SIPTU, THE SWP AND SPECTACULAR SECTARIANISM
Des Derwin criticises SWP for running candidate against him in SIPTU election
"In over thirty years of political activity I cannot recall a more astonishing act of pure sectarianism on the socialist far left. They are running a candidate with no surface difference of policies to mine. As it is a trade union election they cannot run as an organisation. There can be no defensible reason for them standing a candidate against me. Not only have I worked with them in SIPTU and actively supported their member Carolann Duggan in four successive SIPTU elections, but also, as I detail below, they were instrumental in persuading me to run for General Secretary just last year. I might add that not only have I worked with the SWP in various campaigns and bodies, trade union and other, including the recent Socialist Alliance, down the years, but that I have been in recent times an increasingly isolated voice on the rest of the far left for working with and not writing off the SWP.
Now, when I am actually in a better position to run, having stood last year, I am not good enough and they put up a virtual unknown. The effect will be (particularly in the absence of a soft left candidate - though there's a whisper of one emerging) to split the left vote. To run against a radical socialist candidate in a general election (which the SWP did once against the Socialist Party) is bad enough. Seemingly identical organisations vying for votes is a scandal to ordinary workers. But to run a candidate against a long established, independent oppositional activist, with a thirty-year history of exactly similar ‘Rank and File-ist’ policies (i.e. myself) in a trade union election, where candidates are standing on trade union issues and trade union records, is sectarianism and sectism without any cover."
ORIGINAL FULL TEXT OF DERWIN ARTICLE BEGINS HERE. THE ABOVE IS AN EXCERPT FOR FRONT PAGE.
Thanks 'SIPTU bureaucrat'. Beaten to the punch.
On Indymedia on 10th October ‘03 I announced that I intend to run for the SIPTU Vice President election in January, as I had run in last year’s General Secretary election, on a platform of change and renewal in SIPTU and for a fighting, democratic Union.
The Socialist Workers Party has, since 2001, repeatedly called for left unity. Its sister Party in Britain and its international organisation have contended that since Seattle the left is in a new era and that socialists must work inside the movements with others they might not fully agree with. The Irish SWP’s latest call for a socialist bloc proposes the formation, with the Socialist Party and other socialists, of joint left caucuses in the unions (Open Letter, Socialist Worker, 16th July 2003). In a ‘Message of Solidarity to Socialist Party from SWP’, issued at the SP Dublin welcome back meeting at the Gresham Hotel last Saturday (see Indymedia Oct 22 2003), the SWP says:
“These events [of the bin tax campaign] show that more than ever we need those on the left to work together in the interest of the workers movement. The anti bin tax campaign shows that we can do it. For the future of the movement we believe that it is essential that we continue and extend this co-operation. Recently both parties’ members have worked in the anti capitalist movement such as in organizations like Globalise Resistance. The Socialist Workers Party and others built up the Irish Anti War movement by working alongside anybody that opposed the obscenity of Bush's war for oil. When those of us who opposed the warmongers worked together we built the biggest political demonstration in decades, with 100,000 people marching in Dublin.
We believe that the sort of co-operation over the bin' tax should be spread across other issues that affect workers lives; in our unions, in supporting the fight against privatisation, in defence of our health system. Above all in showing that there is an alternative to capitalism and the Free Market. In the next elections both the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party should agree a joint list of candidates to contest every area in Dublin on a clear socialist platform.”
On the same day as these laudable words, this precisely correct unitary approach, was issued, I learned that, unbelievably, the SWP are standing a candidate against me!
In over thirty years of political activity I cannot recall a more astonishing act of pure sectarianism on the socialist far left. They are running a candidate with no surface difference of policies to mine. As it is a trade union election they cannot run as an organisation. There can be no defensible reason for them standing a candidate against me. Not only have I worked with them in SIPTU and actively supported their member Carolann Duggan in four successive SIPTU elections, but also, as I detail below, they were instrumental in persuading me to run for General Secretary just last year. I might add that not only have I worked with the SWP in various campaigns and bodies, trade union and other, including the recent Socialist Alliance, down the years, but that I have been in recent times an increasingly isolated voice on the rest of the far left for working with and not writing off the SWP.
Now, when I am actually in a better position to run, having stood last year, I am not good enough and they put up a virtual unknown. The effect will be (particularly in the absence of a soft left candidate - though there's a whisper of one emerging) to split the left vote. To run against a radical socialist candidate in a general election (which the SWP did once against the Socialist Party) is bad enough. Seemingly identical organisations vying for votes is a scandal to ordinary workers. But to run a candidate against a long established, independent oppositional activist, with a thirty-year history of exactly similar ‘Rank and File-ist’ policies (i.e. myself) in a trade union election, where candidates are standing on trade union issues and trade union records, is sectarianism and sectism without any cover.
At the SIPTU Conference in Galway I mentioned (on 26th August) to Kieran Allen of the SWP that I was thinking of standing for the Vice Presidency. He said he was thinking the same. A day or so later, Marnie Holborow of the SWP spoke to me and argued that I should leave the candidacy to Kieran. I said I would consider it and a little later sent the letter quoted below to Kieran Allen, with a copy to Marnie Holborow. The letter (with slight deletions here) explains much of the background.
“2nd September ‘03
There does not appear to be any good reason to change my intention of standing as the left alternative candidate in the forthcoming SIPTU election.
On balance I am the better-qualified candidate and the history of the thing tips the balance a lot more.
As regards comparisons of possible candidates’ credentials I refer you to the short CV which adorned my last election leaflet:
' Des Derwin has been a member of SIPTU and the ITGWU since 1973. He is an Assembly General Operative at the Mouldpro plastics factory in Finglas, Dublin, where he is Chair of the Section Committee. Des has wide and varied industrial, negotiation and administrative experience including over twenty-five years on the Unidare industrial site in Finglas. He has served on his Branch Committee for twenty-five years and is the President of the Branch. He is an active delegate to SIPTU National Conferences, a member of the Dublin Regional Executive Committee of the Union and of the executive committee of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. Des is a socialist, and has been involved in many trade union and single-issue campaigns. He is not a member of any political party. If elected he would accept only the average industrial wage. He is well able to carry out the duties of General Secretary and has demonstrated over the years that he can work with people he does not fully agree with and within democratically decided policies and structures.'
That record and placing is added to by the fact that I stood the last time and therefore already have a national profile within the Union. Both considerations position me as the better candidate.
The comparison of record, activity and representivity within SIPTU is not the crucial factor. These are critical factors in our political tradition, in its orientation to the trade unions, to organic involvement in the working class movement, to the notion of socialists, and indeed the party (and its pre-party fragments), being part of the workers’ movement.
However last year’s election has introduced the real imperative. Without that I’d have been perfectly happy to beaver away, to keep attempting to get a rank and file group established, and – as regards electoral forays – to aim for the NEC (which I intend to do incidentally).
Last June , when Marnie convened a meeting to consider the General Secretary election, I never imagined myself as a candidate in a General Officer election. I argued at first against standing a left candidate at all. You argued that the leadership should not be allowed to stand unchallenged; struggles and a new partnership deal were coming up; the left in the unions elsewhere were making gains; there was a need for an agreed left candidate, platform and campaign, etc.; that here was a big chance to get something going for left unity.
I suggested that there were four plausible left candidates that I could think of: Carolann, Marnie, myself and Clare Daly. If Carolann were running (she was not) we would not need to think about what to do. We would all support her as before. Marnie immediately ruled herself out. I dismissed the possibility of me standing. The notion was inconceivable to me. I suggested we approach Clare Daly to stand.
The SWP suggested that I should stand. This was before the question could be definitively put to Clare Daly who wasn’t at the meeting (I had made some unpromising soundings already). Your name was never mentioned as a possibility. When I continued to maintain my reluctance the SWP argued very strongly, and pressed in subsequent days, that I run. You were the firmest and most adamant at the meeting that I should stand (and incidentally gave a rather optimistic prognosis of how I might do). I still declined and proposed that we arrange an immediate meeting with Clare Daly to ask her to stand. In the meantime I would take 24 hours to consider and say then whether I would stand (in the event of Clare declining).
Only from that meeting was the terrifying idea planted that perhaps I might stand for General Secretary. But the idea did have its logic. My decision after the 24 hours was not to run but that if no other left candidate emerged by the time my own Branch held its special nomination meeting in early July I would seriously reconsider my position. Clare Daly was definitely not available to run. After extensive consultations I took the plunge.
So the SWP, and you yourself, were prime movers in me standing last year.
I was a very reluctant candidate for all the usual practical and political reasons, added to my personal unsuitability for the hustings. But once done it would seem daft for me to throw away an advantage gained, for the next one, by standing previously.
Once again I am reluctantly standing, but it seems my first outing just adds to the duty I acknowledged of providing some left alternative to candidates of the bureaucracy…
…I acknowledge that you have gained some deserved standing and prominence for The Celtic Tiger, which was an outstanding contribution to the Irish socialist movement, and of course for your other activities, including some SIPTU speeches, in particular the brilliant one in Dublin on Nice. In the broader movement the book shines, and you have certainly utilised every opportunity to follow it up. In SIPTU as such its impact is outweighed by my rather more workaday accomplishments. In any case it was published before the last election and does not make up a special case for standing in this election.
So I’m fairly determined to stand and am now declaring it all round and seeking the nomination of Branches.
Given all the above it is surprising that you seriously offered yourself as the left candidate, except in the event of my unavailability, and surprising that after learning of my intention to run again the SWP still wishes to persuade me to stand aside in favour of yourself. I sincerely hope I was not just the stopgap while you waited in the wings?
A few remarks on SIPTU Grassroots Forum. Or should I bother at all? My copious remarks in public on previous SWP initiatives in SIPTU apply also to the Grassroots Forum. And have made no difference whatsoever. If SIPTU Grassroots Forum is intended as more than just a newsletter - it was spoken of at the Galway meeting and in the newsletter as being ‘set up’ and has already organised one meeting – it was established in precisely the instantaneous manner I have vehemently opposed for a SIPTU rank and file group. It has an even narrower initial base than SIPTU Rank and File Solidarity Network and like New Directions has no organisational existence whatsoever outside the SWP. If it’s a newsletter only, a purely SWP product and project should not go under a different brand. Presuming it came out of the meeting on 7th August in the Teachers Club, I got notice of it one day before, and neither Clare Daly, Stephen Lewis nor Alan MacSimóin [non-SWP political and SIPTU activists] had any knowledge of it. Yet a name, newsletter, platform (quite well aimed) and newsletter contents are produced for the SIPTU Conference and prior to the fringe meeting. I cannot reconcile this with your Open Letter (Socialist Worker, 16th July 2003) which proposes the formation, with the Socialist Party and other socialists, of joint left caucuses in the unions.
But perhaps its not a front from first to last because the newsletter is not half bad, with a good pitch this time, and it “is open to all activists”. The Galway fringe meeting was very well attended compared to all attempts at a fringe meeting since Killarney.
Unlike most of ‘the rest of the left’ I acknowledge the ability of the SWP to launch initiatives with substantial forces and a real effect. I advocate working within and trying to broaden SWP initiatives and SWP-dominated campaigns that have or can build a real base, and so will not disregard Grassroots Forum. I have some copies of the first issue to distribute…
I received not as much as an acknowledgement of that letter (often a response of SIPTU Head Office to correspondence) never mind an argument, good bad or indifferent, why I should retire.
The first I heard of the new candidate was when he was indirectly referred to by SWP and SIPTU member Melissa Halpin from the platform of a session of the Irish Social Forum gathering last Saturday. The candidate is Derek Delaney, a Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council worker, who is, Melissa Halpin said, standing on the bin tax issue. As regards the bin tax, there has been no one more forceful than myself in SIPTU or the Dublin Council of Trade Unions for action on the bin tax. And after Indymedia my very first electoral outing was a leaflet (received by several SWP members), for the 11th October DCTU march, which focused on the bins issue!
This SWP candidacy is either for straight, barely-disguised party advantage, using the election to raise the SWP name, or to punish me for not standing down for Kieran Allen, or as an act of revenge following the DCTU march on 11th October. When I could not support Brid Smith's aggressive demand to speak at the demonstration, because the speakers had already been decided at an executive meeting, she threatened, “I won’t forget this”. A week later this sabotaging candidacy emerges. When I confronted SWP and SIPTU member Helena McNeill, immediately after learning of the SWP candidacy, she said, “You stopped Brid Smith speaking at the Trades Council march”. Why is this lie being given currency?
When I confronted Melissa Halpin after her announcement she said I would not talk to them about the election. Yet she did not know about the letter (quoted above) I had sent to Kieran Allen with a copy to Marnie Holborow. Why is the lie that I would not talk to the SWP being given currency, when I have heard nothing from them since my letter of seven weeks ago? Why has my letter or even its existence not been communicated to even the SWP’s own SIPTU activists?!
The effect will be to split the left vote. Nothing but the span and force of their party machine will gain votes for their candidate, who will be saying basically the same things as me but with a weaker record and standing within our Union. I demand that the SWP withdraw their candidate. This has nothing to do with individualism. If Carolann was running I would not dream of running. If someone of the standing of Clare Daly were running I would gladly pass this chalice to others happier at electioneering. I call on all activists who have at heart the interests of SIPTU and of building a rank and file movement, rather than the narrowest of organisational interests, to demand that the SWP drop this act of undiluted cynical opportunism. I ask all SIPTU Branches to give their Nomination to a genuine candidate and not lend credence to a cheap party-building manoeuvre!
Last weekend at the Irish Social Forum the SWP distributed a printed version of the Gresham Hotel leaflet (above) which said on the reverse side, in relation to the bin tax campaign: “There can be no room for one-up-man-ship by any one party that seeks to dictate policy” (see www.swp.ie ). It seems that this perfectly correct principle is meant to apply only to situations where other parties besides the SWP dominate.
President, SIPTU Electronics and Engineering Branch.