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If we build a radical housing campaign the Labour Party will exclude themselves

Comment on the controversy over  Labour Party involvement in the National Homelessness and Housing Coalition

23 December 2017

A major division over the membership of the National Homelessness and Housing Coalition has erupted followed the disclosure that "Labour Campaigns," a front for the Irish Labour party, had membership of the committee with the support of SIPTU.

In the ongoing debate the focus has been for or against the Labour presence. Another focus would be to put forward radical solutions that go beyond begging Fine Gael for a humanitarian approach. Labour would flee any radical movement.

A large number of people, including Brendan Ogle of the Right2Water/Right2Change campaigns and many community activists, have demanded Labour's removal on the grounds that the party implemented the austerity that led to the current housing crisis and were the main force in trying to criminalise water charge protesters in the Jobstown trials. The argument is that their presence can only hinder the growth of a campaign. Many activists have said that they will not support the coalition nor the proposed march if Labour's presence continues.

Much of the anger has fallen on the SWP/People before Profit group. Brendan Ogle asserts that they dishonestly claimed Right2Water support for the coalition. Other activists claim that members of SWP/PBP abused them. They became angrier when the group, as it often does, tried to have it both ways, opposing Labour while accepting the composition of the coalition.

However SWP/PBP's greatest fault appears to be that they tried to argue the case for a political position held by all the groups. SIPTU, Mandate, the Workers party, Sinn Fein, Solidarity and leading figures of the SWP itself initially left it to local representative John Lyons to put the case.

He put it very simply:

"Is the participation of the Labour Party in a homeless and housing coalition reason enough to ruin the potential we have to build a national campaign on housing?"

Basically this is the principle of the popular front. Draw the net as widely as you can, include as many people as possible to influence the government and call on it to change direction. An automatic assumption is that capitalism is able to make the concessions you demand.

Voices in the Socialist Party and left individuals have have joined in to strengthen the argument.  We need the strength of groups such as SIPTU to initiate reforms. The left will then be in a better place to advance a more radical position. Yet we now have decades of this policy. It has helped capitalist recovery, but left the workers in unending misery.

From this point of view the Labour Party should be included. The only grounds for excluding them is if they disagree with the policy of the coalition. As the coalition has no policy other than a march and lobbying the government for social housing then they cannot be excluded.

That's clearly absurd. But what makes it absurd is the popular front policy that waters down demands to include everyone and a lack of structure and democracy that leaves all decisions to be made behind closed doors and prevents us from building an ongoing movement that doesn't leave us starting at square one with every new issue.

The fact is that we already have the guts of a policy - the Apollo house policy. Last year the idea was to seize NAMA property that already belongs to us and was paid for from our pockets and to draw attention to the ongoing property speculation that the government supports and which directly feeds the housing crisis.

Housing needs should come first and that involves a battle with Irish capital, not a policy of pleading with them to show mercy. The Apollo House campaign showed that reforms move at lightspeed when there is working class action and a challenge to property.

With such a policy, a socialist policy of building independent action by workers, expropriating property bought with our money and given away to vulture capital - we wouldn't have to discuss excluding Labour - they would exclude themselves, as would many other hucksters looking for a Dail seat.

The truth is that many trade unionists and socialists ran away from Apollo House and direct confrontation with the courts.. We need a serious conversation. Who's up for a policy that puts the needs of workers before paying bankers and speculators ?  Who’s up for a revolutionary core that opposes imperialist domination and vulture capitalism  and begins to build a socialist alternative?

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