government without the involvement of the Labour Party and the social-liberal constituency they represent?
Most importantly, the broad Left have yet to convince a majority of the electorate that we have a clear, viable and implementable programme for social and economy recovery.
The time for slogans has long past. We need to set out a progressive alternative model of social and economic development.
We need to build public support for a strong and courageous state investing in jobs, services and communities.
This means real tax reform to generate the revenues needed for social and economic renewal. Scrapping unjust taxes is not enough. Social and economic recovery must be paid for.
This means challenging the fiscal rules that are currently enshrined in our constitution, our laws and those of the EU.
This means finding a real solution to our unsustainable public and household debt, reducing both its scale and cost.
This means crafting a new approach to economic policy that is socially equitable and environmentally sustainable.
This means truly reforming our political institutions and practices, making them more democratic, accountable and transparent.
Crucially, it means convincing a majority of the people to support our vision for a better, fairer Ireland. And then facilitating them to remain mobilised and critically engaged with a new Left-led government to ensure that it keeps its promises.
It is time for the Irish Left to build common ground. We have a very rare chance to build a real alternative to the status quo, to be part of a new politics, a new political economy, a new Republic. Let’s not waste that chance.