longer report on yesterdays ULA conference

Total membership is given as 370 so that is about 120 each for the SP & SWP as the WUAG seem not to be individual members of the ULA at all.

The SWP were posturing as the ultra-democrats, with a lot of formally correct criticisms of the SP and WUAG’s conservatism on making fundamental changes to the Alliance structure in the direction of one-person one-vote. But I am doubtful that the SWP can be completely trusted to remain committed to this as there was no explanation of this marked change from 6 months ago and even some re-writing of history with their complaints about attacks on them for not building the ULA previously claiming they had in fact always been the best builders of the ULA – which is of course far from the truth.

Potentially much more significant was the SP’s argument that something significant had changed in the mood/consciousness of the working class, primarily as a result of the success of the anti-household tax campaign, and that there was now a real opportunity to build the ULA. 

So it might be that there could be a change with both the SP & SWP giving the ULA much more emphasis as compared to primarily presenting as themselves as has been the case so far. As a result there could be some recruitment of more non-aligned to the ULA in the coming period and it wouldn’t take too much for that to become a majority of non-aligned in the organisation.  

The non-aligned met separately at the end of conference and set a date of 9 June for a meeting in Dublin of all non-aligned to discuss organising ourselves better. Therese and Joseph will get the list of 130 non-aligned reps so that they can all be brought on board. There was quite a strong feeling among the non-aligned for the need for a publication of political discussion and if the ULA nationally doesn’t do that then I suspect the non-aligned might do it ourselves.

I was put forward as the alternate non-aligned rep to the national steering committee, in case Therese or Joseph can’t make it to any meetings, in the interim until the 9 June meeting which will review that.

There is going to be another conference in the autumn, probably November, so the ULA will survive until then and the next few months could be crucial in terms of recruitment and building the forces within the ULA in favour of moving from the alliance framework to that of a proper party.

So overall it was a much more positive conference than last year and there is an opening for the recruitment of significant new layers which could force a more major move towards the creation of a new party at the November conference. 


14 Responses to “longer report on yesterdays ULA conference”

  1. 1 Mark P
    April 29, 2012 at 20:32

    The SWP posturing as advocates of “democracy” was so absurd as to be actually funny. They are arguing for the “democracy” of the packed meeting, nothing more, nothing less.

    Given the actual activist numbers currently involved in the ULA, abolishing the consensus/affiliation structure and moving to straight individual voting would simply result in every decision being decided by which of the Socialist Party or the SWP mobilise more of their members on that day. It is always worth noting when evaluating the sincerity of the SWP’s demagogy that they have controlled People Before Profit for many years now and it still has no democratic structures at all and indeed has yet to have its first conference.

    On a more positive note, there did seem to be agreement that there are more substantial opportunities to build the ULA in its own right now. The CAHWT has already started to produce new activists.

    • April 30, 2012 at 00:23

      The coming period will be a test of the commitment of both the SP & SWP to the ULA project. Will either or both be prepared to make the ULA more orb priority. Talk at a conference is easy, actually doing it is much more difficult.

    • 3 micky joe
      May 1, 2012 at 18:46

      If one member one vote leads to packing of meetings why then were the Socialist party so kean on it for CAHWT national conference??

      • 4 Mark P
        May 1, 2012 at 22:20

        Who said anything as silly as “one member one vote leads to packing of meetings”? Certainly not me and certainly not the Socialist Party.

        In circumstances where an organisation is numerically dominated by two highly organised groups, ignoring that fact in choosing a structure makes things less democratic not more because decisions will end up be made by whichever of those two groups mobilises more people. That doesn’t mean that every organisation should structure itself as if it is numerically dominated by two highly organised groups.

        If an established and highly organised left group was trying to pack the CAHWT conference they would be better off arguing for a delegate conference based on local groups, because experienced, confident, organised left activists could get themselves elected as delegates in disproportionate numbers relatively easily. While they will tend to be swamped in an open conference.

      • May 1, 2012 at 23:06

        Actually the supposed danger of a competition between the SP and SWP over stacking meetings where each was strong in the ULA is exactly the argument used by SP comrades against one-person one-vote.

      • 6 pat
        May 1, 2012 at 22:25

        Because that will be a conference where any one group will only make a tiny minority, certainly less than 10% anyway, and tjherefore would not be in a position to ‘pack’. In fact the conference being organised the way it is, means that non-party political members will make up the vast majority of the attendance, that is as it should be and this is the only way to make sure that happens.

        This is actually the opposite of what exists in the ULA, and is the direction the Socialist Party would like the ULA to go.

      • May 1, 2012 at 23:43

        Clearly the ULA is a significantly different type of organisation from the CAHWT and analogies about their organisations structures aren’t particularly helpful.

        That being said the idea that this “open” CAHWT conference is somehow more democratic than a delegated one doesn’t hold up in my opinion. Neither does the idea that this type of conference will limit the influence of the left groups.

        The reality is that the left groups will be very cohesive blocs at these conferences and will be present without any accountability to their local groups. I actually think that the influence of the left groups will be far greater at this type of conference than if we had a delegate conference and it is not an accident both the SP & SWP opposed a delegate conference. Does anyone seriously believe that these two groups are suddenly on favour of a proposal which would limit their influence. I’m sorry but this is not my experience of the two groups and I don’t really believe it.

        It is also clearly less democratic that a self-selected and necessarily Dublin-centric small minority of the total number of activists will make the decisions for the whole campaign. The vast bulk of the activists will not be present and without accountable delegates how will their views be expressed at the conference?

      • 8 Mark P
        May 1, 2012 at 23:22

        RP, If that was a response to me, I’m not sure that you’ve read my argument correctly.

        Different decision making structures are appropriate in different circumstances. An organisation which is numerically dominated by two highly organised groups needs to take that into account. An organisation which involves very large numbers of other people does not.

      • May 1, 2012 at 23:45

        Apologies I thought it was a reference to the discussion on ULA structures, where that exact argument has been used.

  2. 10 Mark P
    May 2, 2012 at 00:04

    RP, just to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that anyone’s views on the best way to hold a CAHWT conference were being decided by their desire to avoid packing (or to pack). I hope that the CAHWT is just too big at this point for that to be an issue. I was just responding to what was, as you note yourself, a slightly silly comparison.

    The reasons I favour an open membership conference for the CAHWT are that it will allow the maximum number of new activists to attend and integrating and involving those people is a crucial task at the moment. And secondarily that it will sidestep the problem that the CAHWT branch structure is very different in different places, involving vastly different areas. I’m not necessarily against a delegate conference in the future (and this is likely to be a long struggle). I agree that there also reasonable arguments which can be made for a delegate conference.

    As an aside, my recollection of the Irish Anti War Movement, when it was quite a subtantial organisation, is that there was always a disproportionately high number of existing left activists at delegate meetings, as they found it very easy to get elected when they were often the only experienced people in a group. The local group I was in filled its delegate spots with left group members on every occasion, despite those people being a minority of those involved locally.

    • May 2, 2012 at 08:47

      My problem is that I think this conference should be about best expressing the will of the national campaign as manifest in the activists actively involved in their local groups.

      This “open” conference is a very blunt instrument in achieving this and is clearly much worse at doing this than a delegated conference.

      Why anyone would want the conference to express the will of the campaign in a less than optimal way makes no sense to me.

      This conference will necessarily, because of its location, be massively tilted towards involvement by people from Dublin with the vast majority of activists from elsewhere under-represented in comparison. This is clearly undemocratic with most activists having no democratic way to have their views represented at the conference. This is the reason very large organisations almost always use the delegate structure – to provide for the most democratic input from all the organisation.

      There is also the issue of accountability. Having discussions in local groups which then go on to elect their delegates on the basis of that discussion means those delegates will have to report back and explain how they voted at the conference. This “open” conference completely removes accountability from the equation and that is a very bad precedent to be making.

      I find it amazing that self-proclaimed democratic socialists like the SP can seriously be supporting a proposal which is so obviously less democratic than the alternative of a delegated conference.

      The cynic in me therefore actually thinks your second point is what this is really about. There are indeed some areas of the country, notably in Dublin, where the number of activists in their local group as compared to the population of the area they are responsible for is much smaller than in other areas where the local groups are organised on the basis of much smaller population areas – like in Cork for instance. Which means that in Cork there is a far higher involvement in campaign organising meetings by newly politicised activists.

      This is the real issue for getting new layers really involved – at the level of creating real local groups that better reflect their local communities directly.

      The alternative model of a single organising group responsible for a very large area, like in Limerick or Dublin South-West, inevitably discourages involvement by these layers of newly politicised activists in the decision making processes of the campaign – they are redcuded instead to the role of largely passive workers for the campaign.

      Trying to make up for this deficit by inviting them to attend this conference is a fake way of involving them as compared to creating functioning decision making groups with real roots in their local communities.

  3. 12 Mark P
    May 2, 2012 at 17:30

    The problem, RP, with insisting on the smallest possible area per group is that while it may create stronger campaigns in areas with strong local groups, it will tend to leave whole areas of the country uncovered. This was a persistent problem in the Dublin City Council area bin tax campaign and is potentially a much bigger problem in a campaign dealing with the whole country. Non payment campaigns have to have bodies responsible for organising, building and maintaining non-payment in every suburb, village, street and boreen. It is nearly pointless to have a strong group in one village if there is no work being done in the two neighbouring villages. This means that a flexibility in the scale of organising matters a lot.

    There is nothing wrong with very local groups, as long as there is a basis for it. But much of the time there isn’t a basis for it, because it would leave significant holes in the patchwork. It is vital not to have a predecided, one-size fits all organisational form. It needs to reflect local conditions.

    • May 2, 2012 at 18:24

      Surely the key is in the phrase “as possible”. The stated aim of the campaign is to organise in every community across the country. We haven’t reached that aim, and maybe never will. So it means some local communities don’t have enough activists to form a viable group so they have to work with other local communities in a committee covering a larger area – we have some examples of that in Cork. That is fine but I am at a loss to see why that means a delegate structure is inappropriate.

      The fact that some local groups cover larger areas than the others isn’t an argument against a delegate structure. At best it is an argument for some kind of weighting of number of delegates to population of the area covered.

      I suggested the following on the national steering committee email list as a first approximation for such a weighting:

      2 delegates for local groups representing an area with a population up to 10,000
      3 delegates for local groups representing an area with a population between 10,000 and 25,000
      4 delegates for local groups representing an area with a population between 25,000 and 50,000
      5 delegates for local groups representing an area with a population over 50,000

      It seems fairly clear that this approach deals with concerns about those campaign groups which cover larger population areas while having all the democratic advantages of a system of accountable delegates.

      This seems completely straight forward and I am at a complete loss as to why any socialist would oppose it.

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