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The Socialist Party,Joan Collins and the Bin Tax Battle
bin tax / household tax / water tax |
Tuesday April 20, 2004 10:43 by Dermot Connolly 30 ring st, Inchicore, D8
An analysis by Dermot Connolly, ex Secretary of the Socialist Party
Joan Collins is standing as an anti-bin tax candidate, not a Socialist Party candidate, in the local elections. This article explains why and looks back at anti bin tax campaign.
Members of the Socialist Party (SP) and indeed left wing activists in Dublin will be surprised to hear that Joan Collins will not be standing for the SP in the June local elections. They will, or should be quite surprised, that a person with an extremely good chance of actually winning a seat on the council has felt it necessary to withdraw from selection for the SP and to stand as an independent anti bin tax candidate.
Over the course of the last year it has been clear that an element of the SP leadership in Dublin did not want JC to stand as a party candidate. In the summer of 2003 opposition to her standing was expressed by these elements on the spurious basis that there was no party branch in the area. This 'condition' for standing has never been applied before. If it did, there would have been very few candidates put forward over the last twenty years, and that includes areas like Mulhuddart, Dublin West and Dublin North.
At the same time as opposing JC on this basis, the SP were encouraging people to stand in the Liberties and in Finglas. Were there party branches in these areas? No, there was at the time one SP branch covering the whole of Dublin city. The opposition to JC standing was cut across at a meeting of the National Committee when the issue was raised by M Murphy from the Tallagh branch. It was subsequently reported in the Voice (SP journal) that JC would be a candidate in Crumlin. In the same report the SP were unable to name candidates for the Liberties or Finglas.
The SP were unable to persuade anyone to stand for them in Finglas. At a meeting of the now established city north side branch late last year to discuss this, Kevin McLoughlin stated that the party only had the resources to stand in one area of the city. No one was under any illusions that this would be the Liberties where Diarmuid Naessens had come forward as a candidate.
If any further proof were needed as to the SP leaderships' attitude, in a discussion with JC both KMcL and Michael Murphy (from Swords) told her that there was a lack of trust in the SP regarding her role in the anti bin tax campaign, and that in their opinion she should not stand but spend some time concentrating on work in the south side party branch. Apparently JC needed to spend some time on her 'rehabilitation'.
This is some way to treat a hard working, loyal member of 17 years involvement. Not once in all of this has there been a discussion initiated by the SP leadership of the prospects for the June elections in Crumlin, what vote could be gained; could she win a seat; how a campaign could be run; what resources would be available?
Every indication by this element of the leadership has been that JC wanting to stand was not an opportunity but a problem. This leaves aside any argument about the desirability of the anti bin tax campaign putting forward an alternative in one of the most working class electoral areas where there is also one of the strongest anti bin tax campaigns. If K McL and MM had their way, there would be no candidate in this area.
Having failed to pressurise JC into withdrawing, and obviously having to contend with questions in the SP on the issue, the SP leadership wrote to JC outlining five conditions under which they would accept her as a candidate. Before dealing with these conditions it is necessary to deal with the reasons why the SP argued this course of action was justified.
The letter begins with the statement that ' there are important differences between your views and the party on; tactics in the bin tax battle and work in broader campaigns; estimation of the mood in the working class and the basis for for a new left formation; and the tasks of building the SP'.
It goes on to state that ' there have been serious public disagreements between you and the party over the last year where you have knowingly opposed the agreed position of the party regarding the bin tax.'
The claim that JC publicly and seriously opposed the SP on tactics in the bin tax struggle will come as a surprise to many actually involved in that struggle. It seems that The SP leadership have a difficulty distinguishing between discussions in the SP and publicly opposing the party line. Where and on which occasions did JC publicly and knowingly oppose the SP on tactics in the bin tax campaign?
Let's take the question of tactics in this struggle in a serious manner. There is a world of difference between important and fundamental tactical issues and twiddle twaddle about whether an event takes place on a Monday or a Tuesday.
There have been no fundamental differences between anybody involved in a serious way in the anti bin tax campaign in Dublin. The Dublin City campaign has held two conferences over the last three years. No fundamental differences have emerged. Last December the four Dublin campaigns came together for a conference. This was after the big struggles, blockades, jailings, etc. No fundamental differences were raised, by any one. It is quite exceptional that a campaign which involved diverse political groupings such as the SP, SWP, WCA, WSM, ISN, WP and SF that not a single resolution can be traced form these conferences which created the slightest controversy.
Why is this the case? The answer is simple. The key tactics of the anti bin tax campaign draw on the lessons of the victory on water charges. Even though the water charges were not attempted in Dublin city, the campaign had a big impact on the consciousness of the working class in general. The idea of mass non payment as the key tactic was readily acceptable. Even if there was no campaign, non payment would have existed on a widespread basis.
It was also readily accepted that the way to defend non payment against the use of the courts and withdrawal of the service should be based on the lessons of the water charges, hence the question of establishing a mass membership and setting up a legal defence fund. While it was understood that we would not win in the courts, it was important to be able to frustrate the councils, employ delaying tactics, and stop hundreds of people being brought before the courts and having awards made against them. On withdrawal of the service it was also possible to use the courts for a period, but in the longer run it would be necessary to mobilise mass action to stop non collection.
Along with these it was understood that the maximum political pressure should be put on the councillors who voted in the tax. All of these tactics were consistent with the water campaign and flowed from the lessons of that struggle.
There has never been any fundamental differences raised on these key questions. Indeed we would like to put to the SP leadership the question? Where has it raised in public, at campaign meetings, at conferences or in the publications of the SP, any criticism or questions relating to the fundamental tactics of the anti bin tax campaign in Dublin city? And if it has not done this, how could any SP member, never mind JC, publicly oppose a position that has never been put in public?
However, within the SP, and behind the scenes in the anti bin tax campaign, there has been an attempt by the SP leadership to claim that there were fundamental differences in how to respond to non collection, implying a principled difference between their revolutionary stance, and a reformist, conservative approach on behalf of Dermot Connolly, JC and the SWP. This has never been put forward in public.
The position of the Dublin City campaign on this question has always been quite clear. We would respond to non collection with mass protests to block the bin lorries in the estates. This position was put forward without disagreement by the leadership of the campaign in a resolution to the conference in 2003, proposed by JC and agreed unanimously.
Dublin City Council did not however attempt to introduce non collection across the city, as this would most likely have unleashed a massive response in the working class estates. They started, in their words, in the 'more affluent' south east, where the campaign was weaker, and indeed didn't exist in places like Ballsbridge, Ranelagh, Rathmines, etc.
There were only two areas where the campaign could respond with community protests. In Ringsend the truck was blocked and non collection was dropped, winning an important victory for the campaign.
In the Mount Tallant/Harolds Cross area the campaign was weaker yet there was a response. The bin trucks were blocked in the estates, they were followed to ensure all bins were collected, and several protests were organised at the depot in Rathmines. These activities were organised by DC, JC and Brid Smith (an SWP member who is the campaign PRO). DC and BS were jailed for two weeks for these activities. To claim, as is frequently done behind the scenes, a weakness on behalf of these individuals in responding to non collection is an absolute disgrace.
The only members of the SP who intervened in the only areas of the city at that time, last September/October, where non collection was being attempted were DC, JC and Emmett Farrel. Not only were those who now pontificate about weaknesses absent, they publicly dismissed the struggle in these areas as of no consequence compared to the ‘real ' battle in Fingal. The battle in Fingal was of extreme importance, and in overall terms more important, but to make no response at all to the attack in the city, whatever the difficulties, would have been a major mistake.
Here we have a disagreement on tactics as the real, concrete struggle opens up and develops in a way not actually fully anticipated, as is usually the case. But if anyone was not prepared to respond, as per the agreed position of the campaign, (and the SP), it was not JC or DC.
We do not however regard this disagreement as a fundamental or principled one. Those who argued, openly and honestly, such as Ciaran Perry from Cabra, that the campaign was too weak in those areas and could not be substituted for from outside, and it was better to organise blockades in the areas we were strong in, raised a valid point for discussion. There is no question of JC, DC, or BS who disagreed with this view denouncing people as showing weakness, being conservative and so on. And certainly not behind their backs!
The other issue of disagreement that came up at the same time was how to respond in the city to the attack on Fingal. It was agreed, again without any differences, the the city campaign would respond if any other council area was attacked first. It was agreed, again without dissent, that this would take the form of solidarity blockades in the estates.
The attack came first in Fingal. The city campaign organised blockades in Crumlin, Walkinstown, Drimnagh, Inchicore, Ballyfermot, the Liberties, Cabra, Stoneybatter, Finglas, Coolock, Donaghmede and East Wall. All members of the organising committee were involved in organising these protests, which consisted of surrounding a bin truck in an estate and holding it for a few hours.
The city campaign had taken the position it was better to organise blockades in the estates rather than at the depots, as it would be easier to involve people and give them a mass character. There was a danger that at the depots it would be the activists only. Theory is grey however, and the tree of life is evergreen. As the campaign developed, and given the salami tactics of the councils, blockades on depots became necessary.
The other tactical question that came up was after about two weeks into the struggle in Fingal, whether the solidarity blockades should be stepped up into all out blockades in the city. This position was advocated by the SP leadership at an activist meeting of the campaign. A very lively discussion took place. DC argued for caution, as the bins were being collected in the big working class estates, all out action, preventing the bins from being collected, might split working class support for the campaign. If however, as was very likely, Joe Higgins and Clare Daly were jailed, it would be possible then to win mass support for all out action.
This position was voted for by a big majority of the activists at the meeting. While this approach could be said to be conservative, it can not by any stretch of the imagination be described as a fundamental, principled opposition to the tactic of blockades, as is now claimed. JH and CD were jailed within a short time, as were DC and 13 other activists from the city for stepping up the protests and defying the courts.
In response to this, the four campaigns organised blockades at bin depots in the four council areas. This was an attempt to bring matters to a head. Neither JC or DC, who was in jail in anyway, opposed this tactic. However there were difficulties in co-ordinating the actions of four different campaigns in a situation where events developed rapidly. What was needed was some sort of structure where appointed people from the different campaigns could get together quickly and work out what could and needed to be done. This did not exist, and the reasons why will be dealt with later.
There was a lot of messing about going on. For example, there was a meeting of the city campaign on a Monday evening, in the week when on that Wednesday over 30 people were up in court and likely to be jailed. There were different proposals at the steering committee. Diarmuid Naessens proposed that blockades should take place on Wednesday to coincide with the court. DC proposed that there should be a protest on the court on Wednesday and blockades on Thursday when, if people were jailed, there would be a bigger turnout. These ideas were then taken to an activists' meeting, which was not well attended, but which decided that only two depots should be blockaded, because of the problem previously of getting sufficient numbers out. It was agreed that these would be the depots at Collins Avenue and Rathmines
Some problems in a campaign of this type could be expected when the pressures came on. What was needed was a leadership who understood the need for maximum unity in action, and were prepared to compromise on secondary issues to achieve that. In reality what opened up was a struggle by different political groups to try and grab the leadership of the struggle. The SP were the prime movers in this respect as shall be dealt with later. The SWP leadership then began to argue that while the bins were being collected there should be no attempt to stop the service.
As a result, what happened in the course of that week was a shambles. On Wednesday there was only a very small protest at the courts. The SP put a protest on the Davit Road depot in Drimnagh, consisting of a handful of party members. There was in effect no blockade on Rathmines. The four campaigns then agreed there would be a big mobilisation for blockades throughout Dublin on the following Monday.
JC organised a meeting in her area to mobilise for that and succeeded in getting people to take time off work. Then it was announced at the trades council demo that the blockades were to be on Tuesday. The reason given for that was that there was to be a protest on Fingal Council on the Monday. JC objected to this and argued for going ahead with the original agreed proposal. On Monday people from Crumlin and Drimnagh, having taken time off work, turned up for a blockade that was cancelled. On Tuesday only a very small and shortlived token protest was mounted in Fingal.This is incredibly the basis for the SP leadership's claim that JC publicly opposed the party line. We are entering into the world of the Judean Peoples Front versus the Peoples Front of Judea.
As it turned out, the blockades were highly successful in stopping the bin service, especially in the city, and if they could have been maintained, could have forced the council and the state back. But they had to be called off after two days. The problem previously anticipated of blocking the depots, that it would tend to be political activists in the main, was borne out.
The claim that there were principled differences between those who advocated so called 'direct action' tactics and those who didn't, or didn't really when it came to the push, when it is aimed at people who ended up in prison, and is not raised publicly, giving them a chance to defend themselves, is a disgraceful fabrication. It represents what will hopefully only be a temporary break with the proud 30 year tradition of the Militant/SP of intervening in an open, honest and serious way in workers' struggles.
There is one other behind the scenes fabrication which needs to be dealt with. There is the claim circulated by an element in the SP leadership that the leadership of the city campaign sowed illusions that the bin tax could be defeated by a vote on Dublin City Council. It has even been claimed that we had a 'victory' social planned to celebrate the event at the time of the estimates meeting in December 2003, The argument goes that too much time was invested in putting pressure on the councillors to the detriment of building the campaign in working class communities.
They claim to have written material produced by the campaign to back up this nonsense. Why has nobody seen this material? Because it doesn't exist. Why has the SP not raised such an important criticism of the campaign? Once again there has been nothing about this in the Voice, it was not raised at the conference.
The reality is that anyone who was actually involved in the campaigns' activities and meetings would have laughed at this nonsense. It is correct that the campaign put a certain amount of emphasis on these questions, but at every stage went out of our way to explain that the key question was non payment, defending people in the courts, stopping non collection, and to do this, needing to have an active campaign. Anyone with ears, and who was actually there, will tell you that at the end of every protest on the council, DC in summing up the protest, explained that even if the Councillors voted out the charge, the government would abolish the council and the battle would continue with non payment, etc.
However, if the Councillors had voted out the tax, and the council was abolished, it would have strengthened our case significantly. The question of who runs the city, and the attacks on democracy that have accompanied the attempt to impose the bin tax are extremely important and well understood by workers across the city. Only the most simplistic ultra leftist would not understand to need to fight the battle on all fronts.
The protests on the council meetings, held in the city centre, were a focal point to show passing motorists and so on that there was an active campaign against the bin tax. It helped activists to meet activists from other areas, and it raised the need to be active and prepared to go outside your own area. This wasn't an alternative to building an active campaign in the communities but part of the process of doing exactly that.
The pressure on the Councillors, the 50/50 votes every year, forcing the government to change the law, taking away Councillors' rights to vote on these issues, demonstrated the unpopularity of the tax, the mass opposition to it , and the ability of the campaign to organise this pressure. This showed the campaign's support and strength. It did not weaken it in any way.
When the issue of a by-election came up in the water charges campaign in 1996, the same arguments against standing an anti water charges candidate were put forward by the anarchists. That was that the election would take over and building the campaign on the ground would be pushed in the background. The SP/Militant argued then that running a good campaign and getting a good vote would show the unpopularity of the charges, the mass opposition to them, and would help to build the campaign.
Once again, neither JC or DC, or anyone else has publicly opposed the SP on this issue. We have not had the opportunity to do so as it has never been raised by the SP. We now challenge the SP to intervene, publicly and openly and honestly in the anti bin tax campaign on this issue, putting forward their ideas and producing the material which they claim to have demonstrating the difference between our 'reformist and conservative' illusions in the ability to win this battle through a vote on the council as opposed to their 'revolutionary' tactics.
The SP leadership have repeatedly attacked, but never in public, the Dublin city campaign. The campaign has its weaknesses, but so do the other Dublin campaigns. The city campaign has built up a membership of about 10,000 members. iI has raised in the region of Euro 60,000. It is organised in all the main working class areas to the west of the city. It has come under huge attacks from the council over four years, through the courts, jailings, attempted non collection in some areas, and a massive propaganda offensive. The most recent figures show that less than one in three households have paid the tax.
The campaign has organised meetings of between 500 and 700 people on a regular basis in the big working class estates. At hundreds of meetings over four years, 1,000s of working people will have taken part in its discussions. On a number of occasions the campaign has produced and circulated material to 100,000 homes, including a four page tabloid earlier this year.
We believe this situation compares favourably with the Fingal, South Dublin and Dunlaoghaire/Rathdown campaigns. The SP leadership have never shown the same obsession with pointing out the weaknesses in those areas. Why? Kevin McLoughlin's astonishing reply when this was put him was 'two wrongs don't make a right'.
There are very important lessons which can be learned from the anti bin tax struggle in Dublin. These are important issues relating to the level of consciousness, combativity and organisation of the working class at this time, not just in Dublin, but in Ireland as a whole an internationally. In order to do this it is necessary to have a serious discussion.
We should not start with the weaknesses and negative points of this battle, but its strengths and positives. Right wing politicians and the establishment media have attempted to depict the campaigns as non existent in terms of real popular support and participation, and of being no more that 80 to 100 of the 'usual suspects'. But this campaign has, like the water charges, reached deep into the working class of Dublin. Along with the water charges it is the only serious mass struggle to have taken place since the 1990s. In Dublin city, it is the biggest struggle of its type since the Housing Action campaign in the 1960s, forty years ago.
It is seen by workers not just as an issue over bins, or even of the general injustice of the tax system, but of society in general. It has raised the class question of there being one law for the rich and one for the rest of us when it comes to paying taxes, ending up before the courts, or spending time in jail.
It has raised as practical questions the need for solidarity in action, the need to struggle, the need to organise and get involved. It has demonstrated once again the betrayal of the union leadership. It has raised the consequences of privatisation for workers and their pay and conditions, and the impact on services for the community. In other words, it has had a very positive effect on the consciousness of wide layers of the working class. it has allowed the small forces of the left make an important connection with workers in the key working class areas of the city.
These are important gains which can be built on for the future. This has been achieved against a background of a general retreat in working class consciousness and organisation over the 1990s to the present, the criminal sabotage of the struggle by the right wing union leaders, and a massive propaganda barrage by the capitalist media.
The weaknesses of the campaign flow not from this or that mistake by its leadership, but from the latter factors mentioned above. It is really noticeable when you look at the city campaign that its strong areas are the older traditional working class areas of the city, in the south west from Crumlin across to Ballyfermot, and in the north west from Cabra into Finglas, along with parts of the inner city like East Wall and the Liberties.
There is a long tradition, although weakened by the 1990s, of working class organisation and struggle in these areas. Two factors came together in these areas. Firstly the general response of working class people, and then a key ingredient, a small layer of committed political activists from various groups who could bring some experience of organisation to the campaign. One real weakness that has been shown is that there are large parts of the city, especially on the north side, where the combined left does not have a single member!
This proved to be a real difficulty when it came to trying to develop the campaign into areas like Raheny, Donaghmede, Edenmore, Santry, and Whitehall. In Raheny and Donaghmede local people have been active but have not had the benefit of having more experienced people to work regularly with them as in other areas.
Rather than pointing the finger at certain members of the co-ordinating committee(who unlike those criticising them actually did some work in these areas), the SP should look to the real problem. How can a new layer of worker and youth activists be developed across the city?
In the past the unions, and to a lesser extent, the left in the Labour Party, would have provided a vehicle for people to become active on a regular basis, learn how to organise in the workplace and in the community, and to meet and exchange experiences and take part in political discussion. The workers' movement has been driven back to an alarming degree, even in comparison to the period of the water charges, and to build these campaigns in this situation is a considerable achievement.
The other real difficulty that the campaigns faced was the very varied response from council workers to non collection and from the workplaces in general when people were jailed. All workers today are under tremendous pressures in their workplaces. The full weight of the betrayal of the union leaders and the offensive by the bosses is to be felt here. Only about 10% of workers in the private sector are now unionised. Even where there is a union, real shop floor organisation is extremely weak.
How can it be explained that when Clare Daly was jailed, workers in Dublin Airport, the biggest workplace in the country, where Clare is a well known and respected shop steward, at a meeting called to discuss the issue, decided reluctantly that they could take no action?
Is there something wrong with these workers; or is there something wrong with Clare Daly's role in the airport? The answer is no on both counts. It is simply a reality that the workers felt if they took action it would invite a huge response from management and the government, and possibly lead to privatisation and the loss of their jobs.
The march called bt the Dublin Council of Trade Unions attracted about 5,000 people. In the circumstances that was ok, but it was used by the union leaders to ensure there was no follow up. This situation can be compared to that of the 1960s and 70s, when workers were jailed. Then mass pressure from below forced the national union leadership into issuing the threat of national action, which was taken seriously by the establishment who released the workers. The difference then is that it was a period of high industrial struggle, strong shop floor organisation and as a result a confidence among workers that they could do something.
A key problem for the campaigns in Fingal and South Dublin was the response of the council workforce to non collection. They accepted it and this has led to a defeat for both campaigns on non collection. The response by workers in the city has been much better. Their position of working to rule means that the council has to send out inspectors or litter wardens with the trucks to implement non collection and so far they have only been able to do this on a limited basis. There is of course no guarantee that this situation will continue given the pressure on the workers and the rotten role of the union leaderships.
This situation in the workplace shows the real problem of organising any sort of struggle at the present time. There is a long way to go in rebuilding the organisation and confidence of the working class in the key area, the workplaces. Unfortunately, none of the forces of the left have any base of any consequence, in any workplace around the country.
Any serious marxist analysis of the bin tax struggle would begin from these factors. Marxists do not examine an event in the class struggle only from the point of view of the working class. They look at the role of all the class forces involved in the battle. When the bin tax was introduced large numbers of the middle classes did not pay it. They don't like paying taxes in general. But when the heat came on it was inevitable that these layers would buckle.
The non payment figures have to seen from these perspective. Payment in the overwhelming middle class areas is much higher than 30%, it would be closer to 90%. The same situation would apply to non payment in the overwhelming working class areas. No disrespect to ' The Committments' but the class divide in Dublin is not between the north side and the south side, but between the east and the west of the city.
There is of course no such thing as a 100% middle class or working class area, but this explains why the strong areas of the campaign are in general in the west of the city, and why it was inevitable that real battle would come down at some point to a showdown in these areas.
The other key class involved is the capitalist establishment. The balance of class forces internationally were changed dramatically by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Along with the economic boom, especially on the stock exchange. This give a new confidence to the ruling class internationally.
The Irish capitalist class are a historically weak class, coming late onto the scene of history. Unlike their other European counterparts they did not play a historic progressive role in overcoming feudalism, establishing independent states and the basis for the modern capitalist economy and societies. They played no role in the struggle for independence, and assumed power only on the basis of a civil war in the 1920s, armed and supported by British Imperialism.
They have failed to develop an indigenous industrial base. The economy is completely dominated by foreign capital. For sixty years they rested on a social base provided by the moral authority of the Catholic Church in an extremely backward and repressive society, which exported the best and brightest of each generation in their millions. The corruption scandals shows the irish bourgeois for what they are, a greedy, grabbing, parasitic, class of gombeens open for sale to the highest bidder.
The moral authority of the Catholic church imploded with the paedophile scandals of the 1990s, but this was a process which was inevitable and had actually begun as far back as the 1960s with the increased industrialisation and urbanisation of Irish society. The process was merely speeded up and reached its climax in the 90s.
However the phenomenon of the 'Celtic tiger' boom, allayed to the retreat by the workers' movement, and the full scale co-operation of the trade union leadership, has given them a confidence in taking on the working class as never before and forcing through the neo liberal agenda. Southern ireland is now rated as the most 'globalised' economy in the world.
Winning a victory on the bin tax in these circumstances will be much more difficult that it was when the water charges were defeated in Dublin in the 1980s and then again in the 1990s. This does not mean that the battle cannot be won, or indeed that it was a mistake to engage in it in the first place. Victory cannot be guaranteed in any battle, and certainly not in the class struggle. But given any reasonable chance of success, it is better to fight and lose than not to fight at all.
At the very least the capitalist class will know that it has been in a fight, and will have to take account of that in its future plans to dramatically increase the bin tax, bring back water charges and taxes on other services, and privatisation of local services.
At this stage it is difficult to see the outcome of the battle. The setbacks in Fingal and South Dublin are a serious blow. An outright victory with the abolition of the bin tax does not look the most likely. It is possible that in a certain sense this will be a drawn battle, with the tax remaining, but with concessions won in relation to how often people use the service, how much it costs, a relatively generous waiver scheme remaining in place, and the conditions to make it attractive for privatisation not achieved.
It is also possible that if large numbers of people withdraw from the service, as seems to be the case in Fingal and South Dublin, over time the government will have to review the situation given the possible effects of that on the environment and the threat to public health. It is also possible that non collection cannot be implemented in the big working class estates in the city and that the present situation would continue, with high levels of non payment. Eventually this would also force the government to review funding for local authorities.
While maintaining its activity on the other fronts, it is important that the campaigns mount a serious challenge in the June local elections. Getting even a small group of councillors elected, to be the core of a serious opposition on the councils, and registering a good vote in general would be a major coup for the campaigns. We will come back to this question later.
The other thing that marxists do not do, or at least should not do, when trying to seriously analyse events in the class struggle, is only listen to themselves. Regretfully and again breaking with the tradition of the SP/Militant, the present SP leadership in Dublin have been extremely reluctant to engage in a real and meaningful dialogue with the activists actually involved in the city campaign. They are only interested in the opinions of those who are prepared to accept without questioning, their 'leading role'.
Anyone who has led any sort of struggle. a strike for example, will know the importance of weighing up all the factors involved very carefully, taking account of the different levels of consciousness and combativity of the workers involved, and listening very carefully, especially to those who raise questions.
After all, this is the point of having a party with a base in the working class. It is not just a mechanism for conveying the programme, and the strategy and tactics of the party and its leadership into the movement, it is also a mechanism for a dialogue, taking the different views, moods, etc. of the working class and its different layers into the party for discussion to inform its debate and the decisions of its leading bodies.
A much broader and more detailed discussion than it is possible to go into here on the lessons of the bin tax struggle so far would be very beneficial for the left in Dublin. We can all learn from this, including the SP leadership. The struggle is not over , and learning the lessons from what really happened in the autumn will be crucial when non collection is attempted again in the city. The SP leadership, which includes people like JH and CD, can play an important role in helping to learn those lessons, but first they have to drop the childish claims that they, and they alone, have the monopoly on he right ideas, tactics and strategy.
The real source of the anger and vindictiveness of the SP leadership towards JC and DC lies not in a public disagreement over fundamental tactics in the bin tax battle but over our refusal to go along with their manoeuvring to take control of the campaign. The Dublin City Anti Bin Tax Campaign was established out of an initiative taken by the SP. This involved calling a meeting back in early 2001 to which the SWP WSM and the WP were invited.
It was agreed then that these groups would work together to establish a unified, broad based campaign, based in the communities, and using the water charges campaign as a model. An organising committee was set up with a representative of each of each of the groups involved. DC was the SP representative. Each group put in Euro100 to get material out, call meetings etc. It was agreed that once a campaign had established a base in the working class areas, a structure to reflect that would be put in place.
In the spring of 2002 a conference took place, attended by 100 people from the different areas where campaigns had been established. Four officers were elected and it was agreed that monthly activist meetings, made up of representatives from the areas, would be the key place where decisions would be taken. The former organising committee, made up of representatives of the political groups was dissolved.
This structure proved less than perfect. The attendance at activist meetings was up and down. If something was happening, 80 people might turn up. On other occasions, nobody but the officers might show. We ran up against the problem that most non politically involved activists in the campaign were not used to, or didn't, see the point in going to meetings outside their own areas. Given this situation, it was proposed that while maintaining the activist meetings, we should broaden out the officers into a co-ordinating committee with representatives from the biggest and most active campaign areas.
Creating a structure which is both democratic and gives the maximum involvement of people in discussion and decision making, but which is also gives an effective way of making decisions and getting them carried out is not easy in campaigns of this type. No one has yet come up with the perfect formula for doing this. Left wing political activists played a key role in providing a spine for the campaign. But they were also the people most likely to turn up at activists meetings, and the discussions were not always reflective or representative of the broader mass involved in the areas.
It was imperative to take this into account for decisions to have a real effect in mobilising real forces on the ground. Instead of playing a role which understood the need for bringing the greatest number of people with you. which meant having an inclusive and consensual approach on decision making, the SP leadership set about trying to take control of the elected bodies of the campaign.
When the government changed the Waste Management Act in the summer of 2003, in order to allow for non collection to be used as a weapon against non payment, DC proposed contacting the other campaigns with a view to discussing an agreed tactic to respond. A meeting was set up but when DC put the proposal to call an all Dublin conference to discuss non collection this was opposed. The reasons given were that the Fingal and South Dublin campaigns had not had conferences and been formally established . DC then proposed that there simply be an all Dublin meeting instead. This was also rejected. It is important to point out that at this time there were different ideas being put forward, such as the mass dumping of rubbish in some areas.
It became clear at this meeting there was another agenda at work, to force the city campaign into holding a conference, supposedly to discuss non collection but in reality to change the leadership. An agreement had been made by the SP leadership with Irish Working Class Action (WCA) to try and reduce the numbers of SWP members in the officers and on the organising committee, and to achieve a majority for themselves. So much for the agreement by the political groupings to make way for a leadership representing the different areas.
A discussion began at the top of the SP where JC registered her opposition to these manoeuvrings. The SP regional committee adopted a position that an organising committee be elected at the conference but not the officers. The officers would then be appointed by the organising committee on which they hoped to have a majority.
SP members should consider the nature of this manoeuvre. Awkward individuals like DC could be removed, but not in a straight vote at a conference of activists, where he would win.
Shortly before the conference, these issues came up for discussion at a meeting of the co-ordinating committee. This was a meeting attended by six people, hardly a public debate. DN raised the SP proposal. This was opposed by DC on the basis that whatever leadership was elected it should be done by the activists at the conference. Ciaran Perry (WCA) raised a different proposal from the SP. This was that there should be no officers, but a co-ordinating committee only. There was a vote in which CP and DN supported this position. JC abstained. A proposal by DC to elect officers and a committee at the conference, put forward by DC was carried with three votes. Again JC abstained. The SP proposal was not put to a vote.
When the conference took place there was no discussion on these issues. Officers and a committee were elected. There was no public debate on these issues in which JC or anyone else disagreed with the SP and again for the very good reason that they did not raise these questions before the activists in the campaign. JC was subsequently censored and then later removed from the SP regional executive, not for publicly voting against a SP motion, as has been claimed , but for abstaining on an anarchistic proposal put forward by a member of WCA at a meeting of six people!
The SP/WCA achieved a majority on paper of the officers and organising committee at the conference. There were five SP members( this included DC) and two WCA members out of eleven people. However this was not the case in practise. To varying degrees DC in particular, and to a lesser extent JC and EF opposed these attempts to 'control' the campaign. What happened then was the SP used its position in Fingal, not to establish a genuine link up of the four campaigns, but to try and control things through behind the scenes meetings with groups like WCA, WSM and ISN. It was this that created the shambles last October of events being called, or called off or changed by a small group without any consultation with the people involved.
The SP leadership do not deny that these meetings took place. Publicly they say these were just meetings to discuss out ideas and proposals and were not secret. Why is then that three out of the five members of the SP on the campaign co-ordinating knew nothing about them? In private they say it was necessary to do this because of the conservative opposition of DC and the SWP and that things just needed to get done. In realty these meetings were used to go around the obstacle posed by the democratic structures of a campaign they wished to control. There is a world of difference between giving leadership by providing the best tactics and by the example of providing the best and most committed activists, and patiently winning people over to your point of view, and opportunistic manoeuvres to grab 'control'.
It was in protest at this opportunist, divisive and sectarian grab for control which DC resigned from the SP when in jail last October. The invention of so called fundamental differences to justify opportunism, or the elevation of minor issues to these so called fundamental differences are hallmarks of sectarianism. As chairperson of the campaign in the city it was impossible to defend these activities. DC waited until JH and CD were released from jail before quietly informing the SP leadership of his resignation . No public statement was made. This attitude can be compared to the attitude of the SP leadership to DC while he was in prison.
Their vindictive and petty attitude was appalling. Up to this point people jailed were put in the training unit of Mountjoy were there is a much more relaxed regime than general prison population. There was a more liberal regime there on visits, phone calls and so on, but also protesters were held together, and able to discuss, support one another and have a much better knowledge of what was going on outside. But two protesters, one of whom was DC, were separated and put in Clover Hill, in the general prison population, allowed one 15 minute visit and one 6 minute phone call a day, only to two agreed numbers which could not be changed. We were much more isolated.
With the notable exception of JH, who made a call to JC, even though he was in prison, no other member of the SP leadership contacted JC to see if we were OK, or indeed if she needed any support. Far more seriously, when the Ballyfermot/Inchicore anti bin tax campaign organised a march to Clover Hill which is in this area, only JC and EF from the SP went on it. There was no SP banner. This was a political statement and quite an incredible one when you consider that DC was a leading member of the SP/Militant for 30 years and was still a party member at the time.
When EF raised this in the SP a certain Steven Boyd launched into a rant about DC being an enemy of the party. (Where have we come across this sort of language before? What's next? Gestapo agent?) JC then wrote to the leadership demanding a retraction of this nonsense. It was in the discussions which followed where they expressed their concerns about JC standing in the local elections. What had changed since the Voice announced JC as a candidate and the new position now adopted?
After 17 years of hard work and loyalty JC was informed in these discussions that she was not trusted. What crime has she committed? There is no record of knowingly opposing the party in public. She has raised questions with the SP leadership. She does live with an enemy of the people, sorry party, namely DC. But there is nothing in the SP constitution which forbids either of these, so far in any rate.
We will only make a few brief points in relation to the claim of differences on a number of other issues referred to in the letter from the SP leadership. This refers to firstly work in broader campaigns. There are quite clearly differences in relation to how the party intervened in the bin charges campaign. As to what other areas of broad work, we would like to hear those outlined.
As to the issue raised of differences in estimating the mood of the working class, we are also in the dark as to what this actually means. On the question of a new broad party of the working class, again it is necessary to spell out clearly the areas where there actually are differences, and to see how fundamental they actually are, and again if these differences have emerged in public.
The SP, and the organisation to which it is affiliated, the CWI, are in favour of new parties of the working class to replace the old Labour and Social Democratic parties, and Communist Parties. These parties had a mass base of support in Europe (though this was never the case with the Labour Party in ireland). The CWI believes that new mass parties will emerge as part of the process of rebuilding the workers' movement, and though not revolutionary parties, They will play a vital role in the task of preparing the working class for the struggle to change society.
Putting forward the idea of the need for a new, broad party of the working class in Ireland is not in anyway contradictory to the programme of the SP or the CWI. In the February issue of Socialism Today, produced by the SP in England and Wales, dealing with the Respect initiative by George Galloway, it says "The socialist party supports candidates standing in elections who put forward a clear alternative in opposition to New labour, or clearly represent a step towards a new, mass workers' party". It states further in terms of capitalising on the mass opposition to the war, " the best way of doing this would have been for Galloway, and the other leaders of the anti war movement, to have launched the call for a new party at the time of the million and a half demonstration in London".
In the same journal, a report on the LCR/LO's electoral alliance in France, makes the point that "a good result will encourage workers but, under the LO/LCR's plans, it will not offer a political instrument for the millions of people who will vote for the list ; a new mass workers' party". We refer anyone who is interested in this question to a pamphlet, The Case for a New Mass Workers Party by Christina Thomas, produced by the SP in England and Wales some two years ago.
We have no difference with this position. We have however argued that the SP in Ireland should adopt a much more positive stance in terms of advocating such a party in Ireland. But when it is raised, such as at the time of the 100,000 strong anti war demo in Dublin, that this was an opportunity to boldly advance this part of the party programme and receive a really good response, to SP leadership are dismissive, saying there is no basis at this time for such a party.
First it is necessary to make the very basic point that Marxists do not advocate, or include in their programme, demands for things for which there is "no basis". The socialist revolution, or building a socialist society is not posed as a task of the day at the present time, but that does not mean there is no basis for advocating it and including such demands in our programme. Marxists have well established the basis for socialism on a historical and theoretical level.
This theoretical sloppiness does a disservice to the ranks of the SP. There is a basis for a new workers' party, both internationally and in Ireland. The basis for such parties exists in a theoretical study and analysis of the historical process of the class struggle, and the role such parties have played in the past and are capable of playing in the future. They form part of the tradition of the working class and occupy an important place in the broad consciousness of the working class.
Even though there was never a mass workers' party in Ireland, in the sense of the Labour party in Britain, or Social Democracy in Northern Europe or the CPs in France or Italy, the iIish Labour Party could be said to have represented a "pre formation" for such a party in the past . It of course does not do so today. This by the way puts this question somewhat into perspective, when we talk of a "new mass workers' party". The Labour party would have has some 1,000, of members, it was able on occasion to get as high as 20% of the vote, but it was never a mass party.
It never won even the electoral support of a majority of workers, let alone be capable of leading mass social movements, which is the role of such a mass party. Anyone who believes that such a social formation can be called into being overnight, does not live live in the real world. Such a party can only emerge out of huge events in the class struggle, over a period of time. Pre formations for such a party will emerge first, and it is inevitable that there will be false starts and dead ends in the process.
Parties can emerge like the RC in Italy, which has won a significant section of the most militant workers and youth in Italy where there have been huge struggles such as the mass movement and general strikes which brought down the first Berlesconi government in the mid 90s. It can achieve about 10% of the vote in Italy. But it is not excluded that the RC, depending on the role it plays when key questions are posed in the class struggle, whether it moves to the right or the left , can be bypassed by some other formation on the road to a mass party in Italy. In fact, because we are in a different and extremely unstable period now, as opposed to the post war period, the creation of stable mass workers parties such as existed in the post war period, is very unlikely.
Such parties, or more likely the pre formations of such parties, will almost inevitably be reformist in character, and are doomed to fail the test of great events. Only a party with a revolutionary programme can successfully lead the struggle to overthrow capitalism. But nevertheless, such parties can play a key role in mobilising the working class, and providing a forum for the test of ideas and programmes for activists, and raising the consciousness of the working class in general. They will play a key role in the essential task of building revolutionary parties of the working class, which unfortunately do not exist, anywhere, at the present.
To speak of there being "no basis" for such a party in Ireland is to make nonsense of Marxism. What the SP means if you leave aside the theoretical looseness (for which there is never any justification) is that the forces to bring such a party, or even a pre-pre-pre formation for such a party into existence, do not exist at present. We agree with that, despite the scale of the anti war movement, and the bin tax battle.
But the question doesn't end there. The SP position, that we are in in favour of a new party, but there is no basis for it now, and their hostile attitude to any discussion of this question, and implacable opposition to any initiative in its direction, gives their inclusion of this demand in their programme a purely formal character. This is an extremely dangerous road to travel. This is, at this stage an unfortunate situation, but if it is not corrected it can lead to a disaster for the SP.
This situation has arisen out of what can only be described as an obsession of behalf of the Sp leadership with the SWP. Their formally correct position on the question of a new workers' party has been subverted by their determination not to give, as they put it, ' a leg up to the SWP". This has led the party into the most convoluted and dishonest posturing on the issue of standing a list or slate of anti bin tax candidates in the upcoming local and European elections.
Before dealing with that, we want to put our position on the question of a new party and what we believe should be the SP position. We have never advocated that the SP take the initiative in setting up a new party, or of becoming involved in a left alliance or socialist block which has been advocated by the SWP. We believe that just bringing the existing left together, which is all that could be achieved, is a recipe for a sectarian circus, which would very quickly repel the small amount of workers who may have got involved.
The experience of the bin tax struggle has borne this out. The rank and file members of the various left groups make up the majority of the best class fighters around at this time, but inevitably, when these forces are brought together the struggle to control, score political points of each other, and generally justify their reasons for separate existence, very quickly out weight any desire they might have had to work together.
It would only be in a far broader movement, involving an active working class element, that pressure could be brought to bear to impose some discipline on these tendencies. that is the crucial test for any new formation on the left. Could it bring into play new forces, an active working class element which would put its stamp on the formation?
Putting forward a positive position on the need for a new party is not in any way contradictory to refusing to join a socialist alliance or socialist block. All we have asked is that the SP put forward its position clearly and in a positive and consistent manner.
There are steps which could be taken now, and which should have been taken over the last few years, to raise the need for a new party of the left and got a very positive response from a wide layer of working people. For example, the re-election of Joe Higgins and Seamus Healy, plus a number of new independent DS with some form of left credentials was a significant result in the last general election. The SP could have taken the initiative then to have a series of public meetings and debates, involving those elected, to raise and discuss the issue of a new party. Instead it contented itself with establishing a technical group in the Dail.
To push the SP into a more positive position on this question does not mean advocating that the SP itself should be wound up. It is again not in any way inconsistent for a party like the SP to advocate and campaign for a new broad working class party while maintaining its own right to its political and organisational integrity as a separate force.
The debate in the CWI over the launching of the SSP was not a simple question of a revolutionary party versus a non revolutionary party. The CWI leadership had no principled opposition per se to the setting up of a broad party. What was at issue was what would happen to the forces built up on the basis of revolutionary marxist ideas over 30 years.
The CWI's opposition was to the dissolving of those forces organisationally and politically into a broad formation. It argued instead for a political and organisational regrouping of its Scottish section, which had become seriously weakened both in terms of its political understanding and organisation through the prioritisation by its leadership over a number of years of work in the Scottish Socialist Alliance. There were never any differences in ireland over these questions. We supported the CWI leadership on these issues. There is no basis whatever to the never openly stated but implied insinuation that DC favoured a "Scottish turn" in ireland.
We come now to the question of an anti bin tax list or slate for the local and European elections in Dublin. Having been members of the SP until very recently, and involved in its leading bodies, we can state without any doubt, that the SP has been and remains absolutely determined not to become involved in any sort of election pact or list which would involve the SWP. However, given the events of last autumn, they had to respond to the pressure from working people that the bin tax campaigns should put up a united front and really put it up to the right wing parties, and labour, in the june elections.
They therefore came up with the public position that they were in favour of a slate of anti bin tax candidates, provided it contained genuine people who had actually had involvement in the struggle. On paper this sounds fine. Why give a platform to political opportunists to jump on the ban wagon? It is also the case that if a slate was open to anybody and everybody that some people with no real creditability would have stood, getting derisory votes and weakening the overall effect and thus the campaign.
The reality though was different. the SP were not concerned with putting forward a creditable list of candidates, but of ensuring that there was no list. At a meeting of the four campaigns to discuss a possible all Dublin list, it was quickly clear that we were not facing a situation where anybody and everybody was trying to get themselves onto this list. There could have been a list of twenty plus candidates, all of whom had played some role in building the various campaigns, and were likely to be nominated as candidates by local campaigns.
If an agreement had of being reached it would have been possible to stand in all the wards in Fingal, in four out of five in both South Dublin and the same in Dunlaoighaire/Rathdown, and in eight out of eleven wards in the city. This would have compared favourably to say parties like the greens and SF. It would have been possible to get 15,000 to 20,000 votes, and between three and five or more people elected. The same number of votes could have been won for Joe Higgins in the European poll. It would have been possible to create a certain impact in the media on this basis. There is no way that this could be interpreted as a weakness by the campaigns.
Instead the SP insisted on a limited list, which included only those SWP candidates who they couldn't argue against. When it was proposed by people at this meeting that areas where there was a question mark over the local campaigns' level of organisation and activity, such as in Ringsend or Coolock/Artane, we could write to the membership, calling a meeting and then judge whether to support candidates on the basis of the level of turnout and local support, This was rejected out of hand. so was a proposal to facilitate a meeting between the SP and SWP ( who had made clear their willingness to co operate and withdraw one or two candidates) to try and resolve differences. The SP eventually gave an ultimatum; either their version of the list or they would not participate in it.
The upshot of all this is that there is no list. An opportunity both for the campaign, and for taking a step that would have helped raised the potential for a new left force has been lost. (There will however still be twenty plus candidates standing with the bin tax as a key issue in their manifestos.)
The questions about building the SP flow from these differences. We do not believe that our approach as to how to intervene in the movement, or on the issue of a new party, are inconsistent with the politics and tradition of the CWI or SP?Militant in Ireland. This article is already too long to go any further into these questions. We hope that members of the SP take some time to consider the issues raised here. We apologise for having to go into some detail about meetings and who said or did what, but it is necessary to try and get at the facts, and where they are disputed, to hear both sides of the story.
Finally to come back to the letter to JC from the SP leadership. The SP leaders have sold this to their members with the dishonest argument that JC was only asked to agree to something which any of the other party candidates would have agreed to. Why didn't they ask all the candidates to sign up to this letter so?
The fact of the matter is that JC was singled out for special treatment. Here is a flavour of this harmless letter and the five conditions involved: (1) 'differences mentioned earlier are discussed.......with a view to resolving them in advance of the election......(5) ' In the event of a change in our representative's political or personal circumstances......the position remains with the party'. This point is clarified by the amazing 'some of the points above flow from important political issues that have emerged recently, like the abuse of the political process by the establishment parties'. Only a person with absolutely no political integrity would have agreed to this outrageous letter.
Since this article was written the SP have now come out openly with their criticisms of the Dublin city campaign in an article in Socialist View. This is the first time, in a campaign that is four years old, that the criticisms they have been making behind the scenes are made public. What purpose is served by this? Again the point needs to be made, if these questions were so important why weren't they raised in the campaign? For example, it would have been very easy to put forward a resolution to any of the conferences held, raising their doubts