James Connolly and Jim Larkin founded the Irish Labour Party in 1912, based on the trade union movement as a means to express the political and social aspirations of the Irish working class. Connolly understood that the working class needed to organize to combat British Imperialism and the rack renting landlords and the slave drivers of Belfast and the sweated trades owners of Dublin. Connolly went to his death in 1916 as a workers leader who had fought his whole life in the interests of working people.
100 years on, the right wing leadership of the Labour Party have tied themselves to the austerity programme of the Troika and the coat tails of Fine Gael. There is not an ounce of socialism in the policies of Gilmore, Howlin or any of the other Labour Ministers. Instead they have participated in a vicious assault on working people. The 2012 budget was the most regressive in years with the introduction of the Household Tax. The curse of emigration is draining the life blood from Ireland’s villages, towns and cities.
There is precious little evidence of the much heralded defence of working people. Sure the € 1 per hour cut in the minimum wage was reversed. But not even Child Benefit has been protected. This at a time of comparative stability in the State finances compared to the position at the end of 2010. The perilous situation in the eurozone and the prospect of a default in Greece can only undermine the situation in Ireland.
As we explained in advance of the Labour Party Special Conference in March 2011:
“But isn’t coalition “in the national interest”? The truth is that Labour would become a hostage to the programme of Fine Gael. Enda Kenny will rule in the “national interest” of the Irish Bourgeoisie and their masters in New York, London and the EU/IMF. The interest of working people is directly opposed to austerity measures, emigration, unemployment, wage cuts and 30,000 job cuts in the public sector.
James Connolly summed up the situation in “The Irish Worker” in 1915 when he said “Yes, friends, governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.”
The only way to represent the interests of working people today is to break decisively with the policies of capitalist austerity and fight for a socialist programme. The experience of the coalition in Britain between the Tories and the Lib Dems has been that the so called “radicals” among the Lib Dems have made no impact whatsoever. The Tories have introduced swingeing cuts which will have a catastrophic effect on working people as they work through. The Lib Dems have supported them and have suffered the consequences. They have been the ones to take the blame. Make no bones about it, the FG leaders will be more than willing to hand over the most exposed ministries to the Labour Party. Labour ministers will be put in charge of all the “social” ministries, the very ministries that will take the brunt of the cuts.
Coalition would sow huge divisions within the party. Labour has always come under pressure from the bosses, but fundamentally the party rests on the support of working class people. Under the present economic and political conditions in the state that pressure will grow massively. If the party associates itself with Fine Gael austerity it would hemorrhage support. The Party will come into conflict with the unions and would become riven with splits reflecting the different class pressures upon it. The experience of past coalitions is clear; without a fundamental break with right wing bourgeois ideas Labour will become a hostage to them.”
Almost 18 months later, we don’t think that a word of that analysis has been disproven. Labour’s polling support has dwindled dramatically and the stage is being set for battles in the public sector over the Croke Park Deal. Already three Labour TDs have either lost the whip or resigned it. All three were at the conference however as they remain party members.
We explained that Labour in coalition would increasingly come under pressure from the working class. This is inevitable. But that opposition is still in its early stages. In Greece the opposition to the policies of the Papademos government saw a large swing to the left that was expressed through a huge increase in support for SYRIZA – the Coalition of the Radical Left and initially the Communist Party (KKE). Unlike the Socialist party PASOK, SYRIZA and the KKE represent the “traditional left”, from the Communist tradition.
It would have been entirely possible for SYRIZA and the KKE to have presented a united front of workers parties on a socialist programme. But instead the KKE took an ultra left position and refused to cooperate. In the end they were smashed in the June elections losing heavily compared to their showing in the General election a few weeks earlier. The ongoing volatility in Greece – where there have been 19 general strikes in the past period means that the working class will once more be thrown into a crisis shortly. Under these conditions Syriza can grow further. Armed with a socialist programme SYRIZA could sweep to power and carry through the socialist transformation of society.
United Left Alliance
In Ireland there is no SYRIZA, Labour remains the main party of the working class, even though it is relatively weak and small in comparison say to the British Labour Party. Despite an initial growth the United Left Alliance has been hampered by the competing interests of the two main components the Socialist Party and the SWP.
Fightback would welcome a sizeable Party developing to the left of the Labour Party. That is the norm in most countries in Europe, because of the Communist Party tradition. But at the present time that seems unlikely, as on the one hand the SWP are reluctant to fight for a socialist programme, while the Socialist Party are reluctant to throw their lot into a united party and have maintained an utterly sectarian policy towards the Labour Party. In the North, the contradictions between the two groups seem insurmountable.
In Britain, the Socialist Alliance fell apart at a time when Labour was in government and carrying out a right wing programme. There is no automatic right to grow and develop as a left force. You need a programme and a perspective.
Fightback supporters currently work in the United Left, but we recognize its limitations. Both the main groups have watered down their political programmes and the ULA has concentrated on the electoral front. Divisions between the main groups have developed within the campaign against the Household Charge. Without a clear perspective the ULA runs the risk of running into the sand.
At the moment, the main beneficiaries from the loss of support for Labour has been Sinn Féin. However, SF have nothing to offer the working class as the experience of the North confirms. SF and the DUP preside over a toothless Assembly at Stormont, meekly carrying out the Tory and Lib Dem cuts, sent first class from London.
On the shoulders of Giants
100 years on from the foundation of the Labour Party, The Labour leaders have nothing left with which to honour the memory of James Connolly and Jim Larkin. But that is not the end of the story, at all. The struggle for the national and social liberation of the people of Ireland will continue until capitalism is overthrown and replaced by a rational system based on the common ownership of the big industries, the banks and insurance companies and the land of Ireland.
On the basis of a nationalized economy organised under a socialist plan of production and linked to a socialist federation of Europe and a world socialist federation. We could start to solve the problems of hunger, poverty and unemployment.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. In this generation the prospect of a socialist world has never been closer and the reasons to struggle toward it never greater.
What are we trying to build in Ireland and how will we do it? We believe James Connolly explained the how and the why many years ago:
“a real socialist movement can only be born of struggle, of uncompromising affirmation of the faith that is in us. Such a movement infallibly gathers to it every element of rebellion and progress, and in the midst of the storm and stress of struggle solidifies into a real revolutionary force.”
Connolly also explained who would lead that struggle, basing himself on the famous words of Wolfe Tone:
“Our freedom must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not help us they must fall; we will free ourselves by the aid of that large and respectable class of the community – the men of no property.”
Connolly in 1902
Again Connolly explained: “An Irish Republic, the only purely political change in Ireland worth crossing the street for will never be realised except by a revolutionary party that proceeds upon the premise that the capitalist and the landlord classes in town and country in Ireland are criminal accomplices with the British government, in the enslavement and subjection of the nation. Such a revolutionary party must be socialist, and from socialism alone can the salvation of Ireland come.”
Connolly’s words written a century ago contain the outline of the perspectives and tasks at the heart of the struggle in Ireland today, that is the genuine tradition of Irish Labour:
“only the working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the struggle for freedom in Ireland”, “The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour, the two cannot be dissevered”