22
Feb
12

Report on ULA Cork branch AGM

Attendance was 25 (6 women) which while slightly higher than recent branch meetings and we saw some members who had not been at many meetings it wasn’t the mass stacking of the meeting by either the SP or SWP that had been feared. There were a couple of non-members present which gave voting members of 11 SP, 5 SWP & 7 non-aligned.

The first item on the agenda was the election of a new steering committee.

The outgoing steering committee proposed a 7-person steering committee made up of 2 SP, 2 SWP, 2 non-aligned and a treasurer to be elected by an open vote. This was accepted by the meeting. Although the SWP and Anne argued that an election of all steering committee members on the basis of 1 member 1 vote they did not present a counter-proposal. This was passed 16 to 5 with 1 abstention. (I voted for this)

The outgoing steering committee also proposed that the new steering committee should work on the basis of “consensus”. We had a long discussion about what this would concretely mean. It was clear that there was a variety of views on this, including among the three outgoing steering committee members who were putting it forward. My understanding of the outcome of this discussion is that the steering committee will try to come to work on the basis of consensus there will be the facility for votes to decide disputed issues but with the constituent blocs having a right of veto if they choose to exercise it. This was passed 16 to 7. (I voted for this as it was consistent with the alliance structure we had just voted in favour of)

The SP also proposed that each of the blocs on the steering committee would be able to nominate a substitute if either of their reps was unable to be present for any reason. Another long discussion on this ensued with the SP eventually withdrawing the proposal.

So we than broke into our three blocs and the following steering committee was elected:

SP – Mick & Colm
SWP – Vanessa & Margaret
Non-aligned – Brian & Alan

There were no nominations or volunteers for the position of treasurer, the previous treasurer standing down. The SWP proposed, with no opposition, that the new steering committee should allocate the treasurer role within their ranks, along with other officer roles.

We then moved on to motions from members:

1. That a report of each Cork branch steering committee be provided to the branch membership within three days of that steering committee meeting.
Proposed by Alan Gibson

Very little discussion and no opposition from anyone – passed unanimously.

2. That the Cork branch sets up an email discussion list – for Cork ULA members only.
Proposed by Alan Gibson

The SWP had proposed an amendment:

That the working party establish guidelines for email communication, so that we avoid needless personal criticism in favour of constructive, dialectical debate.
Proposed by David Brancaleone

During the short discussion it became clear that this was superfluous and it was withdrawn.

Passed with all for except for 2 abstentions (by SPers)

3. That the Cork branch meets fortnightly.
Proposed by Alan Gibson

The outgoing steering committee proposed an alternative of:

The Cork branch of the ULA agrees to organise 2 meetings per month in the April, May, June period inclusive of public meetings. At least one meeting per month should be an ordinary branch meeting.

The discussion about this was primarily over whether the SP & SWP, who both argued in favour of the steering committee proposal, were really committing themselves to building the ULA by opposing fortnightly meetings.

My motion for fortnightly meetings was lost 5 to 13 with 1 abstention (I voted for this)

The steering committee motion was then passed 18 to 1 with a abstention (I voted for this – as my motion had fallen this was still an improvement on the existing monthly branch meetings)

4. That the branch steering committee will send a draft agenda for branch meetings to all members at some time (suggested 3 days) before the branch meeting. The branch steering committee will send minutes of branch meetings to all members within no more than 5 days after the branch meeting.
Proposed by Eoghan Higgins

The SP proposed that the time before a branch meeting that an agenda should be sent out be increased to 7 days and that the second part about distributing the minutes should be referred to the steering committee.

Eoghan accepted these amendments and the amended motion was passed 16 to 0 with 1 abstention (I voted for this)

5. There can be no doubt that the success of the ULA hinges partly on its ability to grow in terms of representing a broader spectrum of people, achieve higher public visibility, and become a real challenge of the Left in Ireland; furthermore, that doing so requires us to attract new members and, moreover, retain them by increasing the quality and level of participation within and across the Branchm adopting horizontal as opposed to vertical forms of decision-making and reporting (communication). Consequently:
This Motion proposes that – in the spirit of greater transperancy and in a move towards real democracy in how the Cork ULA Branch might become more inclusive in reaching it decisions for political action – we establish a rule of one member one vote as of this AGM.
Proposed by David Brancaleone

There was very little discussion on this point with the SP arguing that it contradicted the motion passed on how the steering committee would operate. In response it was pointed out that they themselves had referred to branch meetings already working on a one-person one-vote basis (and indeed that is how all the motions so far had been voted on)

The motion was passed 10 – 9 (a couple of SPers had left the meeting by this time) (I voted for this – having been convinced during the break to elect two non-aligned reps to the steering committee that I had been wrong to accept the alliance structure and vote in accordance with it)

After this was passed the SP protested loudly, repeating their point that it contradicted the earlier decision. Once again it was pointed out that it referred to branch meetings. After a bit of a shouting the meeting accepted the decision and moved on.

There was then a very brief point on the 21 April conference outlining the information known about it so far – not much – and the setting up of the sub-committee.

The last item was upcoming ULA activities

Mick proposed a public meeting in the first 1/2 of March on resistance and the alternative to austerity.

Anne proposed a meeting on the X case and abortion rights.

I supported both proposals, pointing out that Clare Daly is planning to move a private members bill on allowing access to abortion and we could usefully do something to coincide with that.

Vanessa motivated a demonstration at the Munster Labour Party conference on 1 March at which Gilmore will be speaking. It was proposed in the discussion that the branch would approach the various campaigns, CAHWT, schools, Vita Cortex etc about participating in a joint demo rather than just calling a demo as the ULA.

The abortion rights meeting and Labour Party protest were accepted with no opposition.

The meeting on austerity caused more dispute as in the course of the discussion it became clear that the SP understood this to mean that there would probably be no branch meeting in March as for the rest of the month pretty much everyone would be busy with anti-household tax activities. The SPers repeatedly used an argument (or perhaps better “mantra”) that “the branch must turn outwards” against the non-aligned who argued that consolidating the branch and turning it into a real organisation was of equal, if not more, importance than public activity.

The meeting started to break up at this stage as people started to leave for trains etc. but a vote was taken and it was passed by about 6 or 7 to 0 (though it was a bit chaotic as the meeting really was physically breaking up at this stage with people standing and moving for the door so the exact number may be different)

Near the end of the meeting a new person attending their very first meeting left and made a statement about how they had never seen a meeting like this before and contrasting it negatively to a meeting they had been to on a recent night (I presume this was an anti-household tax public meeting) where everyone got to have their say without any discord and no-one “dominated” the meeting. As he left the meeting the SP comrades gave positive echo to his criticisms.

Clearly this meeting was quite different from a public meeting on the household tax and I consider it to have been politically irresponsible to invite him without explaining what the meeting would be like – which anyone with any degree of political experience would have known. The SP’s indications of support for his comments were also worrying as they would seem to indicate support for a political culture where discussion and debate over differences and the way we organise are a bad thing in-of-themselves.

I remain unsure what game the SWP are playing by switching from a previous combination of blocing with the SP over bureaucratic restrictions on moving the ULA forward from the alliance model while doing virtually nothing in terms of the branches limited external life, to now posing as super-democrats and friends of the non-aligned. My previous experience with them, both in Ireland and Britain, makes me very wary about the depth of this turn and whether it represents anything more than a temporary opportunist tactic in their ongoing struggle with the SP for dominance in the left-reformist socialist space.

On a positive note I actually think the AGM was quite productive despite the differences and tensions and the fact that only some of my own proposals were supported while others were defeated.

There were some positive developments with the creation of an email discussion list (something that has been vehemently opposed by the SP when I raised it previously) and other moves away from the alliance model. However we do now have the very strange situation where a right of veto exists in the steering committee but not in the branch meetings. Obviously this is unstable and will be resolved in one direction or the other.

The steering committee meetings are sure to be interesting…

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14 Responses to “Report on ULA Cork branch AGM”


  1. February 23, 2012 at 01:43

    “…than a temporary opportunist tactic in their [the SWP] ongoing struggle with the SP for dominance in the left-reformist socialist space.”

    It is good to have public reports of ULA meetings and I am grateful for this one. However while agreeing with many of the political and organisational comments in the report I don’t think the couching of a Branch report in a formal factional structure is helpful. It also gives the impression of a battleground which will not attract new members in.

    I think this kind of detailed inter-tendency description is better kept for internal communications at this time. I also think that the language quoted above is inappropriate in relation to allies in any forum except the most private, and mirrors the problems of attitude in the recent SWP internal bulletin.

    Eddie Conlon and Brendan Young offered in their recent article an explanation for the SWP’s new promotion of one person one voting and did so without recourse to language intended to insult.

    The traditional condemnatory terminology of certain parts of the far left has no role in the creation of a new party of the left through the ULA and certainly no part in any future organisation of the ULA nonaligned to whom it falls to be the most unitary and inclusive.

    • February 23, 2012 at 09:45

      Des,

      It is unclear to me exactly what you are referring to. I assume it is use of the term opportunist but it could also include calling these self-describing “revolutionary socialists” left-reformist socialists which I am sure they also find “insulting”.

      It is also unclear to me whether you agree with the political content of my criticism but just disagree with the language used to present it.

      You made a contrast with Eddie and Brendan’s recent piece (http://tomasoflatharta.com/2012/02/03/where-to-now-for-the-ula-eddie-conlon-brendan-young/) so I re-read it to compare how they had made their criticisms.

      They do so as follows:

      “A stark opposition has emerged between the Socialist Party’s cautious approach based on an assessment that objective conditions are not conducive to significant growth of the ULA and the SWP’s voluntarism which suggest that anything is possible if we just work harder. The latter leads to a constant demand for mobilisation leading to poorly prepared and poorly attended protests. The former is in danger of demoralising people by suggesting that there’s not much that can be done.”

      I must confess that it really is unclear to me what qualitatively different “insult” is contained in the two documents. Are the SWP really going to take serious umbrage at being described as opportunists competing to be the dominant left-reformist socialists in Ireland while being fine about being called voluntarists who are the reason for poorly prepared and attended protests.

      I have no doubt that the SWP do not consider themselves to be either voluntarists or opportunists. Neither would they think of themselves as left-recormist socialists or that they were responsible for poorly prepared and attended protests.

      But I defend my, and Eddie and Brendan’s, right to make these, and other, political characterisations. Like, no doubt, Eddie and Brendan I am happy to back that up with examples and political argument if challenged. Just as the SWP & SP are free to defend themselves from these political characterisations with examples and argument. Just as I defend myself from criticisms such as being an “ultra-left sectarian” when it is made by SP and SWP comrades.

      I do not think either myself or Eddie and Brendan have made these political criticisms lightly or in an off-hand manner. They are part of well argued political critiques. Not everyone will agree with the content of these critiques but that is a different thing.

      Just because it is possible to use these types of terms and phrases in an “insulting” way does not mean they should be proscribed words in our discussions and debates about the way forward.

    • 3 Mark P
      February 23, 2012 at 17:29

      I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to explain the SWP’s behaviour, once you’ve read their leaked internal bulletin. They have no experience of collaboratively working with others on an equal basis for a long period of time and are feeling deeply resentful at the limitations that imposes on their behaviour, both in the ULA and in the Household and Water Tax Campaign. Their usual method is to just go ahead and do whatever they decide should be done and then try to bounce everyone else into following them (they think of this as showing leadership, other left activists who have dealt with a time or two think of it as manipulative and sectarian).

      They can’t do that in the ULA (or in the CAHWT) and they have been consistently unable to convince their allies to fall in with their views. So they are trying to change the situation so that they won’t have to. In the ULA they seem to have made the calculation that turning decision making into a mobilising contest gives them a 50-50 shot of getting their way, which is more chance than they have of convincing their allies through discussion and argument.

      On a tactical level, they are presumably aware that independent ULA activists, particularly inexperienced ones, although relatively small in number, will tend to be more impatient to see the ULA move towards party-like structures, if only because the ULA is their primary political home, and so they can play on that in a demagogic manner. More experienced independent ULA activists, like Joan Collins or Brendan Young or Eddie, who have long term experience of the SWP are highly unlikely to fall for the same stunt, because they tend to know how the SWP behave when released from the necessity of actually collaborating with their allies. The consequences of switching to party-like structures while the activist base of the ULA consists primarily of two highly organised blocs would be highly destructive competition rather than increased cooperation and decision making by organisational mobilisation rather than political argument.

      • February 23, 2012 at 18:22

        Are you sure about this position that the non-aligned are a small minority? The informal independents grouping has been informed by a reliable source that the ULA has a membership, at least on paper, of around 600 of whom 40% are non-aligned.

      • 5 Mark P
        February 23, 2012 at 20:21

        I didn’t actually say that the non-aligned are a small minority. They are however a minority on paper, and a smaller minority in activist numbers, and they will punch below their activist numbers because organised people are more effective (as you no doubt agree). Once non-aligned people make up a comfortable majority (and I do mean comfortable) of the activist base these sort of issues will be different, but until they do a decision making system which doesn’t take account of the fact that the activist base is dominated by two highly organised blocs will be a disaster. And people who genuinely hope that they are moving a party-like situation closer will find that they are moving it further away.

        Just to add to my point above, another factor in the SWP’s behaviour is their over-heated perspective. They’ve been absolutely convinced that the big time is just around the corner for years now. And when more grounded people turn out to be right about the situation, they have an inbuilt tendency to assume that it isn’t because they are wrong but instead just a result of failures bred by everyone else’s failings. (The amusing thing is that like a stopped clock the SWP’s permanently excited perspective will eventually be right, at which point they will take it as confirmation that they were right all along).

      • February 23, 2012 at 22:47

        Sorry misinterpreted your comment about the non-aligned being relatively small in number.

        But what happens when the non-aligned do become the absolute majority.

        And if the ULA was to actually start to seriously intervene as the ULA in the anti-household tax campaign that could actually happen pretty quickly.

        Then there would be a transparent democratic deficit. Already the non-aligned are fed up with the situation if Cork is anything to go by, where non-aligned who came in as solid SP supporters are now in open revolt. This would only be exasperated when that democratic deficit was even more blatant.

        Of course there is the possibility of dealing with that by the creation of something aproximating a new party within the alliance by the non-aligned developing our own democratic internal structures and policies etc.

        What would the SP make of such a development?

  2. 7 Mark P
    February 24, 2012 at 09:21

    When the non-aligned become a comfortable majority of the activist base – as the Socialist Party expects and wants them to do – then different structures which reflect that situation will be necessary. And we would favour reducing the formal, structural, power of the affiliated groups, in favour of a more free flowing set up.

    The problem is that we are not in that situation or anything close to that situation, and trying to structure ourselves for the situation we would like to be in rather than the situation we are actually in would be a very big mistake. It would be less democratic to have every decision taken simply on the basis of which of the two organised groupings mobilised more of their members for that particular vote. It would make discussion and argument nearly irrelevant. It would have an inbuilt dynamic towards competitive mobilisation, which would have a destructive centrifugal effect quite apart from it being a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Pretending that we are the organisation we might like to be does not have the effect of moving that organisation closer, but of moving it further away.

    I think that most new and most experienced activists are capable of understanding that, even in the face of entirely cynical arguments for “one man one vote”, which use democratic language as a way of evading the need to collaborate with and convince others. I think that the SWP are playing a dangerous game in trying to manipulate the (understandable) impatience of some independent activists and that anyone who really thinks that they are interested in democracy has clearly never been involved in one of their pop-up front groups. Which makes it all the more important that the ULA as a whole develops outlets for the full democratic participation of non-aligned members in the context of structures which take into account the reality of the current activist base.

    In my view, the ULA’s structure should change and develop with the ULA’s growth and political development, not speculatively in advance of that development. I also think that the SWP will learn to work with others over time – that they have even tried for this long is a new development and it’s not in the greater scheme of things all that surprising that they are chafing at unaccustomed restrictions. Remember though when you hear the SWP talk about “democracy” in the ULA, that in all the years they ran the People Before Profit Alliance it never had a single conference. That’s how sincere their leadership are about their current arguments. Their rank and file, or at least its more inexperienced elements, can be a different story of course.

    • February 24, 2012 at 09:50

      If the non-aligned currently make up 40% of the membership then it would seem to me that we are not very far away from an absolute majority being non-aligned. I guess it depends on what you mean by the non-aligned having to be a “comfortable majority” before you would be in favour of the right of veto being removed and moving to one person one vote. Is that 55% of the total membership, 60%, 70%, 80%?

      Or put in other terms how long would you want a situation of a blatant denial of democratic rights to continue before you would be for any change?

      You also might appreciate that non-aligned people might be somewhat off-put by what amounts to your threat that if we were to move to one person one vote that the SP and SWP would wreck meetings by mobilising their members and supporters in vote rigging manoeuvres. There is already a growing concern among the non-aligned (at least in Cork) over the depth of the commitment of the SP and SWP to the creation of a new party and these kind of threats do not help allay those fears.

      That being said, I personally do believe that you are committed to the creation of a new party of the working class and our disagreement is over the pace and exact details of how that process will occur.

      You will appreciate that I will promote and vote for policies that move in the direction of a new party. Like everything else the pace of development towards that new party will be a question of political struggle and with hindsight any one of us will look back and say that we were too cautious or too optimistic at any particular moment in that development. At the moment I think you are being too cautious and you think I am being overly optimistic – we will see.

      I also share your scepticism over the depth of the SWP’s commitment to democracy and openness given their past involvement in the ULA and other projects and am very cautious about being drawn into anything more than temporary blocs with them over specific issues.

  3. 9 Mark P
    February 24, 2012 at 09:22

    On your other question, I don’t think that it would be possible or desirable to develop something akin to a non-aligned “party” for reasons that should be obvious, but the Socialist Party has no objection to other ULA members meeting, networking, discussing etc.

    • February 24, 2012 at 09:59

      If the non-aligned members of the ULA were to be separately meeting, networking and discussing etc then I think you will have something that looks a lot like a “party”, especially the longer one person one vote is delayed in the ULA as a whole. Indeed this process is almost inevitable unless some bureaucratic measures were taken to stop the development of democratic structures among the non-aligned members – and even that would not stop the process, merely drive it underground.

      This would not be a “party” like the SP or SWP with their high degree of political homogeneity and versions of democratic (bureaucratic?) centralism but still it would be something most people would think of as equivalent to a party – especially when that level of internal organisation was to start to express itself in the form of public publications.

  4. 11 Mark P
    February 24, 2012 at 10:48

    The paper membership is meaningless, as you know. In Cork, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the activist base is non-aligned, and that is likely to be higher than the national average. I’d be reluctant to put specific percentages on it, because all kinds of things could change including the emergence of new currents within the ULA or the accession of organised currents from without, which would change this sort of arithmetic. If the situation changes, our structures should change to take account of that changed situation.

    When you say that you will “promote and vote for policies that move in the direction of a new party” I get the distinct impression that you aren’t actually engaging with my arguments at all. Moving in the direction of a new party is quite distinct from adopting the structures of a new party before we actually are a new party – and crucially, the latter in practice will represent moving away from not towards the former. You either haven’t grasped the distinction or have grasped it but have chosen not to engage with it or even mount an argument against it.

    I am absolutely not making any threats of any kind. I am pointing out the inbuilt tendency of decision making by which of two blocs has more members present for a vote towards competitive mobilisation. The Socialist Party has absolutely no desire to see that happen – it would be destructive and it would be a waste of our time and energy. But as someone who has, unlike almost anyone else who is involved in the ULA, been involved in a number of alliances and broad left parties over the years, I have direct experience of the consequences of premature adoption of party-like structures for an alliance which don’t reflect the nature of the activist base. Even with the best will in the world, every meeting will be a standing temptation, and every time one bloc gives in to the temptation, the temptation to respond in kind is increased. And to be blunt, I don’t think that the SWP have the best will in the world when it comes to this sort of thing in the first place. It is also not a threat to point out that discussion and debate becomes irrelevant if decision making is predetermined by bloc numbers.

    This is not about caution or optimism about the prospects for the ULA. It is about understanding what the ULA is now. If the more optimistic are correct and the ULA advances quickly, then we can change structures quickly. If the more cautious are correct and it takes a longer time, then structural change can take longer. But either way, the ULA right at this very moment is an organisation where it would be willfully blind, self-deceptive and counter-productive to adopt structures which don’t take account of the fact that the bulk of activists are organised into two highly organised blocs.

    I don’t accept by the way that I am arguing for a blatant denial of democratic rights. I want to see the a democratic structure appropriate to an alliance of organised forces and individuals, and in my view that is much more democratic than adopting a structure which pretends that we are all individuals and instead is wide open to abuse by organised forces.

    Just to add, the ironic thing about the Cork situation is that in a straight “one member one vote” situation, the Socialist Party can dominate any time it chooses, because it is larger than the other components in the city. The Socialist Party is arguing against its own sectarian advantage, because it wants a genuine alliance where all forces can collaborate rather than being told what to do. We do not want to capture ourselves – unfortunately this is a lesson that the SWP seem never to have learnt.

    I would be concerned that people like yourself are being used as cannon fodder by a larger force in what is essentially a manoeuver to free themselves from the necessity of collaborating with others on an equal basis. I really think that you should know better than that.

    • February 24, 2012 at 11:54

      You say that figures for “the paper membership is meaningless” but it actually seems fairly accurate to me. My guesstimate of the number of SP, SWP and non-aligned members present at the national gathering in June last year (and presumably indicative of the activist base) was about 1/3 each so to now be told that the non-aligned membership was 40% does not seem particularly unrealistic to me.

      But it is true that the ULA is not projecting into society as you would expect from a functioning organisation with supposedly around 600 members nationally.

      So you may have a point in that many ULA branches are effectively inactive, as compared to Cork or Galway, so most of the membership is therefore inactive and indeed only a “paper membership”. But in terms of actively intervening in the class struggle as ULA members this would be just as true for the SP and SWP members as it is for the non-aligned members. Though I do recognise that the centralised discipline of the two organisations could see these paper members turn into active ULA members at a moments notice if a decision was made to do so while such a transformation of inactive non-aligned members would be much more difficult.

      When the non-aligned membership of the ULA becomes greater than 50% of the total membership it is hard to see how it could be argued on any basis that it remained democratic for there not to be a one person one vote basis to decision making. You can make an argument for the reality of the antagonism between the two major organised groupings and the likelihood of sectarian tit-for-tat meeting stacking meaning that these democratic rights have to continue to be denied, as you do, but that is a slightly different thing.

      As regards the specific membership of the ULA in Cork – the actual balance of forces is that the SP do not have an absolute majority of the regular attendees at branch meetings – as we saw at the AGM where if the SWP and non-aligned all voted together on any issue then the SP was in a minority.

      It is however possible that some of the inactive members of the ULA in Cork are SP members and supporters and therefore you could stack the meetings if you wanted – I will know better when I get access to the membership list as a branch steering committee member.

      In fact we have already seen the use of the tactic of stacking the meeting by the SP and SWP (when they were blocing together on organisational issues) at the infamous Cork branch meeting back on 14 June last year (revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/“the-ula-is-not-an-organisation”-says-sp-leader/).

      At that time most of the non-aligned didn’t realise what was happening but after nearly a years worth of never seeing some of those people at branch meetings again it would now be recognised for what it was if it was ever tried again. Which isn’t to say that any particular votes at a specific meeting couldn’t be manipulated by the SP in this way but the loss of political credibility would be significant and would only tend to push the non-aligned towards the SWP.

      Your concern is appreciated but as I have pointed out I am well aware of the potential for political game-playing by the SWP and the dangers of being the tail that thinks it is wagging the dog. But at the same time I have a responsibility to argue for what I believe is necessary. I think in reality you will find me treading an independent path, sometimes blocing with the SP, sometimes with the SWP and sometimes opposing them both. As indeed I have done since the very formation of the Cork branch and in the process moving from having very little support among the non-aligned to now being unanimously supported as one of our two reps on the branch steering committee.

      • 13 Mark P
        February 24, 2012 at 13:58

        Let’s be clear about this, the Socialist Party has considerably more than 11 activists in Cork. Just 13 turning up to a meeting would, at present, represent an insurmountable voting bloc. The Socialist Party is opposed to a structure which would, if it were so minded, allow it to do that, precisely because it is not so minded. But you should bear in mind that in the concrete circumstances we are talking about, “one member one vote” means that the Sociaist Party has the ability to override everyone else except in so far as it chooses not to do so. I don’t think that’s desirable, and I don’t think it’s more “democratic” than a local branch operating by consensus.

        As for the numbers we are talking about nationally, I’m of the view that there would have to be a reasonably comfortable majority of non-aligned activists before we could reasonably hope to move past structures based on organisational affiliation. You are countering with a suggestion that a bare paper majority should be enough, even if in reality national meetings would see a minority of non-aligned. I obviously think that you are wrong, but the important thing is that both of us are talking about a situation which does not currently exist. The non-aligned are a minority both on paper and even more so in practice, and the majority are organised into two blocs. Our structures for the moment should reflect that, and trying to pretend that we are already the organisation we would like to be will move that organisation further away not closer. Do you actually disagree with me?

        As for your independence, I don’t doubt that you agree with the Socialist Party sometims and the SWP sometimes, but when it comes to this concrete issue, which is one that in my view has the potential to do very serious damage to the ULA’s prospects, you seem to be putting yourself into a position to be used by the SWP.

      • February 24, 2012 at 14:51

        All very interesting.

        Well I’ve been to a good few SP public meetings and been on a good few demonstrations over the past 5 years I’ve lived in Cork and most recently participated very closely alongside them in the anti-household tax campaign. In that time I’ve come to know the SP in Cork reasonably well and I would have put the number of SP activists in Cork (or at least the ones who bother to come to public meetings and demonstrations and participate in the anti-household tax campaign) at around 15 as an absolute maximum.

        But lets says you are right and the SP activists in Cork are as much as 20 (to be generous with the numbers) there are a couple of things that spring to mind.

        Firstly, that makes them barely a majority of the current ULA membership in Cork which I understand to stand at 39.

        Secondly, as I pointed out in a previous comment if they were to mobilise this largely paper membership (what else to call people who do not regularly come to ULA branch meetings or participate in its events) to bloc vote there would be a huge political price to pay among the existing non-aligned.

        Thirdly, it would therefore seem that the SP gives ULA activities quite a low priority as I have at most seen 1/2 that number at any of the ULA events that have been organised in Cork in the past year and often there are far fewer.

        You also may be surprised to know that the ULA branch has in fact operated on a one member one vote, to the extent we ever make decisions, since its formation and this was the case again at the AGM. Mick Barry himself said so during the discussion on whether the right of veto should be retained on the branch steering committee. Though there was of course uproar when this was formalised with the passing of the last of the member’s motions – a vote that ironically was itself done on the basis of one member one vote.

        As regards the substantive issue of the framework for organising the ULA nationally. I agree that it should not be just an issue of paper memberships (and for me that means both non-aligned and SP/SWP paper members). We need the ULA to become a real organisation that actually intervenes in the class struggle as the ULA and in the process sorts out who are the real members and who are the paper ones and recruits some new real ones.

        I have heard a lot from both the SP & SWP about the need to do this. Fine, but the practice has been lacking. The SP have to their credit not been as bad as the SWP (which makes the SWP’s current posture look particularly dubious – do they really think people have no memories of even only a few months ago?) but the reality is that at all of the demonstrations that have occurred in the past year both organisations have presented primarily as themselves rather than as the ULA. It is therefore no wonder that significant sections of the ULA non-aligned membership are just paper members when the ULA isn’t real and hasn’t provided them with any perspective of becoming real any time soon. There are at present some signs that is about to change but I am unclear whether it represents a real commitment or is a sub-set of the jousting between the two major groups for control of the project.

        You imply that you are doing this as a conscious decision. Well I say junk that and become active as ULA members. Lets have all the ULA members participating regularly in ULA meetings and events. If that means the SP has a majority in Cork then so be it – at least it would begin to look like a real organisation that would be attractive to new recruits and that supposed SP majority would quickly fall by the wayside.

        My general perspective is to be an active part of the process of trying to make the ULA as real as possible, particularly for the non-aligned. I believe I can make a positive contribution to that without becoming a pawn of either the SP or SWP.


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