ASPECTS OF THE HISTORY
IDEOLOGY AND POLITICS OF THE WORKER’S PARTY
The creation of The Worker’s Party came after many years of arduous and costly struggle. At the jubilant Ard Fheis, held in Liberty Hall, Dublin in 1982, when the decision was ratified formally, delegate after delegate spoke of the efforts and sacrifices which had gone into producing Ireland’s first major revolutionary democratic, secular, socialist party. The story of the Party’s development, the various crises which were overcome, growing electoral successes, subsequent betrayals and the slow process of rebuilding is, in many ways, an account of the difficulties a socialist party faces in a society dominated by a conservative, if not grossly reactionary, value system.
It is not possible to tell that entire story in a few pages. The thirty five years from 1962 include one of the most horrible and evil chapters in the history of modern Ireland; a chapter which unfortunately has not yet concluded. The history of the Party is woven into the fabric of those years. It played a major role in shaping the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in the 1960’s. Subsequently it opposed the growing sectarian, murderous terrorism which has polarised Northern Ireland as never before.
At the same time it set about the task of bringing alive the consciousness of the working class in the Republic through housing action committees, trade union activity, anti-ground rent campaigns, fishing rights and the private ownership of rivers, defence of public enterprises, tax marches and many other localised campaigns. It is no exaggeration to claim that during those years The Workers’ Party was the most dynamic political force in the country.
That dynamism was clearly a product of both the Party’s ideological understanding and its disciplined political organisation, developed over the two decades from 1962 – 1982. (In 1962 the IRA had declared that the military campaign begun in 1956 was over).
During the period 1962 – 1969, the Republican Movement as it was then known, was being altered from a militaristic organisation, solely concerned with securing “national unity”, into a revolutionary political organisation with an embryonic socialist agenda. This creative development by key elements in the leadership was met by serious internal opposition from 1964 onwards, on three grounds; because of (i) the decision to reject the idea of a “military campaign to unite the country”; (ii) deep hostility to the socialist project and (iii) opposition to ending of the policy of abstentionism i.e. the decision to take seats in parliament.
It is a matter of historical record that the outcome of the vicious opposition to these changes was to culminate in the creation of the Provisionals in 1969 by an alliance of elements in Fianna Fail, right-wing Irish Americans, northern sectarian Roman Catholic nationalists and embittered ex-members of the Republican Movement from the 1940’s.
To grasp the significance of this radical transformation of the Republican Movement, undertaken after 1962, it is necessary to have some appreciation of the history of modern Ireland as understood by The Workers’ Party. Specific attention must be paid to Republican ideology and the contradictions which surfaced at various times but most critically in the twentieth century.
From the French Revolution to the present is a mere two centuries. But they have contained some of the most turbulent years the world is ever liable to witness. The slaughter of millions in world wars; the threat, even if diminished, of nuclear annihilation; the incredible waste of natural and human resources on armaments; fierce global and regional ideological confrontation, particularly that of communism against various forms of fascism ; the imperialistic exploitation of hundreds of different peoples; the concentration of political and economic power in fewer and fewer hands; the (re)emergence of religious and nationalist fundamentalism; a total transformation and a massive explosion in productive and technological capacity alongside world wide unemployment, poverty and famine; Ireland was and is part of that world. Its history cannot be understood in isolation from the events and philosophies which have shaped the rest of our planet.
Unfortunately Irish political party there are those who see Ireland as somehow insulated from the intellectual, political and physical turmoil which dominates world life. This is particularly true for elements who have interpreted “republicanism” as a unique and specific, Irish phenomenon, identical to nationalism and congruent with the perceived political aspirations of the country’s Roman Catholic majority. While nothing could be further from the truth, this monster version of republicanism not only has had grave murderous consequences for people, but at the same time has invaded popular consciousness largely through a widespread uncritical (often willing) acceptance of the projections of its propagandists.
Republicanism, as The Workers’ Party understands it, cannot be separated from the fundamental principles of the French Revolution – for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. In one sense it would be reasonable to argue that there was a specific and important Irish dimension to the development of Republican political thought; Tone’s dictum- to unify Protestant ,Catholic and Dissenter. But, on examination, this is really a localised exploration and elaboration of Fraternity i.e. to remove divisions, barriers and sectarian hatreds in Ireland. It cannot be interpreted in any sense as making Republicanism a unique Irish political phenomenon.
Furthermore, Tone’s assertion is in reality a demand, just as in France, to place the concept of citizen at the centre of the new republican political order; denominational identity is to be replaced by the “common name of Irishman”. In one of his comments on the state of Catholics at the time (1793) it is interesting also to note that he wonders what answers could be given “if they were to rise, and, with one voice, demand their rights as citizens, and as men?” (Emphasis added).
To discharge this fully, i.e. to replace denominational identity with citizenship is also to proclaim the democratic, secular nature of Tone’s republic.
Opposition to the concept of a secular society is part and parcel of both states in Ireland. Equally there is significant hostility to the idea of socialism. Much of this derives from the country’s “religious value systems”, a scanty knowledge of socialist philosophy and a conservative dread of the future. (Naturally events in Eastern Europe have added to the problems facing Irish socialists). A statement by the late former leader of the Irish Labour Party, Brendan Corish, is illuminating in this respect. Asked to outline his philosophy, he replied “First I am a Catholic, second an Irishman and third a trade unionist”. A statement of a similar nature probably could be had from leaders in the nationalist/unionist blocks in Northern Ireland.
In the course then of the late sixties, Republican activity was directed to social problems which had the purpose of developing a new type of membership but which sought also to heighten class consciousness. At the same time internal education stressed the socialist dimension of the Republican tradition – from Tone to Frank Ryan.
The great tragedy of 1969/71 was the virtual displacement of the democratic, secular, socialist, Republican tradition by rampant vicious, sectarian, militaristic nationalism in the shape of the Provisional Alliance. The Civil Rights gains were set aside and even (Official) Sinn Fein / IRA, for a brief period, were sucked into the downward spiral of violence. Although determined efforts were made to continue with programmes of social action e.g. housing agitation in Belfast and Dublin and a restoration of the Civil Rights Movement, significant outbursts of violence in Northern Ireland dominated political life throughout the country.
At this time it would appear that the British Government adopted a “lance the boil” policy i.e. taking any opportunity to escalate the level of violence. (This expression was used by an MI 5 officer during an interrogation in 1971. He added that he expected the process to take 10 years). There is significant evidence to support this understanding if one looks at the cumulative effect of key episodes in 1970, ’71, and early ‘ 72 – the Lower Falls Curfew, Belfast in July 1970, the introduction of Internment without Trial throughout Northern Ireland in August 1971 and the Bloody Sunday murders of January 1972 at the Civil Rights March in Derry.
The product of the major events from August 1969 was to provide a fertile recruiting ground for the Provisionals. At the same time a variety of loyalist terrorist organisations were spawned in response to the growing violence. The outcome would be twenty five years of terrorism with the goal of a democratic, secular, socialist republic buried in the pervasive murderous sectarianism which has at this time left Northern Ireland polarised as never before and the majority of citizens in the Republic apparently alienated from any concept of “national unity”.
May 1972 saw a major decision by (official) Sinn Fein and the IRA. Speaking at Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone Tomas Mac Giolla, the then Party President, declared that violence in Northern Ireland would lead to a spate of sectarian murders and would ultimately and inevitably frustrate any possible moves towards unity. This announcement was in fact the beginning of the dissolution of the IRA. And it would have significant consequences as the pressure to create a serious socialist party developed from 1973 onwards. It may be useful, at this point, to distinguish four periods in the history of The Workers’ Party, without in any way implying that these are water tight – 1972-’77, ’77- ’82, ’82-’92 and ’92 to the present.
Serious tensions and contradictions developed within (official) Sinn Fein as a result of both the May decision and the build up of pressure to press ahead with the development of the Party. There is much detail in this period which will require in-depth revisiting in order to formulate a more comprehensive history of The Workers’ Party. But for present purposes it is sufficient to indicate that a minority opposition led by Seamus Costello over a two year period sought to reverse the May decision and at the same time frustrate the development of a disciplined socialist party. In this he was supported by Trotskyist and other ultra-left elements on the fringes of the Party and by sectarian adventurers, largely in Belfast.
Expelled from the Party Costello organised the Irish Republican Socialist Party with a military wing the Irish National Liberation Organisation. In 1975 they launched murderous attacks on key Party personnel, killing both rank and file members and leading figures in Belfast and severely wounding the future General Secretary Sean Garland. In October of that year the Provisionals launched what amounted to a virtual Pogrom against members in Belfast killing six people including a six year old child and wounding twenty six others. It is notable that this latter series of attacks took place during a “cease-fire” and according to well placed security commentators could not have taken place with out at least the passive support of the British Army. ( It is interesting to note in passing that the American Provisional newspaper, published in new York justified their murders with the headline “Provisional wedge against communism in Ireland” ).
Heightened determination to press forward with the development of the Party resulted from these attacks. Internal Party education begun in Mornington, Co. Louth, in 1971 was extended with regular week end and week-long schools attended by Party members and branches from all over the country. Advances were made in party publications. Major discussions took place around the appropriateness of the current Party name; not only at the level of ongoing confusion with the Provisionals but more significantly as to what extent it conveyed the radical development of Party policy. At the time there were those who thought that the renaming of the Party should be total i.e. replacing Sinn Fein with The Workers’ Party. The Ard Fheis of 1977, however, decided overwhelmingly that Sinn Fein would be retained and The Workers’ Party attached as a suffix. A new era had begun.
The next five years saw, what at the time looked like, the completion of the pre-stage of Party building. Although the Party had won seats in Local Government elections North and South during the previous decade, the major breakthrough into parliamentary politics had still to happen. Significantly this took place in June 1981 at the time of the Provisional hunger strikes in Northern Ireland. Joe Sherlock, Cork North East, was returned as the first SFWP Dail member.
There can be no doubt that 1981 was a significant date in recent Irish history. The Provisionals won a number of seats, one in Westminster and two in Dail elections in the emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding the hunger strikers. ( This might be seen as the beginning of their transition to “parliamentary politics” ) . At the same time SFWP became The Workers’ Party, in 1982, after winning three Dail seats with Proinsias De Rossa, in Dublin North West, Sherlock in Cork and Gallagher in Waterford. Paradoxically as the Party progressed in the Republic, in Northern Ireland it suffered both by its refusal to support the Provisional hunger strike and by its endorsement of the Chilvers Report on Education proposing the creation of a single teacher training college in place of the existing denominational structures.
The Roman Catholic Church while accepting an integrated third level system in all other respects vehemently rejected the Chilvers’ proposal and consequently, overtly and covertly, attacked The Workers’ Party. Local government seats were lost some never to be regained.
The third period identified stretches then from the Ard Fheis of 1982 until the betrayal of the Party and its programme in 1992 by the group subsequently to become the Democratic Left.
The events surrounding the efforts to liquidate The Workers’ Party have been well documented in the publication “The Flight from Socialism : Patterns of Betrayal”, available from Party offices, and require no further elaboration here. It is important though to state that the damage done to the Party far surpassed any of the murderous assaults of the mid-seventies. This was true not only for Party structures and morale but also in terms of the many thousands of voters who had placed their hopes in an honest, serious, democratic, secular, socialist party and saw those hopes dashed by the gross opportunism and individualism of those who betrayed the Party.
From 1982 the Party, now unequivocally declared as a party of and for working people, began to assume a more significant role in the political life of both states. Its clear national and international policies – peace, work, democracy and class politics – its active participation in the major issues of the time led to an increase in membership and in some senses a more than disproportionate growth in its influence.
From the early seventies the Party had campaigned strongly in support of a wide range of international struggles- Vietnam, Angola, Nigaragua, South Africa, Palestine and others.( Later fraternal linkages were established with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Communist Party of China, and other workers and socialist parties, particularly in Europe.). At the same time it was prominent in opposing terrorism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, in defence of natural resources and the state sector in the Republic, in trade union activity, in the development of a nationwide tax protests, in fact it had become the cutting edge of radical thinking and activity, particularly in the Republic. The Party also sought to improve Irish understanding of the critical importance of peace and demilitarisation in Europe through its promotion of the non-governmental body the European Committee for Security and Cooperation.
As a result there was a steady rise in electoral support for the Party, with new seats won in the 1985 Dublin local government elections, culminating in the elections of 1989 which saw seven members in the Dail and a first ever European Parliament seat in Dublin. As stated earlier The Workers’ Party was seen, even by its enemies, as the most dynamic political force of the decade. This increase was also reflected in Northern Ireland where the Party polled just short of 6% of the vote in the Belfast Local Government elections of the same year.
The primary task facing the Party, like many other workers’ parties, since 1992 has been one of slowly and painfully reconstructing itself, while at the same time facing as many as possible of the various challenges which any political party confronts e.g. elections . These tasks were made more difficult by the legacy of heavy debt incurred over the years but now borne by a party with a much reduced income.
At the same time while some serious progress has been made from the low point of 1992 it must be recognised that the present political condition is hostile to the democratic politics of a socialist party. This is compounded by the fairly widely held view that politics is not seen by a growing number of people as a vital, central, and critical component of everyday life. In addition many citizens are cynical as to the motives of individual politicians and the sincerity of their parties. Thus the challenges faced by the Party now would seem to be of a different order than those of the seventies and eighties.
In particular there is the clear shift to the centre / left / right which has had the consequence of both seeking to remove ideology from politics and at the same time blurring any difference between parties in the eyes of the electorate. Where in the past two decades there were obvious major ideological battles to be fought around readily identifiable and burning ‘left’ issues e.g. Vietnam, South Africa, Nicaragua, Angola and others, which mobilised the idealism of the young, and spilled over at the same time into local politics, capitalism has persuaded social democracy of its unassailable world political and economic dominance.
Having recruited this more than willing ally to its cause socialists and their parties will find themselves increasingly being disparaged and dismissed as “old hat” – ” not in touch with the times” – “clinging to outworn dogmas “. In fact every possible verbal trick in the book will be played in order to persuade socialists that there is nothing to do but go along with the prevailing tide. There could be virtues in this situation. Clearer water should become visible between socialist and other parties as it becomes more evident that the ” managerial ” approach of the various governments, and their occasional identical replacements, cannot resolve the deep-rooted problems at the heart of the economic and political systems.
The problem for the Party is to gear and develop ourselves to take advantage of this situation in a period of ongoing vicious sectarianism and fundamentalism in Northern Ireland and the media led ideologically denuded politics of the Republic. There are no easy answers. No instant solutions. Indeed we will need to shun any such suggestions; at the same time we cannot rely solely on our correct theoretical perspectives. The challenge is to reconstruct recognising that it will take time, foresight and planning.
The Republic of Ireland
This Ard Fheis prefaces its proposals with the recognition that Ireland has the potential for great wealth. We are a country rich in natural resources. From Tynagh to Navan, to Galmoy some of the largest and richest lead and zinc mine in Europe have been discovered. Our seas, our farmland our forestry contain, at the present time, the natural materials for thriving community and an extensive workforce in the processing of goods and commodities for the home and export markets. Were these resources to be properly developed and worked by a labour force which is young, educated, trained, then the potential for development is virtually unlimited.
The Government, the Central Statistics Office, and the Central Bank never tire of advertising the record ‘growth’ levels in the economy, presently standing at 7% and over double the present European Union average. The official statistics refuse to recognise that our present growth rates are built on the back of massive EU subvention to the economy of over Ј1bn per year which will dry up in the near future. Our growth rates are also artificially inflated on the back of multinational corporation transfer pricing arrangements whereby profits at Irish plants are massively and artificially inflated to avail of our minimum tax regime. These arrangements are without any solid foundation and this is particularly painfully obvious to the 1,000 workers made redundant in one day in September, 1966.
This Ard Fheis further recognises that the policy of the Fine Gael/ Labour/Democratic Left Government, supported by the two right wing opposition Dail parties of Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats is to create a low wage economy. The constant barrage of propaganda from Ministers, from opposition, from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, from the Irish Farm Association, from the Central Bank is the coded message of competitiveness, i.e. low wages and poor conditions.
The Workers’ Party, at this Ard Fheis, recognises the fight for democracy as a central struggle of the working class in this country which draws into question the relationship of the citizen to the state and demands a complete realignment of power structures.
This Ard Fheis recognises that the dominant political trend over the last five years has been a move towards a policy of consensus and that this move has been orchestrated by, and has been singularly beneficial to those with wealth in the country i.e. the ruling class.
This brings the working class and its representative party, The Workers’ Party, into conflict with the mainstream political establishment and its media and academia, who deny the very concept of class and therefore obviously deny that there is a ruling class in Ireland. It further brings us into conflict with social democratic ideology, which, while accepting in theory the concept of class, argues that class politics, is and should be a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from reality.
The politics of consensus, which seek to forge a nonconfrontational path forward between entities called social partners, is a very deliberate attempt to sidetrack class politics. The key question which must be asked about the politics of consensus is “who has consented?” Clearly the unemployed, the low paid, the 30,000 on the hospital waiting lists have not consented.
This Ard Fheis reaffirms that The Workers’ Party is in favour of Centralised Bargaining which as well as covering issues of pay and working conditions must also cover areas such as taxation, social welfare, health and education. We are critical of terms such as ‘consensus’ and ‘social partners’ which are used to cloud the fundamental conflict which exists and which will continue to exist between employers and workers. We are also critical of the fact that agreements made in the past have not been fully implemented. Future agreements must be fully implemented and trade unions must be prepared to call total work stoppages to ensure that they are.
This Ard Fheis recognises that democracy is not merely about parliamentary elections; we do recognise, however, the fundamental necessity of the universal adult franchise for the democratic process. But for us democracy is about making all aspects of life within the public sphere publicly accountable.
Government entails not only the legislature and the executive but also elected local government and layers of officialdom and bureaucracy; our goal is to remove these layers of bureaucracy so that government would be open, democratic and accountable. We affirm the central role of the state in decision making in conjunction with the widest possible participation of government at local level.
The second aspect of democracy is the widening of the democratic concept to encompass economic activity.
This Ard Fheis rejects the notion that land use and ownership, monetary policy, the availability (and cost) of credit and investment policy are the preserve of the private domain and believes that they must be open to democratic control. The Ard Fheis also recognises that the building of democracy equally entails the ending of privilege for the few and of discrimination on any basis whatsoever. To this extent the Ard Fheis rejects the special constitutional privileges given to the churches in the control of education, and health; to property over the common good; and in particular the lack of rights of women and children separate from those of the ‘family’.
This Ard Fheis calls on The Workers’ Party to propose new model Constitution rejecting both the limitations of the existing 1937 Constitution , and so far as there are indications as to its final outcome, the narrowness of the 1996 Constitutional Review Body.
This Ard Fheis recognises that the Irish economy and Irish economic policy are now at a cross roads. Two major decisions have to be made; namely, whether Ireland plans to be a full employment economy , and separately, whether Ireland plans to be a modern manufacturing high wage economy or whether it will follow the ‘Asian Tiger’ model of a controlled low wage economy. Linked to both of these decisions is whether the state and public companies are to have an active or passive role in the building of the future economy.
This Ard Fheis notes a number of salient features concerning the Irish economy. The public sector and state sponsored commercial bodies are still a very significant employer in the Irish economy. However this sector is under attack from right wing politicians, commentators, and ideologists ; and under predatory attack from the private sector who see a large financial killing without any of the risks associated with real venture capital. Like their Thatcherite counterparts in Britain, Irish capitalism wishes to grab every profitable scrap within the public sector that has been painfully built up over many years on the strength of state investment of taxpayers’ money. These are the exact same capitalists who go running to the State to bail them out of their every failure. The experiences with the Insurance Corporation of Ireland. Dublin Gas, PMPA, Goodman International, all spring to mind.
The Irish economy has been developed as an open trading economy. We have been practically totally integrated into the global village of telecommunications and the global economy of the multinational corporations. Unfortunately for Irish workers, because of government inaction we are at the very edge of this so-called global village and our national interests will always be second to the profit and strategic need of the multinational corporations. The manufacturing sector of the economy is small in comparison to Western European standards and has not grown as a proportion of the labour force over the last 30 years. Significantly also the manufacturing sector is dominated by internationally based multinational corporations who have no strategic interest in the Irish economy. Further to this a large proportion of so-called manufacturing capacity in the Irish economy is merely assembly work and the profitability or otherwise of Irish plants is hidden in the international tax avoidance strategies of these multinational corporations.
Ireland’s natural resources are totally under utilised as a means of creating real wealth. Indeed many of the powerful interest groups in the economy are actively working against the processing of raw materials in the country. Recent hysterical attempts by the Irish Farmers’ Association to reopen the North African market for the export of live cattle show their pursuit of short term tax free gains at the expense of the PAYE workers.. In this instance the farming lobby totally disregarded the fact that every hundred cattle exported represents the loss of one job in Ireland; the farmers receive subsidies from the taxpayer for selling cattle on the world markets at world market prices ; at the same time reports of the Revenue Commissioners clearly show that the farming sector pay a disproportionately low share of income tax.
The recent emphasis on tourism and the services sector has led to an explosion of part time, short term, low paid jobs. This sector is targeted by government for growth and expansion over the next couple of years. The government has poured vast amounts of money into tourism both through direct subsidy and taxes foregone in various schemes. The entire tourist sector is a haven for the black economy where profits are accumulated away from the tax authorities and where workers are denied the protection of labour legislation, pay related provisions or guaranteed pension. This Ard Fheis therefore proposes the introduction of a legal minimum wage and the adoption of the provisions of the Maastricht social chapter to defend the rights of workers in Ireland no matter what their country of origin. These measures must be widely publicised and rigorously enforced.
This Ard Fheis therefore reiterates and expands existing Worker’ Party policy on the development of the Irish economy.
The State must play the dominant role in the expansion of the Irish economy, Existing public companies, working with an agreed strategic plan, must be developed as the market leaders within their own sectors and be given the funds to diversify within their own sphere and at the cutting edge of technological change. Public sector companies must be free of political interference and this Ard Fheis therefore calls for an end to the appointment of political hacks and has beens to the boards of these companies.
Power and communications are central to the development of the economy and offer great potential for job creation. Therefore there must be a particular focus on the development of the Electricity Supply Board and Telecom. Equally these companies must be modernised and special attention paid to changing company attitudes to the public and to the consumer. Too often in the past there has been rudeness shoddiness, bullying and lack of concern for the plight of families and individuals.
Our natural resources must be properly utilised for jobs. It is obvious, for example, that if we can successfully build an aluminium smelter in the Shannon estuary when the nearest raw material is in Puerto Rico, then the only objections to building a lead and zinc smelter are ideological and strategic by the controlling multinational corporations in this sector.
It is clear that in the short term at least Ireland will need investment from multinational corporations especially in the capital intensive technologies of computers, electronics and biotechnology. We should welcome this investment provided that minimum conditions are met by the investors. All newly locating companies must have proposals for both forward and backward economic linkages to the local economy; all new companies must locate a Research and Development facility in Ireland; one stop, assembly only operations, must be ended. Invitations by the Industrial Development Authority to multinational corporations to operate here must include a clause which makes it difficult for them to pull out and move to another country without providing jobs for a guaranteed period. The human devastation in the wake of Digital, Semperit, Tambran and Packard shows that the present policy is wrong and outdated.
Economic policy must immediately address the question of providing jobs for the unskilled and redundant workers from traditional industries. In the short term the construction industry, driven by the real housing and infrastructural needs of society, rather than the present tax fuelled ambitions of accountants, builders and Business Expansion Schemes, can provide substantial employment for workers in this sector. In the longer term we must look at both the industrial and planning infrastructure of our towns and cities to provide employment at lower levels of skill. Equally we must ensure that the training needs of these groups, who would otherwise be doomed to lifelong unemployment, are met.
The training and apprenticeship agencies must address the real need of a planned economy and not be directed into providing ‘schemes’ which are merely window dressing for the unemployment figures but are of no relevance to the real world. The present abuse of FAS workers by employers must be stamped out a the entire concept of training is being brought into disrepute.
SOCIAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Beyond the economic and legalistic conditions of living there are two areas vital to civilized life. These are the physical and social environment.
The demand for a decent physical environment is and should be a prominent working class political demand. It relates not only to the quality of housing stock but also to the cleanliness, the security and leisure facilities within estates and so on. Too often the environmental movement is seen to be hijacked by the middle class opposing the destruction of Victorian or Georgian created landscapes or buildings. The working class can equally protest when the industrialised heartlands of towns and cities , a very positive legacy of that era, are abolished with consequent loss of jobs and job opportunities, just to create a pleasant ambience for expensive apartments.
This Ard Fheis accepts that industry must be safe, clean and pose no long term threat to the health of the population or individuals. At the same time the Section Four led rezoning ( making instant millionaires of selected landowners and their political allies ) which is creating massive housing densities continues apace. Physically space and facilities must be provided to create almost 300,000 jobs. The Ard Fheis calls for integrated planning by local authorities, either singly or strategically linked, to provide all the features of a physical environment that are necessary for decent living as we enter the 21st Century.
The social environment encompasses the provision of housing, education, welfare and health care. The provision by the State of all these services is grossly insufficient and discriminates against workers and their families. In particular it discriminates against the low paid, the unemployed and those who have been forced to leave the workplace through illness or old age. It is a sad commentary on our so-called Celtic Tiger economy that 1,000,000 citizens must rely on welfare for all or part of their weekly income.
The Ard Fheis recognises that for many year there has been an attempt to drive a wedge between workers on the basis of the employed versus the unemployed. Now that campaign has reached a vicious crescendo with the staged publication of a study of 1,500 people by the Statistics Office. In one swift PR move we no longer have an unemployment crisis, we have a ‘dole-spongers’ crisis.
The Workers’ Party will have no part of this witch hunt against the unemployed or those on welfare. We state unequivocally that it is a disgrace that a pensioner or unemployed person should be asked to live on less than Ј65.00 per week. If there is a black economy why is the emphasis not on employers who utilise the dole as their way out when paying slave wages ?
Employers who use the dole as a means of blocking trade unions; who use the dole as a means of avoiding holiday pay, sick pay and national insurance; who use the dole to reduce visible turnover and therefore skim VAT and profits for their private gain. Our social environment is indeed being destroyed by spongers – the so-called Irish entrepreneurial class.
Capitalism is initially subsidised from the Industrial Development Authority to the tune of Ј12,000.00 for each job it creates. Profits from manufacturing industry are virtually tax free and the definition of manufacturing in this country is seriously flawed. Financial commentators have detailed not only the massive repatriation of profits by multinational corporations but also the export of profits/capital by Irish companies running at Ј1000 million per month.
This Ard Fheis declares that The Workers’ Party is committed to a welfare system which is dedicated to the needy and opposes the present system which victimises the weakest sections in our society. The obscenity of life-destroying poverty in a society with massive wealth and ostentatious opulence cannot continue.
A decent health and education service are the further cornerstones of social policy. It is apparent in both these areas there is a two tier system. Effectively those at the top end of the spectrum gain much more from the system than the poorest in society. That free university education can be introduced when there is no primary education for children with severe or profound mental handicap is evidence of the priority of this government. While funding for third level must be structured so as to allow equality of access by working class families, the priority for funding must be primary and even pre-primary to attack inequality at its first manifestation. We would apply the same principles and policy to health as in education.
The European Union
Although it is almost twenty-five years since Ireland and Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community major vital questions still need to be resolved as to the direction, size and political nature of the European Union.
At one level the debate is polarized between Eurosceptics and Euroenthusiasts. The question of a single European currency illustrates clearly the extremes of views held. It is also clear that there are strong forces on the European mainland pushing for a single currency and all the other financial issues which stem from this as outlined in the Maastricht Treaty, notably the major points of an autonomous Central Bank and restrictions on national budget policies.
Furthermore critical political positions are linked to both extremes, in the main the ideas of a unified European foreign policy and a European army. Both of which would absolutely put paid to Ireland’s traditional neutrality. At the other end of the spectrum sceptics fear the growth of centralising tendencies within Europe as seriously eroding national sovereignties and therefore the emergence of a European super state. Underlying this throughout Europe is the fear of a Europe dominated by Germany.
The Workers’ Party understanding of a developing European Union is rooted in our political tradition which originates with the philosophy of the French Revolution as brought to Ireland by Tone and his comrades . It is possible to sum this up in a single sentence — A Europe of equal citizens.
This Ard Fheis supports the idea of a citizens’ Europe that stresses equality challenges dangerous nationalist fundamentalism, as manifest in the former USSR and Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland, and at the same time ensures that debate about the future of Europe must be conducted from the viewpoint of citizenship rather than institutions. This is an important distinction.
As socialists we can only view social institutions as arising from the needs of citizens and subject to democratic political control to ensure that those needs are met. We are therefore in conflict with the current European institutions and the directions in which the Maastricht Treaty would take us. This is not to say that important legislation has not resulted from our membership of the European Union. Indeed there have been significant changes in the economic status of women, for example, as a result of EU legislation.
Parties in Europe, such as The Workers’ Party, are in conflict with the present Union on ideological grounds that embrace political, economic and social issues. Among these we can list: the Parliament and the Commission, foreign policy and neutrality, the role and nature of the Regions, a single currency, budget policies, industrial development and job creation, the Common Agricultural policy, the social chapter, cultural diversity and the Union — in fact as socialists we would be proposing alternative strategies and programmes in virtually every field.
EUROPEAN WORKING-CLASS UNITY
As that is the case, this Ard Fheis states that one of the most important political initiatives we could embark on is to help with the creation and development of a European wide coalition of socialist, workers and communist parties. This is a matter of growing urgency considering the changes due before the new century. It is also obvious that it is no easy task given the events of the past decade. Without such a coordinated class approach to the European Union we will be unable to offset the worst of proposed legislation.
This Ard Fheis strongly supports the existing linkages which have been forged by the Party with other socialist parties in Europe and urges that a comprehensive set of proposals be prepared seeking (i) a new European Socialist Coalition and (ii) a date and venue for a preliminary conference of the invited parties ( and observers). As there is obviously considerable planning involved in such a proposal, this Ard Fheis would suggest that a small number of parties should be engaged, as soon as possible, in the preliminary stages of planning and development of the proposed Coalition. The need for such a strong, active Coalition is clear when we consider that the Union is now being shaped by the Maastricht Treaty, which came into effect on November 1,1993.
This Ard Fheis notes that in June 1992 that the Party called for a renegotiation of the Maastricht Treat and called for a No vote in the Referendum. The reasons that we advanced then are still valid. This Ard Fheis also welcomes the similar stand taken by other workers, socialist and communist parties.
We agree with the statement made by Carlos Carvalhas, General Secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party . “Maastricht is not the Treaty that can contribute to the democratic and participated development of Community institutions and policies, to serve the workers. Rather it is Treaty of Europe of big capital and financial speculation interests, of power which is distant from the people, a Europe that diminishes the role of smaller countries and secondarises workers and social policies.”
This Ard Fheis also agrees with the comments made by Nicholas Hildyard, coeditor of the British magazine “The Ecologist” Madrid, December 1995.
“I want to talk about how Maastricht and the Single Market have centralised power in the hands of transnational institutions whether corporations or bureaucracies that owe no allegiance to any one place or ordinary people. … I want to talk about democracy. I want to talk about a democracy which rejects racism. That rejects chauvinism. That rejects the free market… ”
These comments, plus our own review of Maastricht, point to the enthronement of negative values at the heart of the European Union. The displacement of these values -individualism, corporate greed, monetarism, exploitation, cheap labour – this is what opposition to Maastricht must mean. And there is growing concern throughout Europe that the central implications of the Maastricht Treaty mean an assault on democracy and the transfer of power, in particular economic and monetary power, to nonelected institutions. We can build on this disquiet to create a Europe of equal citizens. This Ard Fheis reaffirms its commitment to a Europe united from the Urals to the Aran islands. It must, however, be a democratic Europe. We must oppose a procedural interpretation of democracy, insisting on real power for workers’ and people’s organisations at local, national, regional and European levels.
While seeking greater unity and harmony among the peoples of Europe this Ard Fheis absolutely rejects the efforts being made to end the Republic’s historical and traditional policy of neutrality. Indeed we are convinced that it is in the interests of the European Union to support Irish neutrality as an important European contribution to world peace and better relations with the exploited countries of the Third World. Ireland should continue to play a peace-keeping role within the United Nations where we have gained international respect as opponents of imperialism and oppression. The common defence policy proposed under Maastricht will incorporate existing nuclear weapons into the system and extend the possibilities of a nuclear confrontation. Our neutrality must be seen as a contribution not only to the United Nations peace-keeping forces but also as an important voice in calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and the phasing out of all military power blocks.
However our neutrality is being sold out at another and equally critical level. Maastricht imposes a common foreign policy on EU members. This would deny Ireland, for example, the right to condemn the exploitation of Third World countries by some European powers or by the United States working through some European based American multinational. It is both politically and morally wrong for any Irish Government to willfully abandon a policy which has contributed to alleviating distress and suffering in many parts of the world.
This Ard Fheis opposes therefore any move either to manoeuvre Ireland to join NATO, the WEU, or the sinisterly misnamed PFP. We recommend that the OESC, being a truly European wide organisation of States, is the appropriate forum for conflict resolution and the building of peace within Europe.
This Ard Fheis states therefore that at all future bilateral and multilateral international meetings the Party seek support for Ireland’s neutrality.
TOWARDS A SOCIALIST EUROPE
A European socialist programme must be comprehensively democratic. Therefore the present democratic deficit must be eliminated. If Maastricht is fully implemented neither the national parliaments nor the European Parliament will have any real say in major issues ranging from economic and monetary policy, foreign policy through to regional development policy. In other words powers surrendered by national governments will be exercised by a cluster of institutions which are largely democratically unaccountable. Instead of a peoples’ Europe we are faced with a massive extension of bureaucracy serving the interests of multinationals.
This Ard Fheis therefore calls on the Party in negotiations with other European parties to press for a Campaign for Democracy in Europe aimed at diminishing the power of nonelected bodies and securing the transferring of more powers from the Commission to the Parliament.
MONETARY AND FISCAL POLICY
The major debate taking place around the issue of a single European currency breaks down into three separate but closely related debates: namely the desirability of full economic union; the consequent necessity or desirability of monetary union; and the nature and powers of any European Central Bank. The Ard Fheis recognises that publicly these debates have tended to polarise between ‘centralists’ and ‘nationalists’. Socialists cannot however avoid these issues simply by pointing out, even though quite correctly, that the proposals are an attempt to enthrone capitalism and its value system as the permanent framework for Europe.
The Ard Fheis further recognises that the debate on EMU has often not been on the central policy and ideological decisions involved but on the practical issues like the conditions for joining the single currency or the proposed restrictions like the 3% restriction on budgetary deficits.
A single currency will impact dramatically on the poorer regions leading to outflows of capital, increased unemployment, lower wages and therefore falling tax revenue. Health and education cutbacks would follow on from this. We can already see that the preparations for a single currency have led to attacks on the living standards and social benefits of workers from Germany to Spain to Ireland.
A condition precedent therefore to the introduction of a single currency is the establishment of a considerably larger and genuinely locally managed Social Fund to offset the expected downturn in the economies of the poorer regions.
Such demands will face strong opposition from proponents of the Maastricht Treaty who are not only fully paid up monetarists but who are also determined, through the 3% Budget rule, to ensure that the State does not interfere with ” free competition or the principles of an open market economy.” In effect the main beneficiaries of a single currency ( and other monetary and fiscal proposals ) will be the multinationals and the population of core Europe.
If and when a single currency is achieved a European system of central Banks will come into operation. Governed by nonelected officials, its deliberations will be secret. National governments will be compelled to follow the monetarist and economic policies laid down by the Central Bank. As noted earlier this will include an obligation to maintain budget deficits not exceeding 3% . When this absolutely arbitrary and socially punitive decision is understood in the light of Article 73b which removes “all restrictions on the movement of capital between Member States and Member States and third countries…” it is clear that the gap between core Europe and the periphery states will widen dramatically. It has been suggested, reasonably, that this will provide increasingly fertile ground for the far Right.
The problem for Socialists then is that the political balance of power lies with the proMaastricht forces. To defeat the monetarist policy in the Treaty will require the mobilisation of all democratic, social democratic and socialist forces throughout Europe, this Ard Fheis therefore calls for immediate discussions with the fraternal European parties to explore avenues for the creation of the broadest possible opposition to the monetary and fiscal programme contained in the Maastricht Treaty.
Current European statistics (March) give the unemployment rate as 10.7% or 18 million. There is reportedly 148 million employed out of a total population of 301 million over the age of 15.
This Ard Fheis endorses the Party’s support for and presence at the massive Paris Unemployment Demonstration of May 11. As on earlier issues the Ard Fheis calls on the Party in all future bilateral and multilateral European meetings to place the demand for a European Programme for Full Employment on the agenda.
Obviously such a demand will only receive support from parties on the Left who recognise that the State must play a major dynamic role in real job creation. The entire thrust of both Maastricht and the nature and role of the multinationals in Europe militate against this proposal . Maastricht because of its monetary and fiscal policies; the multinationals because of their manipulation of national wage structures within the Union and in the Third World and the negative direct and indirect influences they exercise on many national economies.
This Ard Fheis therefore recognising that the development of a European Programme for Full Employment requires not only a comprehensive set of specific job creation proposals but would also have to be supported by a monetary and fiscal enabling programme, calls on the Party to seek the early establishment of a European Full Employment Working Party drawn from those parties with whom we will be in contact in relation to the creation of a European Socialist Coalition.
OTHER VITAL EUROPEAN ISSUES
There are a number of other critical issues which must be discussed in depth with our fraternal European parties. These include the Common Agricultural Policy, Fisheries, Transport, Energy, Tourism, Social Chapter, Civil Rights and Justice, Health and Regional Funding. There are undoubtedly others which will arise in the course of discussions.
This Ard Fheis reaffirms its commitment to socialism as the only way forward for the citizens of Europe. We reject the prevalent notion, peddled by social democrats and others, that this means the role of socialists in government would be to manage the “market economy” better or more humanely than the capitalist parties.
There are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between the form of life advocated by socialists and that which exists under capitalism. Socialists understand the individual as a citizen in society; capitalists understand the individual as a unit of production. From these conflicting ideological premises come two diametrically opposed world views.
Philosophically, politically, economically, socially, socialism accords the individual an identity which is superior, in every possible sense, to the crude economic reductionism of capitalism.
This ideological conflict, this fundamental conflict about the human condition, will not be erased either through the social fear which capitalism cultivates nor by the apocalyptic horror stories of the end of ideology, of history and of politics.
The immediate future of the European Union is being shaped by the Maastricht Treaty. It will not however remove the sources of conflict ; indeed if anything it will lead to increased tensions between regions and classes. Unfortunately it has already encouraged a growth of neo-Nazism while socialist, workers and communist parties struggle to achieve cohesion. In this situation it is vital that we make our understanding of Maastricht absolutely clear to the workers of Ireland and the rest of Europe and to the fraternal political parties.
This Ard Fheis therefore states that the Maastricht Treaty is devised by capitalists in the interests of capitalism. For The Workers’ Party of Ireland, this Ard Fheis declares, that wherever there is conflict between the forces of capital and the forces of labour we stand, as James Connolly stood, with the workers of all countries.