The results in the recent local and European elections in the south were disappointing for the left in Ireland. Although there were notable bright spots, including the election of Clare Daly in Dublin, the left generally fared badly, with Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, Solidarity and Independents 4 Change all losing seats.
Several factors are responsible for this, including an economic recovery, low voter turnout – particularly in working class areas – and an inability to organise the anger around housing into a mass movement on the scale of Right2Water.
The economic recovery has allowed the government to ease up on austerity and has lifted the pressure off some working people. But it has also reinforced the anger of many others who are more convinced than ever that the current system is rigged against them. Many people are seething at Fine Gael and their partners in government, Fianna Fáil, but they were not convinced that the left was able to successfully challenge them.
This was different in both 2014 and 2016 as the left came together to resist water charges and to offer a genuine left alternative through the Right2Change initiative. In both elections the left made significant gains as working people took to the streets and voted for parties that helped them to organise.
To make gains in the current period we need a left that is willing to work together on key initiatives and present a progressive alternative to the establishment.
Fine Gael promised action on climate change, but within a week of the Green Wave election, they issued an exploration licence to a Chinese Oil and Gas company and pulled a stroke to block People Before Profit’s Climate Emergency Bill.
Fianna Fáil are no better, propping up the Fine Gael government under the cover of Brexit, despite its dire failure to address the housing crisis, the crisis in the public health system, the climate emergency and major scandals around the National Children’s Hospital and rural broadband.
To challenge Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and address these crises’, the left needs to come together to build national movements on workers’ rights, housing and environmental sustainability. We also need to revisit policies such as those developed as part of the Right2Change initiative and explore the possibility of increased left cooperation during elections.
This cooperation would also be considerably strengthened if progressive forces publicly ruled out coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Coalition with these parties will undermine confidence in any progressive alternative to the establishment, strengthen the right and demoralise many voters looking for a progressive alternative to neoliberal policies.
We therefore urge all those who want a progressive alternative to build it collectively and to remember the disastrous electoral consequences for both the Greens and Labour when, in recent years, they entered coalition governments with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
There is much to be done and only a left publicly committed to replacing the right-wing political establishment and offering a genuinely left alternative will have any chance of succeeding. People Before Profit is willing to play its part in developing this project and we are hopeful others will work with us to make it happen.
To move this forward we are calling on other forces of the left to discuss the possibility of unified action in the following areas.
- A campaign to increase union density – particularly among the young – and to fight for a living wage of €12.30 an hour and better pay and conditions for workers generally.
- Increased cooperation in the fight to build a national housing movement
- Increased cooperation in the fight against climate change with a particular focus on a just transition for workers, communities and small farmers and on the Global Strike on September 20.
- The upcoming bi-elections
For our part, we shall engage in a series of meetings with left parties, networks and unions who are interested in discussing these proposals.