Labour Chair calls for “A Space for Dialogue” among parties and Independents on the Democratic Left and the Green Party

18 January 2019

In an oration at the graveside of Tom Johnson, Jack O Connor called for  “the creation of a space for dialogue” involving, Labour, The Social Democrats, Left Independents and the Green Party.

Mr O’Connor said:

“Yes, there has been real and welcome progress on Equality over recent years, particularly reflected in the outcomes of the referendums on same sex marriage and repealing the 8th amendment. In this regard, we in the Labour Party, along with the Workers Party and others on the Left courageously campaigned for these changes for many years before the thinking of the leaders of the political right ‘evolved’ so that it conveniently coincided with the shift in public opinion.  However, on Economic Equality, the trend has been in the opposite direction, as homelessness, low pay and precarity, residual gender discrimination and other forms of deprivation stalk the landscape. Despite a century of ‘independence’, people still don’t have the right to Collective Bargaining at work, which is key to ensuring ‘an adequate share of the nation’s wealth’ and the ‘public right and welfare’, certainly does not prevail over the interests of private property.

“The key consideration here is that these afflictions are entirely unnecessary in what is now one of the ten richest countries in the world on a per capita basis. They are not accidental. They are the consequence of political choice, of the deliberate strategy of the parties of the Right who indulge in lip service while playing to the agenda of private interests and leading from behind. This characteristic is perhaps most graphically illustrated in our abysmal record on climate change on which we are the laggards of Europe by a country mile.

“But we can hardly blame the parties of the Right for doing what is natural for them to do, or for prioritizing the interests of those who share their ideological preferences and who fund their political operations and promote their candidates in countless different ways. What of the responsibilities of the Left? If we are really genuinely serious about effecting a real shift in the direction of economic equality, can we really afford to continue to indulge in the endless division and hair splitting which so compromised the efforts of Thomas and Marie Johnson and which renders us virtually irrelevant while the suffering of those whose interests we seek to promote goes on? Can we really afford to continue to ignore the lessons of the history, not only of Ireland but of Europe as well, as the spectre of Fascism grows by the hour, fed by the alienation of working people and the less well off?

“In this regard, one aspect of the lives of Thomas and Marie Johnson provides a salutary lesson. This was their endless pursuit of unity on the Democratic Socialist Left. Tom Johnson lost his seat in Dail Eireann and thus his leadership of the Labour and Trade Union Movement and arguably all he had hoped to achieve, in the prime of his political life in the crucial and decisive General Election of 1927, due to the candidature of Young Jim Larkin and the bitter highly personalised campaign conducted by the Irish Workers League.  Yet he later befriended Larkin, who was himself to go on to become a towering catalyst for unity in the wider Labour Movement, during the middle years of the 20th century.

“Surely it behoves us as all, Labourites, Democratic Socialists, Social Democrats, Left Independents, as well as perhaps the Green Party, to at least create a space for dialogue. Of course it would mean setting aside our petty animosities, pet projects, personal ambitions and all the other distractions that get in the way of the formulation of a strategy to shift the agenda decisively towards the better fairer sustainable future for all that is entirely achievable, (at least in the absence of a catastrophic  Brexit or some other disaster in Europe), now that we have regained our economic independence. For unless we are satisfied to accept an at best peripheral ‘bit part’ role as props for one or other of the parties of the Right, or indeed Sinn Fein for that matter, taking the blame for everything that goes wrong and accomplishing only minimal progressive change, if any at all, we have to accept that what we have been doing isn’t working.

“It isn’t necessary to merge into a single organisation, but it is essential to see if we can find a basis to co -operate beyond a mere vote transfer pact. An arrangement which would maximise the representation of each Party and Group, while preserving their organisational independence is entirely conceivable. But most importantly of all it is key to placing real genuine Equality at the centre of the public discourse and the political agenda in Ireland. Otherwise, the discourse itself much less political decision making will continue to be dominated by the three parties in the nationalist tradition, to the detriment of the great majority of the people of Ireland.

“So, as we leave this place inspired by the memory of the heroic Tom and Marie Johnson who selflessly devoted their whole lives to the cause of Liberty, real Economic and Social Equality and freedom from want, for all the people of Ireland, on the eve of the Centenary of the declaration of the Democratic Programme, of which he was the principle architect and author, we recommit ourselves to these same objectives. But we must apply the lessons of the century and recognise that unity on the serious Left is an absolute prerequisite for real progress, which they so clearly understood. Otherwise it’s all just talk”




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