ula leadership signs up to Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty without even a nod to a democratic discussion within the membership

Platform of the Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty (tomasoflatharta.com/2012/03/04/vote-no-to-austerity-europe-no-to-the-treaty-on-stability-co-ordination-and-governance-platform-of-the-campaign-against-the-austerity-treaty/)

This is the latest initiative I, and every other ULA member, has been signed up to without any input from us members.

Now I imagine that most, if not all, ULA members are for a No vote but it might not be the case that we are all quite so happy about being signed up to this particular coalition on this particualr platform. Maybe we would be but it does point to the serious democratic deficit in the organisation when these kind of decisions can be made with no discussion at all within the wider organisation.


13 Responses to “ula leadership signs up to Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty without even a nod to a democratic discussion within the membership”

  1. 1 Mark P
    March 6, 2012 at 13:10

    Surely this is about the most unexceptional decision the leadership of a left alliance could make. I’m unaware of even one ULA member advocating a Yes vote, and founding some kind of rival campaign to the Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty would be sectarian idiocy. They could have delayed signing up until after conference, but then you’d probably be moaning that the likes of Paul Murphy and other public reps were only representing their component organisations for the first two months of the campaign.

    • March 6, 2012 at 14:40

      I wasn’t suggesting the possibility of ULA members advocating a Yes vote – it seems to me the two possible options are for a No vote or an abstention. The argument for an abstention being that this is a distraction from the real fight against austerity which, without a fundamental change in the class basis of how Ireland is run and governed, will continue whatever the result of the referendum vote.

      I am pretty much convinced of a No vote position myself but an abstention is clearly a possibility.

      As regards there being no choice but to join this campaign – well that is actually far from clear. Choosing to hook up with Sinn Fein means that the politics presented by CAAT will at best be limited to soft social democratic demands (as per the agreed platform) and given their social weight and resources it is likely that SF will dominate the campaign. Once again there are arguments either way about whether those negatives are outweighed by the positives that participation in a unitary national campaign can bring. But it is hardly “sectarian idiocy” to consider alternative options based on advocating a campaign that drew a clearer class line in opposing austerity.

      But the main point I am making is not so much about the detail of the decision to participate in CAAT but rather the process of how that decision was made. It is hardly a question of delaying this, or any other decision, until the conference but rather this being another example of a political culture where all the decisions are made by the leadership without any consultation with the membership. Now maybe that is the kind of organisation you are wanting to build but it is not my idea of a healthy workers’ organisation.

      • 3 Mark P
        March 6, 2012 at 16:10

        I suspect that you will find almost as few people in the ULA advocating an abstention as you will find advocating a Yes, which is to say none of the latter and none or perhaps one or two of the former. Even the Anarchists, who are not in the ULA but are the mostly likely people on the left here to make abstention arguments, are for a No, albeit not particularly enthusiastically. If the leadership of an organisation can’t go ahead and make a decision on which there is near zero in the way of significant disagreement, then the organisation will be completely paralysed and may as well not have a leadership at all.

        As for the platform of the Campaign Against the Austerity Treaty, it is a broadly left wing but very minimal basis for participation in the campaign. It in no way involves agreement not to raise more radical arguments, and indeed ULA reps have already been raising more radical arguments in the media and at the Campaign public meeting last night. Really, given your experience as an activist, I can only assume that you are being disingenuous about this. It is perfectly normal and reasonable for a single issue campaign or struggle to operate on the basis of a minimum platform or set of demands, while leaving the organisations involved free to raise their distinct political ideas both inside and outside the campaign.

        You know and I know and the ULA steering committee knows that there would be no significant disagreement in the ULA on whether to call for a No vote and that there would be no significant disagreement on signing up to the CAAT. Delaying involvement so as to have an entirely pointless and predecided discussion (because there’s nobody on the other side) would be frivolous at best. And it would serve only to further the idea that the ULA is an afterthought, because the affiliates were certain to sign up immediately and participate themselves.

        These bleedin’ obvious decisions are quite distinct from the issue of what arguments the ULA itself should be making on the issue of the Treaty (sorry, “compact”), something which branches should certainly discuss over the course of the campaign.

      • March 6, 2012 at 17:11

        I also suspect that the vast majority of ULA members will be for a No vote.

        However the decision to join CAAT is less clear cut. As an experienced activist I know that when I am in a bloc with forces to my right and they have significantly greater social weight then there is a very real danger that my separate and different message will be lost, or at least badly diluted, because the general public will associate the message of the bigger group with everyone in the bloc.

        Sometimes that risk is worth taking sometimes it is not.

        In this case I certainly don’t have your confidence that it is so clearly the right thing to do.

        But anyway even if I concede both points as completely clear and obvious decisions that doesn’t change the main point I am making.

        I do believe in having a leadership but when it comes to making new initiatives then I think a different political method should apply.

        In general more discussion among the membership is a good thing and will lead to better decisions that more accurately reflect the view of the organisation as a whole.

        Sometimes there will be time constraints that mean discussion has to be curtailed and the leadership has to decide.

        That doesn’t seem to be the case here. There was clearly time for at least some discussion among the wider membership.

        And more importantly it is just another example of an organisation where the leadership never consults the membership about the initiatives it takes (other than at the ULA national gatherings which by their very nature only frame things at a very general level and are not binding on the leadership anyway).

        This is the reality of the political culture in the ULA and it is not healthy.

      • 5 Mark P
        March 7, 2012 at 13:04

        I think that you are picking a poor example to illustrate a wider point which may or may not have merit. Where it is certain that there will be no or extremely little disagreement, the leadership should move as quickly as possible. Doing otherwise would unnecessarily limit the ULA’s involvement in the early part of the campaign and artificially suppress its profile, two things I would hope and assume you are against.

        I have no problem agreeing with you that single issue campaigns where the most right wing force has the greatest social weight present potential problems which should be born in mind, and which I would encourage you to raise. The ULA should participate in and indeed play a leading role in the CAAT, but the arguments which the ULA makes both within and outside the CAAT should not be limited to things agreeable to a populist formation like Sinn Fein.

      • 6 Mark P
        March 7, 2012 at 13:08

        I forgot to add:

        Similarly, I don’t have any problem with the ULA leadership deciding to push Clare Daly’s abortion bill or with the ULA holding public meetings on the issue without waiting for a full internal discussion on the issue. While, of course, thinking that it would be a good thing to have a full internal discussion of the subject.

      • March 10, 2012 at 08:34

        But the thing you continually avoid is that there is never any discussion before decisions are made or positions are taken. Any individual decision or position taken can of course be defended but what we have here is a pattern of a completely unaccountable leadership who sees no need whatsoever to even try to consult with the membership. This is a bad political culture for any workers’ organisation that claims to stand in the tradition of democratic socialism.

  2. 8 redarmyleader
    March 12, 2012 at 22:56

    First, I think an extremely important issue to be concerned about which was barely mentioned in this discussion is how the ULA is going to relate to the referendum as an independent political and organizational force. I don’t think being a part of coalitions or united-front’s must exclude the political independence of an organization; on the contrary, I think this is a basic principle revolutionaries must insist of any united-front or coalition formed concerning a particular issue. I am not arguing against the need for democratic discussion within an organization on whether it should join a united-front – this is a crucial necessity – or belittling the need to have clarity and basic agreement on the general platform of an united-front – also a crucial point. However, because there seems to be within the ULA general support for a No Vote position, the issue then becomes on which basis is the ULA functioning as an independent political force within the CAAT and the referendum.

    This brings me to larger questions and concerns I have regarding the ULA. While I still have things to learn about the ULA, my concern is that it is merely the latest incantation of the “united left” projects that have existed over the past several years. These “united left” projects seem to serve more like a support group of the embattled and socially isolated left than an effort to create an independent revolutionary leadership for the working-class and oppressed. These projects end in two ways; either they adopt opportunistic practices and policies based on the desire to not be “embattled and isolated” and simply adapts to anything that moves (this happens 99% of the time), or they self implode whenever they meet with some measure of success that makes it possible to function as an independent, revolutionary political force (e.g. the Scottish SSP or British Respect).

    My question to you is what makes the ULA different from the rest? On what basis do you participate inside the ULA and what do you hope to achieve? What do you think is achievable within the ULA, and do you think it is necessary to have activity outside of the ULA as well?

    • March 13, 2012 at 11:31

      How the ULA will balance participation in CAAT and presenting its own message is indeed an important issue and one I will be interested in watching closely. It is unclear to me how much opportunity we will have in Cork to influence this, but to the extent we are able to I will be doing all I can to maximise an independent class based message.

      Regarding your question on the wider picture of whether the ULA is just another “united left” project. I think that is as yet unclear and the coming period, culminating in the 28 April conference, could well be decisive. In the particular case of the ULA it seems there is another danger in that it could just wither on the vine by being held in the alliance phase by those elements who hold to the schema of first needing a mass influx of members before any real change in terms of empowering the membership can be allowed to occur – without seeing that some real change needs to happen to facilitate the potential for that mass influx of new members.

      I must confess that I am not particularly optimistic at this moment in time as the tensions between the SP & SWP over who has control of the project look likely to break out into open warfare at any time. They might manage to hold it together as an electoral bloc flag of convenience but making a decisive step forward in the direction of a new party would require them both to make a far greater commitment to the project than they so far seem able to do as neither trusts the other.

      In terms of my own participation in organisational terms I am seeking to participate in all initiatives to move in the direction of a new party. And politically I take all opportunities to be part of discussions around the programme a new workers’ party will need to have. Like with my presentation at the public meeting last night when I didn’t just limit myself to the activity of the anti-household tax campaign but tried to draw out some central political aspects of it. And of course with my blog and the election statement I will be producing when I stand as a non-aligned rep for the national steering committee.

      The reality is that my main political activity is outside the ULA, primarily in the anti-household tax campaign, and I also maintain close relations with the Workers Solidarity Movement.

  3. March 15, 2012 at 03:37

    Can anyone actually confirm the ULA(as opposed to its constituents) is represented inside the CAAT, or even the CAHWT for that matter? Who attends those meetings representing soley the ULA?

    Also, on the ground, the forces to the left of SF have more than enough heft about them to ensure we are not drowned out by Sinn Fein. SF may have branches in a few rural spots that more radical elements don’t reach yet, but I think the CAHWT has shown we have the ability to wage a national campaign to be reckoned with.

    I think it is also possible, that through interaction with the ULA, the grassroots of SF may find themselves more impressed with the genuine left than their own leadership. See some Sinn Fein branches now breaking the party line and unofficially joining the CAHWT?

    • March 15, 2012 at 09:18

      Regarding the issue of organisational representation in CAAT and CAHWT.

      For CAHWT this is not an issue as there is no organisational affiliation and everyone participates as an individual. That being said whenever SP or SWP comrades do give an organisational affiliation for themselves it is almost always as the SP/SWP rather than the ULA.

      CAAT is different in that it is an explicit bloc between organisations. As with similar initiatives like the Campaign Against Austerity that the ULA has signed up to the exact nature of this organisational affiliation and how it manifests itself is unclear as the leadership do not inform the membership of such things – we just get told we are now part of this coalition.

    • March 15, 2012 at 09:30

      As regards the weight of SF in CAAT I am not sure the analogy with the CAHWT is valid. One of the things that has allowed the CAHWT to grow is the involvement of people from across the political spectrum in a framework that very consciously and explicitly refuses to highlight political affiliations.

      CAAT is different in that it is exactly an umbrella coalition of organisations.

      I think it is just factually wrong to argue that the combined forces of the left groups on CAAT has a greater social weight than SF. The resources available to SF, both monetary and personnel, dwarf those of the left. Just compare the size of the electoral machines at the last election in terms of candidates amd constitiencies active in. If SF choose to throw themselves into the anti-treaty campaign then they will be by far the dominant force.

      Which is not in-of-itself not a reason to participate in CAAT but it is a reality that cannot be wished away.

  4. 13 paulmurphysp
    March 24, 2012 at 23:44

    The reality is though that SF has chosen specifically not to throw themselves into CAAT. They have not attended one meeting yet. I would say they have made a relatively clear decision to go it basically alone, doing the odd press conference perhaps with the rest of us. It means the weight of the left, including independent ULA members, is quite significant in this campaign so far.

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