The dog that didn't bark
ICTU kill housing protest
27 September 2021
Raise the Roof protest, Dublin, October 2018
The policy of the Irish government is to capitulation to property speculators. The Housing for All policy simply adds petrol to the fire. Larger and larger sectors of the population will be frozen out of the mortgage market and trapped in an unregulated rental market that squeezes a greater and greater proportion of income towards basic shelter.
At the political level support for the major parties continues to fall, with the stable alternation of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael a thing of the past and the strong likelihood that they will no longer be able to form a government even when conjoined in coalition. Sinn Fein appear poised to sweep past both with the biggest section of the vote.
The reaction to Housing for All indicates that this housing catastrophe has yet to provoke a determined and unified response.
It is true that a number of commentators, economists and political parties came out with sharp critiques.
A 200 strong protest organised by the National Housing and Homeless Coalition took place on September 15 outside Leinster House as the Dail season reopened. Approximately 200 were in attendance. The entrance to Leinster House was cordoned off with barriers and the garda prevented close approach to the gates of the Dail.
The demonstration was to be a prelude to the major Raise the Roof demonstration organised by ICTU on October 2nd. However a statement appeared on the campaign's website:
DUE TO ISSUES ARISING FROM ONGOING PUBLIC HEALTH RESTRICTIONS, IT WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE TO PROCEED WITH THE PLANNED OCTOBER 2 NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION AND THE EVENT WILL NOW BE RESCHEDULED. FURTHER INFORMATION ON THIS WILL BE AVAILABLE SHORTLY.
What does this mean?
The statement should be taken in conjunction with the ICTU statement following the release of the Housing for All policy, which was essentially a fudged statement of support. It is also in line with the use of the Raise the Roof structure by ICTU. Their last major demonstration was in 2018 and that was followed by a large increase in the housing budget. The campaign was immediately closed down, even though the money went to the speculators and landlords.
At the same time a loose parliamentary association with Sinn Fein and left groups managed to pass a resolution aspiring to affordable housing and secure tenancy.
The ICTU view of all forms of privatisation, including housing privatisation, is that these are a matter for political parties and that their remit stops short at demanding more provision. They are also very comfortable with parliamentary lobbying, no matter how low key, and are averse to demonstrations, especially following the Apollo House occupation of 2016, where the state threatened to seize union assets.
So it's really no surprise that the union reaction to the government's proposals is to swiftly send the opposition to sleep.
There arises a further question. Why is it that the broad mass of left organisations and community groups have remained silent in the face of this wet blanket from ICTU?
The short answer is that all the groups are inside the Raise the Roof structure. However not all voices are equal. The union leaderships have established over decades that what they say goes. At their shoulders stands Sinn Féin, also anxious to focus on action in the Dail and avoid action in the streets. Many of the groups involved are anxious to retain good relations with both the unions and Sinn Féin. The reasoning is that the campaign demands have moved to the left and that there is no opposition to each group organising independently.
We believe this line of reasoning is false. Demonstrations on housing are taking place, but they are local and involve at most hundreds of activists. What is required is for the campaign to unite and mobilise and organise in the tens of thousands.
The other point to be made is that, although the Raise the Roof programme includes a demand for public housing and for tenant rights, these are buried in a mass of other demands. These issues must take pride of place to generate a coherent challenge to the speculators and defenders of property investment.
Finally we must note that silence and inaction themselves have political consequences. In this case the outcome is to hope for a government led by Sinn Féin and that that government will be able to effectively tackle the housing crisis.
We believe this is mistaken on two levels. One is the idea that Sinn Féin is part of the left. The other is that their policy proposals offer a way to resolve the housing crisis.
It is possible to argue that the housing crisis can be resolved short of revolution. What is not likely is that it will be resolved in the absence of any revolutionary threat.
Trailing behind parliamentarianism and reformism is a recipe for demoralisation. Building an independent class movement relies on a direct challenge to these ideas and to the current organisations claiming leadership of the working class.