Michael Wallace reports on the recent People Before Profit policy conference held in Dublin on the 19/20 September.
In contrast to the establishment parties’ recent ‘think-ins’ conducted behind closed doors, the People Before Profit Conference on a Radical Alternative Vision for Ireland was open to all.
And it gave people the opportunity to discuss, debate and contibute ideas to form PBP policies in the leadup to the general election. The well-attended conference promoted a strategy based on people power and a radical Left alternative to challenge the pro-austerity and water charges parties.
The opening session was on Pro-Choice – a woman’s right to choose. While a cowardly government refuses to face up to the tragic consequences of the deaths of Savita and other victims, there is a real momentum to repeal the 8th Ammendment that equates a woman’s life with that of a foetus.
Clare Daly TD told the audience in Dublin’s Teachers’ Club the 8th ammendment in the constitution was a barrier to the bodily integrity and autonomy of women in Ireland. She condemned the continued criminalisation of women and repressive laws that have driven 160,000 women to access a routine medical procedure normal in other countries.
Women, she said, are dying and suffering horrendous abuse while this government is in breach of its human rights obligations. The way forward is to “build a grassroots movement and enpower ordinary people to deliver social change”.
Fiona NicFhearghais, PBP organiser and Pro-Choice activist in north Belfast said that many people in the South were unaware that abortion is still illegal in the North and that “Women can never have full equality without bodily autonomy and we cannot wait for Stormont. It’s time for change and we need to galvanise a mass movement on the streets that needs to be all-Ireland because women in the North and South are suffering.”
Ailbhe Smyth, a leading figure for many years in the struggle for abortion rights in Ireland and Convener of recently established Coalition for Repeal of the 8th said it was vital to mobilise and bring vast numbers with us on this issue. It was also vital to get and win a referendum and to hold a united position and that “we need respect for women’s health and choices and for a free, safe an legal abortion in this country.”
In the session on Debt, Austerity and Resistance in Greece, Spain and Ireland, PBP activist in Belfast, Sean Mitchell, said that the current Stormont crisis didn’t begin with the murder of Kevin McGuigan but with the neoliberal Stormont House Agreement which cut welfare and corporation tax, sacked 20,000 public sector workers and privatisated public assets. The big parties in the North were now on the run and working class people were fighting back against austerity. “There are now 14,000 millionaires in the North and 100,000 children living poverty at the same time. A sectarian and neoliberal Stormont has failed but working class unity and people power can deliver.”
Kevin Ovenden, a socialist activist living in Greece, talked about the massive social resistance by working people that changed the politics of society leading to Syriza’s breakthrough. Despite the capitulation of Syriza to the bullying EU the fighting capacity of the movement still exists.
PBP National Organiser Kieran Allen said that a serious radical Left was emerging in Ireland. In contrast to Syriza, PBP gives a revolutionary backbone that will make corporations pay and use money to get rid of property tax, water charges and USC. PBP should not participate in any government with likes of FF, FG and Labour or any government that refuses to write down the debt. Unilateral writing down of the debt would mean the Irish people would decide- not the EU. “If the EU comes after us with economic terror tactics, we need to make those people pay who the EU backs- the corporate rich to subsidise working people so they don’t pay for the crisis.”
Battle Against the Water Charges: Where now?
We’ve seen the biggest mass movement against any government ever in the history of the State. But where is the movement now?
Kay Larry, member of PBP on the Dublin North side, and involved in resisting the installation of water meters, said the movement began with “ordinary people coming together to stop the privatisation of our water” and, despite vilification from the media,attempts by the state to intimidate had not worked but made communities and the movement stronger. “Its also important to continue to build the boycott, stick together and also support the Left candidates in our area.”
Cllr Brid Smith, PBP general election candidate for Dublin South Central said it was important to maintain the mass boycott campaign, stay united in Right2Water, and continue peaceful civil disobedience and mass mobilisation on the streets. On the political policing of the movement, Brid said that “we need as many people mobilised as possible when water activists appear in court on the 2nd November and when the government calls an election to have a massive national demonstration in response.”
In the closing session on Building a New Left, Paul Murphy TD of the Anti-Austerity Alliance talked of the historic opportunities opening up for the Left in Ireland as never before. “There is a definite space to the left of Sinn Fein for the Radical Left carved out by the water charges movement” and that the serious repression witnessed is a sign of rising fear from the establishment.
Richard Boyd Barrett TD said that while there had been a recovery for the rich, there was a race to the bottom for the rest of us. “We need a political force with the courage to say we’re going to take that money and resources off the wealthy to invest in health, schools and public infrastructure.” On the movement on the streets, he said that people were fighting back and it was vital to “harness the energy and aspirations of an unprecedented rebellion on the streets and give it a political form.” This would deal a decisive political blow to the establishment and that the “unity of working class mobilisation is the key to bringing these changes about.”
There were also policy workshops on Equality, the Arts, Disability, the Environment, Imperialism and Racism. In many of these PBP members and supporters made very useful for proposals for policies that should be taken up and campaigned for such Travellers’ Rights and disabilty access.
The workshops on Education, Housing and Health discussed a pattern of corporate dominance with the running down of public services for the purposes of privatisation. To combat the neoliberal agenda, policies included building 10,000 council houses over the next five years; the creation of a National Health Service that treats people according to medial need and not the size of their wallets and for the abolition of large class sizes, large scale school building and reversal of all cuts to special education.
Following the Conference, Richard Boyd Barrett said that it had “been a brilliant coming together of grassroots activists to develop a people’s manifesto that really reflects the aspirations of the people we’ve seen on the street over the last year in the unprecedented movement against water charges and austerity. And the challenge arising out of this conference is to translate the thirst for fundamental social, economic and political change into a political movement that is going to seriously challenge the establishment at the elections and beyond.”