From Socialist Voice, July 2005

The Labour Party on the wrong road

At its recent congress the Labour Party adopted an electoral strategy presented by the party leader, Pat Rabbitte, of forming a pre-election pact with Fine Gael—and possibly with the Green Party thrown in for good luck—to present the electorate with an alternative to the present coalition government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. Both possible combinations of parties have excluded Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party.
    At the congress many of the party’s old establishment opposed such a pre-election pact, feeling that this approach would restrict the ability of the Labour Party to maximise its electoral potential. Others on the left of the party argued for an alternative strategy altogether: they believe the Labour Party should stand as an independent political force, putting itself at the head of a broad left-democratic coalition made up of left parties within the Dáil and linked to forces and campaigns outside it.
    Judging by the voting figures, the leadership had done their homework and had enough numbers in attendance to secure their position. It was always thus: the Labour Party leadership wrestles with its conscience, and its conscience always loses. Already Fine Gael has begun to carve up and target the constituencies it hopes to win, and in some instances Labour may well lose seats to Fine Gael, rather than gain them.
    The leadership have set their face against any alternative economic and political strategy other than the one being pursued by the present coalition government. They have not mapped out any opposition to privatisation, investing in and developing the commercial state sector; there are no policies for ending service charges and the privatisation of those services, or for increased central government investment in local government. They have no policy for ending the sale of the public housing stock and expanding public house-building. They have no alternative economic strategy. They have no strategy or goal of withdrawing from the “Partnership for Peace” military alliance, nor have they any strong objection to the EU battle groups, nor a policy of re-establishing the military neutrality of this state.
    The Labour Party always was an alliance of “Free State labour” elements, old-fashioned economism, social democracy, and republican labour. And it has been the Free State and economist wings that have dominated. These two political viewpoints have always taken the line of least resistance. Their political position is hopelessly compromised in today’s world, as the main battalions of social democracy—Germany, France, and Britain—have abandoned the “third way” and Keynesian state interventionist policies in favour of neo-liberal marketism.
    Those in the Labour Party who believe in social change need to be looking beyond the present limitations of that party. Many have tried, and all have failed, to take it to the left.
    There are new forces to be developed and new political strategies to be brought into play. This includes uniting all the forces of left and democratic opinion, from the many independent elected representatives and left parties in the Dáil to the social movements that exist and are active within communities.
    There is a need for more co-operation between left republican, labour, socialist, communist and other democratic forces in giving leadership and helping to build the necessary unity among working people. The struggle around important questions, such as the ones outlined above, can make a real difference to people’s lives. The future is shaped by today’s struggles.

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