It has come to my attention that the ULA is stalling as a movement- there seems to be a lack of progress on finalising a programme (indeed the programme on their website is the same as it was for the election, in February…), building the ULA as a separate organisation in its own right, and creating structures that allow for democratic ownership of the party by ordinary, non-aligned members. Why is this happening, at a time when there is clearly potential for a radical movement to grow and become a real force?
There are a number of reasons I believe have led to this impasse. The first is programme- the ULA has not sat down and hammered out a programme, based on members’ input and vigorous debate. While many issues would doubtless be contentious, it is better to get positions out in the open and stake out where people are on different questions. I am thinking something on the National Question and a clear programme on what to do about the economic crisis- in other words the ‘5 Ws’ of what the ULA would do if in power, and how to create the basis for a socialist economy. The failure to progress is hampering the ULA in my opinion, as people want to join an organisation that has set out a clear stall and is confident enough in itself to propose coherent and viable solutions. A clear position on the National Question would be useful too, as the austerity measures and ECB/IMF intervention is a clear example of European, specifically German, economic imperialism directed against Ireland.
Secondly, the main component parties seem to have more interest in building themselves than the ULA. The primary group at fault here are the SWP/PBPA, they have set more store on building themselves through front campaigns like Enough!. They are clearly taking an opportunist line to try and pick up the greatest number of recruits they can as fast as they can, dropping the ULA if they feel like it’s too hard a slog to build an organisation from scratch. However, I suspect there may be rancour between the main groups, as I mentioned in another thread the PBPA feel a bit miffed at the SP’s decision to run a candidate against their candidate in Dublin Mid-West during the general election, justifiably in my opinion. This could help explain why they are investing more of their time and activity in Enough! rather than the ULA. In any case the main parties, for whatever reason, seem to be more concerned with their own organisations and recruits than the ULA, as a result the ULA is stalling.
A third problem is the continued limbo of the ULA as a party. As of now it’s not a party, yet it is clearly more than an alliance, as there are individual members and an ULA membership card. The ULA, despite being a year old next month, is still being governed by a steering committee appointed by the main parties, with little input for ordinary members possible. This undemocratic travesty means the ULA is and will remain unattractive to ordinary people or workers who want to get involved. Understandably enough, people will not join an organisation in which they have no power, no say over policy or position, and where it is governed by rival factions who place their own interests above those of the formation.
In short, the ULA and its party members need to take a good long hard look at the ULA as it is, and where they will be if they continue down this route. Almost one year after formation, the ULA is no nearer becoming a party than it was then. It has been reacting to events rather than taking a lead, and the focus on charges campaigns as a compromise way of party building means the ULA components have avoided grasping the nettle on the difficult issues I mentioned above. For the good of the left and the Irish working class, they need to do so sooner rather than later, as the experience of ‘New Left’ formations on the continent shows that organisations who don’t take concrete positions or solve the issue of what type of party/formation they are tend to atrophy and break up.
As of now the ULA is being governed by the Steering Committee. There have been no conferences yet with the power to decide on policy, the National Convention was little more than a seminar, and it is well and good to say that members should make policy but it seems an effort in vain if there are no structures or procedures in place for it to be voted on and adopted. People may be put off by the idea of submitting policy documents to a steering committee they are unsure will ever read them or do anything about them if they do read them. To my mind the best way of putting a programme in place would be to hold a convention, draw up a draft programme done by the steering committee, and allow it to be exhaustively debated and amendments brought by members. That should be done in the next month or two, imo. The SP and SWP are holding their conferences, why aren’t the ULA? Circulate a draft programme, bring everyone together for a long weekend, and thrash out a programme. Consult economists for advice beforehand or ask some sympathisers in that field to cost specific proposals and present them for debate. Plenty of people want an alternative, give them one. I would be delighted to have input myself and to help the ULA grow, but I’ve been forced to emigrate, so I’m afraid I’m only in a position to comment on the issues above online.
Ordinary independent workers or activists won’t join an organisation where they are second class members, and where there is no prospect of that changing in the immediate to short term future. The ULA needs to put in place more structures, not necessarily enough to become a full blown party, but enough to allow for democratic collective decision making, and some degree of centralisation and coherent, transparent and member-accountable decision making. As of now that doesn’t exist in the ULA. It should.
The ULA needs to take measures: you can’t wait for the class struggle to boil over and expect activists to automatically turn to the ULA as a vehicle for fighting back if there is only a shell of an organisation and perceived (I say perceived, as right-wingers, and many people with no experience of the left, seem to think that it’s all ‘Life of Brian’ style debating when as you and I know that to be far from the truth) disunity.
Many of people have been cynical about the ULA, or don’t see it as a viable way forward for the future. I think it could be a great organisation, but that there are problems that need to be ironed out pretty quickly if the ULA is to survive and grow. The lessons of the new left elsewhere should be indicative enough of what happens if you don’t create a durable organisation with a clear programme, democratic decision making structures and a clear strategy for the future. I hope the ULA does move on these issues pretty quickly, because time is running out for them to make an impact. It would be a great pity if it went the way of the NPA or other groups.