Organising the independents

Julian Assandwich has made a proposal for how to organise the independents in the ULA – weareragbags.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/independent-and-nonaligned-representation-how/
This overlaps to some degree with my own arguments on web forums discussing this issue (see cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/talking-about-your-ula/#comment-113231 and www.politicalworld.org/showthread.php?t=10597&page=10 – posting on politicalworld as bolshevik).

However I think Julian is making a serious mistake in suggesting that the independents organise as an “apolitical technical group”.

Julian himself recognised that to be apolitical is “impossible”. And yet he still wants to go ahead using that description. But if to actually be apolitical is impossible what is the real content being proposed?

Julian argues that just by being members of the ULA we have “clear politics” and we should limit ourselves to organising activity “under the ULA programme”.

There is an obvious problem with this approach as the ULA “programme” is actually just the extremely bland reformist 2011 election platform. As a guide to action this platform is only of very general use. For instance what does it tell us about any possible referendum about European reorganisation? Obviously a “Yes” vote is ruled out but an argument can be made for either a “No” vote or a boycott position while remaining consistent with the ULA “programme”. Virtually every concrete political issue would be the same – the ULA “programme” would only set the general framework but within that a wide variety of positions and nuance of emphasis are possible. It is to be presumed that the independents will have a range of opinions on these concrete political questions so we have to have the right to put forward those opinions.

But where I do agree with Julian is over the issue of whether the independents can present themselves as a cohesive political grouping in the sense of the other components of the ULA – the SP, SWP & WUAG. Obviously the independents cannot because we cover a wider range of political perspectives as outlined above but I don’t see why this should see us therefore take on the “apolitical” mantle.

In concrete terms I think this difference manifests itself in terms of Julian’s proposals for the independents steering committee. I think this body should be elected on the basis of people standing on their programmes. This would be normal in a healthy political party and if Julian is right, and I think he is, that “Special attention shall be given to growing an internal life of its own for the ULA as the basis for a new mass party” then this should be reflected in how we elect our steering committee just as much as anything else. Further in that light I would also argue that the independents should have regular conferences and those members of the steering committee should be subject to right of recall.

Given that one of the main deficiencies of the ULA is the lack of structures for discussion among the membership I also think a specific priority under the point about growing an internal life should be the creation of horizontal discussion lists open to all independents across the organisation.

As well as Julian’s point that “It shall be the duty of the committee to keep independent and nonaligned activists informed of ULA news” it should also be a duty of this committee to represent the views of the independents to the rest of the steering committee – views as represented by discussions at the regular conferences of independents and on the discussion lists. Given that we don’t have enough of a common political basis I don’t think this is a question of the reps on the steering committee being mandated to vote any particular way but they should have a responsibility to keep the steering committee informed of the range of views among the independents.

Another interesting issue posed by all this is the question of the veto for constituent groups that is currently built into the structure of the ULA. If the independents are to be given equal representation with the constituent groups on the steering committee does that mean we also have a right of veto? And if so how could that possibly be manifest when we are not a group with the same kind of political homogeneity and internal discipline like the constituent groups. Or will the independent reps on the steering committee be second-class members with no right of veto like the others?


11 Responses to “Organising the independents”

  1. January 25, 2012 at 15:39

    Excellent! Public discussion on the fate of our organization! I will post a reply tomorrow.

    In the mean time, I suggest we both solicit guest posts from other independents to get the broadest possible understanding of independent and nonaligned positions.

  2. 3 Brian Stafford
    February 7, 2012 at 01:03

    I will be at the proposed non aligned conference. From that conference I would personally like to see the 2 non aligned reps chosen for the sub committee on structures, I am really interested in people’s ideas and experiences on what they think works elsewhere ie other European left Unity progects.

    We will also need a clear process established for the day of the ULA conference to elect our two members to the steering committee. I will be proposing a number of nuts and bolts proposals. 1) That in future the steering group meets on a Saturday, not everyone is a full time politico or available to be in Dublin at Tuesday lunchtime or whenever. 2) The power of recall of reps and term limits. If possible this should apply to the three founding organisations as well. However given the party structures it is unlikely to arise as an issue in their groups. It may be an issue in the non aligned group though. It is not hard to envision a scenario where someone gets elected from the non aligned group and becomes a destructive force in an alliance that at this stage needs nurturing. 3) It is imperative that from now on no member is left in the dark about what has been decided at steering group meetings. The ULA now has 2 full time staff and an improved website and mailer list. I know from being close to the situation that the lack of communications have been more down to resource issues than a concerted effort to keep people in the dark. That reason should no longer be valid. I will be proposing that we as members get agreed upon minutes of steering group meetings no later than three days after the meeting. There may be topics or strategies discussed at these meetings that are not yet for the public realm in those cases it should be noted as not yet for public discussion and the details will be released at a point in the future when the information is no longer sensitive.

    Finally, not a proposal but the general spirit I will be engaging in any discussion on the future and progress of the ULA. I believe the building of a mass party is a slow process given current conditions, I believe it is absolutely the right thing to be doing at this time of crisis and finally I believe that this has to be built by the same mechanics that set it up ie agree upon what we can, discuss what we can’t. These discussions should be robust but we should always bear in mind who the real enemies are and who the real comrades are. There now appears to be positive movement in the ULA after a period of stasis and I’d be remiss if I didn’t commend the different groups and individuals for getting the ULA this far.

    On last point and I think this should go without saying, we need to be conscious of gender and geographical balance when it comes to platforms and reps. I might be a male from Dublin but I do not need or want that reflected back to me in my political organisation.

    • February 7, 2012 at 11:04

      Thanks for the comment Brian. You raise some interesting points – a few things that strike me in response.

      Firstly I would be cautious about calling the proposed meeting of independents on 18 Feb a “conference”. That would imply a greater authority than this meeting would actually have. If the figure of 40% independents out of a total membership of 600 is accurate then there about 250 independents in the ULA – the vast bulk of whom won’t even know this meeting is happening let alone having had a chance to contribute to it.

      This poses the need to establish functioning communication structures between the independents – when those are up and running then we could start to think about having a conference. Creating an email list for all ULA independents would seem an urgent task.

      I am therefore hesitant about giving the meeting on the 18th the final say in deciding who should be on the working group. Surely this would more sensibly be proposed by the independents actively organised in their branches. I partly suggest this because the independent member on the Cork branch steering committee has already canvassed the Cork independents and put forward a name they all support (me). But it strikes me that people being proposed by branches where there are active groups of independents is more democratic than this meeting on the 18th which for reasons of geography and it’s self-selected nature will be less representative of independents across the country. I also don’t see any reason why independents should be limited to only 2 reps on this working group – surely getting a representative spread (Dublin, Cork & Galway – as the areas there are organised independents) is more important.

      Regarding your specific proposals:

      1) As someone in full-time employment in Cork I agree.

      2) I also agree with right of recall.

      This does however pose the question of how that would be exercised. We will need some way of discussing and meeting as independents so as to just be abke to give our reps on the national steering committee feedback on our views let alone have a processfor right of recall. As a said, a first, and urgent, task is the creation of an email list for all independents. I then think we have to move to having delegated conferences of the independents, perhaps as often as 6 monthly. This would seem the only democratic way to exercise the right of recall option.

      3) Once again I agree.

      I would also agree with your general points about the political culture we should be fostering.

      Alan G

      • February 9, 2012 at 17:54

        Just a general point about the independent mailing list, it can be extrapolated from the motion passed – that if the ULA supports and will facilitate independents organizing – that the steering committee will send out a message to the nonaligned/independent members on the mailing list. I have been in touch with the steering committee in the time since the news was sent out and it has been all but confirmed that they will reach out to the independents on our behalf. It will be done.

        If we can ourselves – as the presently organized independents – pick a county/city, a venue and time for an semi-formal and temporary national independent get-together, we can pick the interim reps before we iron out our structures(though we can make a start on that any time) and the steering committee will assist.

        We should be an example to the rest of the ULA as to how things should be run – democratically, representative, and a key to that is to consult as broadly as possible before moving ahead with important steps

  3. 6 D_D
    February 10, 2012 at 00:36

    It is important , especially if we want to be exemplary in the ULA, that we avoid setting up entitlements when we have just begun the first steps to organising the nonaligned.

    • February 10, 2012 at 09:00

      Des, I’m not entirely sure what your point is regarding “entitlements”.

      Arguments for various “entitlements” have been made in this thread regarding non-aligned members of the ULA.

      That we are entitled to an equal voice in the discussions about policy and actions of the ULA.

      That we are entitled to democratic structures to allow that discussion to take place.

      That we are entitled to representation on the leadership body of the ULA.

      That we are entitled to representation on the sub-committee being set up.

      That we are entitled to elect our representatives to the national steering committee and sub-committee ourselves.

      All fairly non-controversial “entitlements” I would have hoped.

      So I guess what you are referring to is the competing “entitlements” about how we will elect our representatives to the sub-committee.

      Should a meeting of those non-aligned activists who are able to make it to a gathering in Dublin (or perhaps Galway) in the next week or two be entitled to make that decision?

      Or should meetings of organised groupings of non-aligned in local branches be entitled to choose who they want to represent them?

      Neither of these competing entitlements is ideal. Cases can be made either way and it is far from clear which entitlement is the more democratic and more representative of the non-aligned.

      However what is clear is that neither way is an “entitlement” in the negative way you imply. They are alternative solutions, within the far from ideal situation we find ourselves in, for achieving in the most democratic and inclusive way possible the very positive entitlement, I hope we all support, of the non-aligned being able to choose their own representatives on the sub-committee.

      If you have an opinion on which is the more democratic and inclusive way to exercise our entitlement to representation on the sub-committee then fine – make your case.

      But don’t make an implied criticism against “entitlements” when in a certain sense the whole point of the current struggle by the non-aligned is to get the entitlements we are being denied.

  4. 8 D_D
    February 10, 2012 at 22:57

    “I am therefore hesitant about giving the meeting on the 18th the final say in deciding who should be on the working group. Surely this would more sensibly be proposed by the independents actively organised in their branches. I partly suggest this because the independent member on the Cork branch steering committee has already canvassed the Cork independents and put forward a name they all support (me). But it strikes me that people being proposed by branches where there are active groups of independents is more democratic than this meeting on the 18th …”

    My point about entitlements was about none of the general principles of democracy you list. It was about the above quote. I am not implying any base motivations but, on the face of it, the above looks like a claim to a position on the Steering Committee being staked out already. Or a case for it at least.

    (You say “working group” and “sub-committee”. It’s the Steering Committee you mean? Or it and the sub-committee to report back on organisation etc.?)

    Nobody is insisting that the nonaligned reps would be chosen on the 18th, or whenever a first national colloquium of the nonaligned can take place. I don’t remember the small Dublin nonaligned meeting going any further than agreeing that the ‘national’ meeting should address the structures and procedures of the eventual election.

    If each Branch was being offered nonaligned reps on the Steering Committee that road might be an option. The Steering Committee has decided on two reps elected by the nonaligned together. The only other proposition on the Steering Committee was for the election of the nonaligned reps by the entire conference (modified for a time to reverting to no nonaligned reps at all).

    I do agree with your general democratic points and with Brian’s post above too.

    • February 11, 2012 at 07:02

      I am referring to the positions on the sub-committee (number of non-aligned on it not specified in the steering committee’s 1 Feb email) not the 2 non-aligned reps on the steering committee which are to be elected at the 21 April conference.

      I agree that the national meeting on 18 or 25 Feb should be concerned with making recommendations on the structures and procedure at the 21 April conference, including exactly how we non-aligned elect our 2 reps on the steering committee. As part of this I think it should look at the possibility of organising a conference of independents before the 21 April full conference.

      The point of disagreement was over the selection of the non-aligned reps.on the sub-committee. It is not clear to me that the national meeting on 18/25 Feb deciding this is necessarily more democratic than non-aligned groups in branches doing so. However more people seem in favour of the former so I am happy to go with that. Though I must point out that it is complicated by the non-aligned rep on the Cork branch steering committee having gone ahead and put my name forward after being approached by Paddy Healy to have Cork select someone for that sub-committee.

      I completely agree that there is no entitlement for Cork to have 1 of the 2 reps on the steering committee. These will be elected at the 21 April conference through some process yet to be decided.

  5. February 12, 2012 at 00:31

    Ah, I think there is clarification and agreement. Or whatever remaining disagreement on this is very minor. I don’t understand Paddy Healy’s role in this or know if he was commissioned by the Steering Committee to approach branches. The Dublin Central branch has not been approached by him. Any (slight) suspicions of early advantageous positioning in Cork were misplaced. Sorry.

    I was delighted to see the Cork ULA banner in the great Vita Cortex march in Cork today and to meet briefly some Cork colleagues.

    • February 12, 2012 at 23:11

      Unclear what Healy is up to – he has apparently also approached the Galway non-aligned to provide a rep for the sub-committee. But whether he was doing so officially on behalf of the national steering committee or not is unknown.

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