From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 6, October 1972.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
On September 7, an aggregate meeting of the Dublin Labour Parties, by a clear majority, condemned the policy of coalition with the capitalist parties. The 4% decline in the Labour vote at mid-Cork has created an enormous wave of opposition within the Irish Labour Party, at the stance taken by the parliamentary party, and sections of the leadership of the Labour Party itself.
With such a mood in the party organisation, it is clear that the rank and file are not prepared to allow the principles of the Labour Movement to be trampled on in the stampede of the party tops towards an unprincipled alliance with Fine Gael. And considering the problems today being faced by the Irish working class, this mood is not surprising.
With about 70,000 unemployed, with prices having risen almost 9% over the last year, and with the attempts of the Fianna Fail government to limit wage increases, the scene is being set for major class battles in the next period. Already the grinding poverty endured by many thousands of Irish workers has stirred sections of the working class into action.
A wave of localised industrial disputes has already broken out, and this only weeks after the supposed settlement of the negotiations for the second round of the National Wage Agreement. These, together with the rent strikes, are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the future is concerned.
These and other movements represent a militancy which is gathering momentum in opposition to the capitalist policies of Fianna Fail.
It was in response to the first major independent movement of the working class that the Irish Labour movement and the Labour Party began to take on flesh in the first decades of this century. Its initial strength was drawn from the participants in the wave of disputes which shook Irish society, culminating the in the Dublin lock-out of 1913.
At that time, under the leadership of Connolly and Larkin, the organised Labour movement boldly confronted the class enemy. Since then, on many occasions, Irish Labour could boast a fine record. Working class blood was shed in the fight against fascism in the 1930s, both in Ireland against O’Duffy, and in the International Brigade against Franco in Spain.
What a searing condemnation of the policies of the present leadership of the ILP that they are today courting a coalition with the right wind Tories of Fine Gael, whose origins can be traced back to O’Duffy and his Blueshirts!
What a condemnation that while claiming to uphold the traditions of Connolly and Larkin, at a time when the class lines are being clearly drawn, they embark on a policy of class collaboration!
It has been under the pretext of “power-sharing” and of the “need to have a say in government” that coalition has been proposed. But what sort of “say” would the Labour leaders have in a coalition with any group of representatives of capital?
Real power in Ireland rests with the huge international companies, who together with their Irish counterparts control the economy. It is in the boardrooms of these giant consortiums that the decisions relating to jobs, wages, etc., are taken. A few Labour ministers as junior partners in a coalition, would not alter this fact, but would be forced to carry out the dictates of the ruling class.
It is utterly ludicrous to think that under Labour pressure, Fine Gael might cease to be the upholder of capitalism and begin to act in the interests of the working class.
Corish, speaking at a meeting in Clonmel in 1963, mocked the claims of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, that they were in favour of more public enterprise, by showing how on the same day as they revealed these “leftish tendencies”, the newspapers carried major speeches by the leaders of both parties, stressing their primary reliance on “private enterprise and free competition”.
At Donnybrook in 1966, he argued: “It is only through the increased power of the LP that any real alteration in Irish society can be made. Tinkering here and there...will never succeed in solving the problems which still face this country 50 years after 1916. And tinkering is all that will be done by either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, with their established interests and their prior commitment to conservatism.”
At the recent Irish Labour Party Conference at Wexford, Corish raised the demand for the Nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy as the only means of solving the problems faced by the working class. But to accept government positions side by side with the Tories of Fine Gael, with their commitment to “private enterprise” is to eradicate the very possibility of implementing these policies.
Coalition is looked on by some as a short cut to power. In reality, there could be no longer route than this. If the mid-Cork setback is not sufficient proof of the effect an all-class alliance would have, then the experience of the inter-party government of the 1940s and ’50s, and the confusion and demoralisation these caused in the ranks of the Labour Party, is ample evidence.
Labour entered the 1948 coalition with 19TDs. In 1951 it left with 16, following the general election of that year. After three years under Fianna Fail, Labour in 1954 returned 19 candidates to the Dail. Yet at the break-up of the second coalition in 1957, it had only 12 deputies. Over the whole period of these coalitions, it was certainly not the Labour movement, but he parties of capital, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, who benefited.
Fianna Fail had 68 TDs in 1948, and 78 in 1957. For Fine Gael, the inter-party governments proved a stimulant. Between 1944 and 1948, Fine Gael won not a single bye-election. At this time it seemed a spent force, an archaic hangover from the civil war and from the right wing movements of the 1930s. Yet the first coalition, which had produced an electoral set-back for Labour, saw Fine Gael increase its representation in Leinster House by nine.
“All-calls government”, as a deliberate means of weakening the working class, is a prominent weapon in the armoury of capital. At certain times in the past, in periods of economic crises and social upheaval, the ruling class have attempted to draw the leaders of the working class to their side. They do this purely with the aim of implicating the workers’ leaders in the unpopular and anti-working class policies which become necessary, thereby discrediting the Labour Movement, particularly in the eyes of the more backward sections of the working class.
To this end, Labour representatives generally find themselves handed prominent, but unpopular ministries. In the previous coalition governments, Labour provided in each case the deputy leader; in 1954 Norton the Tánaiste also taking responsibility for industry and commerce, and Corish becoming the minister for social welfare.
It is no co-incidence that these ministries were given to Labour deputies at this particular time. From 1950–57 the southern economy limped along with a miserable average growth rate of 1%. In 1954–55 it was clear to the strategists of capital that an economic crisis impended. Coalition provided a safety valve as it permitted them to place part of the responsibility for the decline in the living standards of the working class on the shoulders of the ILP leaders.
From November 1955 economic growth slowed to complete stagnation. The balance of trade for 1955 showed a deficit of £94 million. Unemployment rose, eventually soaring to a peak of 90,000. At one stage 1,000 people were emigrating every week. Prices, which had been a major issue in ousting Fianna Fail in 1954, rose on every item. At the same time membership of the trade unions increased greatly, reflecting the mood of resistance growing amongst the working class at the attacks on their living standards.
But rather than provide a political lead for the struggle to eradicate these iniquitous conditions and the system which had produced them, the Labour leaders were sitting in office with the reactionaries of Fine Gael collaborating in the attacks on the living conditions of the class which elected them. It is small wonder that after this government the Labour vote dropped by 50,000, mainly due to abstentions in urban areas in 1957.
Irish politics already had an undeclared coalition. In all but name, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the twin representatives of capital, are indistinguishable. They both attribute the ills of the Irish economy, rising prices, stagnation, unemployment, and inflation to the quest of the working class for a decent living wage. They both campaign for wage restraint as a means of preserving the profits of the ruling class in the present period.
During the EEC referendum campaign each tried to outdo the other in enthusiasm for entry. On the form of internment introduced in the 26 Counties through the Special Courts both took the same stand. (Those of the Parliamentary Labour Party who voted with the Tories on the Prisons Bill were strongly condemned by big sections of the trade union and Labour Movement.)
Were Labour to ally with either of these parties, then it would make an instrument of their repressive methods. During the republican campaign of the 1950s, it was the 1954–57 coalition which implemented the Offences Against the State Act, to complement the measures of the Unionist junta in the North.
A concerted campaign on the Socialist policies advocated at least in art by Corish at this year’s Party conference at Wexford would drive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael together. The enthusiasm of the delegates and visitors at Wexford, particularly the youth, is a clear indication of how the Labour Party rank and file, together with fresh layers of the working class, would rally round a fighting programme.
Short cuts and illusory quick and easy paths to socialism will only lead the movement to setback and defeat. There can be no substitute for the basic ideas of socialism. BY giving full support to all the struggles of the working class and fighting on the principles of socialism, for state ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, the Irish Labour Movement could quickly rekindle the fire and enthusiasm which marked its early years.
In the words of Connolly written on January 22nd 1916: “The Labour movement is like no other movement. Its strength lies in being like no other movement. It is never so strong as when it stands alone.”
Last updated: 21.9.2012