Report on ULA national steering committee meeting

Report on ULA national steering committee meeting on 14 November

On 27 October I was elected as one of the non-aligned reps to the national steering committee of the ULA (see my election programme here). I see it as part of my role as a representative not only to be open about what political programme I stand for, but also to keep ULA members informed of steering committee discussions and the positions I take on issues as they come up. I will be posting regularly on this blog about steering committee meetings and other issues.

My first ULA NSC meeting was on Wednesday evening and I was attending remotely from Cork. Due to the lack of a promised Skype connection, I had to participate via a mobile phone being passed around which was far from satisfactory from a technical point of view and at times I found it hard to hear all that was being said.

Even allowing for these problems I had in following, and participating in, the discussion it was overall quite a strange meeting. The major agenda points were:

Proposal for an extended NSC meeting, including the TDs, to review the state of the ULA.

This meeting, proposed by Clare Daly and Joan Collins was postponed until Saturday 12 January. There was however a preliminary comment by the SP that they were not happy with the overall direction of the ULA and considered it to be in a “damaged state”, not least from the ongoing issues over Mick Wallace – this was to be something which came up again in the meeting.

Pre-budget statement

A draft, mainly written by Richard Boyd Barrett and Paul Murphy, has been circulated and discussed on the steering committee list. There was discussion on the process for getting it finalised in time to get media attention prior to the budget.

The other non-aligned rep Eddie Conlon and I criticised the process for having started too late and not having involved the non-aligned members in any way.

I had already attacked the draft on the NSC email list for being an overtly reformist document. I spoke to repeat the following point I had raised on that email list:

On a more general point it seems to me that there is actually an inherent problem in putting forward an alternative budget at all – even one with policies that can only realistically be enacted under a workers government. A “budget” is explicitly a set of policies for a bourgeois government to carry out. That is nothing to do with the socialist project as we want a fundamental transformation of the socio-economic basis of society and anyway any such alternative budget is inherently reformist.

The job of socialists is not to present an alternative budget for how the capitalists should run their society but rather to outline a program for action, and then sketch atransitional program of workers struggle leading to workers power.

This critique was not answered other than it being asked if anyone supported me – obviously they didn’t so they just ignored me and went on with their preparations. It would seem these so-called “revolutionary socialists” do think it is their job to give advice on how capitalism should be run.

24 November anti-austerity protest

Kieran Allen proposed a two-pronged focus by the ULA of calling for a general strike and opposing the household charge/property tax. This was generally agreed. I attempted to get clarity on what the content of the call for a general strike might be – e.g. “build towards” – but my concern seemed to be ignored (the call quality was particularly bad in this section of the meeting as the discussion became a bit informal).

Kieran also proposed the ULA organise some kind of popular assembly at the end of the event, which was agreed.

There was also agreement that the ULA would mobilise a sizable contingent with our own banners and placards. I questioned whether this was actually feasible given the significant overlap in building the CAHWT contingent for all the components of the ULA. Eddie agreed with this concern but we were pretty much ignored.

It was decided that it wouldn’t be possible to organise a joint ULA leaflet but each of the components would include the agreed slogans and advertise the assembly event.

A sub-group was set-up to plan the details of all this – particularly the assembly at the end.

Registering a name for electoral purposes

This was the most contentious issue of the meeting. Eddie said he thought it had been agreed at the last steering committee meeting to register the ULA name but this was not accurately reflected in the minutes which reported that SP-ULA, PBP-ULA & Independent-ULA were the names to be put forward. Of course if the two founding organisations choose to re-register their own name that was up to them but the non-aligned were clear that we wanted the ULA name registered. I backed this up, pointing out that it was the one item from the national meeting of the non-aligned that had got unanimous support and that we were for all candidates of the ULA standing under the name of the ULA.

Neither the SWP/PBP or SP supported the proposal with the SP particularly vehement against the idea. They pointed out that registering just the ULA would imply things were moving forward (which Eddie explained was indeed the aim from the non-aligned’s point of view as it would indicate that the groups were committed to the project) when in fact the SP thought this was a jump far ahead and they have certain issues with where the ULA currently is and indeed a question mark over the future of the whole project. They even went so far as to say that if this went ahead they would stand separate candidates as the SP.

They also presented a secondary argument that registering the ULA would give credence to the likes of Clare Daly who also might stand under that banner – the implication clearly being that they have major issues with Clare continuing as part of the ULA.

The discussion ended with the whole issue of registration being shelved because there was no consensus.

What should be raised by the ULA during the private members session in the week beginning 26 November

We quickly came to agreement that it should be something on abortion rights with two issues of contention.

Firstly about co-signing with Wallace. The SP were hard on this issue and attacked Clare Daly for mentioning Mick Wallace co-sponsoring the previous private members bill on the X case when she spoke at the protest outside the Dáil and for sitting next to him in the chamber. Eddie and I agreed that any motion should just be signed by the ULA. Kieran said he didn’t care and would be happy to co-sign with Wallace or even Sinn Fein, however he didn’t invoke his right of veto and so Joe was sent away to organise something on the basis of ULA only signing.

Then there was discussion over what the political content might be. Michael O’Brien from the SP correctly pointed out that even legislation for the X-case might not have been sufficient to save Savita Halappanavar’s life and shouldn’t we be thinking of posing danger to health rather than just death as a reason for allowing an abortion. I argued that if we were going to go further than just calling for legislation on the X-case then surely it should be in line with the new ULA policy of support for free abortion on demand.

The SP agreed but it was tempered by Kieran with instruction to Joe to go back to the TD group and get the best that he could.

Agenda for the branch council meeting on Sunday 25 November

It was decided to include both abortion and an initial discussion on the state of the ULA. At this point the SP indicated that they would have a few motions on some specific issues (unspecified) related to this. I pointed out that the non-aligned had been concerned over motions being presented on the day and a concession was made to extend the deadline for motions until Monday 19 Nov so that these new SP motions would have time to be sent out to delegates at least a few days before the council meeting.

The non-aligned’s proposal to increase the NSC members to 3 from each grouping with a minimum of 1 woman from each grouping

This wasn’t concretely decided on but both the SP & SWP/PBP indicated they had no opposition to it.

The next meeting will be on Saturday 1 December to allow me to attend in person.

The SP were raising very serious doubts about the whole project. While they didn’t give any explicit details it did seem clear that one of those was Clare Daly and her continued link to Mick Wallace. These doubts manifest themselves most strongly in the discussion on the registration of the ULA name with them being completely opposed to the idea as it might give the impression that it meant the ULA was moving forward towards a party in any way.

And yet at the same time they were quite happy to support the SWP/PBP idea that there will be a mass mobilisation of the ULA, as the ULA, including by both these groups, at the 24 November demonstration. Given that this kind of ULA mobilisation has never actually happened at any previous big protest and we have the added problem of all parts of the ULA being involved in organising the CAHWT contingents on the demo this seems to be in complete contradiction to all their doubts and concerns about the state of the ULA they had been referring to earlier. I would be very surprised if the two organisations provide more than a token number of members for this ULA contingent.

Meanwhile, the SP and SWP are unified over producing a reformist pre-budget statement.


7 Responses to “Report on ULA national steering committee meeting”

  1. November 18, 2012 at 13:43

    This report is informitaive and performs a very useful function. It is clear that using the ULA name on a ballot paper is not the same as treating the Alliance as a party so the objections to it are really objections to the Alliance itself albeit we await how this will end up being justified. The ULA was created as a vehicle dependent on a mutual veto which only works if the world stays the same and any changes which any party doesn’t like can be vetoed. Unfortunately the world changes and in ways outside the control of the various parties. This now makes it difficult and the difficulty may perhaps be expressed in movers to either/both expel Clare Daly or withdrawal by the SWP/PbP or some other moves which make the ULA not a vehicle for unity but a vehicle for disunity.

    • November 18, 2012 at 13:53

      It would seem we will have a better idea of how the SP proposes to deal with the current crisis when it presents its motions for the national branch council.

      Cork has a branch meeting on Wednesday, which will focus on those motions and selecting delegates for the national branch council. Taking the contributions to the email discussion in response to my proposal to have a meeting it seems the Cork SP were ambivalent about meeting and had to be pushed into allowing the meeting to occur with the Cork SWP being initially split on the question before eventually agreeing with having the meeting.

  2. 3 Jim Monaghan
    November 18, 2012 at 15:35

    I regret to say that it is basically over. I think the SP are looking for an exit. Daly is giving them an excuse. The most we can hope for is an electoral alliance. Given FF coming back from the dead, it is back to politics as usual. Just a few Gregorys instead of a party with a vision.

  3. November 18, 2012 at 21:47

    Left reformism is in crisis as there is no prospect of a return to the post WW2 boom conditions that gave it some credibility. The ULA was entered into by some people because they wanted to take that situation seriously, and by the SP and SWP in an opportunist way looking for some quick fix to building their parties. It has been an object lesson in what the SP and SWP are about. A useful experience.

  4. 5 Mark P
    November 19, 2012 at 15:54

    The notion that there’s unanimity between the Socialist Party and the SWP/PBP over the pre-budget statement is misleading. As RP knows, the initial draft, presented by the SWP, was significantly less left wing than the present draft, with the Socialist Party trying to shift the document in a more radical direction. It’s fair enough for RP to be critical of the current document. That’s his right, but he really should make the background clearer.

    I think it’s rather dismissive, by the way, to talk of a “token” number of members being assigned to a ULA intervention by the affiliates. As RP, correctly, notes, those organisations will have a big burden of work in helping out the CAHWT, and their decision to assign members to assist the ULA on the day will involve stretching their limited resources.

    • November 19, 2012 at 16:05

      I can agree that the SP put forward a slightly more left-wing version but from my point of view the differences between the original RBB version, the SP edit and the combined 3rd re-draft were all ones of quantity rather than quality. As I understand it the current re-draft has the support of both the SP & SWP so I feel perfectly justified in lumping the two together.

      Virtually every demonstration since the formation of the ULA has seen only token numbers of the SP & SWP being assigned to the ULA intervention. Given the requirement to provide resources for the CAHWT I don’t see why that is about to change, especially from the point of view of the SP if the major doubts about the whole project put forward by your reps on the steering committee are an accurate reflection of your organisation’s view.

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