1960s >> 1969 >> no-778-june-1969

Labour’s Irish Stew

While in Britain the Labour Party is now thoroughly discredited, in Ireland the Labour Party has high hopes for the coming general election on June 18.

The Irish press are forecasting a defeat for the Fianna Fail government at the forthcoming general election. Loom-large in the running is the Labour Party.

The government lost the referendum last Autumn when the electorate decided to retain the proportional representation system of voting. The Labour Party played a large part in influencing this vote against the government. A constitutional change to the less democratic single-member constituency system, as in Britain, would have increased Fianna Fail’s chances of success in the election since the majority of Labour members of parliament acquired their seats on second preference votes. It now seems likely that Labour will hold the balance of power after the votes have been cast. The second major party, Fine Gael, were also opposed to the amendment to the constitution and hope that, should the situation arise. Labour will agree to form a coalition with them and end the eleven years of continuous Fianna Fail rule.

The Labour Party has put much effort into the scramble for power. It is the oldest political party in Eire but its prospects have never been so bright. It has, however, been the minority party in two previous but disastrous coalitions. Among its recent claims has been the promise that if it gets control of parliament “Ireland will be socialist in the 70s”. It has, so it says, committed itself to the ideas of James Connolly, but there is no party in Ireland claiming allegiance to socialist principles which adheres so little to the politics of Connolly as the Labour Party.

Recently, it published in its official journal Liberty a study of Connolly entitled *Orthodoxy and Unorthodoxy’. The author attempted to show that the remedy proposed by Marx and his adherents was worse than the evil it proposed to remedy, and copious extracts from papal encyclicals were used to illustrate the point. But if you refer to supporters of the Russian capitalist regime as adherents of Marx then you have the impossible task of substantiating the argument by showing where, in Marx’s writings, state capitalism is proposed as a remedy to a ’private or mixed economy’. These articles, which were given editorial praise, illustrate Labour’s misunderstanding of Socialism.

The economic answer put forward by Labour as a remedy for ‘underpopulated’ Ireland is a programme of nationalisation and control of capital investment. Farmlands will be handed over to those who are willing to exploit them fully by modern farming techniques. Labour has quite rightly pointed out that private enterprise has failed to answer the problems of underpopulation and mass unemployment.

The party has also expressed its abhorrence at the petty foreign industries which have sprung up all over the country and have been encouraged by the government. These firms, mostly German and American, find it economic to set up such petty industries because fixed costs are remarkably low and the excess labour supply keeps real wages permanently depressed. Also, the nature of these industries is such that cheap girl labour suffices; in one small western town several such firms employ mostly girls between sixteen and 21 with flat wages from £2 10s to £7.

Labour sees the solution to this exploitation in a State-controlled system and call this Socialism. There is little need to elaborate on the stupidity of this assertion.

Even if Labour could achieve these reforms of private enterprise, the lot of the Irish worker would not be much better. There were promises of a better Ireland, employment for all, and riddance of British imperialism earlier this century. Now, 48 years after the 26 counties were given autonomous powers, and with the British gone, not only is Ireland still economically backward but its population has since declined because of emigration. The Labour Party has at least tried to make people aware of these problems but it points to state capitalism, under the misnomer ‘Socialism’, as the solution.

How will Labour act if they come into power? Will they too fill their bank-accounts as the so-called revolutionaries of the 1916 to 1921 rebellion have done? Labour claim that they are, in political jargon, a party of the Left. This concept, however, evades all attempts to understand it.

Labour can offer only empty promises like their opponents. They have resolved not to enter a coalition with a capitalist party — implying Fine Gael — if neither of the two major parties acquires an overall majority. But there is a strong possibility that Labour will hold the balance of power after the votes have been cast. Should this situation arise, it will be interesting to see how they will react.

Fine Gael are determined to enter into a coalition with them and may make far-reaching concessions. If Labour find themselves in this dilemma the probability is that they will start bargaining with Fine Gael. The only other alternative is to let Fianna Fail continue its long rule, with Fine Gael’s support. It is extremely unlikely that Labour will allow this to happen — when they have an alternative. But whatever happens one thing is certain: capitalism will not be threatened.

Patrick Garvey