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Column We're dedicated Labour members - but we're not happy with the party

Labour is ignoring its core values and policies in coalition. A group of members are trying to change that, writes Neil Warner.

THERE IS A movement developing among Labour Party members to promote what we perceive as the genuine Labour Party values and policies which have so far been neglected in the party’s coalition with Fine Gael.

The movement is driven by growing dissatisfaction ordinary members at the direction of the current government.

The Campaign for Labour Policies, as our group is called, will be officially launched at a meeting open to all party members in Dublin this Saturday.

The group has been gradually developing since the beginning of this year. As frustration with the progress of government has grown, so has the impetus to found a concrete group to propose an alternative. Initially over a hundred members met in January to voice their frustration and formed a less political group to air members’ concerns called the Labour Members’ Forum. By May of this year, however, a sense was building that something more explicitly political was also needed.

Many of us felt extremely frustrated with the way in which the party conference in April was railroaded in a very undemocratic manner. This was followed quickly by confirmation of punitive changes to lone parents’ allowance in the Social Welfare Bill.

As a response, many of us have been meeting over the course of the summer to draft an alternative set of policy proposals which will be put to the wider meeting of members on Saturday.

There are five things that Labour could be doing differently…

These have been built around five basic points . Firstly, given the continuing poor performance of the Irish economy, we want to kick-start investment and domestic demand with an additional €2 billion from the state’s own resources in 2013. If paid for either through the National Pension Reserve Fund or the state’s current liquid assets, such a stimulus would not add to the national debt.

Secondly, we believe that public finances should be repaired by taxation on high income groups. Ireland current taxation level is among the lowest in Europe while public spending is also well below the European average. This means that much of the savings which need to be made in Ireland’s finances could be done by increases taxes in way which would still not be particularly burdensome in international terms.

Yet, perversely, the majority of budgetary savings so far enacted have focussed on spending rather than taxation. This is in spite of the fact that spending cuts have a more deflationary effect on the economy than tax increases, especially those targeted on people with high incomes. What is more, even those taxes which have been implemented have often been highly regressive – such as the VAT increase of last year. We find this state of affairs to be utterly repugnant to the basic egalitarian values of the Labour Party as we understand it.

Thirdly, there should be no sell-off in semi-state enterprises. Instead, current enterprises should be used to stimulate investment in the economy. This position also fits with a mandate adopted by the Labour Party conference in Galway in April 2012, when delegates voted against any sale of semi-state assets.

Fourthly, we are calling for an increase in workers’ rights, again to bring Ireland in line with basic European norms. Specifically, we want to legislate for the right to collective bargaining and for part-time workers to get access to full-time work if it is available in their workplace – something which is already demanded by a European Commission directive. Again, these are fundamental Labour Party principles in which there has been no progress since the formation of the government and seems to be no sign of progress.

Finally, we are calling for the suspension of all promissory note payments and negotiation of a new deal based on a complete write-down of bank debt.

The Campaign for Labour Policies is very mindful of the restrictions imposed by coalition government and of the difficult decisions that need to be made by in the current climate. However, we also believe that if a party is to commit itself to government, it must feel that in some sense its basic values are being promoted. The course of government so far, and the increase in inequality which Ireland has experienced since 2011, has not really given us anything that can make us feel this is being done. For this reason we have really felt left with no choice other than to propose and fight for this alternative path.

Neil Warner is secretary of the Campaign for Labour Policies. See and for more information.

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