The Socialist Party are standing on a Fight the Cuts agenda. With local government and Assembly candidates in Belfast and Enniskillen they’re in competition with a whole clatter of small left wing parties.
Paddy Meehan is their South Belfast candidate for the Assembly, and is also standing in Laganbank for a seat on Belfast City Council. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago and asked what the Socialist Party was offering voters.
We want to give the opportunity to stand candidates in these elections who are going to fight the cuts. What we’ve seen so far of all the main parties in the Assembly is that they may talk a fight about opposing, but immediately then they are going to implement the cuts as they come in …
Before the Tory government even came in, the Assembly in January was voting through a budget, nearly £400 million worth of cuts. They’ve agreed the cuts from the Tory/Lib Dem government to come in now and devastate working class areas.
So we want to put forward a voice that is going to fight the cuts by standing in the elections and putting forward a political alternative to cuts but also to lead campaigns on the ground. We see that already when they go after a local school or local crèche facility, people want to get organised against that. And that’s what we’re using this election for.
He doesn’t see a need for the cuts.
The cuts are being brought in not because of public sector debt but because of a huge legacy of bringing over the debt of the banks into the public books. We’re opposed completely to that. So we don’t feel there’s a need for any cuts at this point. And rather we’re in favour of investments because what we need now is jobs to get people back into work. We’re in favour of a public job creation scheme which will do socially useful work such as doing up social housing. But on top of that we want to put people into work that is going to create wealth as well and we think there should be public money put up to do that.
The Socialist Party hasn’t had much electoral success over the years. However, in the recent Irish elections, the party did get two TDs elected.
Yes we got two TDs elected. Joe Higgins in Dublin West and Clare Daly in Dublin North. I think that was seen as an historic breakthrough as part of the United Left Alliance which got five TDs elected in total across the country. I think that was an important indication of things that are to come. That the cuts in living standards, the cuts in wages, the attacks on the public sector in the South are slightly ahead of, and more developed than what’s happening [in the North].
He’s not impressed with some of the larger parties that claim to be socialist.
I think we’ve very, very little in common if anything at all. I think the SDLP along with the UUP and at certain points even Sinn Féin have all postured at opposing cuts or standing on the side of ordinary people. … If you’re going to represent working class people you have to represent all working class people. You can’t be sitting on one side of the divide or the other. You have to be representing workers where they are on the issues.
Running for the Assembly is good for the profile of the party and candidates, but their biggest chance of electoral victory is at council level. What does an anti-cuts agenda look like practically at a council level?
The council does have authority over waste management, at this point in time anyway. We’ve see bin collections being reduced from weekly to fortnightly. That’s a practical cut. It’s affecting people’s lives that they’re not able to get rid of their waste in time. We would oppose that …
But we don’t just stop there. We would like to use a council position on Belfast City Council as a platform to show up the hypocrisy of the politicians over the cuts, but also show up the political issues that come up in society, such as how to really oppose sectarianism. So whenever sectarian attacks happen or there is an increase in sectarianism, that there’s a political voice with the authority of a council position that can go out and organise protests but also at a certain point need to organise strikes of workers to oppose sectarian attacks, and oppose sectarianism in society.
The Socialist Party has a long record of challenging sectarianism in local workplaces. Paddy Meehan referenced it back to the days of Militant Labour in Northern Ireland.
We set a very important historical precedent, particularly in the 90s, that when there’s a sectarian threat on a workforce that immediately there’s a walkout, that there’s strikes. We think that was the best way to deal with sectarianism because workers organically see the need to unite when it comes to economic issues on strikes such as on the water charges or whether there’s attacks on workers such as what is happening now in the HCL call centre. There’s an instinctive need to unite not just catholic and protestant workers but foreign and domestic workers to oppose these attacks. So that’s concretely how we oppose sectarianism.
Northern Ireland has had recent racist incidents too.
It’s definitely cropped up in recent years. I think it’s a very difficult situation people have been put in here now with the BNP standing. My record is opposing racist attacks in the Lisburn Road in 2009 and organising local residents. You saw straight away that when that was happening and the BNP put out a disgraceful press release which could be seen to incite some of the attacks … coming out with this vile rhetoric against foreign workers.
We think racism now like sectarianism requires workers’ unity to defeat it but overall you need to deal with the key questions in society. When you have a lack of jobs, when you have no real social housing that is decent for ordinary people, they’re going to be forcing them onto a more getaway situation you can see more of these racist attacks unfortunately happening.
Paddy suggests that the working class can give a lead to transform society.
If we get a very strong lead from ordinary working class people, it points to a different way of organising society, a way that you can guarantee jobs, you can build social housing, make sure that the money is used for ordinary people, not the banks.
And it also raises the point that we have an Assembly now that almost without exception is a voice for big business. The debate around the cut in the Corporation Tax is an excellent example of that: there’s no qualms about taking what could be up to £300 million out of the public purse – which is money that is now being spent on public services – be taken out and just handed over, mainly to multinational corporations. We would be for real liquidity being put into the economy through nationalising the banks, bringing them into one state bank that can run social credit. That could fund local businesses. It could also fund a public job creation scheme, a public house renovation scheme for social housing.
I asked Paddy to explain some of the issues that he’d want to address in Laganbank where he’s standing for council.
I think the first one that’s really come at me because I’m a young person and a young worker is youth unemployment. We’ve nearly one in four young people on the dole. That’s the official figures. I know a lot of friends of mine would say the figures are a lot higher than that in reality, particularly in some of the working class areas. We need to do something about that. Which is why the Socialist Party is really pushing the message that first of all we’re opposing the cuts because the cuts could mean up to 40,000 job losses. We don’t accept either that a voluntary redundancy is not a job loss because when you’re a young person coming out of school or university, that’s a job that you can’t have. That’s still a job cut.
Outside of that you’re seeing the situation of housing in South Belfast. Particularly in Laganbank it’s a huge issue. You’ve a real landlordism developing where you have houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) of up to seven or eight people living in them sometimes and paying extortionate rents. Now that’s going to cause a whole heap of problems because you’re packing so many people, such a high density of people, into a small area is going to cause big problems. We’re saying that there’s lots of empty housing in South Belfast, a lot of it needs to be brought up to standards. But we’re not just going to bring it up to standards for landlords. We should be bringing it up to standards for properly state-controlled social housing that’s decent, that provides people with the facilities that they need.