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Dublin housing demonstration

A growing anger and desperation choked by reformism

8 December 2018

The 10,000 strong National Homelessness & Housing Coalition demonstration on 1st December in Dublin was a significant protest. There was a greater participation than in the past by individual activists and local action groups, showing the levels of anger and desperation building up across the country.

Yet the overall impression to take away from the demonstration was that the structure and strategy of the coalition did not match the needs of all those bowed under the rack of homelessness, of the landlords and of the weight of mortgages weighed towards the profit of speculators. The protest did not map out an ongoing campaign on housing nor a strategy for success.

A number of speakers specifically referred to the water charges campaign as a model for the Coalition. They seemed unaware of the weaknesses of a loose coalition directed by trade union leaders and of the limitations of a strategy directed solely towards the Dail. In fact the water charges campaign led to a moratorium on charges but left the retention of Irish Water as a company and left the charging system in place. Many activists were unhappy about this but the lack of a democratic national structure left them helpless.

A similar structure built the successful Repeal movement, but the right to choose was given a back seat and we now see the limits of the legislation that the Dail produces and the secret arrangements with the church that occur when we withdraw from the streets

The biggest weakness of the Coalition was the erroneous claim that it was "building on the success" of the “Raise the Roof” Dail lobby in October. The claim is that the October lobby was a success, therefore that the housing budget produced by the Fine Gael government was a response to pressure. The next steps are a call to halt evictions, for the government to declare a housing emergency and hold a referendum to enshrine the right to a home in the constitution.

This is farcically wrong. The budget was a landlord's budget designed to subsidise landlords and developers and encourage the further penetration of vulture capital. At its heart is the proposed privatisation of public land and a giveaway to property developers.

Homeless campaigner Peter McVerry had it right when he said that the Government had lost control of housing and that problems will continue as long as it is in the hands of the private sector.

Although the socialist groups in the alliance are now putting more emphasis on public housing, one of the demands - for affordable housing - leaves the way open for a land giveaway sweetened by the developers offering discounted housing on the side - precisely the sort of system that led to the collapse of public housing in the first place.

The overall strategy of the campaign, to continue lobbying the government, seems to lack conviction even among the trade union leaders at the head of the movement. Mobilization was limited to the head offices and small groups from trade councils. In fact the ''left" unions including UNITE and MANDATE were largely absent and support a separate campaign for large scale public housing.

A significant shift was in the decline of the student mobilization around the occupation movement. A call went out for a student component on the march, but only a few dozen responded. The decline is in part due to state repression, in part due to unions and political groups keeping their distance and in part to an unhealthy practice by the students of actively excluding political groups from the occupation movement.

By far the strongest element of the march was the large turnout of those on the coal face. Housing activists and their groups made up by far the largest component.

We find a similar pattern to previous campaigns. A radical base looking for progress is bottled up by the cautious reformism of SIPTU and its allies on the left. However the December march shows that the number of activists is growing at the same time as the government policies move to deepen the crisis.

At its heart a reformist strategy writes off the possibility of popular mobilization. Yet the French uprising by the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) shows that this is a possibility. The tightening chokehold of landlordism and vulture capital make explosions in Ireland inevitable.

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