As the housing crisis grows, a spark of resistance
12 August 2018
The housing question in Ireland is surrounded by a fog of confusion. The growing homelessness and the pressure on rents and mortgages is generally considered to be a result of the years of austerity or alternatively a result of government incompetence, fed by a dogmatic insistence on free-market ideology.
As the crisis grows deeper and deeper these explanations have become less credible. The housing crisis is not a result of a failure to build upon recovery, but one of the means in which the austerity agenda continues to apply. The suffering of the homeless and of those struggling to meet housing costs is not a result of incompetence, but the manifestation of a class war involving vulture capitalism from abroad and native landlordism at home.
An example of this collaboration is the sale of 7500 mortgages to vulture capital by Permanent TSB. PTSB is 75% owned by the public. It collapsed because of its role in property speculation and was rescued by the state using public money. Now these public resources are to be transferred to vulture capital while the state shrugs its shoulders and says it's it is sure that the rights of mortgage holders will be respected. The state and PTSB openly admit that the transfer is a continuation of the Troika program that directed the Irish economy in the interests of imperialism. By selling the mortgages the company aids the state in reducing sovereign debt and ensures that it meets European Central Bank stress tests. The same programs in the ECB insist on very strict limits on state spending that would rule out a serious public housing programme.
Alongside the TSB report came a series of reports of super profits by real estate investment trusts. The REITs represent a fusion of local capital and vulture capital and were established through a series of legal changes brought in by the government. The argument was that this fusion would generate a boom in housing and help solve the crisis. What happened was a mass buy out of existing property and unity with other property speculators to further force up housing costs and extract wealth from the working class.
The representatives of capitalism and imperialism declare their aspiration for a greater housing supply. What they neglect to mention is that this aspiration sits firmly within the need to produce a profit and is subordinate to the profit motive. The workers will continue to suffer because there is no sign of profit rates that would allow public housing on the required scale.
On the 7th of August Dublin Central Housing Action and other activists groups occupied an empty property and have begun to secure it and render it habitable. In doing so they have lit a spark of resistance that illuminates the whole structure of class oppression on which the housing crisis is based. That spark should be forced into flame. Building a successful struggle for housing for all depends on this.
Firstly, future housing action across the country must have at its core the tactic of seizure. Many properties, many public properties, and many properties left vacant as speculative ventures should be used. The landlord tactic of casual eviction, can only be matched by reopening the homes and re installing the tenants and by asserting Tenant right.
Secondly, we have to build a new leadership. When we look back at the National Housing demonstration in April led by the trade unions, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the campaign was totally inadequate in activity and in demands and that since then it has been content to lobby the government to cure housing while in the real world the government moves in the opposite direction. The main outcome of the march was a successful campaign by the trade union leadership in SIPTU to rehabilitate the Labour party as part of the left. Many independent political groups in that campaign have often stopped well short of a demand for public housing and have often demanded "affordable housing". This leaves the field open government private property initiatives and to the speculators and developers. The only campaign to emerge with credit is the campaign for public housing. Most other groups are approaching the housing issue through electoral campaigns. The illusion is that a presence in the Dail will lead to a change in direction by Irish capitalism.
The weakness at the moment is a belief that groups can build campaigns on their own, that loose associations and wide movements strengthen the cause, and that this agreement and debate are rude, sectarian and weaken the movement. The fact is that a single campaign has to be built. That single campaign must put public housing available for all at the forefront. It must be willing to confront vulture capitalism, Nama, real estate investment funds and the government to demand and enforce the provision of housing and the ending of homelessness. All of the sources can be areas for seizure of property and provision for the workers. If the state is unhappy about this they can provide the mass public housing we demand. We should ask the trade unions to join our campaign but we must also demand that they be less understanding about the fiscal space, the Troika and European Central Bank and put the needs of their members first. Political parties should be asked to drop the affordable housing guff and the idea that we should vote them into the Dail and wait for them to borrow in the underbelly of Irish government in order to persuade the representatives of the landlords to support housing for all.
The occupation of Summerhill Parade is an exemplary action and has won widespread public support. It poses a challenge to the routine of existing left groups.
The groups involved in the protest included Dublin Central Housing Action, student group Take Back Trinity, the Dublin Renters’ Union, and a Dublin branch of left wing group Brazilian Left Front. They demonstrated true political unity around a radical occupation tactic, drawing together housing activist with students and local activists with Brazilian students.
They went on to tie their immediate protest with the more general needs of works across the country. Dublin Central Housing Action said the protest was demanding local authorities enact compulsory purchase orders to buy vacant homes for social housing, and that the Government undertake “massive immediate investment in public housing on public land.” The occupation is a remarkable example of socialist politics 101 – something we have not seen for many years.
Support the occupation! A single unified movement! Housing for all! Occupy and expropriate!