The Irish general election result has delivered a huge blow to the outgoing Fine Gael-Labour coalition government. Although Fine Gael will still be marginally the largest party, despite losing around a third of their seats, the plunge in the Labour vote from 19 to just below 7 per cent rules out a repeat coalition. After Fianna Fail’s hammering at the 2011 election, they managed to more than double their representation in the Dail.
Outside of these major establishment parties, gains have been made by Sinn Fein, Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA), People before Profit (PbP) and a rake of Independent TDs. As we go to press, the exact composition of the next government is uncertain. If the two major austerity parties agree to an unprecedented coalition deal, it would represent a historic move in the face of a growing “anti-establishment” threat. What is certain is that the next government, whatever its exact make up, will continue to loyally implement Troika (IMF, ECB and EU) austerity.
The legacy of the Fine Gael-Labour government will be the widespread anger it provoked by introducing water charges. This austerity had already sunk the Fianna Fail-Green coalition. It has now devastated Labour.
A growing radicalisation has gripped Irish society. The huge majority in the recent referendum in favour of same sex marriage expressed one element to this radicalisation. Sinn Fein’s rise also reflects this, albeit in a contradictory way since it presented itself as anti-austerity. But the election of six AAA and PbP TDs and several Left Independents has confirmed a growing alienation of working class people with austerity and the same old two and a half party system. This was seen in the election of AAA candidate Paul Murphy in Dublin South West where his result was second to Fine Gael across the constituency and top in Tallaght.
The Right2Water campaign backed by five major trade unions and by the anti-austerity groups sought to channel the widespread anger into demonstrations and a petition. Guided by the union leaders and Sinn Fein the campaign, under the aegis of Right2Change, has refused to call for non-payment, despite a mass non-payment campaign already in progress. Instead they have drawn up a programme for a left government that groups could pledge themselves to and where possible agree vote transfers.
The manifesto of Right2Change had no commitments to action and was not an expression of a democratic delegate based conference of rank and file workers’ organisations. This suits the style of the union bureaucrats and their friends in Sinn Fein. Their “New Fiscal Framework” document envisages a budget “consistent with the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact”. Shades of Syriza’s climbdown already!
A determined stand against all the cuts couldn't be further from their minds. Sinn Fein’s ambitions are brutally clear; it has ruled nothing out in regard to coalition with anyone. They do not call for direct action to stop the water charges or austerity in general. Even worse they already have a tarnished record of implementing Tory cuts in the north of Ireland!
No wonder some on the left felt the need to go beyond Right2Change. The AAA, led by the Socialist Party, and the PbP, led by the Socialist Workers Party, formed an electoral alliance. This calls for non-payment of water charges, a fight back against all austerity and no involvement in a coalition with any of the three major parties. This was deserving of a vote as it was for similarly inclined anti-austerity left Independents. It was a way of joining with all those workers at the polls venting their anger at the water charges and austerity.
However socialists should have been saying a lot more during this election. PbP still seem to be bound by illusions in the Right2Change strategy, even agreeing to vote transfers to Sinn Fein. Do they really see Sinn Fein as partners in a left anti austerity government? AAA correctly excluded vote transfers to Sinn Fein but were equally non-committal on who they might be having discussions with regarding the formation of a left government outside Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour.
A new strategy
Socialists should have been using the election campaign as a platform to advance a strategy to defeat the water charges and austerity in general. Demonstrations and non-payment remain vital, but the spirit of rebellion on the streets needs to be taken into the workplaces and the unions. Too many on the left were relying on an electoral victory to win the battle against water charges.
A rank and file movement needs to organise against all the austerity measures, drawing in the union leaders if possible, but going ahead without them where necessary. Councils of action should be built in every community and workplace to organise the campaign at local level.
Socialists should have used the election campaign to build the resistance and not promote illusions in the possibility that a “left” government might do the job for us. Outside of the AAA/PbP and a handful of Left Independents it was fanciful to suggest like the AAA that discussions for such a government after the election was a realistic goal. The thirty or so TDs elected who had signed up to Right2Change could hardly constitute a majority in the Dail – unless of course they really were thinking that Sinn Fein might be part of that lash up.
A new workers’ party
Socialists need to relate to the rising tide of anger north and south of the border by building a new workers’ party that can lead the struggle to end capitalism and imperialism in Ireland. Failure to adopt a revolutionary alternative will inevitably lead down the road of reform and compromise, so characteristic of Labour and Sinn Fein. An opportunity to do just this is offered by the election of a small but significant number of socialist TDs that hail from organisations professing to be revolutionary socialist. But will they seize it? There are reasons to fear not. The AAA/PbP is a makeshift imitation of the United Left Alliance of 2011-13 and its five TDs, and they failed to seize the opportunity of build a new workers’ party the last time around.
It is plain that if the struggle to build a new workers’ party is to succeed, it must be based on a democratically run and unified national organisation that guarantees the rights of factions and tendencies. But it must seek an effective fighting unity based on a revolutionary action programme clearly spelling out a strategy for victory against austerity right through to socialism. At is apex should be the call for installing a workers’ government, coming out of the mass struggles of workers based on workers’ councils forming the essential democratic accountability for such a government.
The most fitting way we can commemorate the Easter Rebellion of 1916 is surely by making the first steps towards building a party dedicated to James Connolly’s goal of a Workers’ Republic.
The most fitting way we can commemorate the Easter Rebellion of 1916 is surely by making the first steps towards building a party dedicated to James Connolly’s goal of a Workers’ Republic