Which side are you on?

The last issue of LookLeft saw Labour Party Councillor Cian O’Callaghan outline his views, from his position on the left of Labour, on the then new coalition. John Jefferies (Cork WP) uses this issue’s forum to question the stance of those on the Labour left.

The last issue of LookLeft contained an article by Labour Councillor Cian O’Callaghan in which he extolled a number of policy issues which his party had succeeded in getting into the Programme for Government. The promise to provide a single tier universal healthcare system, reversing the cut to the minimum wage and major reform of local government were all applauded. The article also mentioned the Labour Party’s pledge to prohibit the use of Irish airports and airspace for purposes “not in line with the dictates of international law”.
While it was conceded that the Programme for Government had not met his full expectations, O’Callaghan must be extremely disappointed with developments since writing his article. In the last few weeks we have seen the leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore TD, assuring US President Barack Obama that the US military could continue to use Shannon Airport on a daily basis for the transfer of troops to Afghanistan and other countries where the US is engaged in military missions. Nor has there been any commitment or action from Gilmore to order the inspection of such flights to ensure that human rights abuses are not taking place or illegal weapons such as cluster bombs are not transported through this country.
The much vaunted Jobs Budget has also proved to be an illusion and was replaced with a ‘Jobs Initiative’, which is more concerned with providing cheap labour for employers and forcing unemployed people into low paid jobs and internships. Furthermore Labour has u-turned on its opposition to water charges while their councillors around the country continue to vote for estimates that contain charges for refuse. There is no sign either of the Labour Party taking a real stand in opposition to privatisation other than a few media buzzwords and carefully choreographed statements from back-benchers.
O’Callaghan ended his article with a call to arms for those on the left to “continue to campaign and mobilise for radical, underlying and transformative change rather than a continuation of the failed politics of the right”. Such comments are laudable but, to be blunt about it, I believe they are wasted on the Labour Party.
When it comes down to it, Labour, and most certainly the coalition government they are part of, offer nothing positive for working people or the Left.
We are currently witnessing some of the most vicious attacks on the living standards of workers and the less well-off being implemented right across Europe by people who profess to be on the left. In Greece, the government of George Papandreou has callously implemented the demands of the EU and IMF. Papandreou is the leader of PASOK, a sister party of the Irish Labour Party and fellow member of the Socialist group in the European Parliament. Now in government in the Republic of Ireland, Labour, who were so vocal in opposition, have meekly accepted the programme of cuts and privatisation agreed with the IMF and EU by Fianna Fáil.
I agree wholeheartedly that we need to mobilise people for radical, underlying and transformative change in this country. More urgently, we need to mobilise people against the attacks on workers and on the poor and against the sell-off of Ireland’s state companies and our natural resources. The left must lead this campaign and organise the broadest possible coalition of people and people’s organisations in this fight, however it is clear that such a campaign will clash with the establishment forces, including the leadership of the Labour Party and its parliamentary party.
If there are genuine leftists within the Labour Party now is the time for them to decide whether they are going to stand by a party that has nailed its colours to the mast of austerity and privatisation or take a bold step and side with the Irish working class in opposition to this government, its international masters and the forces of capitalism.

Article published in LookLeft Vol.2 No.7