THE LAUNCH OF the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) last Thursday provoked a flurry of comment and analysis. The AAA can at least happily conclude that we have ruffled some feathers. Aaron McKenna’s piece in this publication was noticeable for its generally negative and cynical tone. It must be pointed out at the start that this vein of opinion is in marked contrast to the enormously positive response we have gotten from the public in recent months. And it’s not surprising that a businessman who agrees with many aspects of austerity should adopt such a position.
People are extremely angry at the betrayals of the political establishment. In 2011, voters gave Fianna Fail a hammering. It was not that people had much faith in Labour and Fine Gael, but more a belief ‘well, they can’t be any worse than the previous lot.’
How wrong they were!
That there is a significant and growing political vacuum is incontestable, and it is into this vacuum that the AAA takes its first steps.
The campaign against the household charge and the property tax was the largest movement of opposition to austerity seen in this country since the crisis began. The AAA emerged from this movement; to dismiss it in such a cavalier way ignores the significance of that struggle and belittles the hundreds and thousands of people who actively tried to build the campaign.
The draconian powers given to Revenue, which allowed it to dip into the wage packets and welfare payments of ordinary people was outrageous. Contrast that policy with the kid gloves with which they treat the corporations who go to great lengths to siphon enormous wealth away from the tax man.
People felt bullied and intimidated into paying the property tax and the Government hopes this blow to morale will translate into mass compliance with water charges. But we in the AAA have a simple message: why not punish those parties who support these austerity taxes? Why not use the local elections to sweep them out? Of course, that raises the important question: who should we replace them with? Yes, it would have been simpler if the Socialist Party had just presented its candidates before the activists and members of the campaign and said ‘vote for us’.
To describe the AAA as simply a front operation for the Socialist Party is deeply cynical, not to mention dismissive of the hundreds of ordinary people who have decided to throw their weight and energy into building the AAA. It is a common belief of many on the right, that the plebs are easily duped and so much putty in the hands of charlatan politicians.
The AAA emerged organically
Virtually all of the AAA members were activists in the aforementioned campaigns against the household and property taxes. And it was out of these campaigns that the AAA emerged organically, not at the whim of the Socialist Party. The decision to put forward an electoral challenge was the product of months of discussion and debate, both locally and nationally, which at all times sought to include the widest possible number of people, including being endorsed at public meetings in the community.
The result of that is a highly credible slate of 41 candidates standing across the country. It should be noted that, of the 41 candidates currently selected, 21 are not members of any political party. The May 2014 local elections will see a significant increase in the number of seats in urban areas. For example, in Fingal, the number of seats will jump from 24 to 40. The standing of multiple AAA candidates in wards is designed to maximise the number of seats we can win and sweep out the austerity parties, rather than to ensure the return of a Socialist Party councillor.
You can accuse the Socialist Party of many things, but hiding what we stand for, or attempting to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes are accusations that simply don’t stand up to investigation.
Whenever Socialist Party members (whether candidates or not) have spoken at public events, they have identified themselves as members of the party. Our literature and communication clearly states our programme and has explained what the AAA is and the Socialist Party’s relationship to it.
Maybe it is to the annoyance of some that the socialist label isn’t as off-putting as they imagine it to be; that no one in the AAA has a problem with the Socialist Party’s involvement.
The Government can’t have it both ways
Indeed, the modest but important electoral successes recorded by the Socialist Party over the last 15 years do more than a little damage to Aaron McKenna’s argument. Has he forgotten Joe Higgins’ ousting of, not one, but two MEP incumbents in 2009 in the capital city, including depriving Fianna Fail of a seat in Europe, was done standing on a clear socialist platform? Or Ruth Coppinger’s 2011 by-election campaign that garnered 7,500 votes, again, under the banner of the Socialist Party?
No, our experience is that a socialist programme, when properly explained and in the right conditions, can win mass support.
Hardly a day passes without some pronouncement that the economy is recovering. But it’s full steam ahead in terms of austerity as far as the Government is concerned, particularly with regard to the implementation of water charges. The Government can’t have it both ways. If they really believe there is a recovery, well then it’s time to lift austerity. That is the core message of the AAA, and the local elections give voters an opportunity to endorse that message by electing a host of AAA councillors.
Matt Waine is a member of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Socialist Party. He is a councillor for the Castleknock Ward on Fingal County Council and was a key organiser of the Campaign Against Home and Water Taxes.