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The Trinity University Times, housing action and the left TDs

A contribution to the debate

8 November 2018

John McAnulty

Donal MacNamee, in the University Times of October 31st (How Irelandís Leftist Politicians Are Failing Housing Activists), asked why left TDs did not play a bigger role in leading the movement around the Irish housing crisis. Why did they have such a high profile in the water charges campaign and such a low profile in the housing crisis?

The left TDs and their supporters would reject the criticism and argue that housing is a central concern for them. What is actually at issue is a clash of perspectives, with Donal looking at the issue from the viewpoint of direct action and the left TDs from another perspective.

In my view he misses the salient point of the water charges campaign. That it was led by a section of the trade union leadership and that the left groups operated within the space defined by this element of the union bureaucracy. That relationship imposed a lot of constraints, with the unions demanding the right to determine the final direction of policy. The left groups were perfectly correct in working with the unions to build mass mobilisations. In my view they were wrong to blindly follow the bureaucracy.

ICTU and SIPTU have now taken up housing but they have their face firmly towards the Dail and the left groups have turned their face in that direction also. That means that most of their attention was on the Raise the Roof campaign, and they tended to discount direct action and occupation.

Donal criticises the Raise the Roof demonstration for poor organisation. He misses the point. For the trade unions and for the left the main purpose of the dayís action was the debate inside the Dail. The demonstration was seen as providing support but great care was taken to isolate the crowd from the Dail itself.

So can we expect a parliamentary approach to work and resolve the housing crisis or is there a role for direct action?

The fact is that we had an umbrella movement that joined direct action with pressure on the government. That was the Apollo House movement. The movement was closed down when the courts stepped in and directly challenged the unions with sequestration of their funds.

The movement is returning to the streets on December 1st. Local groups are growing up apace. Yet we still have a jumble of movements and strategies with little discussion.

We need a unified campaign, committed to public housing for all and willing to unify calls on the government with street mobilisation with direct action and occupation. That requires a democratic national structure. The unions have an important role to play, but we should not unconditionally accept that they have the final word or that their tendency towards gradualist reform should also be the direction of the broader movement.

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