Housing March in Dublin: A fragmented movement
The housing demonstration in Dublin on May 18th was dominated by two sentiments. Amongst individual marchers the dominant feeling was of rage against a system of robbery and pillage that left them at the mercy of the banks and landlords, with the threat of eviction hanging over many. The new figures of over 10,000 people homeless, including almost 4000 children, is a dire warning to everyone else.
The other mayor emotion, among activists and organisers, was a sense of relief that the turnout, (12 to 20 thousand) was enough to establish a continued resistance on the housing issue.
What appeared to be absent was any sense of the crisis in the movement itself, even though this was demonstrated by the ramshackle alliance on the platform, the equally ramshackle slew of often contradictory policies and by an overwhelming absence of strategy beyond hoped for election victories and infrequent protest marches.
The confusion was illustrated graphically by lead speaker John Douglas of the MANDATE trade union. In line with ICTU policy he called for the declaration of a housing emergency and called for a right to a home to be enshrined in law. Yet his own union's policy is to call for mass public housing and they support a separate movement for public housing.
Because of the lack of discussion and the large number of individual housing groups these are treated as if they are the same thing. In fact they are diametrically opposed. The ICTU policy is for more action from the government based in its policy of private investment. The MANDATE policy for a public housing campaign imply the elimination of profit from housing provision and many supporters argue that it is the profit motive that has caused the housing crisis in the first place. In fact, by accepting the argument for private finance the trade union leadership is leaving the way open for the government policy of encouraging vulture funds, Real Estate Investment Trusts and free rein for landlords.
Other speakers described the effects of the crisis on different sectors of society. It speaks volumes about the lacklustre politics of the platform that Peter McVerry, a Catholic priest, was by far the most radical voice, quoting Karl Marx and pointing out that the section of the population at risk extended beyond those homeless and in emergency accommodation to the hundreds of thousands in substandard accommodation living in fear of the landlord.
For the moment political discussion seems suspended in the hope that forthcoming elections will kick back against the government.
This seems unlikely. The european elections do not directly reference housing. Local government's role in housing is through unelected city managers Above all there is no housing party or even an electoral alliance and the lack of class politics so acute that even the socialist groups tip their hats to private affordable housing.
The elections will be over soon. Activists must face up to the task of adopting a single coherent housing policy based on public provision, building a single unified movement to push back against banks and landlords and stopping the slide towards a return to our past history of penury and eviction.