Left candidacies in the Northern Irish elections

By Liam McNulty

In recent months the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister Arlene Foster has faced allegations of incompetence and corruption over her responsibility for a botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Initially, Sinn Féin abstained on a vote of no confidence in their power-sharing partner. However, as Foster continued to refuse to stand down to allow an investigation to take place, pressure from the republican rank-and-file prompted Martin McGuinness to resign from the position of Deputy First Minister at Stormont, collapsing the power-sharing institutions. An election to the Northern Ireland Assembly will be held on 2 March.

In an election dominated by communal chest-beating, a number of left-wing challengers are seeking to offer a socialist and class-based alternative to the sectarian “Orange and Green” politics which characterise the main political parties.

People Before Profit (PBP)

In the May 2016 election, People Before Profit (PBP) had a breakthrough, topping the poll in West Belfast with its candidate Gerry Carrol, and electing veteran socialist Eamonn McCann in Foyle. Associated with but broader than the Irish Socialist Workers Party (SWP), PBP is running seven candidates in the Assembly election.

An all-Ireland organisation, in the Republic of Ireland PBP is part of a joint grouping with the Socialist Party of Ireland-linked Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA), and together the groups have six seats in Dáil Éireann.

PBP’s support has largely been in nationalist-majority seats but it aspired to unite workers across the community divide. McCann has recently called on working-class unionist voters to break with the DUP: “The DUP think people in working class areas like Irish Street, Nelson Drive and Newbuildings and so on are dummies, that they’ll come out and vote for them in droves, despite all that’s gone on. We believe they won’t. I could be wrong. But let’s put it to the test.”

PBP’s public statement on the election says: “We want to end corruption, cronyism and sectarianism. We want to unite Catholic and Protestant workers in a fight against austerity. We will not play a communal game of getting one over on the ‘other community’ while bowing the knee to big corporations.

“We do not want to create a northern tax haven to partner with the one in south. We want a socialist Ireland which arises out a radical challenge to both states in Ireland.”

Cross-Community Labour Alternative

Cross-Community Labour Alternative (CCLA) is linked to the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland (SPNI) and is standing four candidates in the election.

The growth of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland (LPNI), the organisation for UK Labour members in the North, from around 350 members in May 2015 to over 3,000 members now, was prompted by the election of Jeremy Corbyn.

However, the Labour Party does not officially stand candidates in Northern Ireland, though a group of leading members did register a separate body in order to contest the 2016 Assembly elections.

CCLA is the Socialist Party’s attempt to relate to the new left-wing upsurge around Corbyn but is distinct from the Labour Party itself.

In announcing its candidates, CCLA said: “Labour Alternative will stand a slate of candidates from across the sectarian divide – trade unionists, community activists and campaigners for LGBT and women’s rights who are committed to fighting for a better future for ordinary people. The trade union and labour movement has a key role to play in uniting working class people to fight for our rights and challenge sectarianism. We will be working with others to ensure the strongest possible labour movement challenge to the Stormont establishment is presented at this election.”

A Labour Movement Agenda for Change

Not an electoral challenge, but a Charter of demands drawn up by socialist and trade unionist activists, the Agenda for Change was backed by the Labour Party in Northern Ireland’s (LPNI) recent general meeting. The Clarion recently covered the launch of the programme.

Phil Kelly from the LPNI said that: “We believe that a better, alternative future for Northern Ireland is possible. That will require principled, political representation rooted in the labour movement and working class communities. The parties of sectarianism and austerity that dominate our political institutions represent a dead-end for our society, offering only continued paralysis and stagnation.”

Candidates who sign up for the Charter would commit to:
• Opposing austerity in deeds, not just words
• Demanding a real living wage and dignity in work and education
• Fighting for equality and the right to choose
• Challenging the dead-end politics of Orange and Green
• Being workers’ representatives on a worker’s wage

The Workers’ Party of Ireland

The Workers’ Party originates from a split inside the republican movement in 1969/70. At the outbreak of the Troubles, the IRA split between those influenced by Stalinism who wished to take a more political and less militarist approach, and those who prioritised the armed struggle and rejected the growing influence of socialist, albeit Stalinist, politics in the republican movement.

The latter went on to found the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin, while the former became Official Sinn Féin, then Sinn Féin: the Workers’ Party and, finally, the Workers’ Party. Reaching an electoral highpoint of seven seats in the Dáil in 1989, the Workers’ Party suffered a split after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the social-democratic Democratic Left eventually fused with the Irish Labour Party, providing several of its recent leaders.

The Workers’ Party today is the Stalinist remnant, and has long been in decline. In the Assembly election it is standing five candidates. Last year, it stood four candidates, winning 1,565 votes (0.2%).

Its election statement said that: “There needs to be a root and branch reform of the Assembly structures. At a minimum we need the introduction of voluntary coalition or majority rule, the abolition of community designation requirements and the removal of the Petition of Concern mechanism…

What this election does offer is a chance for people to consider a socialist alternative. An alternative to political irresponsibility, arrogance, sectarianism and the Executive’s agenda of welfare cuts, lower corporation tax, zero hours contracts, attacks on workers’ rights, social backwardness and of course privatisation of public services.”

The party has received solidarity greetings from the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

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