Report on Cork branch meeting 17 January 2012

The Cork ULA branch met last night just over an hour after the steering committee had sent out the email postponing the conference, giving us the opportunity to give an initial response to that postponement.

It soon became clear that the “lack of time” given in the email from the ULA steering committee was not the real reason for the postponement.

It was reported, and not disputed by the PbP/SWP comrades present, that they had used their right of veto in the alliance structure to get the 4 Feb conference called off.

The reasons for this appear to be two-fold.

Firstly there was a dispute over how independents would be given representation on the steering committee. The SP are for the independents meeting as independents to elect reps. The PbP/SWP are for the conference as a whole electing the independent reps.

Secondly there is a dispute over how decisions should be made at the conference. The SP stand by the consensus model where constituent groups retain their right of veto. The PbP/SWP want something else though I must confess I am unclear on what this is exactly. One of the SWP comrades argued in favour of a majority vote position at one stage in the discussion but this might just have been an individual perspective as the other senior SWPer present didn’t seem to be endorsing that.

This perspective of having a decision making conference based on majority votes was put most strongly by Anne McShane who also wanted this to be as soon as practicable and be a membership, rather than delegate, conference. The SWP seemed to have some sympathy for this idea and it also got some support from other independents. I argued against it as I think a decision making conference could only be called on the basis of the ULA having created proper internal communication channels for discussion, which would take a few months, and then we would need a 2 or 3 month pre-conference discussion period using those new communication channels so a best case scenario would be 6, or more realistically, 9 months away from now.

As was pointed out by the independent on our branch steering committee the first of the reasons would seem to be a complete red herring as the conference agenda had no space for election of independents to the steering committee.

The SP seem to think that this proposal to have a couple of independents on the national steering committee represents some significant development for the ULA which should go some way to meeting the concerns of us independents. That can only possibly have weight if you accept the alliance structures so it rather misses the point so for those of us who are interested in beginning the process of transformation towards a new party.

It is clear that this whole process of talking about a delegated decision making conference, then announcing a talking shop instead, then cancelling that talking shop has been a complete farce. I argued this farce flowed from the rotten alliance structure that was holding the ULA back in general.

During the discussion one of the SP comrades said that he (and by implication the SP) believed that the ULA “needs to move beyond an alliance structure”.

I seized on this to put him/them on the spot by pointing out that they, with the support of the SWP, had voted down any, and all, proposals to the branch that moved even the slightest way beyond an alliance by involving members on an equal basis as members. All I have heard is vague aspirations for change at some undetermined time in the future. But talk is cheap – what are their concrete proposals for moving beyond an alliance structure if he/they really believe in what he had said?

The local SP leader was rather annoyed by this and came back at me to strongly argue that the SP have made many proposals on how the Cork ULA can make steps forward. He also strongly disagreed with my comment that the current alliance structure was rotten. According to him it is a necessary structure until such time as we are ready to move beyond that – when they judge enough working people have joined to make it a realistic project. He also said that the SP opposed putting any time frame on holding a proper delegated decision making conference, be that 6 months, 9 months or whenever.

I don’t dispute that the SP have made many proposals for activity by the Cork branch but that wasn’t the point I was making so Mick’s anger and response about this seemed a bit misplaced to me. My actual point was that the SP & SWP have consistently opposed every proposal for moving the branch structures to be more inclusive and representative of all the members – and I stand by that observation and the contradiction between that concrete reality and their verbal support at this meeting for moving beyond an alliance structure.

The key issue is that it seems we will have to wait until the SP decide enough working people have joined before there will be any moves towards transformation into a party – until then they have their veto within the alliance structure to stop any changes.

I think this is a completely mechanistic and stagist approach to party building. It is only by beginning the process of transforming the ULA that these significant numbers of working people will even consider joining. If you are a militant worker looking for an organisation to be an active part of and that can provide answers to the wider social problems confronting working people then why join the ULA in which you will have very little say about policy.

The situation in Cork is interesting in regard to the independents who came into the ULA as SP supporters. They are just as frustrated as the rest of us, if not more so, including the guy who the SP successfully put forward in their slate proposal as the independent on our local steering committee. They feel the same as all the independents that we were recruited to the ULA on the clear understanding that it would be transforming itself into a party and we feel betrayed and angry because nothing has changed and we have no power to make changes because of the right of veto in the alliance structure. The exclusively top-down communication within the ULA with unknown people making policy in our name was also noted by various of the independents.

We had to take a break in the middle of discussion to calm things down as we nearly had a walk-out by a couple of the independents in response to what they were hearing from the SP & PbP/SWP. I think the SP misjudged how angry ALL the independents would be and also that this anger would be directed at them as much as the PbP/SWP who had got the conference called off. I would like to think this meeting might be a wake-up call for the SP as it was their own supporters (well at least former supporters, as I’m unsure about this now) who were among the most angry at the lack of movement towards creating a new party. But reading the party line in the latest SP article (see my next blog post) I suspect not.

It is unclear to me what game the PbP/SWP are playing. They had very little in the way of concrete proposals and seemed mostly happy to ride on the back of the anti-SP feeling in the room. To the extent they did have concrete proposals their perspective on electing independents to the steering committee on the basis of an open vote by all the conference is clearly less democratic within the alliance framework. If we look back at the PbP/SWP involvement in the ULA so far it has been far less involved than that of the SP who to their credit, while I disagree with their perspective, have been consistent in applying that perspective and attempting to build the ULA within the alliance framework unlike the PbP/SWP who have mostly seemed more interested in their other projects. I am therefore wary about how deep this new apparent interest in building the ULA is for the PbP/SWP.

I’ll finish this report with details of the motions and decisions of the meeting.

Motions – to go to the ULA steering committee before it meets next Monday (I haven’t got the exact wording of the motions but the following is the gist of them):

– The Cork branch is very disappointed with the postponement of the conference – passed unanimously

– That a new conference should be called within a month – passed 9 for, 4 against, 1 abstention (I abstained on this motion)

– That the new conference should include election of independents to the national steering committee – passed 13 for, 0 against, 1 abstention (I voted for this motion)

– That the Cork branch was disappointed with the agenda of the 4 Feb conference – passed 9 for, 4 against, 1 abstention (I voted for this motion)

The branch also agreed that the next meeting, on Tuesday 21 February, would be an AGM with two main agenda items (branch structure and the conference). Branch members can put forward motions up until 7 February.

I had already presented the following motions to the steering committee which will now be taken at the AGM:

Regarding branch organisation:

– That the Cork branch of the ULA set up an email discussion list – for ULA members only.

– That the Cork branch of the ULA hold an election to expand the membership of the branch steering committee to better reflect the tasks facing the branch in 2012

Regarding the conference:

– Recognising the need to deepen the process of transforming the ULA from an electoral alliance into a party of the working class the ULA agrees to hold a proper delegate-based, and policy decision making, conference in approximately 6 months time. The next two months being focussed on creating internal communication structures to facilitate political discussion between all members after which a formal pre-conference discussion period will begin.


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