Ireland: By election deadlock - Labour ups the ante, Socialist Policies needed

The vote in the Dáil to force a by election in Donegal South West was defeated on the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle on Wednesday night (5th May). Although the vote was tied as a result (apparently an accidental result) of the failure of two FF TD’s to vote for their own side, it shows how wafer thin the position of the ruling coalition has become. This is a particularly bad situation for a government that seems hell bent on taking on the working class and holding the fort for the bourgeois.

FF has now fallen behind Labour in the polls and while the economic witch doctors are suggesting that the Irish economy is going to grow by up to 3% next year, the threat to the € as a consequence of the Greek economic earthquake and the general instability means that there is no solid evidence of a forthcoming golden age, in fact there are no signs of anything getting better at all.

So the decision to postpone the by elections even further is little more than a lame duck government sticking its head in the sand. Eamon Gilmore has raised the prospect of Labour pushing for more votes in the Dáil which would put Cowen on the spot, but would also raise the political temperature. We think Gilmore is right in putting Cowen on the spot. But the most important issue for Cowen has to be where does he stand on the key issues affecting working people? Where does he stand on the attacks on the working class and the dire state of the Irish economy and how, if he ends up in a coalition with Enda Kenny will he make a difference for working people?

Gilmore has been swimming with the stream for some time now. Labour has recently overtaken FF in the polls for the first time and has a round a third of the votes in Dublin. The government is very unpopular and Gilmore has appeared as a more effective opposition leader than Kenny in the Dáil. He’s developed a certain standing in the Labour Party, although it is significant that the Labour Party Conference saw some significant pressure on the question of the Croke Park Deal.

Aine Kennedy from the Irish Independent explained on the 17th April:

“Prior to last night's vote, the leader again refused to be drawn on the deal or the pay cuts motion tabled by the Wexford branch.

“Mr Gilmore has repeatedly kicked to touch questions on the deal that is now being balloted on countrywide, as he bids to keep trade union leaders and public sector workers onside.

"'There is a ballot taking place at the moment . . . I think we need to have a bit of respect for the people who are involved in that ballot.

"'You have people who are working in different areas of our public services,' he said.

"'They have been subjected to a year of abuse in sections of the media and from some elements of Government. They've had their pay cut twice.

"'I think they are entitled to just the respect that says to them 'you're having a ballot, study the documents yourselves, make up your minds on it, you can know how to relate what is on offer with the circumstances in your own employment. That's the position of the Labour Party on it.'"

"The issue of public sector pay is proving tricky for Labour at a time when large numbers of public sector workers appear to be rejecting the deal negotiated by their union leaders with the Government.

"Making the case for a campaign on reversing the pay cuts, John O'Leary of the Wexford branch said workers had only obtained a guarantee that their wages would not be cut again between now and 2014.

"His motion called on the party to 'actively campaign for the reversal of the unfair public service pay cuts arising from the December '09 Budget'.”

The Independent sums up a situation where Gilmore is trying to keep on board both the angry workers and the trade union leaders who are desperate to try and rescue the much discredited policy of “social partnership”. This is an extremely narrow path and in truth it also limits the effectiveness of the Party in fighting back against the excesses of Cowen and Lenihan. Workers are looking for a clear lead from the trade union leaders and an alternative to the anarchy of capitalism in crisis. This means a clear socialist position.

Gilmore is riding on the radicalisation of the working class particularly in Dublin and as such he has been forced to call for the temporary nationalisation of the banks as well as criticising NAMA and an Bord Snip proposals. But it’s the radicalisation of the class and not Gilmore’s prevarication and fence sitting which is responsible for the rise of the Labour Party in the polls.

A clear Socialist Programme including the nationalisation of the banks and big business under workers control and management and an unequivocal call for the reversal of the cuts in wages, scrapping the levies and the attacks on conditions would enable Labour to make huge steps forward. Labour must aim for a majority Government. Coalition with Fine Gael would mean being a junior partner to a party with interests directly opposed to those of the working class, in the middle of a world crisis of capitalism. The experience of the coalitions of the past is of Labour presenting the fig leaf for the right wing, then being hung out to dry when things go bad. The situation at the moment is far worse than anything we have seen for decades, so the next government is also likely to be a government of crisis, however attractive the idea of “power” alongside Fine Gaael might appear to the Labour leaders. Already within the Labour Party there are the beginnings of an organised left, reflecting the pressure on the movement from the working class. Labour needs to break with the failed perspectives of “Social Partnership” and coalition and fight for a socialist programme.

Fight for a majority Labour Government on a Socialist programme

* Here is the full text of Motion 26 which was passed unanimously at the Labour Party Conference:

Conference determines that the Labour Party will:

  1. Actively campaign for the reversal of the unfair public service pay cuts arising from the December 09 Budget;
  2. Support the ICTU in their fight to negotiate an alternative to the Towards 2016 Transitional Agreement which the Government reneged upon;
  3. Insist on no further cuts in pay or pensions of workers in the public sector; and,
  4. Demands the restoration of the full single rate for participants on Community Employment Programmes.