The decision to re-launch the Labour party in Derry was taken in an upstairs room inside the Unite offices on Carlisle Road a few weeks ago.
Members of the committee claim that the reason behind the decision was because they sense apathy from the electorate towards mainstream parties locally.
Liam Gallagher is an executive member of the Foyle branch’s committee and he explained what they plan to do in the next few months.
“The Labour party had a strong voice in the city before 1968/69. Obviously after that time the politics here changed dramatically but there has always been significant number of members of the Labour party in the North West and in Derry.
“We believe that now is an opportune time to put forward a credible left of centre party which could serve as a strong opposition.
“The Foyle branch of the Labour party intend to build upon its existing members and recruit as many new members as possible. We think that if we recruit heavily we will be able to put forward a serious political alternative for the people of the North West and Derry.
“We think it’s time that we start to move away from the politics that we have known so well for the last 30 years. People here are much more concerned about jobs, pensions, schools and health and that’s what the Labour party plan to do - we want to focus on the bread and butter issues that effect every single person and move away from the sectarian politics of yesterday.”
The enthusiasm and passion from the new members is engaging to say the least but they are not getting ahead of themselves.
Despite a belief that they can grow the party locally, they have set a realistic target of challenging at the next local council elections in three years time.
“It’s our intention to build a considerable base so that we can mount a serious challenge during the local council elections in 2015 and we will not be sucked into the sectarian politics that has been part and parcel of the political set-up here for quite sometime,” said Liam.
Paul Haslam is the Foyle branch’s secretary and was a education officer with the Western Education Library Board and also worked as a teacher lo,cally. Paul has been a member of the Labour party since 2007 and has compiled a detailed history of the party’s first party conference which was held in Belfast in 1907.
“I’ve been a lifelong supporter of the Labour party and I honestly believe that we have something to offer locally.
“I also think it’s important to point out that it’s not just people from a trade union background who are turning to the Labour party. Seamus Breslin [Chairman] is the case in point. There’s certainly a wide expressed need out there for a party like the Labour party to represent centre-left ideas and to be an effective opposition. We intend to fight for Derry and for the North West.
“The Northern Ireland constituency of the Labour party was set up in 2007 and the latest development plan was for us to set up branches all over the North. We have branches in Ballymena, Coleraine, Belfast and now we have one in Foyle,” he explained.
The SDLP have traditionally been viewed as a sister party to the Labour Party but Paul explained that they see themselves as a party with more cross-community appeal.
“The SDLP.are still a sister party of the Labour party but we will be operating in a different regime in a sense because we are a party that appeals across the divide.
“Although the SDLP are a socialist party they are a nationalist party and that’s the difference. We are very much a non-sectarian party.”
Liam said that the Foyle branch of the Labour party intend to move away from “sectarian politics” and towards addressing real life issues that affect everyone.
“Our main concern is the affect the current economic climate is having on people locally. People are trying to keep a roof over their heads and there’s a real fear of job losses out there.
“We are also mindful of the desperate plight of the young unemployed.
“Then there’s the working poor - they are people who are working for the minimum wage and are essentially struggling to cope. The people who are feeling the effects more are those who are in part-time employment. Everyone knows about the changes to benefits and that’s affected so many part-time workers here and the changes have thrown many of them into poverty.
“Our view is that the programme for government has not addressed the dire economic problems that exist in the North West. It tells us that the Executive’s intention is to deliver 25,000 private sector jobs because the public sector is too large. However, so far, the Executive’s record in creating new jobs has been extremely poor and we are haemorrhaging public sector jobs at a very high rate. All of this has led to less disposable income and this is evidenced by the number of businesses that have closed locally. The number of premises lying vacant in the city centre at present is 130.
“The Labour Party argue that this is what Professor Keynes describes as ‘the paradox of thrift’ and we believe that we need a strategy for growth. This way of thinking has been accepted throughout Europe, for example, in France where the people elected Francois Hollande, who is a socialist ,and the rejection of austerity in Greece. Austerity is not working.”
Liam went on acknowledge the work carried out by the major political parties locally but said that the party felt that now was time for a change.
“There’s certainly a sense within the trade union movement that we need a political alternative. The Labour Party has always been there.
“But we also believe that we have to give credit to the current political parties in the city because they have brought us to a place where we are now talking and the violence on our streets is nowhere near what it used to be. Although the Assembly has its faults it’s much, much better than what we were used to. However, we believe that the Labour party could offer local people a more mature reflection of what real politics should be about.
“I think we have all accepted that the constitutional issues have been put to bed and people here are more concerned with having a job, a house and a decent standard of living.”
Chairman of the Foyle branch of the Labour party is Seamus Breslin, who is a software tester with All State. Seamus joined the Labour party several weeks ago.
“The reason I decided to join the Labour Party is because I believe that the party is offering a real alternative to the orange green divide in terms of politics here.
“I think the Foyle branch of the Labour party can offer an alternative to working-class people on both sides of the community.
“There’s also an increase in the number of foreign workers living and working in the Northern Ireland and I think that the Labour Party can also offer them a voice so that they can be heard too.”
Kenny McAdams is an executive member of the Foyle branch’s committee;. He’s also a new member of the party.
“I think that in order for the serious political issues to be tackled we need a serious opposition in the assembly. There’s no opposition in the Assembly at the minute and many of policies that are being passed through Stormont are verging on duplication of policies that are being passed through Westminster.
“An example of this would be training provision. At present in Northern Ireland there is the Steps to Work programme which offers unemployed people the chance to re-skill. It’s an eight week programme or a 26 week programme and I would challenge any political party to come and debate with us how they expect to re-skill someone through an eight week or a 26 week programme. So what we can take from that is that many strategies are not working here and we need to change that quickly.
“I think, and I believe the party shares this view, that the decision to re-launch the Labour Party in Foyle is not about something that is going to sweep to power even within the next five years, but we are sending out a message to people involved with other centre-left political parties that they have a choice and can be part of a party that brings people together through socio-economic issues rather than flag issues.
“Many people with the trade union movement and community organisations are saying that the political system as we know it is not working so that’s why we took the decision to re-launch the party in Foyle.”