Part 4- Where to Now for the Irish Housing Network?
This is the final of a four part series on the Irish housing crisis and fight back against it; focusing on the rise of the Irish Housing Network. The final part focuses on the challenges of the New Year and where to next?
This year will be a busy one, a year of elections and commemorations and a year where the housing and homeless crisis will intensify. Below are a few ideas from the Irish Housing Network’s campaign and organising priorities and ideas to build out housing and community responses to the crisis. I will also briefly look at the elections and offer some final words
Our three priority campaign areas are homelessness, anti-eviction work and marginalised communities.
In homelessness we are seeing conditions in emergency accommodation lead to occupations, legal cases and early signs that effective tenants organising might emerge. We are well placed and should support tenants in these terrible conditions. Modular housing is also an important flash point and if we build local community opposition and majority opposition from those in emergency accommodation we could have a strong mandate to resist modular housing and fight for proper housing for all.
The selling of land that we saw over Christmas, and its proposed use for private ownership and rental over social housing, is a huge step towards the long term goal of eliminating social housing altogether. Social Housing is a central commitment of many on the left. Will they stand up and fight where there is an immediate threat to it? Can we build community support for a resistance to the state’s plans and can we disrupt planned work?
Marginalised communities pose some of the greatest challenges. As refugees from the Middle East arrive, following the European pattern, we are likely to see a growing racist backlash. Anti-traveller racism is systematic and institutionalised. The housing network would be well placed to link together community organising, anti-racism activists and groups affected for a substantial fight back.
Importantly, such efforts cannot be left to liberals who spew forth humanist platitudes in print journalism, while simultaneously fully supporting the economic base that determines and grows racism. The fuzzy feeling that some ‘poor’ people need help is not enough. It also drives the idea that ignorance and mob mentality is the source of racism and discrimination; it is a massively condescending view, and a fundamental part of the problem. Liberals not only lack an analysis on the structural base of racism, their viewpoint blocks and demotivates people who want to restructure the base that breeds racism. We can build radical anti-racism by linking oppressed people and by fighting against the systems that oppress all swathes of society.
Anti-eviction work will be deeply tied to our organising effort around homelessness. Standing against economic evictions will also mean standing against the forced displacement of communities through gentrification.
Beyond these immediate campaign priorities we have the opportunity to build our organising power. Thus far this has been through communities united through single issues, using the methodology of community organising. I would argue this has to continue. The Irish Housing Network can become a truly national network by organising area by area and through new groups being set up and by bringing together existing groups on the ground. Importantly, we will continue to use our principles and, in particular, the idea of those affected leading the struggle; this breaks down a lot of the unhealthy power struggles that happen in campaigns.
Finally the Peoples Housing Forum offers a model for participatory analysis and action beyond the remit of our housing network. Our next session will focus on strategy and action; beyond that there may be room to extend the concept of people’s forums across different communities and across different issues and campaigns.
2016 and Elections Challenges
Elections are one part of power, a useful an important part, but still one part across a wide spectrum that includes community power, worker and trade union power, and the vast array of institutions and organisations in this country. All spaces are contested; all spaces contain revolutionary potential, and all spaces must be won. Electoralism is imperative: mere electoralism is insufficient. 2016 gives us a year of commemorations and elections. Both are important, but they are unlikely to change the immediate work of the Irish Housing Network.
There are three possible combinations in the next Dail. The first is a right-wing government of Fine Gael, Labour and right Independents or Fine Gael and Fianna Fail putting aside civil war politics and joining together in the name of ‘stability’. With a right government we are likely to see an acceleration of a fairly brutal housing system, along with a strong drive to privatise and support the housing speculation over need. The second is a centre government of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. With this we are likely to see similar policies to the current ones, possibly a bit more rental security and slightly larger social housing output, but this will not solve the underlying problems in the housing system. The final, and highly unlikely, combination would be a left government, Sinn Fein, left independents and radical left or a softer Sinn Fein, labour, greens and social democrats. They would face huge challenges, especially if they stick to a radical program of social housing building, rent controls, decent conditions, curbing speculation, community resources and supports. They would be viciously opposed and if they capitulated under the pressure we will be back with a failing system, and even if they didn’t capitulate their actions would be wholly insufficient without an enormous social movement based around housing of the kind we haven’t seen in this country for almost a hundred and fifty years.
No matter who is elected we will need to organise, grow, develop our strategy to build real long term power that can not only disrupt the day to day working of the system, but begin to create and sustain a fairer alternative.
There are strategies and tactics that do work; there are a lot more that don’t. Most of the tactics currently existing in the left wing arsenal are seriously depleted or outdated; this has to be acknowledged and changed accordingly. This takes a lot of reflection, but reflection only serves if it is the prelude to action. This blog aims to share ideas, analysis and strategy that reflect today’s struggle lessons old and new.
Finally, I would say: get involved. Real change comes from the collective, not the individual. Join the network directly, join any of the groups in the network, or set up a group in your own area and link in with us. If you are already active and busy there are many ways to support and build solidarity: from media, to joint actions, to discussion and common strategy. If you have never been active before and are uncertain about where to start go to the Peoples Housing Forum on January 30th.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share, re-post or comment with any questions.