The election in the 26 county state
28 May 2008
The EU election in the 26 county state, running alongside voting in council elections, has a reasonably simple focus. That is the punishment of Fianna Fail for the economic disaster that has engulfed the state. However, rather than demonstrating the depth of resistance to the government, the polls illustrate the diffuse and apolitical nature of much of the opposition. At the moment the protest does not call into question the day-to-day operation of the capitalist state or offer an alternative to a policy of robbing the workers to pay the bankers.
Fianna Fail has been out of favor before. The response, then and now, has been to vote for the opposition Fine Gael and Labour. Given that Fine Gael are even more reactionary than Fianna Fail and that Labour have a long history of playing second fiddle in right-wing governments, there is no possibly of any significant abatement of the torrent of attacks on the working class unleashed since the credit crunch.
Unlike the North there are minor parties who hope to continue to hold seats in the European parliament. Unfortunately they base their bid on the claim to be parties of the left.
The major party in this group is the Green party, with a major handicap that it is a party of the coalition government and closely implicated in the corruption that led to financial collapse. They have tried to keep their distance, claiming that they would seek a renegotiation of the program for government, but this is unlikely to save them.
The other 'left' party hoping to capitalise from the desire to punish Fianna Fail is Sinn Fein. Their problem is twofold. Firstly there is their political collapse in the last general election, when they announced a far right economic program under pressure from the media. More immediate is the problem that they voted for the bank bailout in the Dail - an act that put them to the right of the Labour party!
In the background the issue of Europe itself remains live. The election is bracketed by a referendum that rejected the Lisbon treaty and an upcoming poll where the Irish, not for the first time, will be asked to cast their vote again and get the vote right. At the time the claim was made that the Lisbon No vote was a left vote. Events have disproved this. All the concessions to win a Yes have been to the Catholic right or on corporation tax. The only force to have grown since the referendum was the far-right Libertas group, led by Declan Ganley.
Yet the biggest upset so far in the election campaign has been the sharp decline in Ganley's fortunes. The reason is not hard to find. It is evident that, in the current crisis, withdrawal from the eurozone and following the far right economic program advocated by Libertas would lead to the immediate bankruptcy of the Irish state. The fear factor leads workers to huddle closer to traditional parties and closer to Europe.
This is an election dominated by fear and anger. Yet emotions alone cannot provide an alternative. It requires the patient construction of a working class program, highlighting the role of the local capitalist parties and of Europe in creating the crisis and the central role both will play in driving down the living standards of workers to pay for the crisis.
Repudiating the bankers bailout, protecting jobs, wages and services, pointing to the alternative of a United Socialist States of Europe, building the rank and file networks across the continent, fighting racism at home. These are massive issues that hardly feature in the campaign. The most that we can hope for is that the anger is so great that the government vote collapses and they feel it necessary to call a general election. This would catapult the opposition into government and quickly demonstrate that there is no capitalist settlement that in any way ameliorates the dreadful situation that working people face.
Whether the election outcome, the need for a party of the working class can only grow.