Created on Thursday, 19 April 2012 21:18 Written by Tony Healy
One year on from the General Election, this weekend’s Labour Party Conference demonstrated the contradictions and problems that Eamon Gilmore faces, and will face as long as he continues to tie the Party to the coat tails of Fine Gael, the Troika and the boardrooms of London and New York. Today's opinion polls demonstrate the extent of the problem. The coalition now stands on 23% down 14 points since October.
Gilmore has tied the Party hand and foot to the austerity programme. That is why there were 4 to 5,000 people outside of the NUI Galway. But while those demonstrations were significant, the ratcheting up of the pressure on working people with the Water Charges and the prospect of attacks on the Croke Park Deal, together with increased fees for third level education, means that the campaign against the Household charge is only the latest act in what has been and will continue to be a long and protracted struggle by working people against austerity regardless of which coalition is in power.
The problem is greater for Gilmore however since the Party’s working class base expect and deserve better from the Party that James Connolly launched 100 years ago this year. The problem won’t go away now that the conference has finished either. Not only will the campaign against the Household charge continue, but the reaction to water charges is also an issue.
Already there has been a big reaction from resident’s committees after reports that Enda Kenny would not rule out cutting off water supplies to people who won’t pay the planned new water charges:
“During leader's questions on the Dáil's first day back since the Easter break, Mr Kenny said water was fundamental for life but the Government is not in a financial position to give people a free allowance.
“In respect of people being cut off…these are all matters for discussion about how the system is actually going to work,’’ he told the Dáil today. “If you don’t pay your electricity bill, if you don’t pay your telephone bill, it is cut off.’’
Irish Times 18th March 2012
Now as the Irish Times reports Government support has plummeted:
"The Government's satisfaction rating has dropped sharply according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll which also shows a decline in support for both Coalition parties.
Satisfaction with the Government has dropped 14 points to 23 per cent since the last poll in October while Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore are also down.
The poll was conducted on Monday and Tuesday at the height of the controversy over the planned introduction of water meters.
When people were asked who they would vote for if a general election were held tomorrow, the figures for party support - when undecided voters are excluded - compared with the last Irish Times poll were:
Fine Gael, 33 per cent (down three points); Labour, 13 per cent (down six points); Fianna Fáil, 14 per cent (down one point); Sinn Féin, 21 per cent (up six points); Green Party, 2 per cent (up one point); and Independents/ Others, 17 per cent (up three points)."
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.”
13 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. As Councillor Cian O’Callaghan explained on our website:
“The Labour Party is behaving like an embarrassed and sober friend holding a drunken Fine Gael back as it engages on an ideological rampage of destruction against our public services. Rather than acting as a weak restraining force on the Irish Tories the Labour Party should stand shoulder to shoulder with the people who use our public services and who work in them leading the fight back.”
The discontent within the working class is evident. One million are not paying the Household Charge. The opposition will not come just from the protestors outside of the conference hall, but from the mass of working people. The five Labour Ministers between them cover the following areas of government:
Eamon Gilmore Tánaiste/Foreign Affairs and Trade
Brendan Howlin Public Reform and Expenditure
Joan Burton Social Protection
Ruairi Quinn Education and Skills
Pat Rabbitte Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
Any one of Howlin, Burton and Quinn has already done enough damage to working families to generate their own demonstration outside NUI Galway or Leinster House. Over time Labour will be increasingly hung out to dry by Fine Gael. But the flipside of the situation is clear also. The demonstration outside the Labour Party conference reflects the fact precisely that Gilmore did claim that Labour would protect working people and because tens of thousands of workers voted Labour expecting them to deliver an alternative. Of course the position of the leadership is that there is no alternative.
Gilmore’s speech at the conference illustrated the contradictions that the Labour leadership have embraced in the coalition. Great emphasis was placed on the inevitability of recovery, of making Ireland “the best place to raise a family, to work to live and to age with dignity…” There had been times when "we were looking over the cliff" and he thought "we might topple over it". Now instead of crisis and chaos, there was "stability"… But how realistic is that rosy glow? How much comfort can people take from the current situation?
While Eamon Gilmore is right to say that no recession lasts forever, the prospects for the development of Irish capitalism are hugely dependent on the development of world trade and the future of the euro. Consider for a moment the figure that he gave for Irish exports, which make up 80% of all production in the state. The general world background means that trade is still lagging behind where it stood before the crisis broke. Every single one of the capitalist governments in Europe and internationally are hell bent on exporting… but where to? That is the problem. The experience of the last few years shows just how fragile Irish capitalism can be.
Sure, “No recession lasts forever”, but the effects on working people and the youth are taking place at a molecular level, on every street, in every working class area, in all the towns and the villages. Thousands are in mortgage arrears, 70,000 have emigrated in the last year alone. The impact of the crisis will be felt by the family which is losing their house, today, tomorrow or the next. The needs of working people are immediate. The right wing of the party tried to say that the opposition to the coalition at last year's special conference was the same as saying that “Labour must wait”. The truth is that tying the Irish workers and the youth to the prospect of capitalist stability in the far distant future is to say “the workers must wait”.
The experience of the doldrums of the 1980’s was mass emigration and mass unemployment with no future for thousands of youth. Now, that is more or less all that is on offer. But if anything, the world situation is much worse. There is no way out for working people on the basis of capitalism, the bosses will come for their pound of flesh, time and time again.
Eamon Gilmore talked about developing more stability, encouraging bank lending and using the proceeds of the sale of state assets, to develop the economy. The bailout took the immediate pressure off the state in the bond markets, but even if the government was to knock the interest rate on the debt down by another notch, Ireland will be caught up in the crisis of the euro. This explains the urgency with which the Government will pursue a Yes vote in the Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum. It also explains the continuing attacks on the public sector. Here’s what he said on the matter:
“Finally, and not a moment too soon, we will reclaim our economic independence and say goodbye to the Troika. Our objective is to be out of the EU/IMF programme within two years, to be able to sell Irish Government Bonds on the financial markets, and to stand on our own two feet again. But to do that, we have to get our budget deficit down.
This is not a matter of choice. It's simple maths. We simply cannot continue to borrow €44 million every day in order to run the country. We will need two more difficult budgets. But remember most of the hard work has now been done. We are already well on the way to meeting our deficit target. And remember, it's the result that really matters here: an end to the crisis. Back in full control of our economic affairs. A managed and manageable debt burden. A prosperous growing economy again. Jobs. Good living standards. And a secure future for the next generation.”
Without the prospect of a general recovery of the world economy, this is a finished recipe for more austerity and class struggle throughout the state. The working class represents a major obstacle in the way of the coalition. For sure, there are not many examples of gentle tender loving care in the annals of the IMF. Indeed, the ECB, the IMF and the speculators have Ireland by the throat, they are driving the government just as much as Connolly predicted the English would do if the limit of Ireland’s independence was merely to “hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle”.
This being the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Party, Gilmore spoke about Connolly and Larkin, the 1913 lockout, Easter 1916, Independence and the civil war. He talked about the plough and the stars. But there is a world of difference between Connolly’s vision of a Socialist Republic and the prospect of Labour in coalition with Fine Gael. Connolly talked about the need for the political independence of the working class. Labour was founded to give voice to the hundreds of thousands of working men and women, to the working boys and girls, against the rack renting landlords and the capitalist owners of the sweated trades.
The party was formed to fight for education, health care, housing, jobs and above all for the Socialist Republic. What would James Connolly have been arguing if he was a delegate to the Conference, 100 years after he founded the Party? He would be arguing for a Socialist Republic, for breaking the power of the Capitalists, Bankers and the Financiers. Being in office is not the same as holding power.
Capitalism is in a severe structural crisis. There is very little room to manoeuvre; the economic basis for reformism has been stripped out by the crisis. That means that only a complete break with capitalism can solve the problems of working people. In today’s world that means the nationalisation of the banks under workers control and management, cancellation of the debts, nationalisation of big industry and a Socialist plan of production.
It is the crisis of capitalism which is driving the austerity. But it’s the capitalists who are driving the political and economic assault on the working class. Labour Party rank and file members and the small number of lefts higher up in the party must connect with the aspirations of working people and fight for a Socialist alternative. They will come under a lot of pressure to toe the line, but we would argue that they must start from a principled basis. That means not compromising the interests of working people.
A glimpse of the opposition that will develop in the future within the Party is evident from the passing of motion 93 at the Conference which was passed by 158 votes to 152:
Conference totally rejects the sale of semi-State assets by the FG/Labour government under any circumstances.
Conference recalls the privatisation of the Telecom Éireann network and provides us with a brutal reminder of what can go wrong with privatisation.
Conference notes this action will protect long-term growth and safeguard the national interest.
There will be plenty of issues and problems like this over the next few years. The crisis in the economy and Labour’s position in the coalition makes this inevitable. While the demonstration outside the Conference was far more vocal than the Conference itself, the contradictions in Irish society will be expressed inside the Party also. The position of Patrick Nulty, Tommy Broughan and Wille Penrose reflects that process already. As we explained some months before the Dublin West By Election.
“There will doubtless be many calls for unity within the party. But what sort of unity is the left going to be asked for? There can’t be unity on the basis of the programme of the EU and the IMF. The conditions for peace, harmony and happiness just don’t exist in Ireland. There will be enormous pressures on the Labour Party from the bourgeois and from the working class and the trade unions. There will be a growing differentiation within the party between Leinster House and the branches and within the trade unions. The Labour left needs a political programme to fight for a socialist alternative to capitalism. But alongside that the Labour left needs to get organised.”
There is an alternative to the current coalition. We have consistently argued for the election of a Labour and Left Coalition government, on a Socialist programme, there is no way out for working people on the basis of capitalism. Labour must return to its founding principles, the ideas of James Connolly and Jim Larkin.