The housing crisis is a running sore in Irish society. It cries out for a campaign of ‘people power’ to force through a programme of council house building, rent controls and to end landlord evictions.
For the past two years, People Before Profit has been working with others to help create a coalition that can bring tens of thousands onto the streets.
That coalition is the National Homeless and Housing Coalition.
It brings together large unions such as SIPTU, IMPACT, Dublin Council of Trade Unions, CWU and Mandate, alongside community based tenant support and anti-eviction groups, housing advocacy and campaign groups such as, Inner City Helping the Homeless, Ballyfermot Help for the Homeless, Dublin Tenants Association, Dublin Central Housing Action Group and NGOs such as the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, and the Unions of Students of Ireland.
It also includes other political parties such as Sinn Fein, the Workers Party, Solidarity and Independents 4 Change. This represents the best opportunity we have had to push back this government.
The coalition has named April 7th as the date for a national demonstration and is planning a series of other actions prior to this date. The ICTU has also recently met with the coalition and has a agreed to support the April 7th demonstration.
This is a huge step forward as it has the potential to mobilise tens of thousands of people. Only such a scale of ‘people power’ will be sufficient to change housing policy. Everyone who really cares about the crisis should be working together to make this a huge mobilisation.
Unfortunately, an attempt has been made to attack and divide this movement through a social media campaign waged by a union official in UNITE and a number of individuals with a record of hostility to the radical left.
They have singled out People Before Profit for attack, with a completely false claim that we have now become ‘friends’ with the union leaders and that we are working with, or for, the Labour Party.
We have no wish to engage in a sniping campaign but simply wish to clarify matters so that activists can make their own judgements. A few points are worthy of note:
1. In general, People Before Profit has a tradition of working in united fronts with elements of the workers' movement and other political forces around specific objectives, even when we have strong disagreements with them on other issues, their previous history or their wider politics.
We think this is necessary in order to encourage the largest mobilisation of people power. This does not mean that we endorse the outlook of union leaders or drop our criticism of their approaches.
The leaders of SIPTU and IMPACT are more than aware that People Before Profit are opposed to their social partnership strategy. We were the only party, for example, to produce tens of thousands of leaflets against the last public sector pay deals that they endorsed.
We work with them to promote specific policies on housing – not to become ‘friends’ or to give any political cover to their current strategies. And we work against them if they sell out workers.
2. The UNITE union was originally part of the National Homeless and Housing Coalition but has not been involved for some time – long before there was any discussion about the possible role of the Labour Party. No explanation was ever given to the coalition – or to UNITE members - for why the union had apparently withdrawn.
3. The National Homeless and Housing Coalition recently received a request from Labour Campaigns to attend its meetings. This body was described as a grouping of grassroots Labour Party members. The People Before Profit representative at the meeting, Councillor Tina MacVeigh, objected to their presence on the basis that Labour had a terrible record of attacking working class communities, and that their participation in the campaign would be divisive.
Unfortunately, she was the only representative present at that particular meeting to make this case and others involved in the coalition favoured allowing Labour Campaigns attend the meetings.
Although we objected to their presence, we decided that the objective of building a housing movement is the too important and that despite our opposition we would continue to put the focus onto building a massive demonstration on April 7th.
Despite the attendance of a representative of this grouping at recent meetings, there is simply no truth in the claim that the Labour Party now 'controls' the National Homeless and Housing Coalition.
At a more recent meeting of the coalition, we repeated our opposition to the involvement of Labour, as did some other affiliates of the coalition, in view their recent history in government and involvement in implementing austerity policies that contributed directly to the current housing emergency.
At a recent Dail debate on December 16th on the Housing and Homeless crisis, Richard Boyd Barrett TD spoke calling for a massive mobilisation on the April 7th demonstration, while at the same time explicitly condemning the involvement of the Labour Party in imposing policies that have helped create the current housing emergency.
The video of his speech can be seen on People Before Profit’s Facebook page and leaves no doubt about our continued determination to challenge Labour for their terrible betrayals.
4. We are more than aware that the Labour Party is trying to re-furbish its image. One of the ways it seeks to do this is through its support among some paid officials in the unions.
People Before Profit constantly challenge the foothold that Labour Party has in unions like SIPTU and our supporters have been to the fore in pushing for unions such as SIPTU to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.
We shall continue to do so as we believe that the Labour Party has a terrible record of implementing policies that hurt and damaged the workers movement and working class people generally.
We are fully confident that when thousands mobilise for a solution to the housing crisis, very few will be looking to the Labour Party for solutions. A radical housing movement will pull society left and away from the Labour Party and their conservatism.
5. While we object to and challenge the Labour Party, we reject an approach that states that genuine left wing people should call for a boycott or refuse to participate in movements or protests where the Labour Party is present.
The Labour Party, for example, is currently a participant in the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment – even though it voted against calling for a referendum while it was in government.
It would be foolish in the extreme to urge a boycott or refuse to participate in a Repeal the 8th march, simply because the Labour Party were present. Adopting that approach would only play in the hands of that party and seriously undermine the movement.
Equally, with the terrible hardship now facing thousands of people who have been made homeless and the many hundreds of thousands more who are affected in different ways by the current housing emergency, we believe it would be a huge mistake to undermine the April 7th mobilisation or other campaign plans of the coalition because of political differences with some of those involved.
People Before Profit will therefore continue to work with trade unions and campaign groups – with whom we often have very serious disagreements – if it helps further the objective of mobilising people power and bringing real change to the lives of ordinary people.
Any other approach is a recipe for continual sectarian division that can only benefit the right wing in Ireland.
It should be noted, in this regard, that while People Before Profit and a number of other affiliate groups and organisations have objected to the involvement of Labour Campaigns, no affiliate has left the coalition because of this issue.
We hope UNITE and other Right2Change groups will adopt a similar position and give full support to the April 7th demonstration.
We further urge all our members and supporters to now put their energy and focus into positively promoting the National Housing & Homeless demonstration on April 7th and other activities being planned before that date, as this is our best chance to finally bring about the change in policy needed to solve the current housing emergency.